Political pundits believe in the zodiac movements. Some of them attach special significance to the month of October. October 1958 and 1999 brought radical changes in Pakistan’s political setup; each move was aimed at driving democracy out. It has yet to be established if the 1958 martial law was a necessity, an abrupt decision or a predetermined action.
The proponents of military action had upheld it, calling Ayub Khan a saviour. A new system was evolved which replaced the federal parliamentary system leading to absolute dictatorship. With unfair intentions he took every step which consolidated his grip on power.
After 11 years of independence, Pakistan was going through experiments in governance, with no constitution, no democracy. The fallout of this cast deep influences on the years to come. That Ayub Khan was an ambitious person is evident from his own writings. In his autobiography, Friends, not masters, he launched a tirade of accusations against politicians. In his diary of May 22, 1958, Ayub Khan claimed that politicians were self-centred and greedy. They wanted to reach the corridors of power by any means and then begin looting without thinking about the future of the country; that unscrupulous politicians ‘… would not even hesitate to demolish the institution of Army.’
It became obvious in the beginning of 1958 that Ayub Khan had waited for an opportune time to strike. The political conditions in East Pakistan provided him the appropriate pretext and he began finalising his plans with his colleagues.
Ayub Khan had reached superannuation, and defence minister Ayub Khuhro had to recommend for extension of his service. Ayub pressed Prime Minister Firoz Khan Noon for the recommendation, although the final authority of granting extension rested with President General Iskander Mirza. Noon, under pressure from President’s House got the recommendation, and on June 9, 1958 Ayub Khan was granted the extension. This was all he needed to translate his designs into reality.
Ayub met his colleagues regularly till Sept ember 25, 1958 to discuss the country’s security and economic situation. At every meeting he expressed dismay over the politicians’ role and termed it a conspiracy to derail the economy. He added that there was a feeling among the people that while witnessing such a situation, he and the army were failing in their duties.
Ayub Khan continued his visits to garrisons. On September 20, a government order banned army-like uniforms for political workers. The order became law two days later. Khan Abdul Qayoom of the Muslim League decided to defy this order on September 23. He arrived at Karachi city station to show his disregard for the law.
Here a scuffle took place between the police and the Muslim League workers. At that time Ayub Khan was in Hunza where he was informed of this by Yahya Khan.
From September 25, 1958 began the movement of army units. President’s House (presently Governor’s House, Karachi) was the centre of all political manoeuvring, where Iskander Mirza along with Prime Minister Firoz Khan Noon and his cronies were drawing new lines in the sand as it were.
Karachi had a permanent camp of two brigades — an infantry and an artillery, but one more infantry brigade was called in from Quetta to camp at Jungshahi, a short distance from Karachi. The political situation was hardly conducive due to fierce inter-party differences. The fight was tri-partite — Krishak Saramak, Awami League and Muslim League. This was what Ayub Khan wanted.
On October 2, 1958, Prime Minister Noon made a last attempt to bring some kind of rapprochement but failed. He had already announced the next election for February, 1959. Every politician was trying his best to book a berth in the caretaker cabinet and many were in Karachi. The PM wanted resignations of all ministers before a new cabinet was sworn in. They all did so and a new cabinet was announced on the evening of October 7. This cabinet included Firoz Khan Noon, Syed Amjad Ali, Hamidul Haq Chaudhry, Ayub Khuhro, Sardar Abdur Rasheed, Mir Ghulam Ali Talpur, Haji Maula Bakhsh Soomro, A. K. Data, Haji Mahfoozul Haq, Mian Jaffar Shah, Abdul Aleem, Sardar Amir Adam, Besant Kumar Das and Rameezuddin.
But President Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan had already spoken about the future setup of Pakistan’s administration and arrived at some decisions. Mirza had proposed that assemblies be prorogued, constitution be abrogated, a ban be imposed on political activities and political parties, and while Ayub Khan should take over as Chief Martial Law administrator, he (Mirza) should continue as President.
On October 7, a lavish reception at the President’s House was arranged. While all guests were enjoying their drinks, Iskander Mirza seemed impatient. At eight o’clock he went inside. The army units awaiting orders outside Karachi began moving. They captured all sensitive points and buildings including Radio Pakistan, Telephone and Telegraph building, Karachi Port, airport, etc., and also blocked important thoroughfares. The guests at the reception knew nothing about what was happening outside.
After some time Ayub Khan arrived at the President’s House. Both discussed the arrangement threadbare but Mirza was overwhelmed by Ayub Khan who agreed that while Ayub Khan would handle all the affairs, Mirza would continue as nominal head of the state.
At 10:30pm a proclamation abrogating the constitution, banning all political parties and activities was signed by Mirza and handed over to Ayub Khan. It is said that Ayub Khan had already drafted the proclamation and brought it with him. Press releases were ready and sent to newspapers and agencies. The radio was to broadcast it in its 06:00am bulletin the next day.
When the people woke up they found the civilian setup gone. Owing to strict censorship no report about the actual happening could be known. I was in Hyderabad working for a Sindhi newspaper and remember that on the morning of October 8, 1958, the post we got had been opened. That was my first experience of censorship. But more tantalising was the problem of how to bring out the newspaper. What to print and what not.
The information department, acting on behalf of the federal government, was reminding us from time to time that since martial law had been promulgated there was a complete ban on political activity, and that there should be no report flouting the ML regulations. We found refuge in crime reports and extended socio-economic issues — that too under censorship.
From that day on, martial law orders began pouring in. Punishments were announced for selling stale food, hoarding of essential commodities and even for traffic offences. Price lists were issued by the ML authorities declaring punishments for overcharging. Khan Abdul Qayoom, who wanted to violate government orders on the uniform issue was in Hyderabad with another Muslim League leader, Qazi Akbar, who sent Khan to Abbottabad in a truck camouflaged with grass. The Martial Law authorities continued to make inroads in all departments — from sanitation to road building. One day Brigadier Tikka Khan, who later became Commander-in-Chief, ordered that Sindhi should not be taught in schools as the children could not learn many languages at one time. For many years to follow no resentment came over the order.
After a few days in Karachi and deputing some of his confidantes, Ayub Khan went to Dhaka where he reviewed the system by appointing Martial Law officials. He came back on the 15th. Ayub had already decided to get rid of Mirza. On the 24th he also added the office of the prime minister to his cadre, and appointed a 12-member council of ministers which included eight civilian and four army generals: himself, General Azam Khan, General Khalid Shaikh and General Burki. The civilians included the young lawyer, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had just established his office in Karachi.
On Oct 27 Ayub decided to bid farewell to Mirza. Three generals, Burki, Azam and Khalid Shaikh, spoke to Mirza who was told that he must quit. Mirza understood the whole thing. He was asked where he wished to go, he cited London. But since at that time no flight was available, Mirza and his wife were sent to Quetta. After overnight stay there, both were given a Viscount plane which took them to London bringing an end to a chapter of the early history of Pakistan.