Prof Ian Talbot while referring to the acerbic criticism of Iskander Mirza’s politics in a paper refers to M M Syed’s research and his discerning opinion: “Mirza was not however alone in undermining Pakistan’s fragile democracy. Pakistan’s democratic failure owed much to the ‘misfortune’ of having such seasoned bureaucrats as Chaudhri Muhammad Ali and Ghulam Muhammad elevated to positions of authority.
“Moreover, Mirza’s reputation was deliberately blackened by his 1958 co-coup leader Ayub Khan in the autobiography, Friends not Masters. Ayub destroyed Mirza’s papers and diaries which explains the absence of a serious study of his career. The reality of Pakistan’s democratic demise can no more be solely attributed to Mirza, than to the distorting influence that the state’s alliance with the US exerted.”
I agree with the learned counsel that the entire blame of political instability cannot be placed entirely on the politicians and their selfish intrigues. It is true that Iskander Mirza too had a significant role but mostly triggered by the constant bickering and scheming by politicians who would maliciously drag him in their mess. True, though, that he should have stayed out of their mess.
Mehr Hussain’s comment on his role is insightful: “In the interview, Mirza offers a window into his thought process especially on decisions which may be seen as ways of keeping the show together when elements around him floundered and flustered while holding positions of power. When asked about his role in the one-unit formation or why he kept changing prime ministers, Mirza’s clarity is astonishing. It is evident the man was not thinking of himself but in fact was astute enough to realise the implications of decisions that were not to be made but without the foundation of rationality, a clean cut away from the murky decision-making Pakistan experiences now.”
In the VOA documentary, ‘Pakistan from Independence to Martial Law – 1947-1958’, the learned counsel is explicit in his views on the formative years: “In my opinion 1947-1958 was a better decade in comparison to today’s context. Since then, we’ve only seen democracy on a sliding scale. Democracy whatever one may say was there and irrespective of being weak survived as there was a political cadre. There was freedom of press to some extent with the periodic interferences and people too had democratic rights to certain extent.”
He further emphasizes, “In reality and if you look at the facts it is clear that the most economic growth that ever happened in any ten years was actually in first ten years of Pakistan.”
“Moreover, there were no loans in those times. If you look at Pakistan’s balance sheet from 1958 you will notice not a single loan, there was no international loan. It means we were strong on our feet then as a sovereign state.”
On economic growth during General Ayub Khan’ rule: “A very wrong impression and a false narrative was created with respect to Pakistan’s economic growth for which Ayub Khan is unduly credited for.”
I leave it to the readers to figure out the real person between the two diametrically opposite views of the period from the same learned counsel.
Moving on I will quote from the November 20, 1969 article, ‘Free Press’ by the late Sultan Ahmed, founding editor of The Leader known for his hard-hitting uncompromising stance.
“Again, it was in his (Iskander Mirza’s) time that the press was really free for Dr Khan Saheb as his political counsellor did not believe in bamboozling the press or bribing it. It was in his time that ‘Dawn’ was not sitting in the lap of the government for once, and Altaf Hussain was no terror to the officers, politicians or other newspapers. That was the time ‘Dawn’ for once was out of the court. Inevitably ‘Dawn’ which had vitriolic editorials against Iskander Mirza as president came out with an editorial immediately after the imposition of martial law praising him fulsomely, obsequiously and scandalously. There was however one notable exception. Action was taken against ‘Mirror’ by some bureaucrat for writing a strong editorial against Iskander Mirza when he was on a visit to Spain. On his return President Mirza was indignant over the action taken.
“All these may not seem much now after the dust, dirt and terror that had enveloped our life. But vis-à-vis the serious political blunders of Iskander Mirza there were some distinct achievements as well. And any assessment of Iskander Mirza as a leader should take both into account, and not the familiar list of charges alone. His guilt as president is undeniable, for a head of state he had ultimately to own up the blame for his blunders including the abrogation of constitution.
“But the guilt is really collective, for if he did some very wrong things as president the men who elected him unanimously as ‘resident despite his evident authoritarian tendencies were also responsible for it. And who were those men except many of [the] top political leaders of the country and some of the famous dead. The guilt evidently has to be shared, and many of the leaders must be [a]shamed of their part in those sorry doings. It is not that one man was guilty, but that a lot of them are, and they are worse for being some of the more conspicuous men in our sordid political life.”
I will end my article with another editorial of Sultan Ahmed’s from November 18, 1969. “Hindsight is easy in history. It is often a matter of judging men and matters by mere results. So before judging Iskander Mirza as president we have to see who chose him for that office and how Ghulam Mohammad needed him to dismiss the United Front Ministry of A K Fazlul Haq in 1954 and then administer East Pakistan as governor. He was needed again by Ghulam Mohammad again when he dismissed the Constituent Assembly later the same year.
“After that he and Gen Ayub were made Central Ministers. If the central Cabinet chose him to be the last Governor-General of Pakistan, the National Assembly itself elected him as the first president of Pakistan, the Assembly which had framed the first constitution. Here then was an Assembly of stalwarts, including H S Suhrawardy, I.H. Chundrigar, Mian Mumtaz Daultana and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman electing him as the first president –[in] an uncontested election – despite his evident lack of suitability for nursing a democracy and sustaining an infant constitution.”
I will end with Iskander Mirza’s words. “I trusted the army and in (the) military honour of General Ayub Khan. This was an error of judgment and people who get to the top and misjudge as I did – have no right to complain and deserve what they get. This is the end of an episode as far as I am concerned. Individuals don’t count, it is the country which matters.”
The writer is the author of
‘Honour-bound to Pakistan in Duty, Destiny & Death.
Iskander Mirza – Pakistan’s First President’s Memoirs from Exile’
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