A soldiers politics

Published : Dec 05, 2008 00:00 IST

This is a work no student of Pakistan can miss.

PAKISTANS politicians, diplomats and soldiers are more ready to write their memoirs than their Indian counterparts are. This writer learnt of some in the offing by men formerly in high positions during visits to Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad in October. We are in for surprises. There is, sadly, no comparable effort in India.

Air Marshal (retired) M. Asghar Khan entered politics and founded the Tehrik-i-Istiqlal party in 1972 in opposition to Z.A. Bhuttos Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). His is a splendid record of opposition to autocracy, be it under Ayub Khan, Bhutto or Zia-ul-Haq. This book is based on the Tehriks record of events (December 19, 1971 January 12, 1975) and a diary that he kept of events thereafter until July 2001.

By universal acknowledgement, he is a man of high, transparent integrity. But, as happens with some such, also a man of self-righteousness whose censures are not always just. He tends to be selective and glosses over his own grave mistakes.

Another gentleman of the same high quality, Sardar Sherbaz Khan Mazaris memoirs, A Journey to Disillusionment (also published by Oxford University Press, Karachi), are far more objective. He records, for instance, how Khan Wali Khan, darling of the Indian establishment and for long a recipient of its favours, cut a sordid deal with Zia-ul-Haq and betrayed colleagues. He also suggested that Bhutto be executed before the elections.

It is fascinating to compare these two men, both utterly honest and uncompromising in their principles. Both reached thus far and no further. In Asghar Khans case that was not the only reason for his failure. Opportunism at crucial moments tarnished his record. His Message to the Officers of the Defence Services of Pakistan in the wake of the rigged elections of March 1977 remains a blot on his record. It called them, in effect, to disobey the government of the day. In the circumstances, it was a shoddy stratagem.

The book unwittingly exposes some who are lauded in India. Sample this entry of April 22, 1997: Imran Khan of Tehrik-i-Insaf came. He wants to merge with Tehrik-i-Istiqlal but wants to retain the name of his party. A woman who retains her maiden name after her marriage does not practise deceit.

A politician who wants to merge his party with another and yet retain its name is, if not deceitful, certainly devious. Under what colours does he hope to parade himself before the public?

One is often struck by the political naivety and smugness of members of the armed forces. On June 23, 1997, India and Pakistan agreed on a format for a composite dialogue on a host of issues, including Kashmir. Five days later, the Air Marshal had lunch with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The diary entry for June 28, 1997, reads: Discussed the talks with India about Kashmir. I suggested that Pakistan should try for a defence pact with China. I explained the difficulties and the advantages of this proposal. Nawaz Sharif was very responsive. He explained the policy towards Afghanistan and agreed that the recognition of the Taliban regime was a hasty step.

China did not intervene militarily on Pakistans behalf in the 1965 and 1971 wars. In 1972, Zhou Enlai rejected the idea of a military pact. For a political leader to talk of one in 1997 is to betray political incompetence of a high order. Nawaz Sharifs regret about recognition of the Taliban is significant. Such disclosures abound in this book. It is a work no student of Pakistan can miss. The material is of absorbing interest and continuing relevance.

However, as well as the material in the diaries, the authors disclosures and comments in the concluding chapter are also noteworthy. On the 1965 war, the author, then Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, confirms the view that President Ayub Khan did not expect Indias retaliation against Pakistans reckless military adventure by launching an attack on the international border.

He was not informed either by the President or the Army of Pakistans venture though he was C-in-C of the Air Force. The author was sent to China to ask for Chinese aircraft but with a request that they be sent to Indonesia to be sent in crates by sea to Pakistan so as not to offend the Americans. One should not wrestle on a half stomach, as the saying goes.

Asghar Khans reflections on the mirage of an Islamic state are very relevant and pointed. They satisfied the religious urge of the more gullible members of our society. Scant regard was paid to that aspect of Islam which is its most important feature; that is, social justice and human dignity. These words are true of Muslim religious bigots in every country.


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