Air Marshall M. Asghar Khan
who passed away on January 5 at the age of 96 was a true Pakistani icon. Not only is he credited, as the first native chief, with making the Pakistan Air Force a disciplined fighting force, he was widely respected for his moral uprightness as a soldier — opposing illegal orders while in service — and his incorruptibility in politics. But as someone who had interacted with Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah as well as almost all future leaders of the country, he also had a ringside seat to the history of Pakistan as it played out. And his observations deserve a wider audience. The following excerpt detailing the events from the 1950s — and strangely prescient even today — is from his book We’ve Learnt Nothing From History published in 2005. It is excerpted with permission from the book’s publisher Oxford University Press.
This is what happened in Pakistan. It lost its founding father and guiding figure, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, barely a year after its creation. Three years later, when it had hardly overcome the pangs of birth and was still in the throes of a host of problems, including the absence of a consensus on a constitutional framework, it lost its first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, through the bullet of an assassin.
The history of political engineering by the military in Pakistan goes back to the 1950s
This development brought to an abrupt end the little supremacy that the political leadership had over the bureaucracy and the army. This situation thus paved the way for a painfully long series of traumatic developments that left their scars on the body politic of the country, unleashing the forces of adventurism and palace intrigues.