When Milkha’s Pak competitor was taken as prisoner of war in 1971
One of Pakistan’s most celebrated sprinters, Abdul Khaliq — who created history by winning the 1954 Manila Asian Games sprint gold in record time but lost a much-hyped race with Indian legend Milkha Singh at Lahore in 1960 — was a prisoner of war (PoW) following the India-Pakistan war in 1971. Khaliq, who passed away on March 10, 1988 in Rawalpindi days before his 55th birthday, was the only athlete who kept Pakistan’s flag flying high on the tracks during the 1956 Melbourne and 1960 Rome Olympics.
While Khaliq’s exploits saw him win 26 gold and 23 silver medals in the international arena, making him one of the most celebrated athletes in Asia, he is also remembered for the 200m race against ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh, who passed away following Covid-related complications in Chandigarh on June 18, 2021.
The then Pakistan President Ayub Khan organised an Indo-Pak Meet in 1960 at Lahore where the 200m event virtually became a two-horse race with two legendary athletes — Milkha and Khaliq – competing.
Milkha, haunted by the memories of partition did not want to compete in Pakistan, but Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru convinced him and the Indian — who missed the 1960 Rome Olympics bronze in 400m by a whisker — defeated Khaliq, who had only two years back defended his 100m title at the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games and was dubbed ‘The Flying Bird of Asia’ by Nehru. Later, Khaliq, who was a Subedar in Pakistan’s 8 Medium Regiment Artillery, became a prisoner of war in 1971 and was accidentally discovered by Col Krishan Lal Wahi at the Prisoner of War camp in Udhampur.
When Col Wahi asked Khaliq about an athlete with the same name from his country who had competed against Milkha, the Pakistani replied, “Janaab, I am the same man.” After exchanging notes, Subedar Khaliq urged Col Wahi to help a fellow army man who had suffered a deep bayonet wound.
The request was granted, and a surgery performed, according to a report in Tribune India. When the orders were given for his release by the then Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, Khaliq reportedly refused, saying he would like to be released with his countrymen.