Pakistan: The Field Marshal from Beyond the Grave
By Jamil Majid
More than four decades have elapsed since Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan demitted high office in circumstances that were anything but congenial for him. The Field Marshal's achievements in office were not inconsiderable. Impressive strides were made in infrastructure and private sector development, agriculture was modernised through better use of irrigation, and there was industrial growth effected through liberal tax benefits. GNP rose by close to 45% in 10 years. Ayub Khan enacted land reforms, emphasised family planning, brought about important and welcome changes in Muslim personal law and the country's foreign policy and also achieved understanding with India on the complex Indus water sharing issue. A “certain orderliness and predictability” characterised “Government practices and policies”. Pakistan was even cited by some foreign visitors “as a model for the Third World”. There are thus people who tend to look to his years of power as the halcyon period of Pakistan's history, particularly in the context of what followed. There was, to be sure, a downside to all this, but more on that later. In the last decade or so, information — in the shape of memoirs, declassified papers and diaries — has come to light that afford insights into, and add to the understanding of, the man, his regime and his times.
Ayub Khan's book, Friends Not Masters, was published in 1967, when he was no longer in ascendancy. It may well have been an attempt to shore up his image which took a beating after the 1965 war with India. On the first page of the book, he states that he was born in the village of Rehana on May 14, 1907. It happened to be the last day of Ramadan and the family was preparing to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr. Perhaps he wished to suggest that the omens were propitious at the time of his birth. The Field Marshal's diaries, which covered the period of 1966-72, were published only recently after an embargo of more than 30 years. Ayub Khan had intended these to be published, possibly to put a fine gloss on his life and times. One entry refers to his date of birth. On May 25, 1968, he noted that “symposiums and discussions” on his life were held on his birthday, May 14, that President Johnson had sent a message. He then reveals that he was in fact born in November 1905, and that “an old servant… who used to accompany me” had given the incorrect date to the headmaster of his primary school. Whether or not it coincided with the month of Ramadan is not mentioned. Clearly he had not been truthful earlier about his date of birth. This begs a few questions. Enrolment of a boy or girl in school is the preserve, even pride, of parents, and it is at the time of admission that a child's date of birth is recorded in school. Was it the old servant who took him to the school for admission? Was the old servant literate in English or familiar with the Roman calendar? Is a servant expected to know the birthdays of the children of the household where he serves? Falsifying a date of birth was surely commonplace in those times, and probably still is. Was the story of the old servant merely fiction or a white lie, the purpose of which was to suggest that his parents could not be party to even such a venial offence? There is a discernible holier than thou attitude that runs through his diaries.
In Friends Not Masters, Ayub Khan gives a very sketchy account of his exploits and role in the Burma front during World War II: he was made second in command of the First Assam regiment — which fought its way to Mandalay — and after 18 months was transferred back to India. More information has come to light in recent years. A confidential note –declassified in recent years — of the British Commonwealth Relations Office on Ayub Khan, prepared after he seized power in 1958, refers to this phase of his career: “He (Ayub Khan) was, according to our record, a failure as a Commanding Officer (Lt. Col.) on active service and had to be relieved.” Details about this episode have emerged from accounts of others. Ayub Khan served in Burma during 1944-45. When the Commanding Officer of the regiment, Lt Col. WF Brown was killed, he was given command but later removed by Maj. Gen. TW Rees, Commander of the Indian 19th Infantry Division, for “tactical timidity”, and replaced by Lt.Col. Hugh Parsons. Ayub Khan apparently could be both extravagant with the truth and also economical!
Throughout his military career, Ayub Khan was — by his own account, of course — a thoroughly professional and no-nonsense soldier. In Friends Not Masters, he recounts that as GOC 14th Division at Dhaka, while attending a Divisional Commanders' Conference in Rawalpindi, he was invited with other senior officers to a meeting with Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. The first Pakistani C-in-C of the army was about to be appointed, and the Prime Minister wondered if there would be a reaction among senior officers, if the senior-most officer was not selected for the post. Ayub Khan commented tartly to the Prime Minister that “this question should never have been asked”, army officers served to the best of their ability and accepted without reservation decisions of their superiors. If a decision was not acceptable to anyone, “he should get the hell out of the army”. Ayub Khan disliked HS Suhrawardy, who had defended the accused in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case. After Suhrawardy became Prime Minister and Defence Minister in 1956, Ayub Khan told him brusquely, and quite gratuitously, that as C-in-C he would “obey and carry out whatever legitimate and legal orders” that were given to him. He expected though that there would be no “interference in the internal affairs of the army”.
Ayub Khan became the C-in-C of the Army fortuitously. There were a number of officers senior to him at the time of partition, and of them Maj. Gen. M Iftikhar Khan was selected to be the first Pakistani C-in-C of the army in succession to Gen Douglas Gracey. Gen Iftikhar was, however, killed in a plane crash in 1949, and in 1951 Ayub Khan was appointed C-in-C. In 1955, on completion of his tenure, he was given a four year extension of service. In June 1958, a year ahead of the completion of his extended term, he was given a further two years' extension. In Friends Not Masters he gives an account of how “it happened” and his own “reaction to it”. Prime Minister Firoz Khan Noon had sent him a telegram saying that he was “very glad that you have agreed to stay on as C-in-C…for another two years… Pakistan at this juncture cannot afford to lose your services”. Ayub Khan in his reply expressed gratitude for the PM's “message of appreciation and encouragement” and added that personally he “would have been just as happy to retire” as he would be in “further serving this magnificent army the building of which has been my life long ambition”: again, the epitome of a dispassionate and dignified professional. In an article published in August 1997, Altaf Gauhar gives a somewhat different account. Gauhar served as Information Secretary during 1963-69. He was also, in his own words, Ayub's diarist, speech-writer, adviser, and one of his principal associates. British papers noted that he had a “special personal position with Ayub Khan”. In 1958, in the waning months of parliamentary democracy, Gauhar was Deputy Secretary in the Prime Minister's Secretariat. One afternoon Ayub Khan, in full uniform, burst into Gauhar's office to convey an invitation to Prime Minister Firoz Khan Noon to stay with him during his visit to Rawalpindi the following week. When Gauhar conveyed this to Noon, the latter commented that Ayub Khan was anxious to get another extension, and wondered why the General was in such a hurry as his present term still had a year to go. Years later, when Gauhar mentioned this to Ayub, the latter's response was sheepish and evasive. The Prime Minister, Ayub said, under the influence of Mrs Noon, was considering Maj. Gen Sher Ali Khan for the post of C-in-C, and so “my boys were keeping tabs on him”.
Sher Ali retired from the army in 1958, and was appointed High Commissioner to Malaysia. On 15 Dec 1969, Ayub Khan noted in his diary that Sher Ali “was retired because he had reached the end of his usefulness”. Sher Ali's assessment of Ayub was just as acerbic. Ayub Khan's knowledge of strategy, he felt, was “limited to barrack and battalion”. There are references to Ayub Khan's deficiencies as a soldier in declassified British documents also. A note dated October 28, 1958 mentions that “his military knowledge is limited” but there was “no doubt who is head man”.
He was not considered to be “of high intellectual stature”. The British High Commissioner in a letter dated May 9, 1969 addressed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, noted that Ayub Khan “was not a particularly successful Army officer”, was “a little secretive about his early military career”, “showed no great enthusiasm for meeting visiting military leaders…because he thought there was some danger of the shallowness of his military knowledge being exposed”.
Two entries in his diary suggest that the Field Marshal was not quite comfortable with the notion that most people considered him to have been the author and architect of the 1958 military coup. On July 12, 1967, he confirmed to his “old friend” former Chief Justice Munir, what Iskander Mirza had told the latter in London: the decision to abrogate the constitution in October 1958 had been Mirza's, and that he, Ayub Khan, had not been “consulted on its drafting or issue”. On July 20. 1969, the Field Marshal was irked by a comment of Chaudhury Mohammad Ali, in a newspaper interview, blaming him for “being overambitious and conspiring with Ghulam Mohammad and Iskander Mirza for dismissing constituent assemblies, abrogation of the constitution etc.” This, he wrote in his diary, was “all nonsense”; the truth he had explained in his “book Friends Not Masters, without any reservations”.
In his book, the Field Marshal recounts, somewhat cursorily, the circumstances leading to the Coup. He mentions that “by the middle of 1958, the whole country was in the grip of a serious economic crisis”. He did not think that Mirza “ever seriously wanted to hold elections” and was “looking for a suitable opportunity to abrogate the Constitution”. Ayub “would tell” Mirza that “if the country was to be saved”, the latter “would have to give a constructive lead”. By May of 1958, Ayub was certain that if the country was left to politicians, “we should expect nothing but ruin”. On October 5, Ayub reached Karachi by train; where “an agonizingly prolonged political farce was drawing to a close”. Mirza had informed him a few days earlier that “he had decided to act”. On meeting Mirza, he received confirmation that the latter had indeed made up his mind, and was also assured by him that it was “absolutely necessary”. On October 7, 1958, Iskander Mirza abrogated the Constitution and proclaimed Martial Law. Ayub promptly assured Mirza that he had “done the right thing”. The Field Marshal clearly preferred to shelter behind the fig leaf of orders from above. The paragon of probity, who had cautioned Suhrawardy that he would obey only “legitimate and lawful orders”, seemed to have undergone a metamorphosis! Other accounts of the 1958 coup do not suggest such a quiescent role for him.
The late SM Khan served as Pakistan's Foreign Secretary during 1970-72. In 1958, he was Deputy High Commissioner in London. In his memoirs he recalls a curious incident. The then C-in-C of the Army, Gen Ayub Khan was on a visit to London, “a few months before 1958 army coup”. One day he went to the High Commission and was closeted with High Commissioner Ikramullah for “a long time”. Ikramullah wore a thoughtful look after seeing off the General and observed laconically: “I do not know if I am right in my judgment, but if I am, then the General is headed for bigger things in life”. Ikramullah did not elaborate and “changed the subject quickly”.
Altaf Gauhar was a very competent civil servant, who had functioned as Ayub Khan's apologist and spin-doctor. In his not unsympathetic biography of the Field Marshal, he has touched on Ayub's role in the 1958 coup. Ayub Khan, according to Gauhar, “was always on the side of the Governor General (Ghulam Mohammad) in his tussle for power with parliament”. After the adoption of the Constitution, Ayub, on more than one occasion, urged Mirza “to save the country from the politicians who were leading it to ruin”. Ayub's was “a covert collaborative role”; he wanted “Mirza to be seen as the man who decided, in his own judgment, to abrogate the Constitution” and impose martial law. He was “willing to go along with Mirza but not to go down with him”. Gauhar writes that Mirza had “contempt for the constitution and the political process”; to him “these were luxuries that Pakistan could ill-afford”. Ayub and Finance Minister Amjad Ali were entrusted with the responsibility to sensitise “the Americans” to the fact that if general elections were held in February 1959 as scheduled, “persons with dubious antecedents and socialist leanings” would “grab power” through rigging, and the country “would be destabilized”. Ayub Khan did visit the US in April 1958 for discussions with important dignitaries of the Administration. Two days after the coup, Ayub and Mirza jointly met a group of journalists. Ayub spoke after Mirza; Altaf Gauhar quotes him as saying, “We both came to the conclusion that the country was going to the dogs”. Ayub revealed that he had bluntly warned the President that if the latter did not act, “we shall force a change”.
Declassified British papers also suggest Ayub Khan's active involvement in the 1958 coup. A Foreign Office note, citing the British Military Adviser in Karachi, stated that “detailed planning for the military operation on October 7 had been undertaken about two weeks earlier in Rawalpindi by a small group of senior Army officers”. According to another note, Ayub had been saying to his senior generals for some months that the army would have to take action if “things got any worse or if the elections went wrong”. The British doubted that Mirza's was the principal role in the “execution and timing” of the coup.
The year 1965 was a watershed of sorts for Ayub Khan. In January an electoral college comprising 80,000 Basic Democrats gave him an absolute majority in the Presidential election. Altaf Gauhar has described the election as “an administration exercise to ensure Ayub's victory”. The other major event was the war with India in September, from the effects of which the Field Marshal and his regime never fully recovered. In his book Gauhar devotes considerable space to the war and its aftermath. In June 1965 a cease fire had been established in the Rann of Kutch. Ayub's “old prejudice that the Hindu has no stomach for a fight” had “turned into a belief, if not a military doctrine”, and he came to believe that a settlement of the Kashmir issue could be patterned on the Rann of Kutch accord. He was persuaded that the time was opportune for a decisive move on Kashmir. The plan of action comprised two phases, Operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam. In the first phase armed infiltrators were to be sent across the cease-fire line into the Indian part of Kashmir to start a guerrilla war. With strong local support Indian forces would be harassed and eventually driven out of Kashmir. Grand Slam would be the piece de resistance, the strategic town of Akhnur would be captured and the only rail link between India and Kashmir severed, isolating the five Indian divisions in Kashmir. The plan was based on certain assumptions that were more wishful than realistic; the Indian leadership was thought to be untried and weak, the local people would support the “freedom fighters” and that fighting would be confined to Kashmir. Wary of a strong Chinese reaction, India would not risk a wider conflict. The Information Ministry was given the responsibility to broadcast the “Voice of Kashmir” that would propagate “the cause of freedom fighters”. By end July the five forces that comprised Operation Gibraltar had crossed the cease fire line to reach “operational positions” inside Indian Kashmir.
The plan floundered; local support was not forthcoming, and the Indian response was robust and purposive. On August 8, some of the infiltrators were captured and their interviews broadcast over All India Radio. By the end of August, C-in-C, Gen Musa, admitted to Ayub that “Gibraltar had been a complete failure” and that “Grand Slam was frozen in its tracks”. A decision had been taken to wind up operations, when in the early hours of September 6 India launched an attack on Lahore; both Ayub and his C-in-C, according to Gauhar, were taken by complete surprise. Lahore did not fall, but the Field Marshal woke to the reality that Pakistan lacked the strength and capability for the role he had chosen to play. British High Commissioner, Sir Morrice James, in a dispatch to the Commonwealth Relations Office, after meeting Ayub on September 7, described him as “a deeply strained and troubled man”. On September 9 US Ambassador, Walter McConaughy, informed Foreign Minister Bhutto that the US had “decided to stop all military aid to Pakistan and India”. In Moscow, Indian Ambassador TN Kaul was assured by Prime Minister Kosygin that the USSR would “continue its regular arms supplies to India”. In a related development, US Secretary of State Dean Rusk told Ambassador BK Nehru that the US would extend military aid to India, if it were attacked by China. Prime Minister Harold Wilson gave a similar assurance. Faced with dwindling supplies of spares and ammunition, and the certainty that India's superior numbers and greater military resources would begin to tell, Ayub's initial posture of defiance and resolution was no longer an option. He was not averse to a cease-fire, but wanted a Security Council resolution that would include “a self-executing machinery to resolve the Kashmir dispute”.
During the “night of 19/20 September”, Ayub, accompanied by Bhutto, paid a secret visit to China to “discuss the whole situation directly with Chou En-lai”. Chou and Chen Yi were supportive and, based on their own experience, suggested a prolonged “people's war”, something neither Ayub nor Bhutto was prepared for. On September 22, Ayub accepted the Security Council's cease-fire resolution, which fell short of what he had hoped for. It did not provide for any follow-up mechanism to address the Kashmir issue. To Gauhar, he “seemed to have lost all power of decision”.
By the end of November both Shastri and Ayub had accepted Kosygin's invitation to meet at Tashkent for negotiations in January 1966. Prior to Tashkent, Ayub visited London and Washington in December; neither Prime Minister Wilson nor President Johnson, however, could be persuaded to get involved in the Kashmir issue. Both were content to let the Soviet Union mediate. For Ayub, the war had turned out to be a military stalemate, a political setback and a diplomatic rebuff. Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, he urged the settlement of the Kashmir issue through self-determination. He saw nothing inconsistent between demanding a plebiscite in Kashmir, on the one hand, and, denying his own people the right to directly elect their leaders, on the other.
The war caused considerable economic damage. There was also another subtle and deadly impact on the economy and the regime. British High Commissioner Cyril Pickard, in a persuasive assessment of the Ayub era addressed to Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart on May 9, 1969, covered this aspect. American military aid — of the order of $100 million annually — was stopped after the war started, obliging Pakistan to purchase arms. This became an added burden on the economy. US economic aid was also substantially reduced, “from $412 million in 1965 to $283 million in 1966, with PL 480 wheat supplied on far more onerous terms”. Pickard believed that by 1965 the economy was “poised for a great leap forward”, and that this reduction of aid was a “major and decisive factor which prevented Pakistan developing sufficiently rapidly to offset adequately the defects in the President and his system, and thus led to the collapse of the Ayub regime”.
After a distinguished military career, Lt. Gen. Jahandad Khan served as Governor of Sind during 1984-87. In 1965-66 he was Military Secretary to the then Governor of West Pakistan, the Nawab of Kalabagh. He wrote a book, Pakistan Leadership Challenges, in which Kalabagh comes across as a sound, no-nonsense and commonsensical administrator, firmly wedded to the values and traditions of the feudal class. British assessment of Kalabagh was very similar. In his book, Jahandad hints at a somewhat sinister aspect of the Ayub regime. In 1963 the regime faced strong opposition from the Jamaat-i-Islami. Ayub himself “felt gravely threatened by Maudoodi”. “Some sycophants” sought to persuade him that “the physical elimination” of the Maulana would bring peace to the country. At a public meeting in Gujranwala, Maudoodi was shot at but escaped unhurt. During a visit to Lahore, Ayub told Kalabagh that Maudoodi was “an agitator with bad designs”, and sought the Nawab's “help in putting an end to his agitational politics”. The Nawab demurred, and later lamented to his friend Dr Hafeez Toosi that such a proposal should have been broached to him.
In November 1967, a little more than a year after he left the office of Governor, Kalabagh was shot to death by his son Asad. Jahandad writes that the Nawab's wife, her brother and his sons, Muzaffar and Asad, had conspired against him in a family dispute, and that prior to the murder, his sons “got assurance of government protection through a relative of President Ayub”. The murderer was subsequently acquitted; Jahandad attributed this primarily to “overt government support at the highest level”. Comments on the Kalabagh murder in Ayub's diaries are curiously bland and seem more sympathetic to the perpetrator than the victim. On November 26, Ayub was informed of Kalabagh's death — Asad had an angry exchange with his father; the Nawab fired two shots at Asad, who fired back five times, killing his father. To Ayub, it was “an obvious case of self-defence”. On December 8, 1969, Ayub was “glad to hear” that Asad had been acquitted. He also noted that Asad had to spend five to six lakhs in fighting the case; the defence lawyer had “robbed him mercilessly”. Ayub and Kalabagh had adjacent plots of land in Islamabad. On March 2, 1970 Asad had gone to the site, where he and his brother were building a house. Ayub invited him “over for a cup of tea”, expressed “sorrow over the sad incident” and inquired “about what had happened because the Nawab was a friend… Asad's reply was very perfunctory, without much regret”. To the Field Marshal, the murder of “a friend” was merely “a sad incident”, and he saw nothing bizarre in offering tea and sympathy to the unrepentant murderer!
The desire to be appreciated or praised is innate to humans, and Ayub certainly was not averse to either praise or appreciation. He diligently recorded in his diary, without discernment, comments that reflected to his credit.
On October 16, 1966, Foreign Minister Pirzada cabled to him after meeting Indian Foreign Minister Swaran Singh in New York. Pirzada reported that India had realised Nehru was “wrong in not accepting my (i.e. Ayub's) advice which I gave him from time to time”. On October 13, 1967, “General Cariappa and Mr Desai” (presumably CC Desai former High Commissioner to Pakistan) called on Ayub. They were engaged in what would be track two diplomacy today. Ayub professed to be embarrassed to hear that he “was the master of this subcontinent and could prove its saviour”. On March 25, 1967, former civil servant G Mueenuddin gave Ayub the “impressions of his visit to India”. He had met RK Nehru (former diplomat) and Indira Gandhi. Both had told him that “because of great envy towards Pakistan, there was no hope of making any concessions on Kashmir”.
On February 19, 1967, at a lunch hosted by the Judges of the Lahore High Court, Chief Justice Inamullah confessed to have been “frightened and shaken” by Ayub's ability to “assess men and their character on casual association and contact”. Ayub sagely replied that “it has been my lifelong profession”. On July 3, 1968, former Deputy Minister of West Pakistan, Begum GA Khan, spoke to Ayub in glowing terms about his son Gohar. She had got to know him during a mission to China, “and was deeply impressed by his manners and conduct”. She urged Ayub to take care of Gohar, and thought “one day he should lead Pakistan”. Ayub noted that though this might “sound like flattery”, it was not so; his own assessment of Gohar was the same! The diaries are liberally sprinkled with similar entries. Altaf Gauhar writes that by the middle of 1966, the cabinet, with the exception of Khwaja Shahabuddin, was a “colourless body composed of mindless persons”, whose “principal occupation” was sycophancy. And High Commissioner Cyril Pickard reported to the Commonwealth Secretary on August 8, 1966 that Ayub “suffers from all the defects of an autocrat who isolates himself in the company of sycophants”.
Ayub's sweeping comments in his diaries on eminent personalities, especially political adversaries, sound peevish. A few examples: Maudoodi is “this traitor and true enemy of Islam”, and would have been lynched in any other Muslim country; Daultana has no scruples, principles and character; Nurul Amin, Daultana and Mohammad Ali (presumably Chaudhuri Mohammad Ali) killed democracy, are all traitors; Qayyum will sell the country if it benefits him; Bugti is a scoundrel; Ghaffar Khan is a traitor; Justice Cornelius lacks commonsense, is a poor judge of men; ZA Suleri is an opportunist and thoroughly unreliable; Sobur Khan is an opportunist; Wahiduzzaman is a big mischief-maker; Asghar Khan is neurotic, “unreasoned” and not above deceit; businessmen, the Dawoods and Habibs excepted, are nothing short of scoundrels, damn rascals. His comments on Bhutto are harsh. Bhutto is “unscrupulous and soulless”, “thoroughly vindictive”, an “utter exploiter and scoundrel”, has “unbounded ambitions” and fascist tendencies. Even in his gentler comments Ayub stints on praise; Monem Khan “though a very good man, knows nothing about economics, development or higher administration”; Jabbar Khan “may have other limitations, but he certainly does not lack patriotism”. British High Commissioner Sir Morrice James reported to the Commonwealth Secretary on April 22, 1964, that Ayub “distrusts and dislikes people who argue with him”. Five years later his successor, Sir Cyril Pickard, reported that Ayub “was arrogant, intolerant of criticism and with little sense of loyalty to his colleagues”.
In 1966 Yahya Khan was appointed to succeed Gen Musa as the C-in-C of the army. A report of the British High Commission dated May 5, 1966 described him as having the reputation of being a brilliant soldier, “certainly a colourful character: a near alcoholic with a marked weakness for the opposite sex”. The British Military Attache, in a personality note, described him as a “heavy drinker, womanizer, intriguer and possible anti-British”. An intelligence note of the US State Department dated March 26, 1969 referred to Yahya's “unsavory reputation in his personal habits”. Yahya, the note stated, “drinks heavily and is accused (probably with justification) of 'womanizing'…with wives of his military subordinates”. Jahandad Khan quotes Kalabagh as telling him that “Ayub will make the blunder of his life if he appoints Yahya as C-in-C because he is a debauchee and drunkard”. Ayub could not have been unaware of Yahya Khan's unholy proclivities.
On March 24, 1969, in the face of mounting public unrest and agitation throughout the country, Ayub decided “to step aside”. He could have, but did not, invoke the provision in the constitution — a constitution that he had himself foisted on the country — by which after his departure, the Speaker would assume office as Acting President, with elections soon to follow. SM Khan felt that the Speaker, “being from East Pakistan, was not trusted by Ayub Khan”. Instead he invited Army Chief Yahya Khan to “fulfill his constitutional responsibilities” and “restore normal, social, economic and administrative life”. Yahya Khan responded with alacrity. Altaf Gauhar writes, “Yahya had led Ayub to believe that the army would put down the agitation and eliminate his political opponents and put him back in power after three months”. Sir Cyril Pickard reported to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on April 9, after a meeting with Ayub the previous day, that Ayub had “earnestly commended President Yahya to us”, as “a sound and a cautious man who could be trusted”. Ayub's assessment would begin to change before too long.
On September 13, 1969 he noted in his diary, disturbing statements about Yahya's conduct by “responsible and knowledgeable people”; Yahya went to office late, left by 1 PM, and spent the rest of the time “drinking, womanizing and some sleep”. On November 12, 1969 his physician Col. Mohiuddin, who was also the President's physician, told him that Yahya “drinks very heavily and is an alcoholic”; that Generals Hamid and Peerzada, the only persons with access to him, join him “in the evening for drinking and bouts of womanizing”. On February 24, 1970, Gen KM Sheikh informed him that “Yahya spent most of his time in orgies and drinking and womanizing”. On February 2, 1971 he heard that at a meal for the Iranian Foreign Minister, Yahya “drank so much that he was leaking whilst drinking and his trousers were wet throughout”. On September 7, 1971, he noted that the “opening ceremony” of Yahya's house in Peshawar cantonment, financed by the Alvi brothers of Standard Bank, was “followed by several days of orgy, drinking and womanizing”; that at one point Yahya had “two women on his lap” and Gen Hamid one.
Ayub always took pride in his judgment of people, and it is an irony that his most scathing comments should be aimed at onetime favourite protégés, Bhutto and Yahya.
Ayub Khan himself faced angry questions about Yahya. On January 22, 1971, an unnamed friend told him that Yahya did not have “any strength of character”, was an “unprincipled appeaser”, and “accused” Ayub of “appointing him as C-in-C”. On October 26, 1971 Col. Mohiuddin, “who is normally very tongue-tied”, told Ayub's brother, Sardar Bahadur Khan, that Ayub might or might not have “made other mistakes but appointing Yahya was a great blunder”, for which “God would never forgive” him. Ayub's reaction to both comments was essentially the same, “what else was the answer at that time”. On December 17, 1971 he noted that Yahya and the political leaders were being abused by the people, and he (i.e. Ayub) was “also blamed for handing over to Yahya”. Ayub, however, did not see how he could have acted differently, as “Yahya was the C-in-C of the army”. Even with the wisdom of hindsight, and in the full knowledge of Yahya's moral lapses and villainous instincts, Ayub would not concede that he had erred. Sir Cyril Pickard's report of August 8, 1966 described Ayub as “obstinate, overbearing, and therefore not always informed about what he would not like to hear”.
Two entries in his diaries show that Ayub was not lacking in compassion for Yahya. On December 19, 1971 he wrote that “Yahya's house and its furniture were burnt by an agitated mob”, a “very sad and bad precedent”. On December 21, 1971, he noted that in spite of “Yahya's betrayal and disloyalty”, he felt “sorry for him and the manner and circumstances under which he had to go”. Singularly enough, Ayub did not have a word of sympathy or concern for Bengalis — who incidentally constituted the majority of the country — when they were put to the sword by a ruthless military junta.
A very bigoted and baleful aspect of Ayub is reflected in his comments on Hindus and Bengalis. In a diary entry on August 12, 1967, he regretted the urge in East Pakistanis “to isolate themselves from West Pakistan and revert to Hindu language and culture”. This was because Bengalis had “no culture and language of their own”. To Ayub it was a tragedy that they had “forced two state languages on Pakistan”. On August 23 he told a gathering of intellectuals in Dhaka that the Bengali “had cut himself off from Urdu”, which was “the vehicle in which Muslim thought and philosophy was expressed”, was thus “totally at sea”, and may “drift back to Hinduism”. Ayub thought that a large majority of Muslims in East Pakistan had “an animist base…a thick layer of Hinduism and top crust of Islam”. On September 7, 1967, he laments that “God has been very unkind to us in giving the sort of neighbours and compatriots we have”. He “could not think of a worst combination, Hindus and Bengalis”. On December 14, 1967: Bengali civil servants were “limited, bigoted, provincialist”, “little men with narrow vision”. On October 1, 1968: The immigrants in East Pakistan “feel for Muslim unity but the Shudhra converts, who are indigenous, composing the bulk of the population… have a great urge to revert to Hinduism”. On April 13, 1969 Ayub recalls with relish, and no doubt by way of endorsement, a story he heard from Kalabagh. In 1946 or so, Kalabagh's cousin the Sardar of Kot Fateh Khan had complained to the former that “this man Jinnah…is wanting us to go under the Shudras of Bengal”. Ayub relates this unabashedly racist comment in the context of demands that East Pakistan with 56% of the population should have 56% of seats in Parliament. The Sardar, if not Ayub, was clearly familiar with the basic norm and mechanics of representative government!
Ayub did not hide his attitude toward Bengalis and Hindus. In his memoirs, Chester Bowles recalls meeting him during a visit to Pakistan as President Kennedy's Special Representative and Adviser on Asian, African and Latin American Affairs. He “knew President Ayub Khan as a charming, Western-oriented Sandhurst military man with, unhappily, little understanding of Asia or its people”. During discussions, Ayub “was almost as contemptuous of his own East Bengalis…as he was of the Indians and the Afghans”. Sir Morrice James in a report dated April 9, 1964, mentions the “obsessional dislike…for India and the Hindus” of many Pakistanis, which Ayub Khan “now shares to the full”. Altaf Gauhar found his attitude toward Bengalis “highly patronizing, almost racist”. In Friends Not Masters, Ayub mentions an important lesson he had learnt in school, that none should be judged “by his locality, colour or vintage”. He declares that it “has been an article of faith” for him “that a man should be judged on merit”!
An elaborate rebuttal of Ayub's rabid observations is not necessary; a brief clarification, though, may not be out of place. Bengali has a long and rich literary tradition, and predates Urdu. In the early 1950's, the people of East Bengal comprised over 55% of Pakistan's population, and yet did not seek to impose Bengali on West Pakistan. They protested vigorously only when Urdu was sought to be imposed on them in 1952. To Muslims, the message of Islam is universal, and transcends the barriers of class, caste, race, language, national boundaries and even of time. It is thus absurd to seek a correlation between a good Muslim on the one hand, and the knowledge of Urdu on the other.
In June 1964, Sir Morrice James described the Ayub regime as “essentially a Punjab-Pathan autocracy seasoned with émigrés from the UP”. Three years later Sir Cyril Pickard reported that Ayub “chooses to exercise a one-man rule”. The 1962 Constitution provided for parity of representation in Parliament between East and West Pakistan, as did the Constitution of 1956. Ayub wholeheartedly believed in parity between the two wings, but not in its corollary, namely, parity between and among the constituent units of West Pakistan. Parity, in effect, served to further marginalise East Pakistan. Altaf Gauhar recalls telling Ayub that Bengalis had “genuine grievances. Even what had been promised…under the Constitution had not been delivered”. He gave the example of the federal legislature and its secretariat; these were to have been located in Dhaka, however, all “legislative work continued to be done in Islamabad where the assembly staff was permanently lodged”. The demand for provincial autonomy was the natural reaction. In a federal polity, autonomy is almost invariably a demand of the smaller or numerically weaker units, who feel the need for constitutional safeguards. Autonomy for provinces was part of Jinnah's 14 points in 1929. In Pakistan the demand came from the most populous province.
Ayub Khan passed away on April 20, 1974. The then Prime Minister of Pakistan, ZA Bhutto — who served in the Cabinet for eight of the 10 years of the Ayub era — did not attend the funeral. Earlier in the month Bhutto had travelled to France for the funeral of President Pompidou.
For a definitive assessment of Ayub and his times, historians of the future will, of course, draw upon contemporary accounts. Perceptions of people who have written about Ayub or have interacted with him are not very different. General Jahandad Khan writes that his shortcomings notwithstanding, “Ayub will still be judged as a better ruler of Pakistan than many others”. AK Brohi has been quoted in declassified American papers. Ayub's rule, Brohi told Political Officer of the US Embassy, DM Cochran, on March 31, 1969, had resulted in the “prostitution of the entire basis of political life”. Dr Humayun Khan served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan during 1988-89. In his introduction to Roedad Khan's compilation of declassified British papers, he wrote that Ayub's positive contributions had “proved to be less durable than the negative”, that the “economic, social and administrative stability” he achieved was “set against the backdrop of a political wasteland”.
To Altaf Gauhar, Ayub was not quite Abraham Lincoln, but not a charlatan either. Gauhar considered him a benevolent dictator. He stresses Ayub's achievements; great strides in agriculture, progress in the industrial field and, as a result of deregulation, a vibrant private sector. He mentions a book by Samuel Huntington where he is likened to the great law-givers of ancient Greece, Solon and Lycurgus. Ayub's shortcomings are also mentioned. The provinces, “particularly East Bengal felt that they had lost their identity in Ayub's unitary form of government”. Ayub would not “submit to any transparent system of accountability”. Anyone questioning the “motives or the performance of his government” was “ignorant or malicious”. Ayub foundered “because military rule is a complete negation of democratic principles and fundamental human rights”. Military dictatorship brought out “the worst qualities in a citizen — fear, jealousy, suspicion — and turns the qualities of tolerance, trust, and self-sacrifice into unrewarding pursuits”.
There is a certain consistency, and also subtle change, in the assessments of Ayub by successive British High Commissioners over a period of 10 years. Sir Alexander Symon is almost euphoric in his report of September 30, 1960 to the Commonwealth Secretary: Ayub's Government is the best that “Pakistan has had”, it enjoys “popular confidence and…deserves our help and support”, the regime would stand or fall by Ayub's “own performance”, that “most of his colleagues are pygmies by comparison”. He endorses Ayub's statement that “almost a hundred years worth of planning has actually taken place within a period of less than two speedy years”. Nearly four years on, Sir Morrice James was more cautious. Pakistan showed “signs of relative prosperity and economic development”, which he attributed to “fruitful local response to overseas aid”, and Ayub's good leadership. “Warts and all Ayub is the best President of Pakistan we have. There were “some near-monarchical aspects to Ayub's… style of government”. Ayub was a “decent, upright man…just, humane and capable”, who wished to refashion Pakistan in his own image. He was also “scornful of and antipathetic to intellectuals”…and incompatible with Bengalis.
In August 1966, Sir Cyril Pickard reported to the Commonwealth Secretary that “the elan of the regime” had subsided in the eight years since 1958, Ayub was “becoming increasingly isolated and autocratic”, the Assemblies were powerless, Ayub had created “around himself a political vacuum”, he had “fewer and fewer friends and advisers” who could give him disinterested advice, corruption was on the increase, and the “unpleasant symptoms of a police State…have continued”. Ayub, however, “genuinely desires to help the people of Pakistan”. Sir Cyril likened him to the “man from Brobdingnag…he who can make two ears of corn grow where only one grew before deserves better of mankind than the whole race of politicians put together”. Ayub had done more than “any previous government to encourage development and stimulate economic progress” in East Pakistan. Regions outside the Punjab, however, felt they were not getting a fair deal. It was in “the British interest and in the interest of the West that Ayub should remain in power”. After Ayub left office, Sir Cyril, in a dispatch to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary Michael Stewart, gave a general overview of the man and his times: Ayub “doubted the relevance of democratic institutions” and held politicians in contempt, his “regime was based on paternalism”, he dispensed “with any men of stature…and tended to finish up with a Cabinet of apparent nonentities”, the Basic Democracies system had “all the vices of the Rotten Boroughs of 18th century Britain”, and in the end Ayub lost the will to rule.
Dr Humayun Khan believed that the 1958 Martial Law — as distinct from subsequent ones — was not “essentially reactive”. There were no compelling reasons for such an extra-constitutional intervention. Many would concur. The first ever general elections were, in any case, due in February 1959. Altaf Gauhar had a somewhat different perspective. He writes that Ayub's “accession to power was generally, and quite genuinely, acknowledged as the only way out of the mess which the politicians had created during the first 11 years of Pakistan's existence”. Sir Cyril Pickard seems to agree. In a dispatch dated March 26, 1969, he suggests that the 1958 Martial Law “regime was welcomed by the whole country”. Whatever the truth, a big question remains unanswered. Was Ayub driven by political ambition? Or had he persuaded himself that a firm hand was needed at the helm, and only he could provide it? Iskander Mirza clearly had a personal angle. He knew that after the general elections, regardless of which party won, a new President would be elected.
Major General Wajahat Husain, as a young Lieutenant, served as ADC to the C-in-C, General Douglas Gracey, in 1948-49. In an interview with the Defence Journal, he related a curious conversation he had with General Gracey in London in early 1956. Gracey had asked him pointedly when Ayub was “taking over the country”. The biggest problem with Pakistan, Gracey thought, was senior army officers, with ambitions, trying to take over the country. Gracey believed that Ayub was “very ambitious” and had cautioned Prime Minister Liaquat about this. He had, with reservations, recommended Ayub as his own successor, as he was the only one of the three Generals under consideration — the other two being Generals Nasir and Raza — with some experience of command.
Ideally a person should be judged by his best, and not his worst. For a leader of a people or nation, more specific criteria may apply; his highest achievements and also worst abuses and mistakes, opportunities created and exploited, and also ignored and squandered, the quality of political and moral leadership brought to bear, and lastly his or her impact on history. These elements can be applied to Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan, and also Peter the Great and Napoleon. The Field Marshal deserves no less.