by Brian Cloughley
South Asia defence analyst and author of ‘A History of the Pakistan Army’

In 1958 Prime Minister Harold Macmillan of Britain visited India and Pakistan, in that order.  His description of his travels is illuminating as well as being somewhat depressing, and among other personal impressions he considered his opposite number in India, Prime Minister Nehru, to be “undoubtedly arrogant and very fixed in his ideas . . .  Nevertheless, he is able, full of charm, cultivated, and ruthless, all great qualities in a leader.” (Which was a case of the pot calling the kettle black without a trace of irony.)

In Karachi he enjoyed meeting “Iskander Mirza, the robust President . . . and his wife” whom he judged to be “grands seigneurs — very charming hosts, not too intellectual, and good food and wine. (Nehru’s food was uneatable. It was European but like a bad boarding house.)”  His view of Mirza was echoed by the British High Commissioner, the brilliant Sir Morrice James, who observed that “As well as brains and personality, Mirza possessed an impressive physique. As his second wife he had recently taken the beautiful divorced spouse of the Iranian Military Attaché in Karachi. The two of them made a magnificent couple as they stood, radiant and dignified, at the head of the grand staircase at the President’s House as the Pakistan National Anthem was played; when it was over they walked down to join their guests between the two files of Lancers of the Presidential Bodyguard.” 

Then Macmillan reflected on Pakistan itself, which he found “poor; politically unstable; in a state of religious turmoil (the mullahs have large though rather uncertain power); without a political class — without so large an Indian Civil Service tradition as India, and practicing corruption on a grand scale.” This was regrettable, but in Macmillan’s eyes there was a redeeming feature, in that “the one stable element in this situation is the Army” with the other armed services being “also reliable.”

Have there been many changes in Pakistan since, almost sixty years ago, the charming (and ruthless) Macmillan observed that the army was the “one stable element” in the country?

To be sure, there has not been another “magnificent couple . . . radiant and dignified” in the President’s residence since Mirza’s time.  But, as I wrote in my History of the Pakistan Army, “Mirza did not relish democracy. His instincts were far from egalitarian, and he had no sympathy for the politicians and their business associates who managed their unsavoury affairs by flattery and bribery, which was becoming an open scandal. He had been unanimously elected president under the new constitution and could have exercised enormous influence for good. Advice and persuasion — even coercion — could have been his tools to steer the politicians towards better paths, but he took the easy way out by joining the game of placement, favouritism, and double-dealing, and the country suffered accordingly.”

Sixty years later, the country continues to suffer from precisely the same afflictions. 

Successive prime ministers and presidents have been diverse in every way, there having been figures of well-meaning ineffectiveness, such as Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry, via authoritarian (and well-meaning, but regrettably unskilled) military martinets, to the capable but imperious and uncongenial bureaucrat Ghulam Ishaq Khan; then the honourable, upright but ineffectual Farooq Leghari;  and down, down, down to the corrupt, cynical and incompetent yet curiously influential Asif Zardari. 

In periods from the glittering yet shabbily amoral Mirza years to the most recent Nawaz Sharif restoration the Bhutto dynasty threw sunshine and cast dark shadows in varied measure, with the opening light being Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s 1971 accession speech in which he declared that “I have been summoned by the nation as the authentic voice of the people of Pakistan . . . We have to rebuild democratic institutions . . . we have to rebuild a situation in which the common man, the poor man in the street, can tell me to go to hell.”   

Of course ZA Bhutto had no intention of permitting the man in the street to tell him anything, and he was no more interested in democracy than his equally aristocratic predecessor, the gilded Mirza.  Indeed he had no intention of allowing anyone at all to tell him anything he didn’t want to know. This was his downfall, as it was of his daughter, whose undoubted skills were eclipsed by her blinkered refusal to engage with the world outside her tight circle of close associates — regarded by not a few observers as obsequious sycophants.

It is fascinating to examine the catalogue of Pakistan’s leaders since the time of the dedicated and essentially secular Mr Jinnah who declared in 1947 that there should be “No distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.”  

His political emulator, Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, of another noble family, and a most effective leader (in my opinion the best prime minister that Pakistan has ever had), was similarly inclined. On the other hand, ZA Bhutto hypocritically instituted prohibition of alcohol and fostered the influence of mullahs, both of which concepts were embraced with enthusiasm by his immediate successor.  (On the night of Bhutto’s announcement of Prohibition he and an old friend of mine “cracked a bottle of Scotch together.”)

So what link, what commonality, what possession of mutual origin, interest, or ambition could there possibly be between such disparate personalities as these mentioned above?

Here is the link: it’s about where Pakistan’s presidents and prime ministers went to school. 

ZA Bhutto was at Cathedral and John Connon School, Bombay (as was Jinnah), and sent his daughter to Jesus and Mary Convent, Murree. Zia went to the Government High School in Simla and Shaukat Aziz  to St Patrick’s High School. 

Farooq Leghari was at Aitchison’s and Forman Christian College, the latter also attended by Pervez Musharraf after his time at St Patrick’s. Yousaf Gillani was another Forman student, and Asif Zardari yet another St Patrick’s boy. Lastly, Nawaz Sharif went to St Anthony’s, and is described on his website as having “got his early education from prestigious schools.”

But here’s an extract from a recent report by a UN agency about education in Pakistan in which the sunny picture of St Patrick’s and Forman Christian College (the Saints have marched in, obviously) and Aitchison’s seems to dim a bit.  

The UN’s dispassionate but depressing account includes the story of  eleven year-old Jamila in Karachi who “works as a domestic servant. At first her job was only to look after the baby, but as she grew older the other servant in charge of housecleaning and cooking was dismissed and Jamila was asked to do all the work.  “I want to go to school like other children, but my parents can't afford it. So I have to work and help support my family.”  The mind reels. She watches sadly, in her abysmal enslavement, the children of her employers and their friends going happily to school every day and wonders why she must be excluded.

The UN observes dispassionately that “while over 70 per cent of the richest young men and women have completed lower secondary school, only 16% of the poorest young men and fewer than 5% of the poorest young women have done so,” and the Council on Foreign Relations reports experts as saying that the education system “suffers from inadequate government investment, corruption, lack of institutional capacity, and a poor curriculum that often incites intolerance.”  (And we won’t even get into the issue of madrassas.) 

The message is there: loud, clear and exceptionally important.  If Pakistan is to achieve its proper place in the world there must be immediate emphasis — and vastly increased expenditure — on education. Pakistan’s prime ministers and presidents and all the high and mighty of the country got where they are because they had an early education, to which all children are entitled — and which most are now denied.  

To quote Jinnah, he of the Cathedral School, Bombay: “Without education it is complete darkness and with education it is light. Education is a matter of life and death to our nation.”