FB Ali was a rising star in the Pakistan Army when, in 1969, Gen Yahya Khan, the army chief, declared martial law and took over the country. Disheartened at the direction in which Pakistan was heading, and his inability to do anything about it, he contemplated resigning, but the 1971 war with India intervened.
Given an important combat command shortly before it began he witnessed firsthand how badly this disastrous war was mismanaged by the military regime and the incompetent generals it had appointed. The resulting debacle drove him to initiate and lead the army action that forced Gen Yahya Khan to hand over power to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had won the 1970 election.
The usual fate of kingmakers befell him: in 1972 he was retired from the army and a few months later arrested and tried on charges of trying to overthrow the government. Narrowly escaping a death sentence, he ended up with life imprisonment, spending over 5 years in prison before he was released following Bhutto's ouster in another military coup. Though offered a significant role in the new setup he decided to move to Canada with his family.
This memoir contains an insider account of many important events of that decade, including the 1971 India-Pakistan war and the troubles in East Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh. It is also a poignant tale of courage and endurance in the face of adversity.
Below are some excerpts from the book which provide a flavour of its contents and style (other excerpts, and reviews, are available on the Amazon sites):
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Where did it begin, this road that took me to the sprawling stone fort of Attock, perched on the low hills above the winding Indus River? And then, from there, through the shadow of the gallows, to those many prisons in the Punjab before I finally ended up here in Canada?
Confucius is reputed to have said: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. What, then, was this first step that set me upon this long road that I have travelled?
Was it the sudden ending of my childhood when, at the age of seven, I was plucked from the warm cocoon of a small family and deposited in the midst of a boarding school up in the hills? I had never been away from home, had never had to fend for myself, did not know any English, which is what they spoke there. I had to grow up fast, very fast.
Or, was it all those new and exciting ideas of nationalism and freedom from foreign rule that Taufiq put into my innocent head? My friend, my difficult friend (I was the only one he had in that school), whose precocious mind knew much more about the outside world than I did, and teemed with ideas that I knew nothing about. I still remember the excitement of those "rambles" on which we were occasionally taken out, when, while the other boys played boisterous games around us, I would sit, rapt and entranced, on the sun dappled slope of the wooded hill while he told me the tale of the Count of Monte Cristo, or held forth on how India had to overthrow its subjection to the British.
Poor Taufiq! He could not cope with a world that neither understood nor cared for the brilliance of his mind, the ebullient joy of his spirit, the essential innocence of his soul, a world that would make no allowances for the peculiarities of his nature, a nature that he had neither fashioned nor sought. Finally, unable (or unwilling) to carry on this constant struggle, he went to a railway platform and stepped off it, departing from a world that seemed to have no use for him.
Was it that intoxicating time when I was consumed by the passionate struggle to create Pakistan? My first two years in college had been spent in the heedless but innocent enjoyment of living away from home in a big city. Then, suddenly (it was almost like a religious conversion) this struggle was the only thing that now mattered in my life, and I threw myself into it completely: organizing my fellow students, marching in the processions that mobilized citizens, facing off the police and hostile activists, trudging through the countryside, village after village, mile upon weary mile, seeking votes. Then, as ominous clouds began to gather in the sky, engaging in cloak and dagger escapades in the murky, shadowy world of Khurshid Anwar, risking much more than I then realized.