“In the end, no matter what one does, a great army in the middle of a democratic nation will always be a great peril, and the most effective means of reducing that peril is to reduce the size of the army. It is not within the power of every nation to apply this remedy, however.” — Alexis de Tocqueville
ROEDAD Khan, Pakistan’s civil servant par excellence, has served his country, from its inception as a young district administrator, through every stage of the career ladder up to the very top as head of a number of permanent constitutional institutions, cabinet minister, chief minister, political adviser to several presidents and prime ministers, and since his retirement three decades ago, political savant and mentor for all those, young and old and in between, who care and fear for the future of our beloved country.
He was present at the creation of Pakistan and, may Allah grant him many more years with us, he turned 100 yesterday, as the last remaining primary witness of the roller coaster political history of Pakistan. He has seen it all and participated in it from every angle. His passion for Pakistan knows no bounds, and his deep disappointment with its current trajectory is too painful to behold. The rage of the sage at his advanced age must surely move us to turn the page; not as an act on the stage but as a breaking out of the cage.
Politically, Roedad Khan has had only one love, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, who was finally forced to the conclusion that its creation was the only feasible path left for the political salvation of the Muslims of the subcontinent. But that would require Pakistan to fulfil its purpose and potential. In the short time he had left, the Quaid spelled out what he meant.
In his two-volume Collected Works, which is a sequel to his A Dream Gone Sour, Roedad Khan states “Jinnah envisioned Pakistan as a modern, progressive, democratic country drawing its inspiration from the true, dynamic, pristine, revolutionary Islam of its early years with its emphasis on egalitarianism, social justice and accountability. Jinnah was a fervent believer in the sovereignty of the people, the inviolability of the constitution, supremacy of civilian rule, an absolutely independent and incorruptible judiciary, the rule of law, and a strong, neutral and honest civil service.” (Today’s Pakistan has been bereft of almost all these prerequisites for Quaid’s Pakistan.)
Roedad Khan’s deep disappointment with Pakistan’s current trajectory is painful to behold.
In his broadcast to the people of the US in February 1948, the Quaid said: “The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed. I do not know what the ultimate shape of the constitution is going to be, but I am sure it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam … Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state ruled by priests with a divine mission.” (For such priests, who had denounced the Quaid as ‘Kafir-e-Azam’, their ‘religion’ was more a ‘profession’ than a ‘faith’.)
Five years earlier in Delhi, regarding the landlords and the capitalists, the Quaid warned: “The exploitation of the masses has gone into their blood. They have forgotten the lesson of Islam. Do you realise that millions have been exploited and cannot get one meal a day? If this is the idea of Pakistan, I would not have it.” (Today, this is the reality of Pakistan, and those landlords and capitalists rule Pakistan! Would our Quaid ever accept such a Pakistan?)
What was the Quaid’s concept of the role of the military and the bureaucracy in the governance of independent Pakistan?
On the day Pakistan came into being, the Quaid had to scold a young army officer for complaining about British officers still commanding Pakistani military forces. The Quaid warned him “do not forget the armed forces are the servants of the people of Pakistan and you do not make national policy; it is we the civilians who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out the tasks with which you are entrusted, ie, the defence of Pakistan”.
(Eleven years later, the army overthrew the civilian government, thereby derailing constitutional government and progress towards democratic governance. This effectively killed the Quaid’s vision for Pakistan, which was finally buried in 1971 in Dhaka. Today, ‘hybrid governance’ is replacing constitutional governance. Nothing could be more anathema for the Quaid. All eyes are on the Supreme Court to stop this excrescence.)
Later the same year, the Quaid visited Staff College, Quetta, and warned the assembled officers to be aware of the implications of their oath to Pakistan with these words: “I should like you to study the constitution which is in force in Pakistan at present and understand its true constitutional and legal implications when you say you will be faithful to the constitution.” (Roedad notes the supreme irony that the constitution was eventually abrogated by some of the officers listening to the Quaid.)
A year later, the Quaid told civil servants in Peshawar: “Governments are formed, governments are defeated. Prime ministers come and go, ministers come and go, but you stay on and, therefore, there is a very great responsibility placed on your shoulders. You should have no hand in supporting this political party or that political party or this political leader or that political leader — this is not your business. Your duty is not only to loyally serve whatever legitimate government is in office, but at the same time fearlessly maintaining your high reputation, your prestige, your honour and the integrity of your service.”
At the same meeting, the Quaid impressed upon “leaders and politicians that if they ever try to interfere with you [the civil servants] and bring political pressure to bear upon you which leads to nothing but corruption, bribery and nepotism — they will be doing a disservice to Pakistan. Maybe some of you may fall victim for not satisfying the whims of ministers. Sacrifices have to be made for Pakistan to give it a complete sense of security”. (Which of our civil servants or military officers have provided Pakistan this sense of security?)
With every breath, Roedad Khan at 100 weeps along with the vast majority of us over the mockery our rulers, elites and their foreign masters have made of the Quaid’s testament. Our younger generation will, Inshallah, wipe away these tears. Happy birthday respected Roedad Khan!
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2023