There is no gainsaying the fact that without the visionary and charismatic leadership of the founder of the nation Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah the dream of an independent country would have been impossible. It is difficult to imagine that a person so frail of physique could have singlehandedly achieved a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. One can gauge his vision from the fact that having pleaded his case on the basis of two separate nations, he was quick to add at the eve of independence that he wanted an inclusive homeland, where everyone was free to practice his or her faith. He had reassured everyone: “You’re free to go your mosques, you are free to go to your temples or any other place of worship that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”
Today is Pakistan’s 70th birthday. Its detractors weren’t giving it 10 days let alone 70 years to survive. The country has come a long way from its early days. To begin with the challenges were grave. At the time of its birth its share of the army was spread all over the world and there was no single Muslim unit for the defence of the country. There was no industry, no trade and no trained manpower. Its share of money and weapons had been stopped. It was inundated by an unending stream of refugees. War had broken out in Kashmir and the British commander in chief of an independent Pakistan wasn’t willing to take the orders of the Quaid to support Pakistan defend its legitimate rights.
Looking back at these 70 years Pakistan’s has had its share of successes and failures. It lost half of its territory in just 25 years. It has been through wars, natural disasters and multiple political crises. The common thread visible throughout these upheavals has been a leadership that did not measure up upto the myriad challenges faced by the nation. Unfortunately after the Quaid’s death just one year after the birth of the nation, no one could replicate his standards of good leadership. The ship of state was allowed to flounder against the rocks that it encountered in its progress as an independent state.
Often but not always good leaders are an accident of history. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was one such leader. He was a messiah, truly a gift of God, who did what he was ordained for. This, however, begs the question whether it is the end for us? Are we such an unfortunate nation that we will remain bereft of good leadership even after 70 years? Such thoughts can lead to despondency? I don’t believe that we are fated to be ruled by third rate leaders. We can have our share of good leaders provide we have a long term plan for it. First and foremost we need to allow to the agreed system of governance to take root. Whatever, democratic norms that we have adopted for our country must be allowed to blossom and bear fruit. The early fruits may be bitter at first but eventually there would be sweeter crop that comes out if the system is allowed to filter out those not fit for leadership roles. The important thing is that the system of filtration should not be extra-constitutional. The Quaid was a constitutional lawyer per excellence. During his visit to the Staff College in Quetta he had reminded the military leadership of the oath that they had taken to protect the constitution. He was absolutely clear that if the country had to flourish there ought be no coups either military or judicial. Leadership like wine takes time to mature. So lets be patient and give time for a merit based leadership to emerge from an archaic and decadent system based on feudalism and dynastic rule. Time is not far, when we will have our own Thomas Jeffersons and Abraham Lincolns.
Recently a delegation of the Chinese Association of Social Sciences (CASS) visited our University in Islamabad. The visitors were given a thorough briefing. During the Q & A session, a high ranking Chinese lady, well conversant in English language, wanted to know about our opinion on the new globalization? A colleague, who is an economics professor gave an impromptu presentation. He said that indeed a new Asian model was emerging and that the existing one based on the Bretton Wood institutions such as IMF and the World Bank was on its way out. The new system he said would eventually be replaced by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This, however, may take time. In the interim smaller countries like Pakistan would still be going to IMF to get loans. If the old institutions knows that their members were preparing to join the new system, they would crush them by lending money on very high rates. Therefore, he recommended the new Asian economic model of globalization should not be based on harsh lending rates because that would devastate emerging economies. The new economic world order he suggested should be more humane, in order to allow poor countries to prosper. The point was well taken.
There is no denying the fact that we are witnessing a great change in global leadership. It may still take time before a complete change takes place because of a number of reasons i.e. the US is still militarily the most powerful country on earth and its technology and education and the system of governance is still vastly superior to all its immediate competitors such as China and Russia. However, the writing is clearly on the wall. The US is a retreating power. The ascension of Donald Trump to the White House hasn’t helped matters. He is vastly unpopular at home and is under investigation by federal agencies for his alleged collusion with Russia to manipulate the results of the presidential elections. Cracks are also appearing between the whites and non-whites. The rally by the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia is a case in point. Abroad, the foreign policy challenges are not being addressed in a cogent and clearheaded manner. The showdown with North Korea, a poor country led by an unpredictable leader, does not behove a mighty country like the US. Trump’s response to Kim ICBM plans has spiked tensions. Threats such as “you’ll witness fire and fury of the kind that he has not witnessed before” and that all his “weapons are loaded and locked to fire” is a very dangerous trend of saber rattling that can endanger the international peace. The policy on Afghanistan remains unclear and Trump’s advisers have yet to give him policy options that would allow a face saving exit. All this is weakening the American hold on the global leadership. So we are seeing is the emergence of a new world order in which the global leadership would shift from North America and Europe to Asia.
It is a time of great circumspection. The new global leaders should not blindly follow the capitalist norms. The new world order should be based on ancient wisdom of the East. It should be based on integrating all nations of the world. The resources of the poor countries should not be exploited mercilessly by powerful nations without making them a stakeholder in the profits earned. The harsh lending system should be replaced by one that encourages the poor countries to not become entangled in a vicious debt trap. Instead they should be encouraged to stand on their own feet and through prudent economic policies build their economies that will help them integrate with the global economy seamlessly. This is not a Utopian model and it has all the chances of success.
When I was commissioned into the famous 7 Frontier Force Regiment in October 1976, I was quite overwhelmed by its rich history and traditions. Raised by Captain John Coke on 18 May 1849, a few years before the war of independence of 1857, the ‘paltan’ had come a long way from being part of a mercenary army to a truly nationalistic one. It fought with distinction in the first Kashmir War in 1948 and was rushed to hold the line in Lahore and Sialkot in the 1965 War. One of its officers earned a sitara-i-juraat for gallantry in East Pakistan in the 1971 war. In the early 1990s it would have the honour to be the first battalion in the world to land in war torn Mogadishu as part of the UN operations in Somalia (UNOSOM). In recent times it has had multiple tenures of duty in the restive tribal areas.
As a young subaltern I spent many happy hours browsing through the regimental history and going through the sepia photographs in the well preserved regimental albums. Making my way around the ante room of the officer’s mess in Multan I would look wonder struck at the regimental silver and the photographs adorning the walls. One photograph of the officers of the unit on the eve of war in Malaya showed one incongruous native officer, among a bunch made up entirely British men. The name below said he was Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed. “Who is he and where did he go?” I remembered asking Rahman, the old waiter, who had served with the battalion in Malaya. “He remained behind in India and became an ambassador.” I never probed any further but something didn’t add up e.g. why didn’t he re-join the unit and why did he opt for India. The battalion had become prisoners of war in the Far East early in the Second World War. The British officers had been employed to construct what was known as the death railway to connect Burma with Thailand. Most of the Indian soldiers had joined the Indian national Army of Subhash Chandra Bose. Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed was lost. He didn’t find any mention in the regimental history and wasn’t there, when the unit was re-raised after the war in 1945 in Rawalpindi. Something did not add up.
As I read more about military history I discovered about the Indian National Army (INA) and the charismatic personality Netaji (the leader) Subhash Chandra Bose. Bose, a leading Congress politician from Bengal had escaped from captivity in Calcutta and made his way first to Germany and later to Japan. He had raised the Azad Hind Fauj or the Indian National Army from among the Indian prisoners of war held in captivity by the Japanese. One thing distinct about the INA soldiers was that their cause defied religion, cast and creed. Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians were all joined together by their overwhelming desire to liberate India from the British. Unfortunately, after the War they found themselves to be on the losing side and once again became prisoners. The famous trials held in the Red Fort in Delhi made them a cause celebre among Indian nationalists. The British sensing that their end was near cashiered them from service. The armies of independent India and Pakistan were loath to rehabilitate their comrades, who had joined INA because they had defied their oath to the King and the Empire.
So much for INA, where did Mehboob Ahmed go? By a stroke of luck an acquaintance, whose passion is to research about freedom fighters belonging to the Ghadr party and INA gave me a photocopied autobiography of one Colonel Mehboob Ahmed, who was the military secretary to Netaji. The book is a fascinating account of Mehboob Ahmed for his love of his country and for his adulation of Bose. Nowhere in the book does he mention the time he spent in his British unit but he clearly recounts his defection in Malaya. He recalls in detail INA’s military campaign in Burma and Netaji leading from the front. It is poignant and moving to read his refusal to believe that Bose had been killed in an air crash. Towards the end Mehboob Ahmed appears to be disillusioned man because an independent India had not lived upto his expectations.
Last summer I checked into the British Archives in Kew Gardens in London to look for Mehboob Ahmed. My search yielded no results. First I was told to go to the British India Library, where all records of the erstwhile British Indian Army had been transferred but again I turned a blank. I was then told by the archivist that I should try the South Block in New Delhi, where all accounts of the Indian officers reside. With the kind of relations that our two countries have, I’ve momentarily put my urge to write to the Indian Army on hold.
All that I know about Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed of 1/13 FF Rifles (now 7FF) and Colonel Mehboob Ahmed of INA is that in 1945 he was the military secretary to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In 1946 Captain SK Sinha (later Lt Gen and governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir) met him in a PoW camp in Insein jail in Rangoon. He had known Mehboob Ahmed from his hometown Patna. He recalls Mehboob being very proud of having fought for India’s Independence and he considered those fighting for the British as mercenaries. He was inspired by Netaji’s personality and worshiped him immensely. After the infamous INA trials held at Red Fort, Mehboob was freed and was given a hero’s welcome in Patna.
In 1972, Mahboob Ahmed, then a senior official of the ministry of external affairs deposed before the Khosla Commission and stated the Japanese respected Bose and their common interest was to evict the British from India. In 1991 Mehboob Ahmed gave an interview to Sugata Bose, a relative of Subhash Chandra Bose for his book His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire. If by any chance Col Mehboob Ahmed is alive today he must be a very old man. If he has passed away, perhaps he lies buried somewhere in his native Patna. I hope he is at peace with himself for having fought for the right cause.