Britain, the world’s bastion of parliamentary democracy, has a strange annual spectacle on November 5. A pyre of logs is lit almost in its every street and the effigy of a funny figure in tattered rags is burnt on it. Potatoes and meat roasted in its embers, are then served with spiced wines. The event at places is followed by feasts, fun, dancing or prayers to protect the British Parliament. At some places, the effigy before burning is paraded through the streets and the masked children ask for a penny to burn the Guy.
The guy thus burnt, is Guy Fawkes, a catholic zealot who joined the gunpowder plot to blow the Parliament. He stowed tinder under the House of Lords and wanted to explode it on November 4, when the king was to open the parliament. An anonymous letter, however, spilled the beans, Guy was captured, tried and executed on Jan 31,1606. November 5, since then has been observed as a thanks giving day and execration for the detractors of national parliamentary system.
Pakistan, unlike this solitary abortive venture in Britain, has already endured the destruction of its Parliaments by four dictators. Generals Ayub and Yahya Khan’s thirteen years of dictatorships alienated and lost East Pakistan. The decade of Zia, the third dictator left even more draconian and dangerous precedents for the next perpetrators. He was also somewhat similar to Oliver Cromwell, the only dictator to impose the Rule of Generals in the British Isles. He like Zia, also disbanded the Parliament and hanged the King. He was also supported by some of Guy’s sympathizers. He also detested the Parliaments for betraying the great ends that Lord had marked out for the Christians’. Anxious to accomplish them, he also like Zia, created a parliament of his own by selecting 140 most sterling stalwarts from various churches. Inaugurating this exemplary House on July 5, Cromwell declared that ‘a manifest glory of the Christ will now prevail till the end of the world’. Yet, exasperated with its inefficiency and squabbles, he dissolved this parliament just 160 days after its installation. It would be far fetched to surmise if Zia’s coup on July 5, was a mere coincidence, or he had actually mulled over the events in Cromwell’s life. Two other parliaments called by Cromwell also met the same fate. The first, after 131 days and the second after 18 months.
Any analogy between Cromwell and Zia, however, ends there. For Cromwell conquered Ireland and Scotland and created a commonwealth of British Isles and brought a new power and prestige to it. Zia, in contrast, left a legacy of intolerance, ethnic and sectarian strife, violence, gun running and drugs. He attempted to push Pakistan into a primitive obscurantism, stifle knowledge, rationalism and enlightenment and suppressed the diversity and dissidence.
The activists and crusaders for democracy and fundamental rights primarily from the PPP, press, labor unions, educational institutions, bars professional bodies and common citizen ran the gauntlet. The papers voicing concern for democracy were coerced, closed and their staff was harassed, laid off or arrested. The eminent and veteran journalists like Minhaj Burna and Nasar Usmani, were incarcerated, chained and tortured. Far more draconian was the deed to flog four eminent journalists on May 18, 1978.
Even more macabre was the firing at Colony Textile Mills Multan that officially acknowledged about 33 deaths, the real number, however, rumored to be far larger, has never been known. No less horrendous were the killing of students at Khuzdar, massacre of peasants at Pat feeder and the treatment of nurses and para medical staff at Lahore. Over two hundred teachers from schools and colleges were thrown out from there. Any facts, material including the scientific theories of evolution, likely to rattle obscurantism, were excised from the textbooks. Universities were handed over to the fascist religious factions and the academia opposed to them, were sacked or sent into internal exile.
The tactics of lavish and lucrative gains to garner the loyalist lobbies, in journalists, judges, lawyers, trade unions, students, politicians, clerics and traders and the lure was thus injected in the political innards. The parties inspired by shared ideals and missions were fragmented to manipulate mushrooms of groups based on casts, regions and sects, spawning the phantoms like MQM and the carnage at Karachi.
Even when forced to retreat and roll back his dictatorship, he masked it into a constitutional façade of a handpicked Consultative Council modeled after Cromwell and the twelfth century councils of European kings, a mock referendum that required that all those who believed in Islam (which of course every Muslim’s did) were to accept Zia as the President of Pakistan plus the powers to amend constitution at his will. His amendments purloined the powers of the Parliament and the Premier as the iconic embodiment of the popular will and expression, making himself, the lord creator, sustainer and terminator of the Premiers, cabinets, superior judges, generals, commanders, chief election commissioner and kindred icons. Four assemblies were later swallowed just by a dragon clause devised by him.
Bequeathed by him was also a breed of desperate cliques and clerics who denounced democracy as repugnant to Islam, threatened to raze the representative system and impose instead their version of a divine system operated through persistent feuds and the power of bullets and bombs. His policies thus became a perilous prelude to the Talibanization, terrorism across the country and the tinder box at Lal Mosque. The dangers and dread devouring the dreams of peace and human dignity, designed by him thus defiled the democratic ideals. The Britishers, despite Cromwell’s manifest victories in wars, trade and affluence, officially dug his grave and hanged the corpse as a posthumous punishment for interrupting their Parliamentary System. How a real democratic Pakistan, would treat its dictators, still remains to be seen, yet November 05, reminds us to forge some shared tradition for it.
The writer is an academic and freelance columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org