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Secrets from the past

Even when India discovered that Pakistan had details of its war plans, Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s diaries show that Pakistan found this out as well, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: May 06, 2007 00:44 IST

I had no idea a diary could be so fascinating. To be honest, I’ve never kept one, I haven’t read many and I didn’t finish Anne Frank’s. But at the moment I’m engrossed in Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s. It’s a 599 page book sent by his son Gohar. Even though it’s published 33 years after Ayub’s death, I have to admit I’m hooked.

Let’s start with the pictures. There are 110 but what stands out in each and every one is how dashing and suave Ayub was. These days few officers are gentlemen or vice-versa; Ayub was definitely both. My favourites are shaking hands with Mao, standing in a shark’s skin dinner jacket beside Ike, sitting at the Elysee with de Gaulle, striding out with Jackie Kennedy and patting Lyndon Johnson on the cheek. As a general’s son I can tell you they don’t make them like this any more!

However, it’s the political revelations that are spellbinding. Although I’m still skimming through the book I’ve already come across seven different references to intelligence leaks from India. If they’re credible — and why would a man lie to his diary, particularly if what he’s confiding is not for immediate publication? — India, it would seem, was a leaky sieve.

Read the entry for 1 July 1967: “We are now in full possession of India’s plans of attack against East and West Pakistan.” Or this from 12 April 1968: “The Director of Military Intelligence came to see me and showed a copy of the latest Indian plan of attack … (it’s) well-made and is designed to bring overwhelming force against us … we shall have a hard task in meeting this challenge.” And then, a few months later, on 16 July: “(General) Akbar showed me a copy of the offensive plan of the 1st India Corps against West Pakistan. It has been marked out in great detail, right down to the battalion, especially the crossings and bridges over the Ravi.”

Even when India discovered that Pakistan had details of its war plans, Ayub’s diaries show that Pakistan found this out as well. This is what the Field Marshal writes on 11 October 1967: “The Director of Intelligence brought me certain documents indicating that the Indians had become suspicious that we have some inkling of their plan of attack on West Pakistan. They had, therefore, changed their plan, but told their commanders to continue simulating the original plan for the purpose of deception”. It seems our Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters were riddled with Pakistani spies!

Two years ago Ayub’s son, Gohar, claimed his father had given him the name of an Indian Director of Military Operations from the 1950s who had sold the country’s war plans to the Pakistanis for 20,000 rupees. At the time this was dismissed as a silly if not pathetic lie. However, a few journalists like me tried to take Gohar seriously. We quizzed him about the six officers who had served as DMO in that decade. They were brigadiers Manekshaw, Daulet Singh, RB Chopra, KS Katoch, DC Mishra and Amrik Singh. But Gohar refused to name the one. If I recall correctly, Pranab Mukherjee, who was then Defence Minister, dismissed the allegation as laughable. But now I wonder, does Gohar know something we don’t?

Equally absorbing are Ayub’s opinions of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He was just 29 when Ayub made him Minister of Commerce. Bhutto rose to become Foreign Minister before he was sacked in July 1966. The diaries suggest Ayub was both fascinated and repelled by him.

Ayub says Bhutto was sacked because “he started drinking himself into a stupor and led a very loose life”. Calling him “a clown”, Ayub recounts how he discovered after their parting that “he (Bhutto) had volunteered to spy for the USA”. A few days after Bhutto took over as President of Pakistan, Ayub predicted he would “come a cropper … in any case the government will be that of the goondas, for the goondas”.

No less fascinating is Ayub’s portrait of Yahya Khan. This ‘loyal’ army chief was plotting to replace the Field Marshal and succeeded: “If it was not for his treachery the agitation (which forced Ayub’s resignation) would have been controlled”. There’s definitely a lesson here for General Musharraf! Ayub writes that Yahya indulged in “big corruption which was carried on by him through Alvi of the Standard Bank”. Finally, Yahya Khan “attempted suicide twice but his brother, who lives with him, managed to save him in time”.

Writing a month before the outbreak of civil war in East Pakistan, Ayub says: “The best solution would be to withdraw the army…to think about a confederation… we’ve gone beyond the stage of a federation.” On 16 December, after Niazi agreed to surrender to Jacob, Ayub comments: “The separation of Bengal, though painful, was inevitable and unavoidable … I wish our rulers had the sense to realise this in time and let the Bengalis go in a peaceful manner instead of India bringing this about by a surgical operation.”

I don’t know of any Indian politician who has kept as forthright and fulsome a diary. If any had I wonder what we would have learned? But if you want to know more about Ayub’s, join me at 10.30 pm tomorrow, Monday the 7th, on CNBC when his son Gohar will be my guest. I intend to talk about the India revelations and who knows what else we might find out.

First Published: May 06, 2007 00:35 IST