Pakistan leaders: How they looked at themselves and how others saw them

Fakir Syed Aijazuddin
Fakir Syed Aijazuddin

When our leaders are being manufactured without any quality control, it helps to examine them through another’s eyes, rather than the mirror of self-adulation.

In 1958, Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad attempted to hand over authority to General Ayub Khan. He ‘commanded him to produce a Constitution within 3 months.’ ‘You wicked old man’, Ayub Khan muttered to himself.

When Ayub Khan did take over, British High Commissioner Morrice James wrote: ‘Ayub and his British-oriented colleagues were relics of a departed order of things: some of them were military officers who had been trained at Sandhurst and in the old Indian Army’.

MS Education Academy

James’s opinion of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was more trenchant. Bhutto had ‘the rank odour of hellfire about him. It was a case of corruptio optime pessima [the corruption of the best is the worst of all]. He was a flawed angel…[lacking] a sense of dignity and value of other people; his own self was what counted.’

In 1971, Dr. Henry Kissinger used President Yahya Khan as a bridge into Communist China but saw him no more than a ‘bluff, direct soldier of limited imagination’. Premier Zhou Enlai thought Yahya Khan ‘probably a good man, a man of good intentions, but he didn’t know how to lead an army, how to fight’. Dr. Kissinger was equally dismissive of U.S. generals: ‘There are very many intelligent colonels and very few intelligent generals.’

General Ziaul Haq understandably got scant compliments from the Indians. The BJP leader L.K. Advani thought ‘there was something artificial in his cordiality’; the journalist Kuldip Nayar rued calling him a ‘ruthless dictator’; and a former India Ambassador Natwar Singh recalled that Ziaul Haq ‘had power, but not personality. There was something misshapen about it [.] His lack of charisma was made up for by a stunning display of tahzeebtahammul and sharafat (politeness, patience and civility). Like Chou En-lai, he was a master at public relations.’

His fellow General Pervez Musharraf had no time for Nawaz Sharif nor his brother Shehbaz, who, he observed, in their late father’s presence ‘behaved more like courtiers than sons’. Now that both he and Nawaz Sharif are ‘incarcerated’ in Dubai and in London, perhaps Musharraf might like to re-visit his words: ‘Exile and isolation are an opportunity for introspection and critical self-analysis. Nawaz Sharif apparently learned nothing from his exile and failed to grow intellectually or politically.’

Another former prime minister and London resident at Her Majesty’s pleasure – Shaukat Aziz – might prefer not to be reminded when, as prime minister, he ‘tried this Saville Row-suited gigolo kind of charm’ on U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. She ‘stared him down. By the end of the meeting, he was babbling.’

The U.S. saw and sees Pakistan quite differently, less long-term. Condoleeza Rice’s summation of U.S.-Pak relations could have been written for today: ‘Pakistan is like a critically ill patient. You know, you get up every day, you take the pulse, you deal with whatever fever has set in overnight and you just try to keep it alive for the next day.’

Another playboy turned prime minister published his memoirs as a prelude to assuming office. It contains unvarnished sketches of today’s leadership. Of Asif Ali Zardari, he wrote that he became president through the words of a testamentary will ‘that no one has been able to authenticate’. He castigated Zardari for importuning the Americans to give him ‘economic resources so that I can win over the people, so that there is something in it for them’.

Imran Khan’s choicest contempt is reserved for his immediate, elusive predecessor Nawaz Sharif. In clinical notes of which Dr Freud would have been proud, PM Khan analysed that Nawaz’s ‘real dream was to have been the captain of the Pakistan cricket team’. And in a hilarious dismissal of Nawaz Sharif’s cricketing pretensions, he described how Nawaz Sharif volunteered to be the opening batsman against the West Indies fast bowlers, facing them with nothing more than ‘his batting pads, a floppy hat – and a smile’. Mercifully, Nawaz Sharif was bowled out on the second ball.

Being prime minister, as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and now Imran Khan have discovered, involves more than facing fast balls, googlies, bouncers, and bruisers. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto refused to roll back our nuclear programme, Dr. Kissinger threatened to make ‘a horrible example’ of Pakistan. When Nawaz Sharif detonated the first nuclear explosion at Chagai in 1998, he braved U.S. sanctions. Refusal to allow U.S. monitoring windows could invoke similar retaliation.

One wonders whether Imran Khan had foreseen such a spectre when, as he says, he day-dreamed that one day the Pakistan Test Team would discover that they were a player short, and that he would put up his hand, be selected ‘and be brought on to suddenly become a hero.’

Fakir S Aijazuddin is a noted thinker and columnist of Pakistan

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