The CBI’s decision to posthumously honour Khan Bahadur Qurban Ali Khan, founder of the ISI, is a reminder of the common strands of history which bind India and Pakistan. Khan may have set up the notorious intelligence agency which has been accused in recent years of being a rogue outfit with links to terrorists and for organising a clandestine warfare against India. But, the blame for its later sinister metamorphosis cannot be laid at the door of Khan, who was the head of the CBI’s predecessor in the colonial period, the Special Police Establishment (SPE), set up during World War II with headquarters in Lahore to investigate cases of bribery and corruption in the supply of war materials.
When, after the war, there was a need for a central agency to check corruption among government employees, the Delhi Special Police Establishment was set up with Khan as the head. It was the latter’s experience as a police officer which was behind his subsequent rise after his migration to Pakistan to be the inspector-general of police in the North-West Frontier Province and then the NWFP governor. Now, the CBI has decided to request his grandchildren to accept the honour on his behalf. It also wants to rename one of the blocks at its academy in Ghaziabad after Khan.
The political vivisection of the subcontinent during the traumatic transition from colonial rule to independence hasn’t dimmed either the memories of individuals and families or of the institutions which had nurtured the officers and the men in lower positions who served the administration of the time. Their colleagues – past and present – do not want to forget the times they once spent together. The ceremony to honour Qurban Ali Khan along with other former CBI directors will be one such act of remembrance which will rise above narrow allegiances.