Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
PUBLISHED IN THE POST AUG 29, 2007
Edited and annotated by Craig Baxter- senior political officer of Pakistan and Afghanistan 1968-1971, this extraordinary self portrait presents the Field Marshal having a bad day as a golfer, going on hunting expeditions with a King, once venerated as a hero by his people, globally popular to the end as a president, and finally, an ailing demoralized old man. The diaries were unsealed and released for publication after a lapse of several decades because of the sensitive nature of revelations. The appended notes at the end of the 548 page book provide supplemental information on the people and events mentioned. As a document of historical relevance, the diaries are priceless. As a commentary on the economic, political and military matters of the time, their significance is incontrovertible.
Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s long term role as a leader, first as an Army Chief and later as the President of Pakistan made him keenly aware of both the intricacies of our system and problems of the citizens; thus, his observations carry conviction and make him an able judge of the unique circumstances of the time. From the secure confines of 2007, the traumatic events of late 1960’s and early 1970’s can be viewed dispassionately. Then again, by 1967, some of the major problems plaguing a young nation in Ayub Khans view were ‘political mullahism’, a ‘disgruntled lawyer community’ and ‘negative, anti Pakistan attitude of political parties’. Taken in conjunction with an Indian military buildup, visible signs of American leaning towards India, impending ‘inflation’ against the backdrop of an America at war and a Middle East in turmoil, the parallels are chilling and implications for the present and future, ominous.
What makes the narrative pertinent in today’s world is that the entries reveal those factions that shake the stability of Pakistan every so often have demonstrated their capability to do so as far back as the 1960’s. The records of the political scenario, division of East and West Pakistan and the wars with India are interspersed with scathing character observations of key political, military and foreign players’ active at the time. Caustic remarks on Z.A Bhutto and the special brand of politics he practiced and cultivated are just an example of the unflattering depictions of several well known public figures; hence, ‘arch intriguers’, ‘cunning foxes’ and ‘snakes in the grass’, flit in and out of the narration, unexpectedly punctuated between tales of partridge shoots. The diaries are unsparing in detail regarding notable foreign policy matters with some telling anecdotes about various the Heads of State. Conversely, scandalous disclosures about President Yahya would be distressing for his supporters and family as would the generalizations about Sindhis, Bengalis and other such sects.
The opening sequence comes at a time when Pakistan is forced to explore alternate avenues in terms of military cooperation with a growing imbalance indicated in the Pak-Indo militaries. An intuitive synopsis concerning the causes of unrest and instability in a young nation touches upon the absence of knowledgeable, honest, dedicated political leaders with the spread of uncontrolled urbanization and unemployment among other factors; the relevance of such issues in society resonate till today. As does Ayub’s characterization of our people as ‘politically immature and gullible’. The part where the Field Marshal attributes army’s growing unpopularity with their ‘inability to maintain law and order’ or ‘control the rising prices’ could have been taken from a present chapter of history.
As the period covered in the diaries marked the beginning of an arms race between Pakistan and India, the signs of a 3rd war become perceptible while a new front was opened closer to home where the politician fashioned agitators from student communities and set them upon rivals. It is also a revelation to learn of the presence of communist elements and propagation of socialist tendencies in the political environment of the time. Having conceded presidency to General Yahya Khan, the bulk of the narrative concerns the lethal political power play that led to the division of East and West Pakistan. Those unaware of the facts behind the debacle of Pakistan will learn of the gradual movement that reared its head as early as 1967 signifying the imminent separation of East Pakistan and the gruesome finale of 1971 war. The impressions recorded after an 8 month stay in East Pakistan are particularly insightful albeit severe and will be invaluable to historians.
Several things become apparent from this forthcoming piece of literature. First, that Ayub was clearly ahead of his time in some respects as is evident from his comments about a computer factory visit in Britain where he foresaw their worth in terms of business and industrial applications for Pakistan. Second, that despite his military credentials, he was not opposed to the idea of democracy but doubted the effectiveness of the Americanized version in our peculiar surroundings. Third, the appearance of symptoms marking the nation’s current tribulations did not go unobserved. The ‘Diaries of Field Marshal M. Ayub Khan’ would be an asset to the collection of connoisseurs and the common man alike for the compassionate manner in which they capture the history of a young Pakistan and the unrealized vision they revealed for the now matured State.