My friend Mohammad Rahim Khan, who has died aged 96, rose to be one of Pakistan’s most illustrious generals, but afterwards pursued a career in diplomacy and the civil service. In retirement he helped to set up a series of schools in Pakistan which cater for children from poor backgrounds, together with a strong network in the UK to support them.
Known as Rahim, he was born in Rawalakot in what was then British India, the fourth of 10 children of Qasim Khan, a farmer, and Qasir Bibi, a housewife. He attended the government middle school in Rawalakot and Victoria Jubilee high school in Poonch.
He was recruited into the British army in 1943 and in 1951, four years after the creation of Pakistan, he was selected by the country’s new army for training in the UK, at the Staff College in Camberley, Surrey. On his return he rose to become a major general in 1969. Wounded while commanding an infantry division in the 1971 war with India, he was awarded the Hilal-i-Jur’at, Pakistan’s second highest military award for bravery.
Later he served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Mozambique and then Malaysia before accepting the civilian post of secretary general of defence in 1980. He was also chairman of Pakistan International Airways and the Civil Aviation Authority.
Rahim knew how harsh conditions were for most people around him. As a boy neither he nor any of his classmates had had running water or electricity. On his retirement in 1994, recognising the importance of education in overcoming disadvantage, and impressed by the education he had seen in the UK, he and his brothers set up the Kashmir Education Foundation (KEF) to educate bright children (and particularly girls) in marginalised, rural Pakistan.
The first KEF school was built next to Rahim’s family house in Rawalpindi. Two more schools and the Joan Atkinson teacher training college (named after a VSO teacher) followed; to this day these exemplify high quality, child-centred education. KEF awards scholarships to all students who pass the selection tests but whose parents cannot afford the fees. A KEF branch thrives in Bradford and Quest for Education in London has been set up solely to support the Foundation.
As director-general of the British Council I met Rahim in London when he visited two schools in the UK that had paired with two KEF institutions as part of the Global Schools Partnership, a British Council programme that connected UK and overseas schools.
He lived modestly in his house in Rawalpindi, which also served as the KEF headquarters. Though he developed dementia in his final years he never lost his twinkling eyes or his spirited, generous smile.
He married Kamala Isaac in 1945; she died in 2007. He is survived by his siblings Rasheed and Sagheera.