Published early 2000 by Pakistan link
End of the Millennium: Reflections and Recriminations
By M.P. Bhandara
Being born in the late 1930s qualifies this writer to be a robust citizen of the 20th century, old enough to have had Hindu class-fellows in his Lahore school before 1947. Partition seemed somewhat incredulous at the time and defied most imaginations. The British withdrawal was a botched affair. With hindsight it appears that the great massacres were preventable, at least in part. It was the great Punjab exodus and massacre which laid the foundations of permanent hostility between India and Pakistan. The subcontinent might have been a different place had the Sikhs been persuaded to remain in Pakistan.
Be that as it may, one witnessed tremendous enthusiasm for the new homeland of Pakistan. I recall one such meeting in 1948 below the steps of the post office in Murree. The refrain, if memory serves me right, was: never mind the trauma of the moment, we are now free in our own chosen land. With the Quaid living, the common man had a feeling of great security. When the Quaid died, genuine grief stalked the land; public grief comparable to the grief that overwhelmed the US on the assassination of JFKÖ.
One of my fatherís lawyers was the redoubtable Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who had served a stint as prime minister of Pakistan; a Bengal politician of the first rank before partition. On my fatherís demise in 1961 it was my privilege to come into close contact with him.
Suhrawardy was a prince among men. He had no care for wealth. He knew it was within his power to create the means of livelihood and more whenever he chose to exercise his legal acumen and brilliant courtroom advocacy. He was a perfectionist down to his fingertips. A man of style and great courage.
Though he did not see eye to eye with Jinnah and was incarcerated when he arrived in Pakistan in 1948. When I knew him his lament was that he clearly saw the end of united Pakistan. On this he had not the least doubt. He was not a party to its ending: a helpless leader in a sea of young men who had given up belief in Pakistan. On more than one occasion he did mention that if only he had had a fraction of Ayub Khanís power as PM, he could have built the foundations of a durable Pakistan.
Suhrawardyís concept of Pakistan was that of a liberal democracy with near-autonomous states (with a weak centre) getting closer together over a period of time, not by fiat but by the needs of interdependence. Of all the rulers that I had the privilege of being acquainted with, I think, Suhrawardyís precepts were closest to Jinnahís Pakistan - Pakistan as a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent with the ethos of a Muslim state, non-sectarian, modern and democratic.
Ayub Khan was perhaps the best ruler we have had. His great strength was balance - a hard-working builder with a vision for Pakistan. He was somewhat nepotistic - thanks to the pressures of his family - but on the whole a clean, corruption-free ruler. His limitation was his soldierís mindset in politics. I am of the firm view that a partnership between Suhrawardy, the astute politician with a real mandate from East Pakistan, and Ayub - the builder and administrator - who enjoyed genuine popularity in the West, was a dream ticket for Pakistan. But alas, that was not to be. Suhrawardy was incarcerated by Ayub and later to die in exile.
Ayub, the moderate, finally succumbed to the pressure of the hawks around him, especially Z.A. Bhutto, to go in for the adventures of Operation Gibraltar and Grand Slam in Kashmir. Pakistan intelligence was a dismal failure. The Kashmir people in the mid-sixties were not ready to accept the fire that ëGibraltarí was to bring. Shastriís warning was ignored. Soon we were struggling to save Lahore. The adventure lost focus.
From here onwards it was a straight line to Tashkent, Yahya Khan, the 16th December, 1971, Bangladesh, the 4th of July, 1977, and finally the 12th of October, 1999.
I had an opportunity to befriend Ayub Khan after he fell from power and till he passed away would meet him at frequent intervals. It so happened that I was invited to have lunch with him on the 4th or 5th of December, 1971 - the opening days of the war with India. I asked him point-blank on this occasion if during his time in power he had seriously entertained the possibility of East Pakistan separating?
His answer in brief was this: ìAs army commander in East Pakistan in the early days I witnessed an enthusiasm for Pakistan which was greater than in the West. Later as President I sent the Nawab of Kalabagh to Dacca to divide the assets of the PIDC. An ashen-faced Kalabagh reported on his return, ëSir, what the Bengalis desire is not the division of the PIDC but that of Pakistan. This will happen inevitably, but you must not be on the scene when this happens.î Which prompted the next question: ìSo when you handed over power to Yahya Khan on the 25th March, 1969, you had every apprehension that it was the end of united Pakistan?î ìYesî was the reply.
Why was Jinnahís Pakistan allowed to fall? It was certainly not inevitable. In the final analysis Ayub Khanís democracy could not understand or embrace the entirely different ethnic or social character of East Pakistan. The centre was far too rigid. China has since taught us the concept of ëone country and two economiesí in the case of Hong Kong and Macau.
Today, the East Pakistan tragedy is a non-event, buried in the debris of time. We wish not to be reminded of it; for that matter also Jinnahís concept of Pakistan. Poor Jinnah has died a death, over and over again, strung up as an icon on the office walls of our decision-makers.
Whilst on the subject of Jinnah, I recall a fascinating meeting with Maulana Abul-Aíla Maudoodi at his Ichhra residence in the mid-seventies. The venerable old man at the time was hardly homo erectus - severely bent, I suppose, by old age and debility. Every now and then he would rise from his seat with alacrity to fetch a book from the shelves of his library in support of what he was saying. The Maulana was at pains to explain that Islam gave much more to the minorities than ìany oneî could give. Muslims could not interfere in the life of non-Muslims in an Islamic state; the only problem was that Pakistan was an Islamic state in name only. These remarks were in reference to the Quaidís famous speech of 11th August 1947. The odd thing about this interview was that the Maulana would not utter the words Quaid or Jinnah. It was soon clear that the ìany oneî referred to in the conversation was none other than the Quaid!
One winter morning in 1982 I received an invitation from General Zia-ul-Haq to meet him in his office (which incidentally was my old office cum residence). He extended an invitation to me to be his adviser on minority affairs. I replied, ìBut I am not a minority, Sirî to which he said, ìAre you not a Parsi?î I nodded and added, ìBut my religion has nothing to do with the business of the state.î He laughed and said, ìI offer it to you as a Pakistani.î ìAccepted with pleasureî I riposted. Our relationship was off to a good start.
Zia-ul-Haq was one of the most extraordinary men I have met. Power makes men arrogant, proud, short-tempered and corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In Ziaís case it seemed to have the opposite effect. The more firmly he was in the saddle the more benign he became. People would say that his extreme courtesy to all and sundry was a put-on job. I think not. I suspect he had a violent temper and he was determined never to let it loose. Unlike most rulers he would never dominate a conversation; an attentive listener who would put any interlocutor at total ease. His courtesy was legendary.
I remember having Khushwant Singh as my houseguest shortly after Bhutto was hanged. He had come to interview Zia. The day before the interview Khushwant was rampant, livid with rage. I thought he would knock Zia on the head during the interview. Khushwant - a lord of words - returned silenced and bewitched by the charm of the man. Once during a cabinet meeting Zia was suffering from toothache; this did not detract from his usual courtesy and patience.
Zia grew in office whereas Bhutto shrank. I think the later Zia realized that his earlier years were a senseless exercise in brutality. Ziaís referendum was a sham. It was a pity that the plethora of funds pouring in from the West in the Zia years were not allocated to basic nation building tasks such as literacy, population control, safe water for all and Ayub-style industrialization.
In the final analysis, the Zia years were a waste. His Islamization was antediluvian, unacceptable to many, and severely damaged the rights and status of women. His Afghan policy was courageous. He should be immortalized by the Americans for playing such a large part in the unraveling of the Soviet Union. But, his regime was a paradigm of virtue, compared to the corruption of his successors.