NON-FICTION: The narcissist

Published July 11, 2010

Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan A selection of talks and interviews 1964-1967 is the latest addition to the expanding anthology on the life and times of a former president of Pakistan.

The first seminal work My Chief by his private secretary Colonel Mohammad Ahmed appeared in 1960. His autobiography, Friends, Not Masters, was largely ghost-written by his trusted information secretary Altaf Gauhar and was first published by Oxford University Press in 1967. In 1993 Sang-e-Meel published Gauhar's own magnum opus Ayub Khan Pakistan's First Military Ruler. And 14 years later, in 2007, OUP published Diaries of Field Marshal Ayub Khan (1966-1972).

What stands out in all the works, including the latest, is his exaggerated belief in his own self as saviour 'I would not like to boast that I am the only man who is suitable to run this country, but I would certainly want that it is run by someone sensible...I had to be the author of the Constitution and also face its consequences.


If I hadn't done that, we would never have been able to run a democratic system.' (Interviews p.24)
Soon after Ayub assumed power he was faced with the 'Pindi Conspiracy'. He also faced a series of other crises such as the aftermath of the massing of Indian troops along the West Pakistan border in 1951, conflict in the Rann of Kutch, and any number of major violations of the Kashmir ceasefire which brought the two countries into a sort of a war-like situation.

Being modest would be against his grain. He gauged others, soldiers and politicians, in the light of his own looks and style. Even as a gentleman cadet at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, he qualified his appreciation for fellow cadet J.N. Chaudhri thus 'He was a very talented soldier and a good worker.


But, between you and me, he is a very slippery customer, very ambitious. He is superficial and there is no real depth in his planning.' (Interviews p.58) Chaudhri was the same man who, as the Indian army chief during the 1965 war, faced Ayub, the commander of the Pakistan armed forces.

As army chief Ayub would speak even more deprecatingly of Pakistan's naval chief Admiral Haji Mohammad Siddiq (HMS) Choudri. He criticised him for neither having the 'brain, imagination or depth of thought to understand such (defence) problems nor the vision or the ability to make any contribution.' (Friends, Not Masters p.65). He was equally uncompromisingly critical of civilians, both politicians and bureaucrats.

Liaquat Ali Khan seems to be the sole exception to the rule; the Nawabzada was not only spared his barbs but also praised for the 'cool, courageous and tenacious manner in which he tried to steer the ship of the state through
turbulent waters.'

Could Ayub have made it to the top in a united Indian army? His war time record was anything but commendable.


He commanded the Assam regiment in the Manipur sector of the Burma front in the closing stage of the Second World War, though not entirely to the satisfaction of his divisional commander and so was relieved somewhat unceremoniously. He was appointed deputy chief of the Inter Services Selection — a position which was practically the end of the road for his career. Then came Pakistan.

He was promoted to brigadier and assigned to the Punjab boundary force under Maj-Gen Pete Rees. Maj-Gen Iftikhar Ahmed, commander of the Lahore-based 10 infantry division had been all but formally confirmed as the first Pakistani commander-in-chief of the army but fate intervened for Ayub. Iftikhar, along with another brilliant officer and major general (designate) Sher Khan, was killed in an air crash near Jungshahi in November 1949. He was on his way to England via Karachi for a course at the Imperial Defence College (IDC).

The fatal crash left Ayub as the lone contender for the top job. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was his principal backer and ultimate appointing authority. This was despite 'Gracey harbouring misgivings' about Ayub, as Shuja Nawaz writes in his introduction to the book under review. Nawaz also says that Ayub 'appeared to have an inflated view of his own capacity to strategise and govern.'

Being the only general officer (GOC 14 Infantry Division) in place in East Pakistan gave Ayub a bloated sense of his own power. East Pakistan offered Ayub all the time in the world to think of himself as Pakistan's man of destiny.
Even while trying to be modest, he wouldd find a peer in no less a person than Winston Churchill 'Even Churchill went into oblivion and I am a much smaller man than him.'

It is not generally known that Ayub became 'seriously ill' in 1951 (before or after his assumption of command is not known) He developed complications after a simple appendix operation. 'My nervous system in the process got affected and even now when I am harassed by people, my body reacts in a strange way and becomes brittle.'

This perhaps explains his frequent loss of temper in the face of the slightest criticism and also his decision to shift the federal capital from Karachi to Islamabad.

Even as a young subaltern Ayub betrayed an un-soldierly, almost morbid sensitivity to the weather. He found Calcutta's climate 'extremely oppressive and wouldn't buy it for a penny.'

He viewed the army as the country's 'symbol and source of sovereignty', a formulation that did the greatest harm to the professionalism of the army, as well as the political and constitutional fabric of the country.
Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan
Edited by Nadia Ghani
Oxford University Press, Karachi
ISBN 978-0-19-547624-8
315pp. Rs795



An inexplicable delay
03 Oct, 2022

An inexplicable delay

AFTER a flurry of activity a couple of months ago, geared towards filling the vacancies in the apex court — an...
Dire situation
Updated 03 Oct, 2022

Dire situation

If there is any time for the civilian leadership to show unity, it is now.
Russian annexation
03 Oct, 2022

Russian annexation

AS Russia and the West play a zero-sum game in Ukraine, Moscow’s official annexation of four Ukrainian regions it...
Spy games
Updated 02 Oct, 2022

Spy games

The audios leaked so far appear to have been carefully curated: they apply pressure but do not do major damage.
‘Geopolitical football’
02 Oct, 2022

‘Geopolitical football’

THE US-China rivalry is by all measures one of the globe’s most dangerous competitions for power and influence. ...
Fuel price reduction
02 Oct, 2022

Fuel price reduction

ISHAQ Dar is back; so are his signature policies. The reduction of a little over 5pc in fuel prices announced by him...