Legacy of authoritarianism

Pakistan has a history of constitutional crises

Early morning on July 05, 1977, Zia deposed the elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and clamped martial law in the country after weeks of street protests by the opposition parties. In the evening he addressed the nation and promised to hold national elections within 90 days as required by the constitution. A day earlier the negotiating team of the government and opposition had reached an agreement on holding fresh national elections yet the Sipah-e-Salar decided to defy the constitutional limits. ZAB was moved to the Murree Governor’s house under protective custody. Within the Army there was resistance to the move, it was considered an operation conducted mainly by Zia and Lt Gen. Faiz Ali Chisti, the Corps Commander. I had the chance to meet the senior officer General Muhammad Sharif who was the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC). Unlike Zia, General Sharif was a professional soldier with an outstanding service record. He lived in his very basic house in Westridge. I asked him a direct question; “Why did you support the takeover?” In his own words, “I was against the move, called Zia, and asked him to return to the barracks, he promised to hold elections within the stipulated period and requested me to continue till then. On the 91st day when elections were not held, I stopped going to the office.” In the Supreme Court, Zia admitted that he decided to take over as he was being removed as Sipah-e-Salar.

Zia held office for over 11 years on the promise of holding elections. He came up with all the excuses in the book to prolong his misrule (Islamic system, positive results, accountability first, referendum, etc). In Punjab, he launched his brand of Pakistan Muslim League (PML) while in Karachi he founded the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM). He also decided to indulge in the US war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union capture. On the second day of the new year, when I heard PML-N stalwart and federal minister Javed Latif say “accountability first” I was reminded of the fact that Zia is also alive even after over 34 years of his violent demise. His misdeeds continue to haunt us till today.

The ‘Zia doctrine’ is alive and kicking as well through his proteges. The usurper used the state apparatus against the will of the people to extend his misrule. The ‘Zia Doctrine’ is repeatedly used to thwart the will of the people.

Pakistan has a history of constitutional crises. Recently a book was published titled, “The Miracle of Philadelphia” which narrates the story of drafting the constitution in the US in the late 18th century. Colonised nations find it hard to reach an agreement between the rulers and the ruled. Dictators have played havoc with our constitution.

During the hay days of Altaf Hussain—another Zia find—I read interesting wall graffiti in Karachi “Our dear leader, we are sorry that your enemies are still alive.” Since then a lot of water has flown under the bridge. The vigilantes of MQM-Quaid no longer control the streets of the city, he lives in self-exile in London. Currently, efforts are in place to unite and revive MQM which is an effort to keep the ‘Zia Doctrine’ alive. Perhaps the tussle between two dead men (Bhutto, Zia) is about to be reignited decades after their demise.

Zia’s takeover in July 1977 has been discussed by various scholars. It is widely believed that Zia waited in the wings if he was convinced that Bhutto had lost his public support. He went to meet his former boss in Murree where Bhutto gave him a piece of his mind. Even then, Zia thought it was the cries of a wounded beast. After his release when Bhutto arrived in Lahore to a hero’s welcome, the emergency bells started to ring. Quaid-e-Awam was back with a bang. The battle is now being fought for civilian supremacy. Zia’s legacy can no longer be kept alive. Another free and fair election in 2023 will perhaps bury the dead for all times to come.

Dr Farid A Malik

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email: fmaliks@ hotmail.com

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email: fmaliks@hotmail.com

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