PAKISTAN’S welfare is my life’s treasure. I love every particle of itsdust. I am convinced that any step I now take to bring peace to thecountry will have an effect on its future and history.” To millions ofPakistanis listening hushed around their transistor radios, the calm,measured voice of President Mohammed Ayub Khan seemed inadequate forthe drama of his message. “In all my difficult times,” said Ayub, “Ihave prayed to God for guidance.” Then, in a striking echo of LyndonJohnson’s renunciation of the U.S. presidency last year, he declared:”I have decided, in the light of my faith, to announce that I will notbe a candidate in the next election. This is my irrevocable decisionand there is no possibility of my changing it.”

Thus, after more than ten years in power, the 61-year-old President ofPakistan last week bowed to his conscience —and his critics—bydeclaring that he would step down at the end of his term next year. Itwas the decision of a concerned man, executed with the dignity andgrace of the lifelong soldier that Ayub Khan is. Yet once again itunderscored—in a world in which the people increasingly take to thestreets—the fragility and vulnerability of all but the very strongestauthority.

Candlelight Procession. The pattern of unrest in Pakistan had a familiarbeginning in student demands for education reform, which sparked bloodyrioting. By last October, however, when civil disorders began to erupton a wide scale, the opposition to Ayub was pushing far moresubstantive complaints. One had to do with Ayub’s system of “basicdemocracy,” which was really little more than constitutional windowdressing to ensure his stay in power. Another was the resentment of thepeople of East Pakistan, 55% of the divided country’s population, overwhat they felt to be the neglect of their interests by the centralgovernment.

The crescendo of violence, of rioting and of police repression mountedover five months until the toll was more than 70 dead. Last week alone,in the five days preceding Ayub’s radio surrender, at least 38 peopledied in disorders in West and East Pakistan. Most of the trouble was inthe East, where mob rule shook Dacca, the largest city, and army troopswith automatic weapons confronted demonstrators who shrilled: “Rise!Rise!” Scores were injured by bayonets and flying lathis, thesteel-tipped bamboo sticks used by the police, and attempts at curfewsproved useless. But when Ayub’s message flashed across the country, themood altered instantly. In Karachi and other cities, crowds poured intothe streets to dance in jubilation at the news. In Rawalpindi, acandlelight procession took place.

Referendum in the Streets. Ayub had tried to stave off the finaldenouement by compromising with the opposition. In recent weeks he hadcanceled the emergency regulations, amounting to military rule, thathad been in force since the 1965 war with India. He had releasedhundreds of political prisoners, and offered to sit down and negotiatereforms with his opponents. That was an invitation that his enemiesrefused. When Ayub met with leaders of his ruling Pakistan MoslemLeague to discuss ways out of the dilemma, one aide suggested areferendum on the country’s problems. The President, his face grey andhag gard, replied: “What is happening in the streets in the wholecountry is already a referendum.”

The army, which had always been Ayub’s primary base of support, may havebegun to waver: there were suggestions that Ayub sensed a growingskepticism among its officers. He also realized that he hadunderestimated his opposition; he knew that former Foreign MinisterZulfikar Ali Bhutto, once a loyal ally but now a determined enemy justreleased from jail, meant business when he declared: “This campaign isnot a movement—it is a real, full-fledged revolution.” Short ofceaseless bloodletting, there finally seemed to Ayub no alternative butsurrender.

Befriending China. Mohammed Ayub Khan came to power in 1958 after alengthy period of political upheaval and instability. Theramrod-straight, tall (6 ft. 2 in.) Sandhurst-trained commander inchief of the army had a soldierly disdain for politics that initiallymoved him to resist a military takeover. Once in control, however, heproved to be a natural politician who understood power and knew how touse it. He quickly set to cleaning the political house, pushing landreform, education and an end to corruption. From the beginning, heoperated with a mixture of autocracy and measured democracy. In 1962,he pushed through a new constitution that provided for election of thePresident by 80,000 (later raised to 120,000) so-called basicdemocrats—men who could theoretically make their own choice but whowere essentially under his control. The government “guided” the pressand, while Ayub permitted a national assembly, it had only limitedpowers.

Initially, there were few complaints about Ayub’s attempts to createmuch-needed stability. Displaying a surprising grasp of economics, Ayubmodernized agriculture through subsidized fertilizer sales to farmersand through irrigation development, spurred industrial growth withliberal tax benefits. In the decade of his rule, gross national productrose by 45% and manufactured goods began to overtake such traditionalexports as jute and cotton.*He shunned prestige projects and stressedbirth control in a country that has the fifth largest population in theworld: 125 million. He dismissed criticism with the comment that ifthere was no family planning, the time would surely come when”Pakistanis eat Pakistanis.” In foreign affairs, he retained his tiesto the West but also maneuvered toward a more neutral position bybefriending China and moving closer to the Soviet Union. His mainforeign policy executor then was Bhutto, who was militantlynationalist, often strongly anti-Western and afflicted with a nearfanatic hatred of India.

By 1965, shortly after Ayub had won a second presidential term in asurprisingly close election that pitted him against Fatima Jinnah—thesister of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed AH Jinnah—he began running intoproblems. Pakistan’s small educated elite, shut out from power, beganto turn against him, criticizing his arrogance and intolerance as wellas his reluctance to delegate authority. There were increasingly bitterallegations of corruption, centering on his eldest son Gohar Ayub, whohad risen from army captain to millionaire in six years. Ayub’sreaction to all complaints was to impose tighter curbs on the press andhis opponents. His reputation took another dip with the near calamitouswar with India. Ayub’s propaganda organs claimed victory when even thesimplest peasant could see that that was nowhere near the truth.

When Bhutto condemned the Soviet-sponsored Tashkent Agreement, whichrestored the old Indo-Pakistan borders, Ayub fired his ForeignMinister—although offering him an ambassadorship as a sop. Bhuttoelected to stay at home and became increasingly critical of thePresident, a stand that gained him wide support among students andintellectuals. Last November, Ayub finally jailed him on charges ofinciting to riot and endangering the national security—clearly anattempt to head the former Foreign Minister away from a presidentialchallenge later this year. By that time the opposition had hardenedabout demands for abandoning the “basic democrat” system, and Bhuttohad become one of its loudest spokesmen.

Titular Presidency. When Ayub finally gave up last week, he renewed hisoffer to negotiate with his opponents on constitutional reform based on”free and democratic elections.” If there was no agreement, he warned,he would evolve his own proposals. Some sources think that they willprobably feature a titular presidency in a British-style parliamentarydemocracy, based on universal suffrage, as well as more regionalautonomy for East and West Pakistan. Ayub has a year to lay thefoundations for his ideas while opposition leaders struggle for thesuccession.

The challenge with which the President has confronted the opposition isformidable indeed. By removing himself from the political scene, he hasdeprived his opponents of the one aim that all agreed on: opposition tohis rule. To avoid the instability of the pre-Ayub period—thePresident once called that era “an agonizingly prolonged politicalfarce”—the opposition will have to work together. But existingdivisions among the opposition parties make that at best a tenuoushope.

Moreover, the leading contenders for future leadership either have onlylocal backing or command only a small popular base of support. Bhutto,the only Ayub enemy to have announced his availability for thesuccession, is strong only in West Pakistan and would probably notreceive the endorsement of the Democratic Action Committee, anessentially conservative alliance of eight parties that combined forcesto pressure Ayub. Sheik Mujibur Rahman, a fiery and popular EastPakistani who advocates partial autonomy for his area, would do well inEast Pakistan but might raise fears of secession in the West. RetiredAir Marshal Asghar Khan, a recent arrival on the political front andthe sober, solid head of Pakistan International Airlines, has virtuallyno popular base, though he might eventually appeal to the DemocraticAction Committee parties. For all his weaknesses, Ayub was an imposingnational figure even before he took power in 1958. None of the men whohave combined to depose him and propose to replace him can make thatclaim.

*The country’s wealth still remained concentrated in a fewhands. A government economic expert estimated last fall that 20families control 66% of industry and 80% of banking.

Tap to read full story

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at