Rewriting the past to ruin the future
No man can correct that which he does not know of.
Imran Khan’s book launch in Islamabad happened earlier in the week, and as such events go, it was mostly full of speakers praising Khan; the sporting icon, Khan, the philanthropist, and Khan, the principled politician. However, one speech during the event truly stood out, and it was regarding Pakistan’s mythical history.
Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan quite accurately lambasted the fairy tales we have all been exposed to in state-approved history books.
The retired air marshal ruffled feathers when he told the audience at Imran Khan’s book launch that while Pakistan has attacked India four times, India has never been the aggressor in any of the wars fought between the two nations. This fact, in itself, is not news. What is news is that a respected member of the military, one who served when the upper echelon earned, rather than commanded, respect from the general public, has clearly outlined the magnitude of the lies that we have all been fed.
Immediately after Asghar Khan’s statement, a bastion of integrity most famous for fathering the Taliban in Afghanistan, attempted to do what he does best: subvert the truth.
Lieutenant General (retd) Hamid Gul, the former Inter-Services Intelligence director general, was quoted as saying:
“How can one expect a categorical stand from a 92-year-old who had a dubious track record.”
This is rich, especially as it comes from one of the most dubious soldiers not to overthrow the elected government (which doesn’t mean he did not try).
Since the allegedly Al-Qaeda linked general refrained from actually responding to Khan’s views and instead launched a personal attack, I took it upon myself to ask a couple of retired military officers what they thought.
Ace pilot Air Commodore (retd) Sajad Haider put it quite eloquently in summarising the two men’s track records:
“Asghar Khan has always been upright, correct and absolutely honest, qualities I cannot attribute to Hameed Gul by any stretch of the imagination.”
He added a bit about Gul’s rise to prominence, calling him a “sycophant” in reference to his publication of literature praising General Ziaul Haq and the human rights abuses during Zia’s reign, and the man who “created the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI)” during his ISI tenure.
The IJI was an alliance of religious parties that was designed to keep Benazir Bhutto out of power. The allegedly military-backed alliance was accused of massive rigging and later fell apart largely due to the role COAS General Waheed Kakar played in removing IJI front-man Nawaz Sharif from PM House in Islamabad in 1993.
On Khan’s statement that all four wars were initiated by Pakistan, Haider added that he participated in the early stages of both wars and:
“he is 100 correct. The nation was told that the enemy has come to invade, when actually it was the leadership of Pakistan who led the nation into disgrace, [as the soldiers did not] know that were fighting to keep megalomaniacs in the chair.”
A retired brigadier who fought on the frontlines in ‘65 and ‘71 echoed the same feeling, while placing additional blame on the army for not even sharing details with the other arms of the military.
“In ‘65, the air chief had no idea that the war had started [because he had not been informed by the army],” while rubbishing the decision taken by the men at the top, as he said, “The idea of hoping for limited war is foolish.”
Similarly, the brigadier, a man known for not mincing his words, said that while Asghar Khan was and is still held in great respect and always displayed capability, the same does not apply to Gul.
He added that Khan’s record as an administrator can be gauged from the outstanding performance of the air force during his term and the high esteem it was held in, and also PIA which he made into a top notch airline.
Denial of history
The crux of both men’s arguments was that the people Pakistan have been sold lies to strengthen the stranglehold that a few men, whether they formally overthrew the elected government or not, have placed on the state’s collective neck.
Issues that should have been prioritised to bring about socioeconomic progress have been ignored. Under Article 38 of the Constitution of Pakistan “The State” is supposed to “secure the well-being of the people, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, by raising their standard of living, by preventing the concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest”, to “provide for all persons...social security by compulsory social insurance or other means;” and to “provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens,” and to “reduce disparity in the income and earnings of individuals.”
Nowhere does the constitution define “The State” as being limited to those serving in the military of Pakistan. Yet, amid the vows to eat grass and build weapons of mass-murder, civilians have been dying hungry, while the military has maintained its own state-subsidised welfare system to ensure that even if it bankrupts the state, its own cadre remain unaffected.
On the actual subject matter of the wars, the military veterans opined that the during the Kashmir war in 47-48, it was the Pakistani backed lashkars which fired the first bullet, while ‘65 has been discussed above. In ‘71, it was India intervening to stop the mass-murder of an oppressed population, and while hurting Pakistan may have been a part of their goal, “conquering” it was not. This too was a war of Pakistan’s creation.
On Kargil, the brigadier, who has known General Musharaf since their days at PMA, said that he “wanted to be the conqueror of Kashmir and build his credentials”, while referring to the former dictator’s credentials as “unmemorable”. Each time, the Pakistan Army went onto the battlefield without an endgame in sight.
Rewriting history to forge a suitable narrative for increased military funding and creating the illusion of Pakistan being born an Islamic, rather than a secular state have only further damaged the ability of the youth of yesterday or today (and probably tomorrow) to understand what their own history is.
No man can correct that which he does not know of.