The State of Pakistan: L. F. Rushbrook Williams. Faber & Faber, 25s. 254 pp.

One of the most remarkable feats of the Ayub Regime was its—even if only temporary—success in projecting a radical image at home and abroad, while in fact pursuing policies calculated to stabilise an essentially backward social situation. Popular opposition to the regime is now making itself felt once more; the illusions have not survived the harsh experience of regressive and oppressive policies. But the very fact that widespread illusions did exist for a time, underlines the failure of the Pakistani left to educate itself and the Pakistani people about the processes which have determined our social and political evolution. The series of upheavals and political experiments which have marked the brief span of our history have, however, brought into sharp relief many underlying problems which invite systematic analysis—not only in order to clarify aspects of our own political development, but also because they may have some relevance to other underdeveloped countries with a similar background. The book under review, while it makes no contribution to an understanding of these issues, may at least serve as a convenient starting point to identify some of the problems.

Rushbrook Williams’ much-publicised The State of Pakistan has been eagerly awaited by a grateful, if now tottering regime. It turns out to be a patchy and uneven survey of Pakistan’s political history, and a panegyric on the Ayub regime, desceibed as “Revolution and Renaissance”. Nearly half of the book is devoted to the cold war with India and Afghanistan, whose paid agents get the entire credit for political opposition to the Ayub regime in Pakistan. The rest of the book is a convenient summary of the propaganda material which has been turned out by the Ayub regime. The author unceasingly reminds us of his long association with political movements in India and Pakistan and of his close personal relationship with the men who have occupied the positions of power in Pakistan. But any hopes that this position of confidence would be reflected in the provision of interesting original material are swiftly dissipated.

“The time has not yet come”, says Rushbrook Williams, “to set down the complete story of the chain of events which finally precipitated the Army’s action.” Significantly, amongst the circumstances which preceded the coup d’etat of 1958, he mentions that the army “knew that a formidable agrarian revolt against landlord tyranny and economic oppression would soon break out.” He also adds that “General Ayub Khan found himself unexpectedly confronted with conclusive proof that a coup d’etat, of the kind which brought General Kassim into control of Iraq, was being prepared. Such a move if it had been permitted to mature would have involved the entire country in bloodshed, and profited no one but the Communists.” So Ayub conferred with Mirza and Operation Overlord, the assumption of control over Pakistan by the Army, was carried out swiftly and efficiently.

The actual prospect of an “agrarian revolt” breaking out at that time is perhaps a matter for speculation. But it is true that agrarian unrest had reached an unprecedented level and was giving powerful assistance to left-wing political parties in their campaign for a General Election, long overdue. Rushbrook Williams scarcely mentions this fact. The right-wing parliamentarians, isolated from the masses, were certainly not enthusiastic about an election. But they were not men who wielded any real power in the country. They were only a convenient front behind which real power was exercised by men like Ghulam Mohammed and Iskander Mirza and their colleagues of the bureaucracy, backed by Ayub and the Generals. The so-called “revolution” of 1958 was not a revolution in any sense at all. It was the destruction of the apparatus of constitutional government after it had become clear that a new force threatened to emerge which would no longer allow the ruling Bureaucracy and the Generals to manipulate a parliamentary facade as easily as they had done before.