Iqbal Ahmad Khan
Pakistan’s 62 year old tumultuous history has essentially been shaped by two factors, civil-military relations on the domestic front and our relations with India on the external front. The lop-sidedness of the civil- military equation in favor of the latter led to four military interventions and nearly 33 years of military and quasi-military rule in Pakistan. With generals as helmsmen, we fought two wars with India and have had to put up with its occupation of a huge portion of the Siachen Gla- cier. It was again the Chief of Army Staff who without “ formal approval by the political leadership at the highest level” plunged the country in a misadventure called Kargil. All these according to Sartaj Aziz were negative milestones or turning points in Pakistan’s history.
In his book, “Between Dreams and Realities-Some milestones in Pakistan’s History,” former Finance and Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz describes the 1965 war with India as “another negative milestone brought about by a series of ill-conceived and poorly executed strategies, (which) not only shattered that dream but also led to the eventual break-up of the country in 1971.” Contrary to what the succeeding generation has been led to believe, Sartaj Aziz opines that “the seventeen-day war was at best a draw….The longer-term economic and political consequences of the war were extremely damaging. In many ways the war represented the beginning of the end of the Ayub era. …In the wake of the 1965 war there was a widespread perception that West Pakistan could not really defend East Pakistan against an attack from India. (It) eventually led to the crisis that led to the break-up of the country.” insatiable greed for power, the rotund and promiscuous general, Yahya Khan, who snatched the reigns of government from self-styled Field- Marshal Ayub Khan plunged Pakistan into another war with India. The outcome of the war would have been obvious to the most casual student of military affairs. Sartaj Aziz writes that “The tragic turning-point of 1971, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh was essentially brought about by the failure of democracy in Pakistan….Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won 160 out of National Assembly’s 162 seats in East Pakistan in the 1970 elections, based on his six-point formula of maximum provincial autonomy. That gave him a majority in the National Assembly of 300 seats. Yet he was denied the opportunity to become prime minister….. The repression that followed after the arrest of Mujibur Rahman in March 1971, sent millions of refugees to India, giving it a good excuse to intervene militarily in November 1971 to ‘liberate’ East Pakistan and create the new state of Bangladesh.”
In 1984 as the usurper-general, Zia-ul-Haq, was engaged in legitimizing his coup, consolidating his hold on power and doing America’s bidding in Afghanistan, India taking advantage of his pre- occupations occupied “30,000 sq.km in Siachen Glacier where the Line of Control was not demarcated.”
Yet another addition to this chronicle of failures was the adventure undertaken in Kargil by the Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf. “The Kargil operation,” Sartaj Aziz writes, “has become an extraordinary event in the country’s history because it not only prepared the ground for a prolonged military takeover in Pakistan in October 1999 but also derailed the peace process between India and Pakistan, which had started with such high hopes following Prime Minister Vajpayee’s historic visit to Lahore on 20-21 February 1999. It also caused irreparable damage to Pakistan’s principled and legitimate stand on Kashmir in the international arena.” To this negative fallout should be added the adverse impact of the Kargil operation on Pakistan’s image and its credibility and trustworthiness as a responsible member of the international community committed to regional and international peace and stability. Perhaps, it was such behavior and also that related to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that prompted the former United States Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, to describe Pakistan as a case of international migraine.
In this highly readable and lucidly written account of the major milestones in Pakistan’s history, the author, Sartaj Aziz, laments that those responsible for undermining the state and its national interests have invariably escaped responsibility. Tragically, the victims have been credible and legitimate personalities who have enjoyed the trust of the people of Pakistan. In this context he cites the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first popularly elected prime minister, and observes, “It is one of the many ironies of our history that one of the most outstanding political leaders, who secured a unanimous constitution for the country, was hanged while all the military generals who created circumstances that eventually led to the break-up of the country, lived on without much accountability.”
If only General Zia-ul-Haq had been tried posthumously, along with some of his principal accomplices we might have been spared of 12
October 1999. It was Mr. Bhutto who chose not to publish and implement the strong recommendations of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report for the trial of General Yahya Khan and his cohorts. This was done in order to save the armed forces from further humiliations resulting from the 1971 debacle. He was repaid by a scheming and duplicitous general whose policies plunged the country into a morass from which we are still struggling to extricate ourselves.
The author was the foreign minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had assumed office in 1997 with a more than two- thirds majority in the National Assembly. Little did the prime minister know at the time that he would barely have completed half his term before the army chief would have removed and imprisoned him. Without prior approval of the political leadership, the COAS launched the Kargil operation which turned out to be both a military and a political disaster. According to Sartaj Aziz, a retired army general was of the view that “Kargil was a very badly planned and poorly executed operation for which General Musharraf should have been court-martialed.” The held accountable and made to pay the price. But once again the irony was that as Sartaj Aziz puts it “The leader who saved Pakistan from a disastrous all-out war with India was deposed and then exiled from the country and the army general who overstepped his authority and caused irreparable damage to the Kashmir cause, became the undisputed ruler of the country for nine long years. It is difficult to imagine a more ironic and unjust episode in history.”
In the 1950s and the 1960s a perennial feature of Greece’s politics was the repeated military incursions by army colonels into the prohibited civilian domain. The coups and counter-coups by these colonels had resulted in authoritarianism in politics, stagnation in the economy and confrontation with Turkey. Since Greece then was a frontline state in the containment of communism, the United States was not only indifferent to the overthrow of democracy, it in fact preferred to deal with military regimes rather than democratically elected bodies. The dawn of the 1970s brought a confident and popular civilian government in Athens which charged, tried, found guilty and sentenced some of these delinquent colonels. The trials were held in public and under the normal laws of the land. The purpose was to inform the public of the immense damage and suffering that military rule had caused to the country and the people. Three decades later Greece has remained coup free, economically and socially vibrant, an active member of the European Community and at peace with arch-rival Turkey.
In Pakistan none of the four generals who forcibly threw out the established government of the time in violation of the constitution have been hauled up. Three of them are dead. The consensus among scholars, political analysts and the major political parties is that military rule has caused immeasurable damage to peace, prosperity and harmony in the country and is to be avoided like the plague. Sartaj Aziz subscribes to this consensus. In the epilogue he contends that “the net impact of such takeovers has been highly negative for the strength and unity of the federation and for the growth of a sustainable political process. Military rule invariably over-centralizes power in the executive to deliver ‘quick results’ and then seeks legitimacy by forcing the Judiciary to sanctify the takeover on grounds of state necessity. It further weakens the democratic process by weakening the role of the parliament and by manipulating certain political parties…”
To keep the army out of politics the two major Pakistani political parties, the PPP and the PML (N) signed the Charter of Democracy under which they agreed to take a number of steps to safeguard democracy and to ensure that Bonapartism would be eliminated for ever from the politics of the country. Regrettably, one and a half years since the return of the democratic order, precious little has been done to give practical shape to their commitments in the Charter. Worse still, the army continues to call the shots in times of crises. In the war on terrorism the armed forces have been given a totally free hand, even though the civilian leadership does not tire of reminding the nation that to defeat terror much more than mere force is required.
Similarly, the army chief had to step in when a violent confrontation between the government and lawyers supported by civil society demanding the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry seemed imminent. The government finally caved in and accepted the populist demand for undoing the illegal acts of a military dictator.
It is yet another sad irony that opposition to the restoration of the Chief Justice and to the trial of General Pervez Musharraf has come from the PPP government whose martyred chairperson, Benazir Bhutto, had hoisted the national flag at the residence of Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and referred to him as the Chief Justice of the country. Likewise, the founder and chairman of the PPP Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged by the most serpentine of military dictators General Zia-ul-Haq who then lashed and tortured workers of the party demanding democracy and justice. If, in the tradition of the earlier three military dictators, General (Retd.) Pervez Musharraf, violator of the fundamental law of the land, jailer of 60 judges of the superior courts and the Kargil mastermind is permitted to play golf and bridge in London and not brought before the courts, there will not be any disincentive for a future coup-maker.
The main purpose of writing the book says Sartaj Aziz was to convey to the coming generations four important lessons from the country’s history. Pakistan’s survival as a dynamic and viable political entity can only be ensured through a genuine democratic framework. This can “only be built on strong institutions and the rule of law under civilian supremacy. Military rule under a civilian façade can never become a substitute for genuine democracy……A democratic system and especially a parliamentary federal system can survive only if the three pillars of state: namely the parliament, the judiciary and the executive function within the parameters laid down by the constitution…..The vitality of a nation does not come only from its economic progress and the size of its military, but also from its shared values, cultural heritage and social energy. To these I would add an unwavering focus on the establishment of peaceful and cooperative relations with India.”
The book couched in good English prose and containing unprecedented information on such significant and major turning points in Pakistan’s contemporary history such as Kargil, Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, Kashmir and the October 1999 coup is a must read for anybody attempting to understand present day Pakistan. It is high time that the government of Pakistan, as provided for in the rules, systematically declassified all important official documents from 1947 to 1979 namely those which date back 30 years or more. This would kindle a renewed and vigorous interest among Pakistani and international scholars and hopefully result in high-quality publications enriching the curriculum in our academic institutions and providing the public with an authentic account of Pakistan’s internal developments and external relationships.
In conclusion, we recall what was stated in the introduction; the domination of Pakistan’s history by two relationships, one between the civil and the military and the other between Pakistan and India. The lesson from six decades of turmoil and travail in Pakistan is that peace and stability in the country can only be established through subjecting the military to civilian control and establishing a cooperative and not a confrontationist approach towards India. It is military rule and wars with India that have undone Pakistan. Common sense and the overriding interests of the country dictate that we reverse course. The national security state must give way to a welfare state and war to peace with India.