Who was General Rani?

The Fascinating Tale of General Rani: The Brothel Owner in Yahya Khan’s Regime

by Ayesha Sohail
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Power and wealth have always been an integral part of politics. Those who hold the strings never shy away from using any of these to turn the tides their way but these are the things most associated with men. When it comes to women, there are not many examples of powerful and wealthy women who used nothing other than the things mentioned above. They say a successful warlord understands his capabilities and knows how to use them. Similarly, there are a few women in history who knew the power of their wit and charm, and they used them to tame the most powerful characters of history. One of those women was Begum Aqleem Akhtar, aka General Rani.

Who was Aqleem Akhtar? 

Begum Aqleem Akhtar, AKA General Rani, Image Source: unknown

A Pakistani ‘madam’ who ran a brothel and multiple B&BS in Rawalpindi in the 2000s. She became the mistress of Army General Yahya Khan and was known as the country’s most powerful woman during his regime. It was a time of great turmoil for the country, East-Pakistan was war-torn, Things weren’t all good in West-Pakistan. Those who were holding the power couldn’t care less about what was going on outside their bedroom.

Aqleem was born in Gujrat, an independent spirit, she was known as a tomboy in childhood. At a tender age, she was married to a much older police officer, Moiz Jee, in North Karachi. She was never happy with this marriage because her husband was very conservative. Even then, she played well the role of a good wife for many years, bearing six children with this husband. But, Akhir kab tak?

One day in 1963, vacationing in the Murree hills, a gust of wind blew, and spontaneously Rani lifted the naqab covering her face to allow the breeze. Her husband immediately tapped her with his walking stick to reprimand her. Enraged and insulted, she rebelled against her husband. In defiance, she unveiled her face and told him she was going to live her own life.

Koi Bhi Dhanda Chhota Nahi Hota:

You know life is always at some Terha Morr. So, the marriage ended in a divorce, and Akhtar also took the six children with her. She asked her parents for help, but they insisted to get back to her husband, and this is not what she wanted. She planned to get close to powerful, rich men to play ‘Mian ki Jooti Mian k sar.’ You know, beating men at their games? For this, she started her own prostitution business from her apartment in Rawalpindi, where she provided girls to men in need.

Baharo Phool Barsao Mera Mehboob Aya hai!

Through frequent socializing with her former husband, she came to know many rich and powerful men already. By this means, she first met General Yahya Khan, whom she called, “Agha Jani” in the Pindi club. Agha Jani took a fancy at her, and she invited him to Gujrat. After a relationship between them developed, she was in the news as ‘General Rani’ or ‘Ra’annie Yahya Khan.’ Soon, she had an extraordinary influence over him. Several bureaucrats and politicians usually approached her for gaining Yahya’s attention.

Neither a Mistress nor a sexual relationship:

Akhtar always denied being Yahya Khan’s “mistress,” but people have always seen her as a Mistress in-between the Mister and the Mattress. She claimed that she always maintained her dignity and played the role of a mother figure to the homeless and needy young girls provided to the rich and powerful men and hadn’t any sexual relations with Yahya Khan.

Madam Noor Jahan: A wedge between Agha and Rani?

Yahya Khan and Noor Jahan, Image Source: Known

As Yahya Khan became the Martial Law administrator, Akhtar became the cornerstone in his life. So she hit right where one can feel the blow. She knew that Yahya has only two weaknesses: Alcohol and women, so she catered to both. She introduced Noor Jahan to Agha Jani, whom she called her Baji, and Yahya’s fascination with Noor Jahan began. Noor Jahan persistently denied that she was on friendly terms with the general, but when objectionable pictures of both were printed, she resorted to another defense and officially stated that General Rani tried to get her involved with the general.

Bedroom Politics and the fall of Dhaka:

Although I cannot vouch for the credibility of every incident, there are a lot of rumors are there that describe the character of a person who was supposed to lead the country and protect its borders and sovereignty.

Once, Yahya had to visit the Shah of Iran, who was on a state visit to Pakistan. The Shah was not happy with Yahya Khan’s approach towards East Pakistan and had to warn him about the consequences. The Shah was getting late for his departure, but Yahya would not come out of his bedroom. Finally, Akleem Akhtar was persuaded to enter the bedroom and get him out. When she did, she found him in a bed with Noor Jahan. She helped the President dress and brought him out. When Yahya appeared before the commission and was asked about his affairs with numerous women his reply was, “I never called any one of them; their husbands brought them to me. How is that my fault?”

The Ultimate Rang Mein Bhang:

Then came a Rang mein Bhang, I mean Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who targeted this Agha-Rani association in his electoral movement. Bhutto offered Akhtar governorship of Punjab in return for her help to testify against Yahya Khan. On not doing so, Bhutto sent her to jail. (How mean!) According to her if she would compare Agha Jani and Z.A. Bhutto, she had arranged sex orgies more for Bhutto. After the war of 1971, in which Yahya Khan was badly defeated, she lost her status as a power broker. She was under house arrest for most of the time. Her telephone connection was canceled when Bhutto’s government was in power.

The downfall of General Rani:

The period of her life ended when Zia-ul-Haq came to power, and she spent the remainder of her life (1980’s-2002) in Gujrat. On July 1, 2002, after fighting against cancer for over five years, aged 70, she died at Shaikh Zayed Hospital in Lahore.

Thus, Akhtar hadn’t any official position in Yahya’s regime but she used to advise him on political matters. Both have a major role in shaping the future of Pakistan, but the good fortune lasted till 1972.  Socially ostracized, financially wrecked, dependent only on the kindness of a few whose affections for her have endured, General Rani lived largely in the past — in the memory of days of wine and roses. On the other hand, the bedroom politics and the short-sightedness of Yahya Khan attacked the sovereignty of the borders and forced him to be remembered no more than a dictator.

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