Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Book Review: "General I Accuse You"

Book Review: Agaainst All Odds
General I Accuse You (From Attock Fort)
By: Major Aftab Ahmed
Publishers: Jumhoori Publications;
By Mahjabeen Agha: The NEws, June 7, 2007

"Oh the hunter, may you become the victim of death. All your hunting gear will be destroyed. You came only yesterday and succeeded in creating a gulf between those who love one another, which may take a long time to fill."

--Shah Abdul Latif

If a politically conscious person decides to review the authenticity of democracy along side the immense dictatorial powers in Pakistan, he will be confused by the difference of opinion. Any debate on democracy versus dictatorship in the context of Pakistan most often leads nowhere.

But Major Aftab Ahmed, the author of General I Accuse You (From Attock Fort, the book under review, deserves credit for exposing how the military and other dictatorial powers gained access to the echelons of power in Pakistan.

Being a witness to many trials under democratic as well as military regimes, Major Aftab depicts the worst kind of humiliation people ever faced in the name of fractured liberty witnessed during 60 years of the country's inception.

Hailing from Kharian, district Gujrat, Aftab Ahmed was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 25th Battalion of the Baloch Regiment in 1968. He fought the 1971 Indo-Pak war triggered by a civil war in the then East Pakistan.

During the martial law regime of Gen Ziaul Haq he was arrested along with many others in January 1984 and declared 'principle accused' in a case of resistance against martial law. He was tried in-camera by a special military court at Attock Fort for 'waging a war against Pakistan' and sentenced to life imprisonment.

About his arrest, he writes in his book, "Yes! I was consciously against martial law and had earnestly dreamed and desired the country to go back to her origin and ideology: a democratic system of governance to serve to her people. Whether in the barracks or out in the field, it was something, which I always advocated at my levels. Martial law had bled the country morally, politically, economically, and worst of all, geographically."

General, I Accuse You is the final testimony he made before the trial court that he never recognised as a lawful authority.

After the death of Gen Zia in an air crash and restoration of civil order in the country in December 1988, he along with other political prisoners was released from the jail. Throughout his imprisonment he raised voice against the deplorable conditions in Pakistani jails.

However, the end of Zia's martial law did not bring an end to Maj Aftab's tribulations as he was once again put behind bars for three years during Benazir Bhutto's democratic government in January 1994.

It was only after the ouster of Benazir's government in November 1996 that Maj Aftab could see the light of the day. "Materially then (the period of 1984 when he was arrested under Zia's martial law regime) and now, (democratic set-up of Benazir) I do not find any difference between the FIR of January 2 and the FIR of Jan 5, 1994. Trial of both cases was to be held in special courts under special laws in the name of national security. Difference of opinion and a desire for freedom of speech and expression remained, as ever, a crime unforgivable. Dictators and democrats all together, in the unfortunate country no one was prepared to honor himself what they promised, preached and professed."(Page 29)

Being a soldier himself Maj Aftab judiciously depicts the real life scenario of military personnel. With a very convincing style the author makes the reader to judge for him/herself the misuse of power in democratic as well as dictatorial regimes.

From Generosity of Generals to Divine Democracy every chapter of the book bespeak the personal experiences of the author. Giving examples of leading political, literary and social figures, the writer elaborates and elucidates his perception.

I think Maj Aftab's book is worth reading because it gives an impartial and unbiased account of his tribulations under both democratic as well as military governments in Pakistan. Besides, the author's determination to face trials, but not to compromise on his principles is highly commendable. According to Maj Aftab, "A lifetime experience has shown me that it is much easier to face hot-barreled enemy guns than facing the cold-blooded bulldozers of the reigning exploitative system: our real enemy on the home front." (Page 33)

Although I am aware that Maj Aftab's views about the military rulers of the country are too bold, but I firmly believe that he has conveyed his message in an affective way.

The book is an in-depth analysis of the authorís personal experiences during different regimes. He says,"While I was in Zia's prison, as an accused and not a convict, my son Hassan died but he did not allow me to see his face. A few years later he was burnt alive with no face left for his kith and kin to see. Benazir imprisoned me without trial for three years for the crime of saving the life of an innocent person." (Page 31)

The book also contains profiles of leading Pakistani military-cum-political personalities with details of their origins, development and capabilities. It is a must-read book for the students of political science. The writer is clearly sympathetic towards the people of Pakistan, but comes down hard on the Army for its interference in politics.

It is difficult to put it down once you start reading it. I think that Maj Aftab, who has authored a number of books, agrees with what revolutionary poet Habib Jalib who once said:

Aur sab bhool gayee harf-e-sadaqat likhana

Reh gaya kaam hamara hee baghawat likhana

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