Revisiting the script

It has been 69 years for Pakistan and the country is still described frequently ‘at crossroads’. The ‘dire situation’ that our country finds itself in, never seems to end. There are multiple structural and ideological issues that plague this land and end up keeping us in a perpetual state of crisis. Among the major problems infecting us is the ‘civil-military imbalance’. Following partition, Pakistan inherited a military which was raised by the British in line with the ‘Martial Races’ theory, a fighting force that would be subservient to its imperial overlords, come hell or high water. The ‘Martial Races’ theory had its origins in the 1857 mutiny when soldiers from Punjab helped put down rebel forces in Delhi and its surroundings. Soldiers from the Potohar region of Punjab, the Pashtuns and Gurkhas from modern-day Nepal were (without any proof or justification) given the honorific ‘Martial Races’ and inducted disproportionally in the British Army. Leaders of All India Congress were cognisant of the fact that post-colonial statehood would involve a negotiation of power between the political class and a well-organised military. The Muslim League decided to leave this issue to fate.

Since 1958, Pakistan has faced four military coups, led by ambitious military generals. The story of each of these ‘adventures’ is quite similar, hinting towards the possibility that the coups were not necessarily a ‘need of the hour’ as claimed by the generals but carefully orchestrated efforts with most of the top echelon on board. Like in most major wars, the ‘minor’ forces i.e. Airforce and Navy were kept completely out of the loop. The modus operandi of all the coups (and coup efforts like the ‘Rawalpindi conspiracy’ of 1951, General Tajammul Malik’s plan in 1980 and ‘Operation Khilafat’ in 1995) bear resemblance to each other. Starting with a purge of ‘corrupt’ politicians, the coup-makers move on to dismissal of certain bureaucrats, establishment of ‘transparent’ and ‘anti-corruption’ bodies to investigate what the civvies had done and looking for legal cover to legitimise their actions. In each instance however, generals had to come begging at the door of politicians (due to internal or external pressures) and instituted a limited democracy in the country.

In October 1958, Iskander Mirza announced the imposition of martial law, a few months before national elections were scheduled (for early 1959). His ‘address to the nation’ included the following words: ‘I have been watching, with the deepest anxiety, the ruthless struggle for power, corruption, the shameful exploitation of our simple, honest, patriotic and industrious masses, the lack of decorum, and the prostitution of Islam for political ends. Some of our politicians have lately been talking of bloody revolution. Another type of adventurers among them think it fit to go to foreign countries and attempt direct alignment with them which can only described as high treason. The mentality of the political parties has sunk so low that I am unable any longer to believe that elections will improve the present chaotic internal situation and enable us to form a strong and stable government capable of dealing with the innumerable and complex problems facing us today. We cannot get men from the Moon. The same group of people who have brought Pakistan on the verge of ruination will rig the elections for their own ends”.

Within a month, General Ayub Khan had taken over the reins of power, pushing Iskander Mirza out. He had the following words in his speech: “These chaotic conditions as you know have been brought about by self-seekers who in the garb of political leaders have ravaged the country or tried to barter it away for personal gains. Some have done it as a matter of right because they professed to have created Pakistan, and others who were against the very idea of Pakistan openly worked for its dissolution or in any case did all they could to agitate its problems. Their aim is nothing but self-aggrandisement or thirst for power. Our so-called representatives in the Assemblies shifted from one party to other without turning a hair or feelings any pangs of conscience.”

General Zia had the following words to share with the nation: “The armed forces are the only stable institution… to defend national frontiers… not only geographical frontiers but ideological frontiers also have to be fully protected.” Following the 1977 coup, “Ehtesab Brigades” were formed by the Zia administration. Members of the National and provincial assemblies were asked to submit lists of property acquired since December 1970. Disqualification tribunals were set up, comprising high court judges and military officers not lower than the rank of brigadier. As a result of these, 180 Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) politicians disqualified for 7 years.

When Musharraf landed power in 1999 after dethroning Nawaz Sharif, he uttered the following words in his first speech: “There is despondency, and hopelessness surrounding us with no light visible anywhere around. The slide down has been gradual but has rapidly accelerated in the last many years. Today, we have reached a stage where our economy has crumbled, our credibility is lost, state institutions lie demolished, provincial disharmony has caused cracks in the federation, and people who were once brothers are now at each other’s throat. It is unbelievable and indeed unfortunate that the few at the helm of affairs in the last government were intriguing to destroy the last institution of stability left in Pakistan by creating dissention in the ranks of the armed forces of Pakistan.” He promised accountability in the beginning and initiated NAB but no avail.

The timing of coups is also very important. Generally, coups are planned in earlier months of the year (like Rawalpindi Conspiracy or the dismissal of Ayub in 1969 or the start of Lawyers movement in 2007 which was an ‘internal coup’) and the action takes place in the later part of the year (October 1958, July 1977, October 1999). The ‘Dharna’ two years ago also took place in the later part of the year. With another agitation in sight, are we looking forward to re-enactment of the time-tested script?

The writer is a freelance columnist. Follow him on Twitter

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