President Ayub Khan's Legacy
Ayub 40 Years Later
The Friday Times, January 26-February 1, 2007 - Vol. XVIII, No. 49
The fate of books written by holders of power while in office has generally not been a happy one. Seldom does their work outlast them and this is especially true of those who are not born writers, like Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia. This is something General Musharraf will do well to remember, regardless of what his sycophants and his inept ghost writer(s) might tell him. As long as he is in office – and from all accounts he plans to stay there till the cows come home, and then some more – he can live in the pink haze in which live all rulers, especially those whose mode of transportation to the presidential palace has been a tank. Seldom has a book by a head of state been pilloried as has been In the Line of Fire. It reminds me of the time when I cycled past a section of the Danube river in Vienna where nature lovers were hanging out to sun themselves. “Most human beings should never be seen undressed,” I said to myself. In the same way, not everyone should write a book.
In the Line of Fire also reminded me of another book – Friends not Masters – which, when it was first published in 1967, many of us refused to read, so tired by then were we of Ayub Khan’s praetorian rule. The way that book was hawked by the official media and the henchmen of the state and the manner in which it was forced down people’s throats had put us off. We condemned the book without reading it. But that was thirty-nine years ago and so one day a month or so ago, I thought I should read Friends not Masters . A friend who was visiting Pakistan brought it back. The original publishers were Oxford University Press, but the copyright it seems is now held by Mr Books, Islamabad, who have done a poor job of the reprint, while claiming that “the moral rights of the author have been asserted.” What that means I do not know. I am going to ask my friend Naeem Bokhari, my legal eagle, to work that one out for me.
Oscar Wilde said he never read a book before reviewing it because “it so prejudices the mind,” which is exactly what those who castigated Friends not Masters were guilty of. But our reasons were political and sprang from our ennui with a ruler who it was said at the time is like the “Ghainta Ghar of Lyallpur,” visible from every direction. I have now read the book and come to the conclusion that it is essential to read it in order to understand how military rule took root in Pakistan and what the early years of independence were like. Compared to Fire, Friends is well-written and thoughtful. Not once does Ayub abuse anyone or use derogatory language, nor does he recount slapping bald-headed people sunning themselves in a public park. It is a book with a great deal of dignity and class, unlike the other work. Another dissimilarity between the two is that Friends is Ayub’s work, not Qudratullah Shahab’s or Altaf Gauhar’s, as popularly believed, though they helped in framing questions that Ayub addressed. His opening line is: “This is essentially a spoken book.” He recorded his answers to the questions framed on tape and by 1965 he had a 900-page transcript, which he revised several times. Ayub was a bright, clear-headed man with a progressive outlook on Islam and social issues.
His book, though written in office, is an exception to such works since it remains readable four decades later and unlike its present-day counterpart, it provides a great deal of truthful and important information. The book begins with his birth in the lovely Hazara village of Haryana on 14 May 1907 and ends with the 1965 presidential election. It is a pity that it does not cover the event that was to lead to the separation of East Pakistan, the war of 1965. As a child Ayub used to ride a mule to school which was four miles away and run by Sikhs, whom Ayub describes as a “large-hearted people” whose rituals and Punjabi songs fascinated him. One line that he recalled from his childhood was: Sau rung tamashay takday, akhiyaan nahin rajyaan (One is never done living even after a lifetime of watching the world go by). His father wanted him to go to Aligarh and that was where he went. While there, he joined the army and sailed for England in 1926 on a ship by the name of SS Rawalpindi . Ayub wrote in his foreword, “I have woken up from sleep to see whether the sound on the window panes is the long-awaited rain. I feel parched inside when I see a drought-stricken field. The soil of Pakistan fascinates me, for it is my soil, I belong to it.”
The shenanigans of those under whose control the ship of state fell, after the murder of Liaquat Ali Khan, led Pakistan into the quagmire of military rule from which it has never escaped. The lack of principle that characterised the actions of those men, their refusal to deal with East Pakistan in a fair way and the ascendancy of the civil service bureaucracy to key positions made the business of government a farce. Sadly, it was the politicians and the jacked-up civil servants who thrust power into Ayub’s hands, who made him a member of the cabinet while he was still in the service of the state. The two men whose lust for power at all costs brought in martial rule were Ghulam Muhammad and Iskander Mirza, though the villain of the piece must remain Mirza. Ayub wrote that he only moved against Mirza because “we received information that his wife was quarrelling with him all the time: she kept telling him that he had made a great mistake, but now that it was done, he should finish off Ayub Khan.” Nahid Mirza, who wore a diamond necklace gifted to her by the notorious smuggler Qasim Bhatti, was the Lady Macbeth of Pakistan.
Ayub did both good and harm to Pakistan and in the end, when he could have had a chance to redeem himself by handing over the reins of government to the Speaker of the National Assembly, he let himself be overpowered by Yahya Khan, who had been planning to overthrow him after his stroke. Had Ayub only told the nation that the Army was trying to overthrow him, Yahya’s intrigue and conspiracy would have failed. But he did not do that, although his young law minister SM Zafar advised that course of action. I know because when the Ayub regime was tottering, Zafar came to Lahore and told some of us, including his great friend Sardar Muhammad Sadiq, of his advice to Ayub.
Ayub died feeling disillusioned with the people of Pakistan who he believed, had been ill-served by their politicians, and for whom he had done more than anyone had done for them before. It is ironic that there is not even a two-brick structure to remember the man in the city of Islamabad, which he brought to birth. The home where he lived and died was sold by his sons although they were in no great need of money. Compared to what we have had since, Ayub stands quite tall. The long-distance truck drivers who have painted his picture under the caption ‘ Teri yaad aayee teray jaanay ke baad’ may after all have a point.