Zafarullah Poshni is the only one left out of those imprisoned in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951. Poshni, then a young army officer, went through the travails of incarceration and survived to tell the story of all that happened in the four years that he was behind bars.
Prison Interlude: The Last Eyewitness Account of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, first published in 1972, was originally written in Urdu. Many editions of the book had followed. It was only when Poshni came to know that his grandchildren had not read his books as they only read books written in English that he decided to have it translated. Who were the people who helped him out in this effort? The same grandchildren and some office colleagues.
Among those arrested were Maj Gen Mohammed Akbar Khan, Major Gen Nazir Ahmed, Air Commodore Mohammed Khan Janjua, Brig Mohammed Abdul Latif Khan, Brig Mohammed Sadiq Khan, Lt Col Ziauddin, Lt Col Niaz Ahmed Arbab, Major Ishaq Mohammed, Major Hasan Khan and Captain Khizer Hayat. Among the civilians who were arrested were Mohammed Hussain Ata, and Begum Nasim Akbar Khan, Syed Sajjad Zaheer and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
More meaning and depth was added to the case because of the arrest of the last two individuals. Had it not been for them, it would have been treated as just another ordinary conspiracy case, or an attempt to overthrow the government a coup. The implication of these two men added a larger meaning to the case, particularly if seen against the backdrop of the international power politics that raged after the second world war.
The book is primarily a translation. Much has been written or has been made public about the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case ever since it was originally published. The so-called ‘plot’ was never executed but since several officers of the armed forces had been arrested; prosecution for treason was always a possibility. A ‘coup’ by the British-trained army in which the commander-in-chief was not involved must have been anathema to the authorities.
Gen Akbar was known to have a grouse against the civilian leadership of the country particularly in relation to the army action in Kashmir. It is generally assumed in Pakistan – with no real evidence to support the view – that Srinagar was up for grabs at that time. But the then general of the armed forces Douglas Gracey refused to carry out orders from a civilian leader.
Children usually do not know what their parents have been up to which could mainly be due to a lack of communication between the two generations. This could also be on account of the decorum that age requires; unlike other societies where this veil has been lifted in the name of fairness and greater communication between the children and their parents.
The language barrier in the country which is the biggest divide in the society slots everything – education, background, pedigree and status. If one is poor in English then one is going to be condemned forever. Unfortunately, nothing has been done in this regard and the divide is as formidable, probably more than it was some decades ago. The rise to the top is through the ladder of the English language.
The language controversy has worsened due to the either-or approach. English has the ability to co-exist with Urdu and the two should not be treated as mutually exclusive. The younger generation is comfortable with English but the facility should not be at the expense of local languages.
The book has exposed the English reading public to the account of one of the prisoners in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. In a society which is too stuck up in its sanctimonious mores, going to prison is seen as awful. It is meant only for those who break the law. Since the history of our own political struggle does not speak of our top leaders going behind bars, going to prison is all about common criminals who have nothing to do with the rights of the people, or the community.
The prisoners and their families had to face a social backlash more than a political one. They were treated as common criminals by their extended families and social circles that they usually moved in after getting released. The translation may open a better understanding of the case and the people involved in it.
It must have been a very trying time for the prisoners and their families as indeed the larger political network, but as Faiz wrote in his brief preface, it seemed from Poshni’s account that the prisoners were engaged in banter and had fun all the time, that the atmosphere more jovial than tense. This may not be a true reflection of what was actually happening behind the prison walls.
Though many other books have been written about the case, a first-hand account has a value all its own.
Prison Interlude: The Last Eyewitness Account of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case
Author: Zafar Ullah Poshni