Of ‘Good’ Generals and ‘Bad’ Politicians


During his recent interview given to BBC Urdu, Pakistan’s ex President and former army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf spoke of how “Military rule has always brought the country back on track, whereas civilian governments have always derailed it.” For the uninitiated this statement may sound so absurd that it doesn’t even deserve any attention. But for serious Pakistan watchers Musharraf’s comic statement is no laughing matter as it shows that despite the passage of time there has been no change in the Pakistan army’s traditional disdain for the political class. But despite the abysmal performance record of military dictators in running the country, the army has maintained its ‘holy cow’ image.

Whether Pakistan’s tryst with military dictatorship was accidental or ordained is difficult to tell. When President General Iskander Mirza imposed emergency, abrogated the Constitution of Pakistan and declared martial law in 1958, there was a general perception that this was a positive move to usher in political stability.

Whether Pakistan’s tryst with military dictatorship was accidental or ordained is difficult to tell. When President General Iskander Mirza imposed emergency, abrogated the Constitution of Pakistan and declared martial law in 1958, there was a general perception that this was a positive move to usher in political stability. But there was also the flip side –it was President Mirza’s deep distrust of the sincerity of politicians in ensuring integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan that made him take this undemocratic decision. Since Mirza himself was deposed soon thereafter, accusing him of introducing the ‘culture’ of military dictatorship in Pakistan may not be right.

By appointing the then army chief General Ayub Khan as chief martial law administrator, (CMLA) President Mirza did however set a dangerous precedent that continues to haunt Pakistan polity. Just three weeks after being appointed CMLA, Pakistanis woke up to the news that President Mirza had been exiled and General Ayub Khan was the new President. Luckily for him, since the people were fed up with the prevailing political uncertainty they welcomed this move and the new President didn’t disappoint. Under Ayub Khan, Pakistan did well and even today there are many who maintain that he ushered in an era of economic growth, prosperity and helped Pakistan achieve due recognition within the international community.

But Pakistan’s prosperity came at a heavy price.  In order to consolidate his own position and marginalise Fatima Jinnah, Ayub Khan empowered religious fundamentalists. Though it worked well for him, this move ushered in the dangerous trend of military dictators promoting regressive Islamic interpretations for petty gains- a malady that has today acquired irreversible dimensions. On the diplomatic front too, while Ayub Khan successfully became a strong ally of the US and got generous aid from Washington, but this came at a heavy price. Ayub Khan compromised Pakistan’s sovereignty by allowing the CIA to use the Peshawar airbase for carrying out its infamous U2 spy flight programme against the then USSR.

However the biggest damage that Ayub Khan did was to weaken Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir by embarking upon the grandiose plan to annex Kashmir by sending army men disguised as infiltrators to incite a local insurrection. Code named “Operation Gibraltar,” this poorly conceived plan proved to be a colossal military disaster and this attempt to resolve the Kashmir problem through force was in gross violation of UN resolutions. Due to this Pakistan lost its moral right on the Kashmir issue and this is evident from the fact that despite its emotional pleas to resolve the Kashmir issue as per UN resolutions, neither the UN nor the international community takes Islamabad’s seriously. The Hurriyat may keep reiterating that Kashmir is not a border row but by launching “Operation Gibraltar”, it was Pakistan that converted Kashmir into a territorial dispute.

General Yahya Khan came next and it was his over reliance on use of military measures and strong arm tactics to subdue dissent that ultimately resulted in the loss of East Pakistan. That this happened when a military dictator was in power is something unpardonable but yet Musharraf claims that “Military rule has always brought the country back on track”.

The next spell of military rule that Pakistan experienced was when General Zia ul Haq ousted Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. By agreeing to fight Washington’s clandestine war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Zia converted Pakistan into a veritable breeding ground for fundamentalist terror groups and by promoting sectarian ideology, he has left behind a gory legacy of ‘home grown’ terrorism that Pakistan hasn’t yet been able to eradicate. His decision to train and equip local youth to wage a ‘civil war’ in Kashmir further weakened Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir. The US State Department designating Hizbul Mujahideen a ‘Foreign terrorist organisation’ tears apart Islamabad’s argument that this outfit is waging an ‘indigenous freedom struggle’ in Kashmir.

Musharraf himself has a lot to explain. Field Marshal Ayub Khan may have tinkered with national sovereignty by permitting Washington to use Pakistani soil for espionage activities against the USSR and General Zia ul Haq did the same by allowing America to wage proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan from Pakistan. But, it was General Musharraf who shamelessly undermined national sovereignty by entering into a Faustian deal allowing the US to carry out drone strikes against its own citizens and that too on Pakistani soil. Following the footsteps of his predecessors, Musharraf too tried to annex a portion of Kashmir by embarking on the catastrophic Kargil misadventure. Whereas, Pakistan was diplomatically humiliated, the international community came together in expressing solidarity with India on the Kashmir issue.

Tailpiece – How has General Musharraf concluded that civilian governments “derailed” Pakistan is not clear but it is evident that the origin of most of the ills that afflict Pakistan today can be traced back to ill considered decisions taken by military dictators. Civilian governments in Pakistan may not have worked wonders but to blame them for derailing the nation is unfair because with the powerful Pakistan army calling the shots, civilian governments can do little – least of all derail the country.






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