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Dashing in a straitjacket

Gohar Ayub Khan’s journey as a politician is a fascinating insight into the madhouse that is Pakistan, says Yashwant Raj.

india Updated: Sep 24, 2007 17:12 IST

Glimpses Into the Corridors of Power
Author: Gohar Ayub Khan
Publisher: Oxford
Price: Pak Rs 595
Pages: 354

To an average outsider, Pakistan is a madhouse that makes little or no sense. Knowledgeable observers see a method to this madness. Still others, especially insiders, find nothing insane about what they do. Gohar Ayub Khan is an essential insider. His father was Pakistan’s first military dictator and perhaps the man who bequeathed to his country a tradition of coups and army rule that continues to this day. Khan crossed over to the civilian side — leaving behind a career in the army that could have taken him right to the top or thereabouts — many years ago and his journey as a politician is a fascinating insight into that madhouse.

Glimpses into the Corridors of Power is about many things: his father, martial law dictator Ayub Khan, his own life, from childhood to now, and the people he has encountered along the way. And how can you forget the pre-release hype over a claim in the book that a ‘senior Indian Army officer’ apparently sold his country’s battle plans to Pakistan in return for money to buy his wife a food processor. For many weeks thereafter, India searched feverishly for that despicable dog. And then the hunt was called off abruptly. The man being fingered enjoys iconic status in India. And no one was willing to take Khan’s claim seriously any more. Besides, even if Pakistan had the war plans, it wasn’t much help, was it? This story goes nowhere. On the other hand, Khan’s own public life as a politician is remarkably relevant now as Pakistan struggles once again to extricate itself from the clutches of an insistent military dictator, Pervez Musharraf.

Khan’s main players are also the main players in Pakistan today: deposed and exiled Nawaz Sharif and self-exiled Benazir Bhutto. And it must be said at the outset, Khan has a soft corner for the military.

There is not very much here on the functioning of Zia-ul-Haq or Musharraf. You can perhaps blame his own army background for this, but that leaves the book incomplete. You get the feeling he is not telling.

However, his account of the politicians, especially of Sharif, is devastating. Khan was his Foreign Minister and saw the man from close quarters and he quite clearly didn’t like much of what he witnessed.

Here is a bit on Sharif, the obedient son of Abbaji. This was in 1992. Khan was the speaker of the National Assembly and Prime Minister Sharif asked him to arrange a meeting with Bhutto to ease tensions between them. Everything had been arranged — after much posturing by them — and they were to meet in Karachi. The day before, Sharif called it off, saying, “Abbaji just does not agree to my meeting Benazir.”

And then there is Kargil. Did Sharif know about it? He has claimed he didn’t. Musharraf, who engineered the intrusions as the then army chief, has maintained Sharif had been properly briefed. Khan endorses that. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was briefed on the Kargil operation before it was launched.”

The briefing was a formal one, by Musharraf and his team. Khan then goes on to list those present at the briefing. What he is saying essentially is this: Sharif should stop lying; there are witnesses to the briefing.

The consummate schemer: This was in 1997, during Sharif ’s second term as PM. Khan was now his Foreign Minister. Sharif was in a tussle with the then Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Sounds familiar? Well, as the knowledgeable observers of Pakistan say, there is a method to the madness. Iftikhar Muhammad Choudhury, the present Chief Justice, is not the first to get into a row with the government.

In that earlier instance, Sharif clearly wanted the Chief Justice out of the way. He asked Khan one day: “Gohar sahib, show me a way to arrest the Chief Justice and keep him in jail for a night.” A horrified Gohar Khan blurted out, “For heaven’s sake, do not even consider doing anything of the sort. The whole system will collapse.” Many years later, Musharraf would try the same, and suffer.

Khan’s corridors of power are crawling with such incidents that show how the system works in Pakistan. Things look chaotic, but only because of an apparent understanding among the players to coexist non-peacefully.