Syed Badrul Ahsan
On 7 October 1958, democratic politics took a bad blow in Pakistan when President Iskandar Mirza and army commander-in-chief General Ayub Khan placed the country under martial law. It was a move that would down the years be replicated in the country, making a casualty of values. Twenty days after the imposition of martial law, Ayub Khan compelled Iskandar Mirza, at gunpoint, to resign and go into exile in Britain. Mirza would die in exile in 1969. Ayub would rule for more than a decade before being dislodged through a mass upsurge in early 1969.
Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan (it was a rank he give himself in early 1960), died forty years ago on 20 April 1974. In all these years, not much has been said or written about him, though his supposed diaries appeared in Pakistan a few years ago. And then there is his son Gohar Ayub Khan's 'Glimpses into the Corridors of Power', where certain references to the man who imposed the very first martial law on Pakistan and who thereby set a very ugly precedent for ambitious soldiers in Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been studied with a mixture of amusement and interest by historians in the subcontinent and outside.
There are all the memories of Ayub Khan in Bangladesh. Our remembrance of the man necessarily has to do with the manner in which he and Iskandar Mirza undermined constitutional politics through seizing the state of Pakistan by force at a time when the country was preparing for its first general elections scheduled for February 1959. For the ten years after October 1958, Ayub's fiat ran throughout the two wings of Pakistan, with political parties and leaders bearing the brunt of his dictatorial excesses. Under the Elective Bodies' Disqualification Ordinance (EBDO), he put well-known political figures outside the parameters of politics. A young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a particular target of Ayub's wrath and would suffer till 1969. The respectable Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was carted off to prison. Adult suffrage was replaced by a pliant and bizarre electoral college called Basic Democracy.
As Pakistan's president, Ayub Khan presided over a wholesale change in the country's political structure. A culture of sycophancy grew and was promoted to the hilt by the regime. In East Pakistan, a non-entity like Abdul Monem Khan served as governor, to the intense embarrassment of the Bengalis. A horde of other Bengalis hitched on to the Convention Muslim League bandwagon, Ayub's political vehicle, and naturally stayed in thrall to the dictator. In West Pakistan, it was a similar picture that shaped up. Manzur Quadir, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, S M Zafar and others came to prominence in Ayub's shadow. His blue-eyed boy and minister, the young and brash Z A Bhutto, called in 1963 for Ayub Khan to be declared president for life. Only three years later, he would turn against his benefactor on the basis of the lie that a secret clause in the Tashkent Declaration had undermined Pakistan's case after the 1965 war with India.
In 1967, the field marshal produced a book, which some believe was ghostwritten, he called 'Friends Not Masters'. It was an exercise in self-adulation. It was, for the Bengalis, the ultimate insult, for Ayub made it clear in the work that the Bengalis were a non-martial race. A mere four years later, these non-martial people threw the mighty Pakistan army out of East Pakistan to create Bangladesh. In 1966, Ayub dismissed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Six Points as a secessionist conspiracy and vowed to employ the language of weapons against its votaries. Three years later, in February 1969, he had not only withdrawn the Agartala conspiracy against Bangabandhu but was also to welcome him to the Round Table conference in Rawalpindi and, at one point, offer him the position of Pakistan's prime minister.
Ayub's hand-over of power, in the midst of a determined popular upsurge against him, was a violation of the constitution he had himself devised for Pakistan in 1962. Rather than transfer power to the speaker of the national assembly, he had General Yahya Khan, the army chief, impose yet one more spell of martial law on Pakistan. That was in March 1969. After that, Ayub Khan was not seen or heard of again, save for his appearance in 1972 before the Hamoodur Rahman Commission set up by the Bhutto government to inquire into the causes behind Pakistan's battlefield defeat in Bangladesh in 1971.
In retirement, and this we have it on irrefutable authority, Ayub Khan advised Yahya Khan that a political solution be found to the crisis as it erupted in the country in early March 1971. Yahya ignored the advice. Over the next few months, the fallen dictator wrote to his successor twice, suggesting that with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman being in Pakistan's captivity, the regime should work out a deal with the Bengali leader to save Pakistan in its tottering eastern wing. Pakistan, thought Ayub Khan, might not remain a federation any longer. But perhaps a deal with Mujib could lead to a confederation of the two wings? Yahya stayed silent.
Ayub Khan's funeral was well-attended. His former protégé Bhutto stayed away from it, though. A few days later, he turned up with wife Nusrat at the Ayub family home, offering the excuse that he was absent because issues of his security were involved.
Thus did the field marshal pass, ignored and forgotten, into the backwaters of time.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Associate Editor, The Daily Observer. E-mail: [email protected]