Books

Pakistan At the Helm

The book’s cover has a collage of eight faces of those who were at the helm in Pakistan since its painful birth and who contributed towards making it a dangerous mess, as it continues to be till date.

Dec 5, 2018
By Tilak Devasher
Harper Collins Publishers India
Pages 309 in paperback
Price Rs. 499/-
 
The book’s cover has a collage of eight faces of those who were at the helm in Pakistan since its painful birth and who contributed towards making it a dangerous mess, as it continues to be till date. What makes this book very informative for the uninitiated and excitingly interesting for those who have watched Pakistan closely is the series of glimpses into the lives of these eight leaders, revealing some not much known aspects of their characters - their uncertainties, weaknesses, vices, failings, foibles etc. It cannot be that these persons did not/do not have any virtues or good traits. But their being part of a morass of founding and building a nation on a foundation of lies/denials/delusions/self deception compounded over seven decades, they all have had to tread the same path. And there appears to be no hope or scope for any kind of reformation, so far at least. The inability or failure, or absolutely no desire of these leaders to try to stem the rot in Pakistan as well as its diplomatic policies and equations, has made it a dangerous entity, not only for India but for most of the world too.   
 
Mohammad Ali Jinnah turned out to be the first lie. Partial to pork, non-pious and ever hungry for power, Pakistan for him meant power and not any conviction of creating an Islamic state. Mountbatten  described him as “a psychopathic case” and wondered “how a man with such a complete lack of administrative knowledge or sense of responsibility could achieve or hold down so powerful a position.” That is ironic because when the British were floating several plans in the 1930s to partition the Indian sub-continent, it was the young and politically ambitious barrister Jinnah, who they identified and hand-picked to propound the two-nation theory. Jinnah’s final irony is that all the power he had achieved in new born Pakistan as the Qaid e Azam did not help him even to reach a hospital in time when he was dying. His tragedies were his wife, Ruttie, who died very young and his failing  health, which he had totally neglected.
 
Next came General Ayub Khan, the first of four (so far) dictator presidents of Pakistan, who promoted himself to Field Marshal and sowed the seeds of military dictatorship by abrogating the Constitution of 1956 and introducing martial law. Later, feeling heady with a substantial dole of American weapons and some of his India-related delusions - that Indian Army was weak after the 1962 Chinese aggression, that India’s Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was weak and that a Pakistani Muslim soldier could take on ten Indian Hindu  soldiers - he waged Pakistan’s second war on India in 1965, resulting in heavy losses of men and material to Pakistani forces. That war also exposed how ill-trained and poorly led Pakistani soldiers were. 4 Horse, also known as Hodson’s Horse, the Indian Army regiment Ayub’s father, Risaldar Major Mir Dad Khan served in,  destroyed  79 Pakistani tanks - mostly then newly acquired American Pattons - and 17 recoilless guns. The author quotes Pakistani Air Marshal Nur Khan, then C-in-C, Pak Air Force, stating, “Since the 1965 war was based on a big lie and was presented to the nation as a great victory, the army came to believe its own fiction and has since then used Ayub as its role model and therefore has continued to fight unwanted wars -the 1971 war and the Kargil fiasco in 1999…..In each of the subsequent wars we have committed the same mistakes that we committed in 1965.”
 
An interesting and ironic fact about Ayub’s successor, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, which one of his contemporaries,  Brig S.S. Malik of the Indian Army, shared with this author was that neither was Yahya happy about Partition and nor was he keen on moving to Pakistan. It is only after Partition that he changed his mind and  opted for Pakistan. The chapter on Yahya Khan begins with his predilection for alcohol and “unrestrained frolicking”. The second part of this chapter is titled Yahya Khan II: 1971 - How Not to Fight a War. After 13 days of the war in December 1971, on the eve of the surrender of the Pakistan armed forces to the Indian Army at Dhaka, Lt Gen A A K Niazi was desperately trying to contact Yahya but could not do so as the latter was partying at his new mansion in Peshawar with his latest paramour, ironically, a Bengali lady known as ‘Black Pearl’, and recently assigned by him as Pakistan’s ambassador to Austria (as quoted from Pakistan’s Drift Into Terrorism, by  Hassan Abbas). The next morning, the surrender of almost 93,000 Pakistani armed forces and civilian personnel at Dhaka marked the dismemberment of Pakistan. Erstwhile East Pakistan got 'liberated' to become Bangladesh.
 
Pakistan’s defeat and dissection in the 1971 war cleared the decks for the utterly wily Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who, days later on 21 December 1971 became Pakistan’s first president and civilian chief martial law administrator. Most contemptuous about armed forces officers, he was clever enough to suck up to them whenever he thought it suited him. Initially endearing himself to Ayub, from whom he got awarded the Hilal-i-Pakistan, Pakistan’s highest civilian award, he misled Ayub with his faulty assessments about the Indian Army and the Kashmiris during 1965 and ditched him after the Tashkent summit. To Yahya, in 1970, he conveyed his atrocious recommendation of solving the problem about East Pakistan by killing 20,000 Bengalis. He amended the constitution to declare Ahmediyas as non-Muslims. Bhutto’s arrogance and huge obsession for power made him sick enough to go as far as having many of his jailed political opponents subjected to severe sexual humiliation. Ironically, it was not a military dictator but Bhutto who began Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program in 1972 after declaring “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own.” Bhutto’s over-smartness and  deviousness with Pakistan’s army brass eventually sealed his fate of being implicated, imprisoned and killed, and that too by not the customary hanging but a blunt blow behind his head.     
 
The third dictator, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, of the armoured corps and  known to dislike staff work, was transferred from one regiment to the other four times. One of his commanding officer’s opinion reflected in Zia’s confidential report was, “he is not fit to be an officer in the Pakistan Army.” Many tanks of the regiment he commanded in the 1965 war were destroyed by Indian Army’s tanks. Great ironies of Zia and Bhutto were that Zia became the army chief by sucking up to Bhutto, later  had him arrested and eventually “hanged”. Zia himself was killed in a mysterious air crash. His legacy is Islamising  of the army, ‘mulla-ising’ governance and worse, sowed the seeds of terrorism, a task which the fourth dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, greatly widened the ambit of and thereby making Pakistan a global liability.
 
Benazir Bhutto has been described in the book as courageous and tough but very arrogant like her father by William Dalrymple and one whose two tenures as Prime Minister were conspicuous  by “incompetence, extra-judicial killings and brazen looting”, by Imran Khan’s former wife Jemima. The ironies related to her assassination were that she had doubts about her security;  one of her exchanges with Musharraf ended with him telling her that the whatever Americans do, “your security is based on the state of our relationship”. She thought Musharraf’s threats were for restricting her campaigning while she was killed - at the same spot Prime Minister  Liaqat Ali Khan was killed in 1951 - her party won making way for her husband Asif  Zardari - known for his flirtations and his 10% cuts - and yet whom she loved deeply.   
 
Mian Nawaz Sharif has been described as impulsive, thriving on dramatic moves rather than well considered decisions, one with a great weakness for food, had delusions about being a great cricketer and known for taking drastic short cuts to reach the top without climbing up the ladder. One aspect about Sharif the book elaborates on is his use of public office to further his business and mentioning a newspaper reporting that Sharif made more corrupt money than for dictator presidents put together. 
 
The last in the cast of this book is Gen Pervez Musharraf, the commando who more than deserves to be called the "butcher of Kargil", not so much for what he tried to do against India, but for his callousness towards his 12,000 troops of the Northern Light Infantry, raised specifically as cannon fodder for his misadventure around Kargil, and whose dead bodies he initially refused to acknowledge their dead bodies and left many of them starving without rations on those frozen heights of Kashmir.
 
The author - a former Indian intelligence officer - deserves praise for his research for this book which is a welcome sequel to his earlier book, ‘Pakistan courting the Abyss’.  The book should be kept handy as a reference piece by Pakistan watchers, those of the politico-bureaucratic-military  establishment, and certainly, scholars and analysts. A Pakistani reviewer in The Dawn recommends, “...it is a good reference book for anyone who needs a succinct history of the country. More importantly, it is a book that any future leaders of Pakistan ought to have by their bedside, simply because it is the sum of all that has gone before”.
 
(The reviewer, a  former Indian Army and Defence Ministry spokesman, is a strategic analyst. He can be contacted wordsword02@yahoo.com)

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