Pages 216, HardBack
ISBN 969-516-142-1

Price: Rs. 395
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Tales of a Sorry Dominion


H. K. Burki


‘However, now that I think about it, Burki’s soft corner for the General was not because he had become any less of a believer in democratic rule but because of his complete disillusionment with the two young civilian, popularly elected leaders of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who had blown the great opportunity they had been given, not once but twice, of establishing a truly democratic order reflecting the wishes of the people and serving their interest. He called Nawaz and Benazir “the two fading stars of failed democracy” who, he wrote, “have been shoring up their flagging morale recently by promising themselves an uprising.” He said their efforts were “redolent of Lahore coffee house guff in the early Fifties when armchair radicals waxed eloquent about the imminence of revolution.” He went on to write, “Large elements of the elite, listless in the wilderness, are pining away for yet another chance to make a killing. Their ambitions thrive a cocoon of self-deception, and the world is passing them by. There are better ways of spending the time than wallowing in wishful thinking, An honest day’s work, for instance.”’

From the Foreword by Khalid Hasan

It has been claimed repeatedly that Pakistan commanded the services of a professional army. A more objective appraisal would show that Pakistan had, in fact, inherited, and continued to maintain in great style, essentially a mercenary army, with all the trappings, traditions and motivations of such a force.

After all, what have those gay regimental centenaries and reunions been all about? They were celebrations of a mercenary past, and with the regimental battle-honours and trophies one could construct a fairly comprehensive history of a good part of the perfidious triumphs of Imperial Britain.

Half-hearted efforts have, of course, been made to give the armed services at least the veneer of a national force. And during the 1965 conflict and for a brief period afterwards, the people had genuinely tried to respect and take pride in their armed forces, and, in the process, assimilate them in the national fabric. However, President Ayub Khan's surrender at Tashkent, and he was a Field Marshal, put up the barriers once again.

In discussing the role of the armed forces, one has to exonerate the Air Force and, to some extent, the Navy. Both these arms are no more than 30 or so years old, and they have been too small and isolated to influence, in any crucial way, either the assumptions or the role of the armed forces as a whole. Because of its size and weight, the army has played the decisive part. After all, it was an army general who, assisted by his general staff, planned the coup and then removed President Iskandar Mirza to open the flood-gates to 13 years of military rule and much else besides.

Once Gen. Ayub had staged the coup - and he had carefully planned for a 20-year stint at President's House, he had to make sure that no one else would try to remove him. So he put a dud general in command of the army. Having established his hold on the power-structure and administration of the country, he gradually weeded out all likely troublemakers from the army. At the same time, he made certain that the retired brass were well off in civvy street, and fixed them up with lucrative jobs in business organisations or in the many autonomous bodies he created.

Dusk was falling. We sat around on the manicured lawn of Himachal Bhawan; Chacha Mansuri, Amjad Hussain, self, having a gup in Simla's liquid, luxurious air. It was the penultimate day of the conference, and we were whiling away time, as correspondents often do, waiting for the story to break. The Pakistani diplomats were not giving away much, suggesting only a vague hopefulness with a stiff upper lip. Dilip Mukherji of The Times of India had, however, told me in the afternoon the talks were not going well. And he should know, for he was a member of Indira Gandhi's Kitchen cabinet.

Suddenly, a thin, squeaky voice called out my name and as we looked up there was the tall, commanding figure standing on the balcony. It turned out that we were directly below President Bhutto's first-floor window and our chatter had wafted up to him.

In a corner of the drawing-room, Benazir was perched on what seemed like a divan. First, the President teased his daughter, with that typical smirk of his, about how she was giving interviews to Indian papers and taking the limelight away from him. Then he quietly revealed that there was a deadlock. The Indians were trying to link Kashmir with the question of PoWs and withdrawal of troops and seeking major concessions. Officials were having another round of talks at that very moment but nothing might come of it.

Hamidullah Khan Burki, born in Jullundar, India in 1920, was educated at Government College, Lahore. He was an officer in the Royal Indian Navy serving in Burma in World War II. He played in the 1948 Olympics as a member of the newly-established Pakistan Hockey team. In the 1950s and 60s, he was a pictorial photographer of international standing.

Burki took up journalism in 1947. He spent 15 years in London and New York as Foreign Correspondent for the Civil and Military Gazette and, later, for The Pakistan Times. He returned to Pakistan in 1967 where he was Diplomatic Correspondent and Islamabad Bureau Chief of The Pakistan Times until 1979. Since then he had devoted himself to writing fiction and, as a free-lance journalist, writing occasional newspaper articles, until his death in September 2003.


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