On March 1979, General Ziaul Haq directed his Corps Commanders to ascertain the likely reaction of the officers if Bhutto was hanged, according to the Supreme Court’s verdict. I was commanding the 14 Division at Okara and was called to attend the meeting at Multan. Giving my views on the subject, I said: “The hanging of Bhutto would be an unwise act, as it could cause very serious ‘political aberrations’ that will be difficult to correct. It is better that he is sent into exile. As regards the reaction of my troops, I am not sure! Because facing the violent mob would be my company and battalion commanders and it would be difficult for them to shoot at their own kith and kin as it had happened in 1977 at Lahore. My troops are trained to fight the enemy and not their own people.”
The Corps Commander lost his cool, called-off the meeting and directed his Chief of Staff, Brigadier (now General) Hamid Gul: “I don’t want this officer in my formation. Connect me to the Chief and I will have him removed from command.” Brigadier Gul pleaded: “Sir, you asked for General Beg’s opinion and he gave his candid views. Removing him from command may not be appropriate at this moment. You may like to apprise the Chief and let him decide.” The Corps Commander paused for a while and then said: “Ok - put up the report.”
I had been wondering why General Zia did not opt for the better choice, i.e. to send Bhutto into exile to honour the people’s demand and many of the world leaders. Was it due to lack of courage, expediency or some compulsion; whatever the reason, it was beyond my comprehension.
Later, Bhutto was hanged and there followed a trail of political turmoil muddying the very face of democracy. Had Bhutto not been killed, Benazir would have lived the day and the Pakistani nation would not have been suffering the aberrated legacy as of now. However, my anxiety deepened further when I read the column by the veteran diplomat, Dr S.M. Koreshi, in 2009, who wrote: “About two years after Bhutto’s hanging, General Zia sent me to Mr Yasser Arafat to pacify him because he was very angry on Bhutto’s hanging. I met Arafat, who told me that General Zia while inside the Khana-e-Kaaba had promised King Khalid and me that he would not hang him. But he went back on his words and committed an unpardonable sin.” Undoubtedly, General Zia defied God to earn the curse. As a result of your evil deeds, “Allah designates leaders on you, your wicked men, to plot (and burrow) there-in, but they only plot against their own souls and they perceive it not” (Surah Al-Annam 123).
After more than three decades, however, from the depth of this debased political order is emerging the corrective process of democracy. The two main parties - the PPP and the PML-N - now are trying to revive the spirit of Charter of Democracy and have succeeded in appointing a non-controversial person as head of the Election Commission. And the next best step would be to form a caretaker government, as required under the 18th Amendment. The dividends of the emerging consensus are simply encouraging.
The general elections will be held in time if not earlier. Hopefully, the next lot of elected representatives would prove better in managing the country’s affairs. Thus, the system would get a new lease of life and continuity, which is essential for the emergence of a robust democratic order. That has put the ‘evil nexus’, comprising America, army, judiciary and the political opportunists, on the backfoot. For the last 50 years, it has done much harm to the cause of democracy, depleting our political traditions and values. However, it is now on the retreat.
The army has affirmed complete faith in democracy on February 18, 2008, by refusing to follow General Pervez Musharraf and thus has upheld “the Constitution that embodies the will of the people.” The judiciary gave the verdict on July 31, 2009, to “never again support a military rule” and stands firm safeguarding its independence against the onslaught of aberrators. The Americans find themselves helpless in playing the old game of ‘regime change’. Thus, the “harmony between institutions” is the guarantee to uphold the Constitution as the “best revenge” democracy could offer.
Out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice, a new order is emerging to sustain democracy and its self-correcting process. That is the revenge of democracy and the silver lining on the horizon for the oppressed in Pakistan.
n The writer is a former chief of army staff.