Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: Three Presidents and an Aide - Life, Power and Politics

Published in Daily Times / 9 Jan 2010
Author: Ambassador Arshad Sami Khan SJ
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

MY DEAR COUNTRYMEN - three ‘nation altering words’ followed by some standard lines that come from an equally standard speech typically associated with the beginning or ending of a takeover. In Pakistan anyway. It is an increasingly familiar pattern, an unfortunate legacy and a well acted performance from otherwise green actors – that every generation gets to experience, analyze, dread and crib over for the remainder of their lives. It is also one that they seldom understand fully, can never challenge and forever speculate about. The camera eventually pans away from the triumphant or vanquished knight in fatigues! – the haze of mystery surrounding the men who wielded a nation’s fate in their hands oh so casually, remains.

What happened next – is always more interesting than scripted moments of history.

As an Aide-de-Camp (ADC), Arshad Sami Khan was perfectly positioned with an all access backstage pass into 3 presidencies. He witnessed the skilfully manipulated rise and cleverly orchestrated fall of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto - as their ADC and glimpsed the inner machinations of the Prime Ministers House as Chief Protocol Officer of Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister. Aided by notes and an innate gift for story telling, Sami Khan proceeded to arrange his experiences in the form of a book. With 6 years of service in that high profile appointment, he had a treasure trove of stories. But even though this would not be classified as an expose per se, being a relatively tame account by comparison, the book still took ten years to see the light of day.

Now that it has – we finally get to know what these three – Ayub and Yahya in particular, were up to when they were not leading news at local gossip columns, planning disastrous Operations (Gibraltar) or watching the dismemberment of Pakistan from their lofty perch. Their ADC is privy to all the details – after all, aides are there to ‘assist the senior officer’ 24/7 - a glorified nanny, if you will. But while he manages to keep the readers interested without vilifying his bosses or delving into scandalous details, even going so far as to change a few names, it is still hard to keep true natures from surfacing now and then, however unwittingly.

Flt. Lt - Sami Khan (SJ) had flown maximum combat missions in 1965 War while in the PAF. As a war veteran, he takes us back to the 1971 War from a military mans perspective and as an aide he provides a unique insight into the political wrangling preceding the fall of Dacca and following the aftermath. As he saw the Federation crumble away in the East Pakistan debacle, Sami Khan has his own interpretation about what (not who) exactly was responsible for the ultimate break-up of Pakistan. And, according to him, it is not the oft reviled Yahya Khan. Sandwiched between the amusing anecdotes is an incisive examination showing why religion is not enough of a motivator to prevent countries already divided by geography, from getting torn asunder with just a little prodding. Excruciating as it to relive that horrific phase, these chapters are worthy of attention. Crisis after crisis rocked Pakistan – just as it does now. The era was defined by insurgencies, intrigues, war, sugar hikes and remembered for reshaping the political landscape.

The history lesson is an added bonus and there are enough light-hearted moments to relieve the tension. The writer takes pains to clarify the especially sleazy rumours, as he entertains with titbits like Yahya Khan’s escapades a la ‘Roman Holiday’ fascinates with a kaleidoscope of imagery taken straight from the ‘photo frame of history’ and shocks with Mr. Bhutto’s itinerary during ‘71 War/debacle. There is also an amusing little episode concerning our Friends not Masters! when books and movies about ‘The Ugly American’ were making international rounds and the living example was doing the local circuit.

Though those were dark times and none of the presidencies had happy endings, Sami Khan keeps the book from getting pulled into a black hole. The 280 page long narrative flows smoothly but the story ends rather abruptly and on a curious note. The writer is discomfited by how much Libya’s Gaddafi seemed to be in sync with Pakistan’s internal (and often secret) affairs but does not explore this bizarre interest further, leaving the reader disturbed , concerned and a tad frustrated.

Ambassador Sami Khan joined the diplomatic service in later years. His 6 year record as an aide remains unbroken to this day. An ADC is regarded as a trusted friend of the family. Such is the nature of his relationship with the Head of State. That trust has not been misplaced. The Curtain fell on the men he served long ago. Sami Khan also passed away in 2009.

His book would be a valuable addition to the archives. These 3 Presidents have been cast as heroes in their own story, play arch - villains in their rival’s edition and tyrants/traitors/victims depending upon which version of history one chooses to believe. Fortunately for them, this ADC extraordinaire was loyal to the end. Sami Khan’s book gives them a new identity, as ordinary men in extraordinary positions - who messed up. ‘Three Presidents and an Aide’ is the closest one could come to feeling some empathy for an otherwise controversial set of characters. And that is something!

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

VIEW: PAF - Both Sides of the COIN

Published In HILAL (Military Mag) Jan 2010

As gleaming multi-role fighters taxi down the runway, their occupants are ready for the looming battle yet, the war they are now about to embark on is unlike anything their predecessors have experienced. If taking on an enemy with a (non-existent) airpower capability and a pervasive hold over Pakistani territory is PAF’s latest mission; seamlessly transitioning from defenders of the skies to defenders of the soil – is its biggest challenge. As a conventionally armed air force adds another dimension of counterinsurgency (COIN) to its formidable list of specialities, the reshuffled priorities have revealed zero collateral damage as a guiding principal, and an intensive inter-services planning with PAK Army high command as a mandatory element of its COIN operations.

While an impressive armada of conventional weaponry is on standby for the long term threat, a more immediate danger puts PAF’s COIN capability to the test. And as the PAF carries on a…

BOOK REVIEW: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief / By Rick Riordan

First Published inDaily Times / Saturday, September 04, 2010

Reposted atLiberty Books Blog

Published under the title: Of gods and men
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Olympian gods and goddesses are not the best role models; their moral compass is frequently out of order and no one dares suggest they get it fixed. The (stormy) age of the gods was great while it lasted but it is over. Rick Riordan reawakens the gods, gives them another shot at (eternal) life with a brand new home, creating a new legion of heroes and heroines in the process. He then combines all these elements to launch his fantasy series making mythology the centrepiece and family values the essential pillars of his newly redesigned universe.

How do these extinct entities fare in a (literary) world already overrun with vampires, witches, werewolves and wizards? Set in the present day, Riordan’s young adult fantasy novel tries to survive the onslaught of other supernatural beings by giving neglected Greek gods a clever makeover. T…

BOOK REVIEW: DIARIES OF FIELD MARSHAL MOHAMMAD AYUB KHAN 1966-1972

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007

Books allow people to have their say. Diaries express what they actually meant. Therefore, every prominent personality must stray from the path of political correctness and leave behind a diary. One way to regain an insight into the defining moments of our history post ‘65 War would be through the diaries of Pakistan’s first military ruler and first C-in-C, Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan, who also authored the book, ‘Friends. Not Masters’. The personal lives of public figures are always intriguing; while their contemporaries indict/acquit them on consequences of their actions, diaries give individuals a rare shot at swaying the upcoming generation of juries. Recorded during the uneasy calm before an inevitable storm brewing on the Eastern horizon and Indian front, the entries, spanning 7 years from September 1966 - October 1972, are replete with shrewdness and candor of a narrator who observed the events initially as a key player…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: INFERNO by Dan Brown

First Published in Daily Times / (Pakistan) / 1 June 2013

Reproduced in The Kashmir Moniter



Fans who have kept up with Robert Langdon, our favorite symbologist/iconologist on quests that take him to the Vatican, Paris or Washington, will willingly join the professor jogging through the picturesque streets of Florence. Even when he claims to have a sad case of amnesia, no way of telling the time (his signature time piece lost), and a wily assassin on his tail, he is a force of nature.

It is a part he was born to play. And in Dan Brown’s murky universe, it is one he reprises at the first sign of an anagram.

The author uses the sorry state of mankind as a launch pad to project his ominous design, decrypt a Renaissance painting and set a controversial debate in motion. His novel provides delicious historical context as it plumbs the depths of Dante’s tortured soul and his savage interpretation of hell, helpfully illustrated by Botticelli (and available for viewing on iPad’s Dante app). …

BOOK REVIEW: Escape from Oblivion / Author: Ikram Sehgal

Thanks to the lovely Nefer & Haya for the launch Invite

Published in Daily Times / Jul 21, 2012
Under the title: So You Think You Can Escape?
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

'In this game there are no second chances. You either win or you die.’

The man who penned these words 41 years ago was busy planning his escape from an Indian POW camp that was not really supposed to exist. Today, as a defence analyst who owns a successful business empire, he sits amiably on a stage flanked by officers from his old command, some well-known personalities from the media, and at least one fiery cricketer-turned-politician who aspires for the premiership. (See Pix Here)

The extraordinary tale of a Pakistani army captain adrift in enemy territory who went knocking at the US Consulate gate and the American Marine Sergeant on duty who saved the day (part of it anyway) appeared in print a few years ago. That, however, was not the end of the captain’s ordeal. What happened in the interval before Sgt Frank A…

Urdu BOOK REVIEW: Karachi Halwa Aur Badayun Ke Pairay

Thank you Amra Alam for the book loan

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, August 20, 2011
Published under the title: Back from the Future

Author(s): Imrana Maqsood and Amra Alam
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

The two people present at the book reading session that day are from the small town of Badayun. And they are afraid — afraid that the new generation might find it difficult to relate to their experiences. Or that they might get spooked by the choice of language (Urdu) — or fail to appreciate the underlying message. As the evening commenced, it became increasingly clear — such fears were unjustified.

Though they parted company with India some 50 years ago when their family migrated to Karachi, Pakistan — a part of Imrana Maqsood and Amra Alam stayed behind in their beloved Badayun. The other part grew up to be a successful playwright and an equally successful children’s book author. Karachi Halwa Aur Badayun Ke Pairay is a slim little concoction based on their sweetest childhood memories.…