The book is a series of glimpses into the lives of eight leaders— Jinnah to Musharraf—revealing their uncertainties, weaknesses, vices, failings, foibles etc and how they ruled a nation on a foundation of lies/denials/delusions/self deception, compounded over seven decades, making Pakistan ironically named the land of the pure, a dangerous place, not only for India but for most of the world too.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah turned out to be the first lie. Partial to pork, non-pious and ever hungry for power, Pakistan for him meant power and not any conviction of creating an Islamic state. Mountbatten described him as “a psychopathic case” and wondered “how a man with such a complete lack of administrative knowledge or sense of responsibility could achieve or hold down so powerful a position.” That is ironic because when the Brits were floating several plans in the 1930s to partition the Indian sub-continent, it was the young and politically ambitious barrister Jinnah, who they identified and hand-picked to propound the two nation theory. Jinnah’s final irony is that all the power he had achieved in new born Pakistan as the Qaid-e-Azam did not help him even to reach a hospital in time when he was dying. His tragedies were his wife, Ruttie, who died very young and his failing health, which he had totally neglected.
Next came Ayub Khan, the first of four dictator presidents, who promoted himself to Field Marshal. Feeling heady with a substantial dole of American weapons and his India-related delusions— that Indian Army was weak after the 1962 Chinese aggression, that India’s Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was weak and that a Pakistani Muslim soldier could take on ten Indian Hindu soldiers, he waged Pakistan’ssecond war on India in 1965, resulting in heavy losses of men and material to Pakistani forces. That war also exposed how ill-trained and poorly led Pakistani soldiers were. The author quotes Pakistani Air Marshal Nur Khan, then C-in-C, Pakistan Air Force, stating, “Since the 1965 war was based on a big lie and was presented to the nation as a great victory, the army came to believe its own fiction and has since then used Ayub as its role model and therefore has continued to fight unwanted wars—the 1971 war and the Kargil fiasco in 1999…In each of the subsequent wars we have committed the same mistakes that we committed in 1965.”
The chapter on Yahya Khan, begins with his predilection for alcohol and “unrestrained frolicking”. The second part of this chapter is titled Yahya Khan II: 1971—How Not to Fight a War. After thirteen days of the December 1971 war, Lt Gen. AAK Niazi desperately tried to contact Yahya from Dhaka, but could not do so as the latter was partying nude at his new mansion in Peshawar. The next morning, 93,000 Pakistani armed forces personnel surrendered to the Indian Army and East Pakistan got liberated to become Bangladesh.
The utterly wily Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, contemptuous about armed forces officers, sucked up to them whenever it suited him. In 1970, he had conveyed his atrocious recommendation to Yahya of solving the East Pakistan problem by killing 20,000 Bengalis. During his rule he amended the constitution to declare Ahmadiyya as non-Muslims. His over-smartness and deviousness with the Pakistan army brass eventually led to his imprisonment and death, not by customary hanging but a blunt blow behind his head.
Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, known to dislike staff work and transferred from one regiment to the other four times, Islamised the army, ‘mulla-ised’ governance and worse, sowed the seeds of terrorism, a task which the fourth dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, greatly widened the ambit of, thereby making Pakistan a global liability. Of the eight faces on the book’s cover, three were killed, Bhutto, Zia and Benazir Bhutto. Gen. Parvez Musharraf, the butcher of Kargil, dare not enter Pakistan.
The author deserves praise for his research. A Pakistani reviewer in The Dawn recommends, “…it is a good reference book …all future leaders of Pakistan ought to have by their bedside…”