Athar Osama July 23rd, 2007
By: Athar Osama
The Reluctant General or the “President-in-Waiting”?
It is often claimed that Pakistan Army was an unwilling recipient of political power at the time when Ayub Khan took over the reigns of the country that it only stepped in when all political options had failed miserably and Pakistan was on a brink of becoming an irrelevant state. While there is some truth to the contention that myopic Pakistani politicians of the 1950s had failed miserably in achieving consensus on only a handful of important, albeit contentious, constitutional issues such as the relationship between Pakistani provinces, between provinces and the center, and the role of religion in the Pakistani state, and in doing so had lost the initiative completely, it would also be a incorrect to put the entire blame of this on the politicians alone.
Ever since its independence in 1947, with the minor exception of the first four years under Jinnah and Liaquat, Pakistan had been ruled by bureaucrats and bureaucrats-turned-politicians under the guise of a democratic dispensation. These bureaucrats were openly contemptuous of the politicians and did not let any opportunity go by to either make them appear incompetent or remove them from power, if necessary. The story of the second part of the first decade of governance in Pakistan (1952-58) can hardly be termed as democracy in the same way as it is often conceived in the western world or even practiced at that very time in neighboring India.
While the Army was a silent spectator in this game of one-upmanship between the politicians and the bureaucrats for much of this time—during majority of which the bureaucrats ruled from behind the scenes—it was by no means a disinterested in spectator. The story of Pakistan Army’s involvement in the country’s politics—behind the scenes at first, much more flagrant later on—is the essentially the story of one man’s military professionalism and political aspirations.
General Mohammad Ayub Khan became the first Pakistani to have become the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army in 1951 (Wikipedia, 2007). Born in 1907 in NWFP as a son to a risaldar-major in the British Indian Army, Ayub Khan went to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1926 and fought in Burma during the second world-war. At the time of the Partition, Ayub was a Brigadier in the Boundary Force established to quell violence in Punjab—and while the venture failed miserably, the experience would have a profound impact on his outlook in life and towards India. In these early days, as General Officer Commanding (GOC) of East Pakistan in 1948, Ayub also showed considerable political acumen and the ability to make compromises where necessary (Cloughley, 1999, p. 24).