WHEN a man larger than life dies, tributes pour in. I tried to pay my tribute to a great man, no matter that he was a main player on the stage of our ‘traditional enemy’ over the border, in my column on Sam Manekshaw, field marshal of the Indian army.

It brought over 60 messages into my mailbox, mostly in praise of the man, and a few castigating me for my lack of patriotism in praising the military prowess of a man accused of the break-up of Pakistan.

Truth and objectivity must not be lost, though they are alien to the ethos of the Pakistani mindset as it is today. Those responsible for the loss of half the country, and a bitter war with India, 24 years after its birth, were three men — President General Yahya Khan who allowed himself to be manipulated and outdone by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who refused to play second fiddle to any other man, and Mujibur Rahman who wanted his own country.

That being that, back to Manekshaw, a soldier and a field marshal who did his duty, whose exploits and sayings provoke tales of the exploits and sayings of men like Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, Hannibal and Napoleon. One of the finest tributes to the man and soldier, amongst the many, came from The Hindu, a newspaper of his own country, which on June 28 carried three columns relating to the life and times of Sam Bahadur.

Under the heading, ‘A great soldier fades away’, was written:

“‘One who excels at employing the army,’ wrote Sun Tzu in the sixth-century classic, The Art of War, ‘leads them by the hand as if they were only one man.’ Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, who passed away on Friday at Wellington at the age of 94, will be remembered for his exceptional demonstration of this skill during the Indian Army’s historic, nation-creating victory at Dhaka in 1971. He will also be remembered for representing the finest traditions of the Indian Army: professionalism, discipline and an unwavering commitment to the core value of democracy.”

Manekshaw, though a military man to the core, had a great sense of humour (as fortunately has President General Pervez Musharraf). His quips have been quoted and misquoted but they convey the workings of the independence of a military man who knows his own mind. One remark made to the officers of his regiment, the Gurkha Regiment, is a huge regimental favourite: “If anyone tells you he is never afraid, he is a liar or a Gurkha!”

His relationship with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is well known and he managed for a long time to get away with toying with her. One story goes that when, at one point in time, she heard rumours of a possible army takeover, she summoned her army chief, Sam, and asked him if there was any truth to them. “You keep your nose out of my affairs, Sweetie, and I will keep my nose out of yours,” he is said to have replied.

But, as The Hindu relates, “Manekshaw’s fabled irreverence got him into trouble with a vindictive Indira Gandhi who was jealous of his standing after the war. A throwaway line to a news reporter at an airport soon after the 1971 victory that had he decided to migrate to Pakistan at independence — thousands of Parsis had opted to stay on — India would have lost the war infuriated Gandhi. She not only castigated him publicly but withdrew some of the perquisites he enjoyed as Field Marshal.”

Such is the pettiness of insecure politicians — and we over this side of the border have certainly had more than our share. However, in war there is a winner and there is a loser. In 1971, the losing general was our Rangila Raja, President General Mohammad Agha Yahya Khan, a soldier Manekshaw knew well and liked. Yahya was not as guilty as he was made out to be. What he was guilty of in totality was the laxity of his personal habits which allowed him to be manipulated by greedy and selfish politicians — that was his folly and his sin. Amongst the diabolical lot holding sway in 1971 was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Salman Taseer, self-proclaimed newborn leader of the PPP, the party of Bhutto and his daughter, which no longer is the party of the Bhuttos but which by a grossly cruel twist of fate has fallen into the lap of Widower Asif Zardari, now holds sway in the Punjab as a counter to the Brothers Sharif, Nawaz and Shahbaz.

Very much an insider during the era of Zulfikar, Taseer wrote a book, Bhutto — a political biography, published in 1979 by Ithaca Press, London (ISBN 903729-48/49). It is a good book, highly readable and it tells it as it was.

As he writes on the 1971 loss of East Pakistan, “Blame can never be satisfactorily or finally apportioned to the major players in this grisly drama, but that Bhutto, Mujibur Rahman and Yahya Khan share responsibility there can be no doubt. Many, indeed, are inclined to the view that Bhutto, as the most sure-footed politician of the three and thus the best-equipped to assess the consequences of his actions, must accept the lion’s share of the blame.”

And on the earlier, March 3, 1971, scheduled meeting of the Constituent Assembly after the 1970 elections, Taseer has this to say on its scuttling by Bhutto: “Perhaps another politician with more moral scruple and with a greater respect for democracy would have bowed before the will of the majority and quietly entered the Constituent Assembly to debate the future of Pakistan. Bhutto, however, possessed none of these gentle characteristics. He never had much faith in the parliamentary process.”

How little things and politics in Pakistan change. The parliamentary process, in which the founder of the PPP had little faith, is now floundering more than it has ever floundered under the flawed leadership of an unelected usurper.

As for Taseer, he is an extremely clever man, and has re-emerged on the political stage as the governor of Punjab. Serious students of history are marking his rise. President Musharraf acknowledges him as ‘his’ man. Co-chairperson Zardari of the party Taseer champions is under the impression that he is ‘his’ man, and it is said that Nawaz Sharif, yet to be elected, is actually convinced that in spite of the front presented, Taseer backs the one and future leader of the poor republic that is Pakistan — Nawaz makes no effort to conceal his aim.

arfc@cyber.net.pk

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