By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Amongst the twelve months, October is most enigmatic in its multifaceted manifestations in the history of Pakistan. In this month Muslims of India were rendered into “hewers of wood and drawers of water” following the unsuccessful revolt of 1857. However they had among their depleted ranks a man of vision with unparalleled qualities of leadership. It was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan — the harbinger of Muslim Renaissance in India, who as well for the first time declared Muslims and Hindus to be two separate nations — though he described them succinctly — as two pretty eyes on a beautiful face.
Sir Syed was born on October 17, 1817, in Delhi in most gruelling times for Muslims. He grew in an atmosphere of repression by the foreign rulers who saw in the Muslims; a threat to their occupation for exploitation. The most outrageous suppression, had become the fate of the people, who once had ruled India for several hundred years. When Sir Syed was in his teens, his sharp eyes had seen through, the game of denying Muslims and keeping them backward.
His major thrust was to imbibe the Muslims with the fruits of the Industrial Revolution through modern education — a red rag for the Muslim clergy that declared Sir Syed a Kafir. Moreover they dissuaded Muslims under their influence, to keep away from this blasphemous nechari that Sir Syed was branded by them. In 1893, after Hindu-Muslim riots in Godra (same as now) Sir Syed in a speech drew the line between Muslims and Hindus as two nations. His educational base in Aligarh became a thriving cradle for the Pakistan movement. Had he not established what later transformed in to Aligarh Muslim University, Muslim youth would have continued to be directionless.
While Sir Syed’s inspirational leadership was a silver lining in the dark cloud, coming back to more of October — one finds it a rather ominous month for Pakistan. On October 16, 1951, its first prime minister and one of the founding fathers, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in broad-day light. The conspirators also killed the assassin on the spot, in order to bury evidence. Much like the instant washing of the crime scene, in martyred Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
Significant is the coincidence, that all the three popular prime ministers, were killed in Rawalpindi’s Cantonment district.
The assassin’s bullets not only removed a selfless and honest leader, but also dealt a crippling blow to the fragile sapling of democracy in Pakistan. With his assassination, began the unending struggle between the people and the military, civil and judicial troika as to who is the sole arbiter of power. Ever since then Pakistan has come to be a land of conspiracies, by its establishment against the political leadership and the country’s fragile civil institutions. And the struggle continues.
During the last seventy-one years of its roller coaster existence, Pakistan has had more of military rule, punctuated by tiny specks of attempts at working out democratic dispensations. Though, the first attempt at removing a civilian government failed in 1951, with the abortive coup headed by General Akbar Khan (Pindi Conspiracy Case), it, however, was the precursor to a long catalogue of acts of subversion, crimes and follies against democratic rule by its generals. Starting from General Iskandar Mirza’s coup on October 7, followed by General Ayub’s Martial Law on October 27, 1958, and then finally General Musharraf’s coup in October 1999.
The thirteen years long military rule under Ayub and Yahya Khan was directly responsible for the break-up of Pakistan, with the most humiliating surrender to Indian General Jagjit Singh Arora, at Dhaka on December 16, by the largest Muslim army ever. General Zia-ul-Haq’s coup against an elected government in July 1977, execution of Pakistan’s most popular leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the subversion of the 1973 Constitution, put the last nail in the coffin of Quaid’s democratic Pakistan. He opened the floodgates of religiosity in every walk of life, with the aim of establishing a Sunni Salafi Khilafah with him as Amir-ul-Momineen and converting Pakistan into a Jihadi garrison state.
In the process of this conversion from a country where religion was not supposed to do anything with the business of the state, Pakistan has been inflicted deadly blows responsible for uprooting the higher ideals of Quaid’s democratic liberalism and tolerance and replacing them with the evil of obscurantism, sectarianism and ethnicity destroying the very moral and socio-political fabric of the society rendering Pakistan into a chaotic, ungovernable and unmanageable state.
General Pervez Musharraf proved to be an incarnation of all three put together (Ayub, Yahya and Zia) although Stephen Cohen in his book “The Idea of Pakistan” sees in him more of General Yahya Khan than anything else. I often shuddered to think of the consequences if history was to repeat itself, and allowed General Pervez Musharraf beyond 2008. Cohen also blames him for “renting” Pakistan out to the United States to serve its geo-strategic interests.
General Yahya Khan was known for a lot of mishaps, but nobody could accuse him of financial misdemeanour. In General Pervez Musharraf’s nine-year long rule, Pakistan went down on the road to corruption, taking it to new proportions and making it an institutionalised menace that enabled him to become known as the richest army general. He used the NAB as an instrument to break political parties and win votes to enable the perpetuation of his rule. He aggressively used the policy of divide and rule like his pir-o-murshid Ziaul Haq and severally fractured the society to the extent that it became free for all, one trying to outdo the other, in the killing spree.
Instead of building Pakistan as the role model of a democratic, progressive state among the comity of Muslim nations as envisioned by the Quaid, people like Zia down to Musharraf, converted the entire country into a nursery for terrorists run by a “non-terrorist in a terrorist state”. To this day successive democratic governments are trying their best with the help of the army to wipe out the Zia-Musharraf cultivated Jihadi terrorists that have become an albatross round our neck.
(The writer is a former Pakistan High Commissioner to UK and a veteran journalist.)