In the British army, upon which were modelled the armies of India and Pakistan, 'field marshal' was the highest military rank. A field marshal never retires — the rank is conferred for life.
The British chief of the imperial staff was usually a field marshal as was the chief of the defence staff when that office was created, and certain members of the royal family are accorded the rank. Current practice since the 1990s is that no field marshals are routinely appointed in peacetime — the rank must obviously be earned by generals who have proved themselves in times of war and whose military background warranted its bestowal.
Two field marshals have been appointed by the Government of India since 1947. The first appointed to this rank, whilst still a serving officer, was the then chief of army staff, Gen Sam Manekshaw in 1973. A much-decorated Second World War officer, he was conferred the rank by the Indira Gandhi government, largely in recognition of his leadership during the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971.
Gen K.M. Cariappa was appointed field marshal in 1986 by Rajiv Gandhi's government, more than 30 years after his retirement from the Indian army. He was a member of the Army Sub Committee of the Forces Reconstitution Committee, which divided the British Indian army into the Indian and Pakistani armies after the partition of India in 1947. He served as the Indian army's first commander-in-chief, India's first Indian chief of staff, and led the Indian forces in Kashmir during the Indo-Pakistani far of 1947.
Pakistan has had but one field marshal, President Ayub Khan. He staged his coup in 1958, after having been appointed defence minister in 1954 whilst the serving army chief, turfing out the man who had supported and nurtured him, Maj-Gen Iskander Mirza, Pakistan's last governor-general and its first president. Ayub Khan declared himself president immediately and appointed Gen Musa Khan as the army commander-in-chief .
It is generally noted and agreed by all sources that he was a 'self-appointed' field marshal. A perusal of the histories of the Pakistan army, including that of my friend Shuja Nawaz — Crossed Swords — surely the definitive history of our army up to the era of Gen Pervez Musharraf, glosses over any whys or wherefores of Ayub's elevation, nor is any justification anywhere else officially accorded to it.
There is but one source that might explain the circumstances surrounding the appointment of our field marshal (which his military background cannot justify). On Aug 13, 1976, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto addressed a note to his major-domo Aziz Ahmed, to the army chief of staff and to the cabinet secretary, the subject 'The elevation of Gen Ayub to the rank of field marshal'.
“I will tell you how Ayub Khan became a field marshal. When he promoted Lt Gen Mohammed Moosa to the rank of general and made him commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army he told me in Nathia Galli in 1959 that he was worried over the quarrel between Gen Moosa and Gen Habibullah [the father of Lt Gen Ali Kuli Khan who rightly should have been made chief of army staff in October 1998]. He told me that he was worried about Habibullah's intrigues and ambitions. He asked for my advice on how to place himself head and shoulders above their squabbles.
“I told him that one way of doing it was to show complete impartiality, fairness and justice, and I made the other suggestion rather cynically. I told him that since it was essential for him to be head and shoulders above the others, it would be better if he elevated his own rank from that of a general to that of a field marshal. He thought it a brilliant idea. He was simply overjoyed but as all his reflexes were influenced by monetary considerations, much to my surprise he said, 'The idea is brilliant, it will create stability but we will have to persuade Mr Shoaib, the finance minister to agree to the financial aspects of the proposal.' Of course Mr Shoaib agreed. Ayub became field marshal in October 1959.
“At that time I was leading the Pakistan delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The formalities were completed in my absence. The cabinet willingly agreed to the proposal. All members of the cabinet, except Moulvi Ibrahim, the then law minister, dissented. I was informed that Mr Manzoor Qadir tried to give the impression of not being wholly in agreement but that was only for the sake of showing his convenient integrity. After the decision was taken at Karachi, Ayub Khan told his military secretary to phone me in New York and to thank me for making such a sound suggestion. I am therefore the hero of Ayub Khan's valorous battles. Of course, the object of this note is not to dismantle the man. Some of us can still refer to him with respect. I am only setting the record straight.”
Bhutto (may his soul rest in peace) was a deeply complexed man, prone to bullying, and to continually justifying his dodgy actions. What provoked him to 'set the record straight'?
Ayub Khan, as of course was the case with his military presidential successors — Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf — held his presidential powers legally and lawfully as upheld by the apex court of the country. They were the 'de jure' men, and we are now assured that never again will there be others to be so acknowledged. We are in the 'de facto' days, which, we must admit is preferable and perhaps safer all round.