Prime Minister Imran Khan ‘idealise’ Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s era (1958-1968) as the best and believed that the successive democratic governments only looked for short-term gains in a bid to win elections.
Now, was it because of the failure of the democratic system that he praised Ayub’s period or he really believed in an authoritarian rule or presidential form of government?
He thinks that Pakistan was progressing in the right direction and institutions got stronger particularly the Civil Service in the 60s. Keeping that era in mind, the prime minister after assuming power had constituted a ‘Task Force’ for reforming the Civil Service. On Saturday, I asked Dr Ishrat Hussain, head of the task force as how serious is the premier on reforming the Civil Service and what happened to his report. He said, “He is very serious and it’s time for implementation”.
Today, no high-profile appointments can be made without the formal approval of the cabinet, thanks to the Supreme Court, he added. However, within the government circles there are two opinions whether to give complete independence to Civil Service and police service or reform it in phases.
There is no doubt that the Civil Service in the 50s and 60s comprised of highly-qualified civil servants from Indian Civil Service (ICS) and later from Pakistan Administrative Service, but it is also a fact that civil servants were deeply involved in the political crisis between 1948 to 1958, which in the end resulted in the first martial law in 1958.
Ayub Khan abrogated the 1956 Constitution and thus laid the foundation of the authoritarian rule, which was later followed by three more military rules in the country. Civil servants provided him complete support and backing and also made laws to protect his rule. He later brought his own Constitution in 1962, through his own style of ‘Basic Democrats’. He rigged the elections and got himself elected as president by defeating the joint opposition candidate Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, who got so dejected that she quit politics. The first martial law created insecurity among the politicians and bureaucracy particularly in the then East Pakistan.
Ayub also interfered in the Civil Service and ‘sorted out’ some of the seasoned civil servants from the ICS group and brought new faces. Since he was aiming for much longer tenure, he made drastic reforms in different fields. Since Pakistan had joined the American camp in the 50s, and distanced itself from the Communist bloc, his government got massive support from the West. He finally decided to step down as a result of political uprising but violated his own Constitution and handed over power to another dictator Gen Yahya Khan instead of the speaker, National Assembly.
According to the most seasoned bureaucrat Roedad Khan, who had served under Ayub believes that although there were both positive and negative things of that era but the very fact that he had imposed martial law when there was no need for that which showed that the man had political ambitions and in the later years also tried to establish legacy through his son.
He also gagged the Press on the advice of two bureaucrats Altaf Gohar and Shahbuddin on the pretext that free Press and authoritarian rule can’t coexist. The Law of Necessity was also the product of his era. These two black laws were followed by successive regimes and judiciary till 90s and 2007, respectively.
Under the Law of Necessity, Ayub’s martial law got legitimacy and in years to come illegal rules became legal in Begum Nusrat Bhutto case for Gen Zia’s martial law in 1981 and in Zafar Ali Shah’s case for Gen Pervez Musharraf in 2002. It was only after judiciary got independence in 2007, that this law was declared a bad law. The other law which badly damaged the fourth pillar of the state was 1960 Press and Publication Ordinance 1960.
Bureaucracy got further stronger after Ayub lifted martial law but at the same time got more politicised as Ayub became politically ambitious. He took the most controversial decision of shifting the federal capital from Karachi to a new city Islamabad and ignored Dhaka as the second option. While Bengali bureaucrats really felt insecure, some of the Urdu- speaking bureaucrats saw it as more opportunities for them but later were disappointed too. Pakistani politics drastically changed after the fall of Ayub, which resulted in general elections for the first time on the basis of ‘one man one vote’ in 1970. Elections were held at a time when nationalism was on the rise in East Pakistan, resulting in landslide victory for Sh Mujeebur Rehman while parties from the West Pakistan completely routed out and vice versa. The political crisis later resulted in military operation and country was divided and East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Perhaps, Bhutto, who had the experience of dealing with bureaucracy during Ayub’s time perhaps in haste, targeted the bureaucracy and many seasoned bureaucrats got sacked and further politicised the bureaucracy.
But during his four years tenure went for long-term projects like Pakistan’s nuclear programme, Karachi Steel (which was later named Pakistan Steel, Karachi Port Trust and Karachi Shipyard. It was also during the civilian government of Bhutto that for the first time National Identity Card NICs were issued. Above all, the first and by far the only unanimous Constitution passed by parliament in 1973. The only independent foreign policy was the hallmark of his four years in power. So it is factually incorrect that the civilian rulers looked for short-term gains.
When the civilian and elected rulers tried to use dictatorial tactic and authoritarian way, they often fall in the trap they build for the opposition.
Prime Minister Imran Khan may have the will to make institutions strong, Civil Service and police depoliticised. But if he did all this at the cost of weakening the democratic institutions like parliament and media, he will repeat what his predecessors had done and fall in the trap laid for others.
Democratic governments are not only accountable but also answerable to the people and often been dislodged before completing their term in office. In the last 10 years; two prime ministers had been disqualified while others faced trial and conviction. Can we quote a single example of any authoritarian ruler in the last 71 years, who was even made accountable what to talk of trial or conviction.
So when the PM idealises Ayub era it is important that he should look both sides of the authoritarian rules before idealising even the Ayub era. He himself is the product of a democratic process.
The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang