Pakistan’s First Military Ruler; Pakistan’s Constitutional Past & Political Legacy

What is past is a prologue: any objective appraisal of Ayub Khan’s military rule in Pakistan which lasted for well over ten years (1958-1969), would place him in the medieval tradition of benevolent dictatorship. Ayub’s assumption and exercise of personal power was not an unusual phenomenon in Muslim history. Among the Muslims, the ruler has long been seen as the ‘shadow of God’- the ultimate source of power. Muslim jurists regard power as a ‘gift of Allah’, hence its own justification. To question the possession of power was to invite disorder. Following the doctrine of the lesser evil they firmly believed that personal rule, however tyrannical, was better than lawlessness. A usurper had only to plant himself at the pulpit and the ‘believers’ would render him instant allegiance. When the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared that the military revolution which brought Ayub to power in 1958 was in its own ‘source of law’, he was only following a well-established practice in Muslim history.

Ayub had one advantage over most other military rulers. His accession to power was generally, and quite genuinely, acknowledged as the only way out of the mess which the politicians had created during the first eleven years of Pakistan’s existence. The elitist classes, the feudal lords, the ulema and the bureaucrats, had all lost the right to speak for the people and this gave Ayub direct access to the masses. He spoke to them and they listened- he promised them reforms and they believed him.

Had Ayub remained true to the authoritarian tradition he would have relied on the more vocal and influential religious leaders to advocate and uphold his rule while keeping the army under his personal command. Instead, he sent the army back to the barracks and debarred the politicians, religious as well as secular, from participating in the affairs of the country. His hope was that he would take Pakistan into the modern age by disassociating himself from the fundamentalist visions of the past.

He knew that he could not achieve his goal without the participation of the people but he did not fully comprehend the requirements and demands of the people’s participation. He thought that given the low rate of literacy, hardly above ten percent, it should be enough for the people to choose their local leaders-Basic Democrats-after which they should leave him alone to get on with the job without undue interference. Like most Muslim rulers, Ayub failed to realize the participation would have no meaning unless it was based on the principles of equality and interdependence. Equality makes the people partners in failure, as in success, and interdependence generates a sense of mutual obligation based on tolerance and trust. The Islamic system of government, as generally understood, guarantees the rights of all citizens but their rights are not equal, nor do different communities interact with each other in a framework of interdependence. Under Ayub’s highly centralized system the people in the provinces never had the feeling of equality nor were the people of the country bound together in a network of collective self- reliance. East Bengal, in particular, blamed and not without justification, the central government for exploiting the resources of the province and denying the people their fundamental rights. Ayub presided over a coalition of unequal and unwilling partners.

Of great public concern was Ayub’s refusal to submit to any transparent system of accountability. Anyone who questioned the motives or performance of his government was considered ignorant or malicious. He expected the people to repose their trust in ‘the leader’ in order to enjoy the munificence of his rule. Given the resources of the country, Ayub should have known that the beneficiaries of his system would never outnumber the deprived among the masses. The prominence and affluence of the few would only add to the unhappiness of the many, who were denied even elementary opportunities of education, health and employment. That was why Ayub could never understand the disaffection of the Bengalis. He attributed their outbursts of resentment and agitation to emotionalism.

Under Ayub, Pakistan made great strides in the agricultural sector which was rapidly modernized and introduced to more efficient and productive methods of farming. The country made significant progress in the industrial field and a vibrant private sector, relieved of bureaucratic controls, came into operation. Unfortunately the hold of the big landlords on the land and the emergence of business and industrial cartels resulted in the concentration of wealth in a few hands. The ‘trickle down’ economics, which Ayub had embraced at the instigation of the World Bank proved a hollow slogan for development.

Ayub’s detractors criticize him disrupting the natural evolution of the democratic process in the country; his apologists blame the politicians who preceded him for corrupting the democratic institutions which Pakistan had inherited from the British at the time of independence in 1947. Both these positions are familiar alibis used by Muslim intellectuals and social scientists to avoid addressing the fundamental problem of reconciling the Islamic doctrines, as enunciated by Muslim jurists, with the democratic concepts and demands of the modern age.

Ayub tried to move the people towards the modern age but he found every route blocked not only by the fundamentalists but even by the so-called modernists who would tentatively sneak out of their conventional habitat, survey the ground and withdraw into their shells at the first sign of opposition. In the end Ayub was left with no supporter or any intermediary.

A quarter of a century on, social and political problems which Ayub set out to resolve continue to haunt the people of Pakistan. If anything, they have acquired greater complexity and gravity. The nation- state remains undefined. Equality of all citizens in all respects, regardless of faith and gender is still an unacceptable concept. The demand for an Islamic state has assumed far greater intensity though there is still no agreed definition of an Islamic state. The Constitution, as it stands today, confers such overriding powers on an indirectly- elected President that he can command the government to act in accordance with his instructions or wishes, and if he finds the working of the government unsatisfactory he can dissolve the National Assembly and dismiss the government. The President can, and indeed does, act in much the same manner as his authoritarian predecessors did because the basic problem of division of power between the head of state and parliament remains unsolved.

Ayub introduced a range of reforms in the hope that the benefits flowing from these would reach the people and they would come to recognize the merits of his system of government. Some of the reforms never got off the ground; others, like the land reforms, lost their purpose in the course of implementation. Still the introduction of the reforms created an atmosphere of rethinking which constituted a challenge to vested interests. The ulema were particularly alarmed when Family Laws came into operation. These laws gave married women certain rights which acted as a restraint on male freedom to divorce at will or acquire more than one wife. While women welcomed these laws, the conservative classes considered them an assault on the Islamic structure of society. When Ayub’s reforms came to be questioned he began to wonder whether he had not ‘pushed the people into the modern age.’

The implementation of the reforms was left to the administration. The result was sudden expansion in the size and powers of the bureaucracy which started to intrude in every corner of life and, at the behest of the rulers, snuffed out all criticism and dissent. In the end it was the bludgeoning presence of government functionaries which incited the people to revolt against an intrusive and oppressive system of government. The revolt was essentially a secular phenomenon because it arose out of the people’s refusal to accept any restrictions on their right of franchise or expression. Ayub thought that the people had ‘gone mad’ but he never understood the cause of their madness. The people had come to know of heir democratic rights, and despite their history, they opted for ‘lunacy’ because sanity demanded renunciation of those rights.

The provinces, particularly East Bengal, felt that they had lost their identity in Ayub’s unitary form of government. The governors of the provinces were mere agents of the President and the Provincial Assemblies were composed mostly of nominees of the administration, parading as representatives of the people. The struggle of the Bengalis for greater freedom evoked spontaneous response from the smaller provinces of West Pakistan which were groaning under the yoke of Punjabi and Pathan domination. Towards the end , Ayub came to the dismal conclusion that there was nothing to hold the country together except the fear of the Hindu. The best thing, he thought, was to ‘let East Pakistan go’ and give the other provinces the maximum autonomy they wanted.

Ayub had given Pakistan a system which Western social scientists had come to see as a model of development but as Ayub said towards the end, ‘We managed to bluff the world but our own people called the bluff.’

Ayub was seen as an enlightened world leader, particularly among the Afro-Asian nations. His greatest contribution was the bond of friendship he established between Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China. Few leaders could have withstood the tremendous pressure he came under during the India-China War of 1962. President Kennedy wanted Ayub to give India some gesture of support which would help it to repel the Chinese invasion without having to worry about its flanks. Had Ayub succumbed to this pressure the Chinese would have been permanently alienated from Pakistan. Instead, Ayub used the opportunity with great foresight and skill to negotiate a border agreement with China which established a close relationship of understanding and cooperation between the two countries. Unfortunately, the Americans did not recognize that Pakistan’s friendship with China could also serve as an opening for them. Two years after Ayub’s abdication,  the Americans would use Pakistan as a covert channel of communication with the Chinese which led to a degree of normalization of relations between the US and the People’s Republic China.

No less significant was the breakthrough which Ayub achieved with the Soviet Union. As an ally of the United States, which had provided the USA with military bases, and a member of two regional pacts opposed to Soviet interests, Ayub could hardly expect a warm response from the Soviet leaders to any overture on his part. Yet when he visited the Soviet Union in March 1965, the first such venture by any Pakistani head of government, he succeeded in persuading the Soviet troika, Brezhnev, Podgorny and Kosygin, that the Soviet Union could rely on Pakistan as a friendly neighbour. He received a promise of military aid and economic cooperation and substantial financing for important joint projects. Ayub presented his case against India with great adroitness and secured an undertaking from the Soviet leaders to review their stand on Kashmir. In return Ayub gave a firm indication of his intention not to renew the lease of the US communication base in Pakistan. The Americans reacted angrily to Ayub’s parleys in Moscow and President  Johnson cancelled Ayub’s official visit to Washington. Unfortunately for Ayub, the USA had not yet realized that their regional pacts had lost all purpose, and their bases in Pakistan were no longer of vital importance to them.

India was Ayub’s greatest disappointment. He had successfully negotiated the Indus Basin treaty for the distribution of waters between India and Pakistan and hoped to resolve the Kashmir dispute through negotiations. The Indian Prime Minister Nehru, who was reasonable on other issues, was adamant on Kashmir with which he had deep personal attachment.

How did Ayub, a man of prudence, who would take infinite pains to examine a problem and who never hesitated to take personal command of any difficult situation get involved in Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir which made no military sense? And why did he allow the Operation to be controlled and run by a volatile Foreign Minister and an irresolute Commander- in- Chief?  Hopefully this account answers these questions. The controversy about Grand Slam, which was planned as the crowning move in Operation Gibraltar, and the decision to relieve General Akhtar Malik, who had masterminded the whole operation three days before the outbreak of the war, is finally laid to rest. The prevailing view in Pakistan is that if Ayub had allowed General Malik to play his hand to the finish he would have won the game. Even sensible army officers in Pakistan rely on an Indian writer who suggested that Grand Slam, if successful, ‘might have, at one stroke, lopped off the state of Jammu and Kashmir from the rest of India, militarily and politically’. They ignore the proviso ‘if successful’ and insist that the change of command at that crucial moment was the most fateful decision of the war. The truth is that Grand Slam had no chance of success regardless of who was in command. General Akhtar Malik had lost all the tricks, none of his finesse had worked, and the trump he was holding was a rag.

There is no evidence that Ayub was the victim of any conspiracy, though there is enough to show that he was grossly misinformed about the details of the Operation and deliberately kept in the dark about its failure. He had approved Operation Gibraltar himself though he always regretted that he never set up a ‘counter syndicate’ to identify its flaws and weaknesses, a job which should have been done by the Commander- in-Chief in any case.

Ayub allowed his Foreign Minister to convince him that Kashmir was seething with discontent and the oppressed people of the state would rise in revolt once they saw Pakistan coming out in support of their struggle for liberation. There was no evidence whatever to support such a claim. Pakistan in fact had no contact with the leaders of Kashmir, much less with the people in the villages, where Pakistan commandos, armed to the teeth, would appear as liberators in the middle of the night only to create panic and terror. The whole Operation was based on two assumptions: (1) that the people of Kashmir would spontaneously rise in support of Pakistani soldiers coming to their liberation, and (2) that the Hindu had no stomach for a fight. The first assumption was a Foreign Office- cum Military Intelligence contrivance, inspired by wishful thinking and the second was the reflection of the traditional Muslim belief in their martial superiority. Ayub subscribed to this belief. In the final order  he issued before the outbreak of the war he said, ‘As a general rule Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of hard blows at the right time and place.’

Ayub was no Abraham Lincoln or Salahuddin Ayubi, as Bhutto presented him in the beginning, but he was no charlatan either, as Bhutto portrayed him in the end. Ayub’s reforms in the economic field and the courageous and enlightened manner in which he faced international and domestic pressures during the India-China War made a lasting contribution in Pakistan’s stability and advancement. Ayub failed because military rule is a complete negation of democratic principles and fundamental human rights. The people of Pakistan rejected Ayub’s dictatorship, despite some of its material benefits, because they were not prepared to give up their democratic rights. More than any other form of personal rule, military dictatorship brings out the worst qualities in a citizen- fear, jealousy, suspicion- and turns the qualities of tolerance, trust  and self- sacrifice into unrewarding pursuits.

Ayub’s greatest contribution was to continue the process which Jinnah had initiated, of reconciling the demands of the modern age with the demands of Islam. If the people of Pakistan pursue that process, with their eyes on the expanding avenues of the times, and defy the fundamentalists who would drive them back to the dark caves of the past, then the lessons of the Ayub era would serve as a prologue to the struggle that awaits the Muslims and demands of them a dynamic willingness to undertake Ijtihad, the highest form of creative defiance of obscurantist tradition. Without Ijtihad the dream of Muslim renaissance shall, for ever, remain an illusion.



The concept of Pakistan found its first formal expression in the Pakistan Resolution adopted by the Muslim League in 1940. The Resolution envisaged the grouping of areas in which the Muslims were numerically in a majority, as in the north-western and eastern zones of India, into “independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”. This position was reconsidered by the Muslim League in the Legislator’s Convention held in Delhi between 7 and 9 April 1946. In his speech to the Convention, Jinnah said:

We are a nation of 100 million and what is more with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history an traditions, aptitudes and ambitions; in short, we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all canons of international law we are a nation.

In the resolution that was adopted by the Convention on 9 April it was demanded that “the zones comprising Bengal and Assam in the North East and the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchistan in the North West of India, namely Pakistan zones, where the Muslims ate in in a dominant majority, be constituted into a sovereign independent state”. On 12 May 1946 the Muslim League endorsed the President’s memorandum of the minimum demands of the Muslims according to which the six Muslim provinces (Punjab, NWFP, Baluchistan, Sindh, Bengal and Assam), named as the Pakistan Group would deal with all subjects and matters “except foreign affairs, defense and communications necessary for defense”. A separate constitution-making body would be established for the six Muslim provinces to “frame constitutions for the Group and the provinces in the Group” and to determine “the list of subjects that shall be provincial and Central (of the Pakistan Federation) with residuary sovereign powers vesting in the Provinces”. While the subjects were not identified the memorandum provided that: “After the Constitutions of the Pakistan Federal government and the Provinces are finally framed by constitution-making Body, it will be open to any province of the Group to decide to opt out of its Group, provided the wishes of the people of that Province are ascertained by a referendum to opt out or not”. (Emphasis added). The provinces were thus given a pledge that they would have full control over all subjects except the three which were allocated to the central government under clause I of the memorandum. It is true that the memorandum was adopted while the Muslim League was still engaged in negotiations with the British and the Congress in the hope of establishing a confederation in India composed of two federations and, therefore, the powers of the confederate authority were being restricted to the minimum possible extent. But even a plain reading of the April resolution and of all the earlier resolutions, leaves one in no doubt that the Muslim League did not envisage at any time the establishment of a federal state of Muslim provinces in which the constituent units would be wholly subservient to central authority.

In his Presidential address to the Assembly on 11 August 1947 Jinnah said:

“The Constituent Assembly has got two main functions to perform. Th first is the very onerous and responsible task of framing our future Constitution of Pakistan and the second of functioning as a full and complete sovereign body as the federal legislature of Pakistan”. Referring to the first function, he made a momentous declaration, saying:

Pakistan could be made and prosperous if the government were to concentrate on the well- being of the people especially of the masses and the poor. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to hat community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what his colour, caste, or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations . . . you may belong to any religion or caste or creed- that has nothing to do with the business of state.

He concluded with the words:

Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to b Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the  state.

When Jinnah’s speech appeared in the newspapers it caused a great consternation among the orthodox classes since Jinnah was clearly advocating a secular model of democratic government of Pakistan. The question arose “What will be the position of Islam in Pakistan?” Almost immediately the  ulema who had, at best, played a subsidiary role in the struggle for Pakistan began to assert that the alone had the authority to define the place of Islam in the future Constitution of Pakistan. The Lahore Resolution contained no reference to Islam. Nor was there anything to suggest that Pakistan had been established to revive old Islamic institutions. The Resolution only talked about the areas where the Muslims were in a numerical majority and required that such areas should be grouped to constitute independent states. It was a secular demand based on the western secular concept of the people exercising their right of self- determination. Thus were sown the seeds of a major conflict between those who shared Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as a democratic state, where all citizens would have equal status and rights, and the fundamentalists who wanted to convert Pakistan into a model Islamic state governed by the Qur’an and Sunnah.

The Constituent Assembly of Pakistan consisting of some sixty- nine members, comprising politicians, landlords, retired bureaucrats, lawyers and businessmen, few of whom had any knowledge of Islamic law or history, was overwhelmed by the rhetoric of the ulema. They had been elected to the Constituent Assembly not directly by the people but by the provincial assemblies before Independence. In March 1949 the Assembly adopted what was called the Objectives Resolution. The Resolution proclaimed: “whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to God Almighty alone and the authority which He had delegated to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust”. The concept of sovereignty was not defined nor was any indication give of the limits prescribed by Allah. The Resolution required the Assembly to frame a Constitution for “the sovereign independent State of Pakistan“.

A Basic Principles Committee and a Board of Talimaat-i-Islamia was appointed to advise on matters arising out of the Objectives Resolution. The Committee submitted an interim report on September 1950. It proposed that the Objectives Resolution should be incorporated in the Constitution as a directive principle of state policy. The Committee also suggested that “steps should be taken in many spheres of governmental activities to enable the Muslims, as laid down in the Objectives Resolution to order their lives in accordance with the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah”.

The growing difference of opinion among the representatives of the different sects of Islam compounded the problem of providing an agreed definition of the Islamic State and the fundamentalists began to fear that the Islamic Constitution might come to be seen as  “a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. Stung by this fear the ulema held a convention in Karachi in January 1951. Thirty one religious scholars “representing all the schools of Islamic thought” unanimously formulated what they called “the fundamental principles of the Islamic State”.  The document containing these principles provided inter alia that “ultimate sovereignty over all Nature and all Law vests in Allah, the Lord of the universe, alone” and “the Laws of the Land shall be based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah and no law shall be enacted nor any administrative order issued in contravention of the Qur’an and Sunnah”;  “the State shall be based not on geographical, racial, linguistic, or any other materialistic concepts but on the principles and ideals of Islamic ideology”; that “the Head of the State shall always be a make Muslim in whose piety, learning, and soundness of judgement the people or their elected representatives had confidence”; and that “no interpretation of the Constitution which is in conflict with the provisions of the Qur’an or the Sunnah shall be valid”. The ulema made no attempt to define “the principles and ideals of Islamic ideology” on which the state was to be based nor did they suggest any institution or procedure for the interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah. They did not recognize universal franchise and there was no mention of any legislature. They talked about the body empowered to elect the Head of the State but did not suggest how that body was to come into existence. The provinces were to be reduced to the level of ‘administrative units’ under the “supremacy of the centre”. The whole document was a farrago of archaic, contradictory, and self- serving recommendations aimed at establishing an authoritarian form of government in which the ulema would have the ultimate authority to interpret the Qur’an and Sunnah an prescribe the scope and limits of legislation. In other words the ulema would act as a supra- parliament body with the power to overrule the legislature. Not surprisingly the unanimous endeavours of the ulema did not advance the cause of the Islamic state.

The final report of the Basic Principles Committee was published in December 1952 and another convention of the ulema met in Karachi in January 1953 and proposed a number of amendments to the recommendations made by the Committee. At last the ulema mustered the courage to address the problem of defining Islamic ideology. They held that: “. . . it was not enough to say in the Constitution that no law should be enacted which was repugnant to the Qur’an and Sunnah. What is required is that it should be laid down as a matter of principle that the dictates and directives of the Qur’an and Sunnah should be the chief source of legislation”.

Before giving assent to any bill, the Head of State must consult ” a Board consisting of not more than five persons well- versed in Islamic laws”, an if the Board unanimously found the bill repugnant to the Qur’an and Sunnah the bill should be referred back to a joint sitting of the two houses of the federal legislature. For a member of the Board It was enough to have been a mufti for ten years or a qadi or a teacher in any religious institution, but to be a member of the legislature, a Muslim must be known to observe all Islamic duties and desist from all that was forbidden. Most of the amendments proposed by the ulema were as vague as the principles formulated by them.


The demand for Pakistan was based on Jinnah’s “Two-Nation Theory” according to which the Muslims of India represented a separate nation and were entitled to an independent homeland of their own. Jinnah did not question the principle of majority rule, nor did he disagree with the western concept of democratic government. He rested his case on the claim, which was not easy to refute, that the principle of majority rule under one government could not apply to two separate nations. The fact of Hindu-Muslim ‘separateness’ was the critical point in Jinnah’s argument which had a tremendous emotional appeal for the Muslim masses because it reflected so dramatically the reality of their social condition.

Once Pakistan was established, the sense of separateness and fear of Hindu domination which had provided the principal motivating force during the struggle for liberation disappeared. Free, at last, the Muslims were called upon to establish a nation state based on the principles of equality, justice, accountability to the people, and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms. The only collective political concept with which the Muslims were familiar was that of the ‘Ummah‘ (Muslim brotherhood). A democratic nation-state, governed by majority rule regardless of caste, colour or creed was something wholly novel, if not alien, to Muslim history. But in the euphoria of independence, Islam and Pakistan had come to be treated as synonymous.

Jinnah recognized the problem and attempted to resolve it in his inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947. But there were fundamental conceptual contradictions which could not be resolved by appeals to national unity. The distinction between the nation and the state was not recognized; indeed the state was not even defined. With the establishment of Pakistan, two lobbies began to assert themselves: the reformists, inclined towards secular democratic ideals, and the fundamentalists, who favoured the revival of an authoritarian form of government dominated by civil- military bureaucracy.

To the reformists, Islam was a dynamic force, a concept of life, and not of law, a source of nourishment for the springs of creative thought and not an immutable code of do’s and don’ts. They maintained that the Qur’an did not prescribe any form of government nor were any rigid rules or regulations laid down for organizing the institutional structure of the state. The Islamic state should be built on the principles of equality and justice as presented in the Qur’an and it must respond to the demands of the time by providing full freedom to the creative spirit of the people. The principles of equality and justice were immutable but there was an ever expanding field available for innovation and progress in the intellectual, political and social spheres. The reformists asserted these principles quite forcefully, but when it came to giving them a concrete form, suited to the needs of the people, they could not think of any institutions other than the ones they had become accustomed to under the British.

The fundamentalists, on the other hand, insisted that the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH) provided all the laws that would ever be needed by mankind and those laws were applicable to all societies at all times. All fundamental questions of principle having been finally settled, there was no longer any room for innovation or dissent. All that was required was to discover those laws from the Qur’an, by following the judgements and decrees of authoritative Muslim jurists, not to invent new laws. The reformists had the support of the Western educated classes. The fundamentalists found their supporters among the conservative lower- middle classes. The reformists clung to the British institutions, the fundamentalists to their memory of the past. Paradoxically, both the reformists and the fundamentalists ended up by becoming champions of status quo and allies of the ruling junta in frustrating the popular forces of change.

Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, who was Secretary-General in the Government of Pakistan and later became Prime Minister, regarded the British institutions as “the principal gift of the British to their colonies”. The Western elite, and politicians, the civil servants, the judges and the lawyers believed that the future of the country, as much as their own, depended on the continuation of those institutions.

Among the fundamentalists there was much talk of introducing the Shariah ( the Islamic code) and establishing Islamic institutions. But when it came to formulating any concrete proposals, the ulema could not go beyond making vacuous assertions and pious declarations. It took them years to decide whether sovereignty belonged to the people or to Allah. They never paused to reflect that sovereignty was a complex western concept based on ‘the principle that the authority of law was derived from the community and the law was supreme, not only over subjects but over rulers.

In 1956 when the first Constitution was adopted, after nine years of political debate, all that was recognizable as Islamic in the Constitution was a directive principle of state policy that “steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan individually and collectively to order their lives in accordance with the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah”. The rest of the Constitution was no more than a revised version of the Government of India Act 1935. Ayub Khan would later describe the Constitution as a ‘document of despair.’

By courtesy: Ayub Khan by Altaf Gauhar, Oxford University Press Karachi 1996

The Age of Napoleon


The currents of history run fitfully. At some points they turn sluggish; spreading out into what seems stagnant pools of time, as in the “Dark Ages” of Europe. At other points they appear to rush on, cutting new channels towards the future, as they did, for instance, in the early years of the sixteenth century. In 1789, with the storming of the Bastille, the flow of human events suddenly broke into a rapid which in its swirling, turbulent course had no precedent. For a quarter of a century, ending with the maelstrom at Waterloo, people and principalities were tossed about by forces that shattered the peace of Europe and disrupted its established structure–forces that, before they were spent, reached to far corners of the world with revolutionary consequences.

While the Continent struggled to contain its internal disturbances, in the Americas and in the Indies old empires disintegrated and new ones took shape, new nations were conceived and others were born to larger destinies. But during those crucial years Europe remained the centre of the world stage, and for most of them Napoleon Bonaparte played such a dominant role that, as has been said, the man quickly became the epoch.

It seems impossible to consider Napoleon dispassionately. In his own day he was variously regarded by his enemies and adherents with fear, hatred, awe, respect, admiration, devotion, and even veneration-but rarely with love, even by members of his own family, and never with indifference by any who fell within the range of his influence. Ever since, he has remained the subject of continuous interest and controversy-sometimes cast as a demigod, sometimes as a demon, practically always seen as a figure considerably larger than life. Probably no other mortal has received so much attention from historians and biographers, critics and enthusiasts.

Yet in spite of the prodigious amount of study that has been devoted to the man and his times, there is still little general agreement as to whether Napoleon is more important as a product and symbol- a victim, perhaps- of circumstances that were not of his making, or as a man who, pursuing his own destiny, shaped circumstances that governed the course of history. Like all great men, Napoleon was both, of course; but to a degree uncommon in other great men, he was also an opportunist who took circumstances as he found them and used them to his own ends.. He did not count on luck, but by studied calculations of the risks and by swift decision he countered on mastering luck. By his own confession his ultimate objectives were often not clear. In the final analysis it was his own destiny that mattered, and this he identified or confused with the destiny of civilization itself.

At the moment Napoleon appeared on the world scene the destiny of Western civilization seemed to hang on the outcome of the French Revolution. Chaotic forces had been loosed that quickly brought France to a state of terror and charged much of the surrounding world with excitement and apprehension. But with these convulsive beginnings, Napoleon had little to do. The megalomania that seized France in the years immediately following the Terror was not induced by Napoleon either, but by the impetus of the Revolution and the ideas it projected. Nevertheless, when as First Consul he acquired supreme control of the nation, Napoleon appeared to many as the true child of the Revolution- the embodiment of its spirit and the saviour of its principles.

Neither the Revolution nor the Napoleonic wars completely broke the stream of French tradition. Napoleon’s most constructive accomplishments followed historic trends that had deep roots in the policies of his royal precursors. His Civil Code, his centralization of the administration of France, and the monuments he had raised were but refinements and enlargements of the intentions of Richelieu and Louis XIII, Colbert and Louis XIV more than a century earlier. Even his Egyptian campaign was a long deferred enactment of schemes hatched by royal ministers of the past to secure the “master key to world commerce” and unlock convenient channels to the fabulous wealth of the Indies.

The success with which Napoleon rapidly reorganized the administration of his own country, unified its laws, an reduced its economic confusion was the envy of such other rulers as Alexander of Russia. In achieving those positive ends he was giving reality to ideals of system, order, and efficiency that had stirred the imagination of philosophers as well as that of “enlightened despots” throughout the eighteenth century. That his reforms had to be buttressed, both against internal strains and external threats, by effective military force added stability to a structure of widely approved designs. Such a highly organized, powerful system of bureaucratic control had not been seen in the Western world since the decline of imperial Rome; and France bears its imprint to this day. The impact of these reforms was felt- is still felt- far beyond the confines of France. The Civil Code by which the new government was administered has been termed one of the few books that have influenced the whole world. It was, Napoleon himself claimed, “the code of the age. It not only ordains tolerance but systematizes it, and tolerance is the greatest blessing of mankind.”

That Napoleon assumed dictatorial authority in bringing the Revolution so sharply to order at first caused little enough concern, save in French royalist circles. The men whose writings had done so much to undermine the foundations of the old regime-Montesquieu, Diderot, Turgot, Rousseau, and the philosophes in general- had made no great claims for republicans as such, no more than they did democracy; but to a man they had aimed at a more rational order of society. They sought a formula to express those “natural” principles which, once discovered and applied to government, would assure human liberty and social harmony. It should matter little under what auspices the principles were put in practice, but likely enough it would take a strong man to dictate such enlightenment to a land so long in the shadows of outworn tradition.

So far Napoleon indeed appears as the child of his age, an offspring of the ambiguities that so distinctively characterized the eighteenth century. Beyond this however, he becomes an anachronism, at once a throwback to a vanished past and a herald of times yet to come. The epoch that so heavily felt his influence begins to resemble an aberration of history, a deviation explicable only in terms of the temperament and genius of one man. Over the previous centuries Europe had been partitioned into kingdoms that were in effect private estates of their ruling dynasties, estates conveyed by one generation to another by royal marriages, or should dynastic schemes become hopelessly snarled, by royal wars of succession- relatively “civilized” wars compared to those that would follow. Tradition and circumstance had long established among these diverse states a fluctuating balance of power. That relatively comfortable stability was shattered by the marching French armies which under Napoleon became a war machine such as the world had not seen.

As the citizen soldiers of revolutionary France- mobilized in great masses to serve their patrie- swarmed across national boundaries, the professional armies of tradition were quickly proved obsolete. In self- defense against this new military pattern the rest of the world would have little choice but to follow suit. Warfare was converted from “the sport of the kings,” as it was once called, to the total effort of a people struggling either for prestige or for survival, as world has had continued reason to remember.

In retrospect the imbalance of power created by the sudden rise of French might proved to be an anomaly. The separate traditions of the nations of Europe were so deeply rooted that even the withering blasts of Napoleon’s armies could not long stunt their growth. On the contrary, as it happened, they found new vigour during the passing storms; in the century that followed, nationalism flowered as it never had before. Yet for a decade or more all Europe, from the Urals to the Atlantic and from Archangel to Cape Mattapan was subject to strife and conquest; the fate of all nations lay within the reach of a single individual. Beyond its Channel fortress even England was threatened with invasion. And before this abnormal state of affairs was corrected, the dead would have to be counted and institutional debris would have to be cleared away.

More than a thousand years after Pope Leo had crowned the Frankish king in St. Peter’s, almost two thousand years after Caesar conquered at Pharsalia; Napoleon overcame the emperors of Austria and Russia, who claimed to represent the old and the new Rome respectively. Francis abdicated his imperial title and Europe’s most venerable institution came to its end, and with it an era of world history. The self- styled “Emperor of the French” could hope to rule all Europe from Paris as Caesar had ruled it from Rome. And this he came remarkably close to doing. At the peak of his influence, Napoleon’s international domain included a greater area than the European holdings of the entire empire o Caesar or of Charlemagne.

For Frenchmen who survived them, those were unforgettable days. Even under Louis XIV, the Grand Monarch, France had not known such glory and grandeur, or such power. To the parades of victorious armies Napoleon added the pageant of imperial ceremony on a continental scale. Abandoning the barren Josephine for a Hapsburg princess, he married into one of Europe’s oldest and proudest families. The saga of the little Corsican was up to the turning point of his fortune, the greatest success story ever told.

When his success ran out and a new European balance sheet was drawn up, the results were contrary to almost everything Napoleon had envisioned. England stood firmly at the crossroads of world commerce, supreme mistress of the seas. Russia emerged as an important power in the West for the first time in history. The way was prepared for a federation of German states under the domination of Prussia. The people of Italy were reminded of their own ancient unity. And France remained, somewhat shrunken on the map, at the crucial centre of aroused nationalism and international rivalries.

Along with the divisive tendencies that kept Europe so effectively split into competing national camps went an old, recurrent dream of continental unity- a dream that has not yet lost its power to stir the minds of men. Under the single law and language of ancient Rome, proudly shared by diverse peoples, Europe had known such unity over a period of centuries, a period that was recalled with nostalgia long after the dissolution of the Roman Empire. Again under Charlemagne and during the early Middle Ages most of Europe was united, by a common religion and a common social structure, into a single church- empire that only slowly broke apart and faded away. At other times and in other ways the dream has been revived. The cosmopolitanism of the eighteenth century led toward a cultural unity that was charged with creative energies.

With the Napoleonic age the dream became something of a nightmare. The kind of political unification Napoleon had hoped to impose upon the Continent- if not upon the world- proved to be premature, if not simply specious. His pragmatism in applying what he chose to consider the principles of the French Revolution betrayed the weakness of eighteenth- century philosophy. Goethe stated with more enthusiasm than accuracy that “Napoleon was the expression of all that was reasonable, legitimate, and European in the revolutionary movement.” but, even had Goethe been right, there are loyalties and habits which men will not forsake in the name of reason. Napoleon’s failure to consolidate the Continent in a unified system was in a sense th failure o eighteenth century to redeem itself in the name of reason.

In one of his moods Napoleon contended that the causes of his ultimate defeat remained beyond the reach of either man or reason. “The obstacles before which I failed did not proceed from men but from the elements,” he rationalized at St. Helena. “In the south it was the sea that destroyed me; and in the north it was the fire of Moscow and the ice of winter; so there it is, water, air, fire, all nature and nothing but nature; these were the opponents of a universal regeneration commanded by Nature itself! The problems of nature are insoluble!”

By courtesy:The Age of Napoleon by J. Christopher Herold published in New York by the American Heritage Publishing Company Inc. 1963.