When Democracy Walks Under The Shadow of Military Rule

ssg.jpgBenazir Bhutto, who had returned to Pakistan after her eight year long self-imposed exile, had come back bringing a ray of hope for those who wanted restoration of democracy in Pakistan. However, with her brutal assassination, Pakistan has been heavily curtained, no such rays being allowed to touch the country’s periphery. Mrs. Bhutto, being of western ideas, had been propagating democratic ideals for her electoral campaign before her words were silenced. She wanted a democratic Pakistani state, free from terrorist acts and military dictatorship. It is another example of the grave misrule (read: military rule) and anarchy continuing in the country since 1947. Ever since its independence, the country has been characterized by periods of military and economic growth interspersed with political instability. The constitution of Pakistan declares it to be a federal democratic Republic. However, I feel that the traces of democracy are being brutally removed, the sad assassination of Benazir Bhutto being such an example. History provides many instances where we see the military rule and imposition of the Martial Law having caused great havoc and turbulence in the country. Pakistan’s military has played an influential role in mainstream politics throughout Pakistan’s history, with military presidents ruling from 1958-71, 1977-88, and 1999 onwards. There has been a regular swapping, not only between the democratic and military rulers, but also in the ruling ideals. It was leftist ideals for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and, after his dethronement, Shariat based and Islam oriented ideals for the military ruler Zia-ul-Haq. If we start tracing this devastating misrule in a chronological order, we find that the first time military was directly involved in politics of the country was when, Ayub Khan, a serving General-in-Chief was inducted in the Federal Cabinet of Mohammad Ali Bogai in 1954 and was given the portfolio of defense. On Oct 7, 1958, Iskander Mirza enforced the first Martial Law in Pakistan with the help of Ayub Khan. After this, Ayub Khan snatched away Mirza’s powers and assumed charge as the President of Pakistan in addition to his role as Chief Martial Law Administrator. On June 8, 1959, the Martial Law was lifted and the new constitution was established with the introduction of Presidential Rule and Basic Democracy. However, to the contrary, in the elections of 1965 where Ayub Khan swept the polls, the masses had no right to vote. The Tashkent Summit also happened under Ayub Khan which was greatly disapproved by the general public and was regarded as a submission to India. Furthermore, the then Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto turned against him to form a new party, called the Pakistan People’s Party, with an aim to remove the great dictator from power. At this juncture, Ayub Khan had no other option. He resigned on March 16, 1969 and handed over the power to the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistani army, General Yahya Khan.

Pakistan was again under the grip of another Martial Law. Unlike other military rulers, Yahya Khan was not interested in prolonging his rule. On March 29, 1970, through an Ordinance, he presented an interim Constitution, named the Legal Framework Order, which was a formula according to which forthcoming elections were to be organized. It goes to the credit of Yahya Khan, that the first general elections in the history of

Pakistan were held in his regime. But then, again fate never favored Pakistan; a bloody partition and division of East and

West Pakistan was in the waiting. The elections of 1970 resulted in a split mandate with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) winning the majority in West Pakistan and Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman’s party winning the majority in

East Pakistan. Neither of them was ready to accept his opponent as the prime minister. When the responsibility of the crisis fell upon Yahya Khan, he handled it badly by using force that resulted in a war and, eventually, in the formation of independent

East Pakistan.

Pakistan lost a province of 70 million, 56% of its total population and its international credit was diminished. Faced with the charges of ineptness and inability that culminated with the 1971 national debacle, Yahya Khan ceded power to the PPP. Nurul Amin was made the PM and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the deputy PM. However, on Dec 20, 1971, Bhutto took over as the first civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator and President. But ever since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became the President, he faced strong opposition due to his authoritarian style of governance. The opposition united to contest the elections from a common platform, Pakistan National Alliance. But the results were astonishingly clearly in the favor of PPP. The PNA did not accept this and there was a boycott of Provincial polls. There was a huge outbreak called by the PNA. Bhutto enforced Martial Law in three main cities, Lahore, Karachi and Hyderabad. But eventually, he had to give in to the demands of PNA and went abroad In April1976, he appointed Zia-ul-Haq as Chief of Army Staff, superseding five session generals. He probably wanted somebody as the head of the armed forces who could not prove as a threat to him and a simple General was the best possible option (who later proved to be much smarter than he thought). When the political tension reached its climax due to the deadlock between Bhutto and the leadership of PNA on the issue of general elections, Zia-ul-Haq took advantage of the situation. On July 5, 1977, he carried out a bloodless coup overthrowing Bhutto’s government, enforced the Martial Law and assumed Presidential office on September 16, 1978. Bhutto was later given a death sentence by Zia-ul-Haq. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s hanging poisoned the relations between his PPP and the army. Party activists inSind were brutally tortured, humiliated and sometimes they were reported as disappeared or killed. The current President, Pervez Musharraf, assumed power on Oct 12, 1999, ousting the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He dismissed the national and provincial assemblies, assumed the title of Chief Executive and became Pakistan’s de facto head of the government, thereby becoming the fourth army chief of Pakistan to have assumed control. In 2001, he appointed himself to the office of the President of Pakistan. Infact, even the legislations and amendments made in the constitution of Pakistan have contributed to the continuance of the political instability and misrule. The eighth Constitutional Amendment of 1985 gave the president the power of dissolution of national assembly at his own discretion. Hence, in a political crisis, the assembly can be dissolved and new elections could be held resulting in avoidance of the Martial Law. The constitution was transformed from a Parliamentary one to Presidential one. Zia-ul-Haq, had dissolved the assembly in 1988. We cannot ignore the amount of mindless violence that has resulted due to the political unrest. History shows that the sorry state of Pakistan’s political affairs has ever been marked with disturbances. The political scenarios have been characterized by treachery, greed for power and violence. The instability of the governments has been marked by uprooting of the democratic rule by the militarist regime and then giving some pretext for the enforcement of Martial Laws. Sometimes bad and inefficient handling of affairs has also been responsible for the mass killings, violence and political instability. However, we cannot say that economic growth did not happen. There was economic development as well as, to a certain extent, social improvement. But all this, in the perspective of dismal political state, seems a futile attempt to increase the rate of growth of the country as a whole. There is an awkward coexistence of military despotism and anarchy that has prevailed in Pakistan.

Vibhuti Rathore