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Pakistan's Four Dictators: Same Legacy


Apr 24, 2007
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Pakistan's Four Dictators: Same Legacy

Rahil Yasin

Rahil Yasin is a working journalist, columnist and researcher based in Lahore, Pakistan

June 25, 2008

Pakistan today stands at the critical point of its destiny which is in our hands to make or break. Sixty years ago we started with a beacon of hope and that beacon will be no more if our Generals keep continue to hold the Pakistan hostage through their time and again involvement in the politics. Due to their habitual coups, the democracy could not take roots in its true sense as it is established in the neighbouring country. With a billion people, the Republic of India is the world's largest democracy. With a population nearly four times that of the United States, India modelled its government on the lines of British parliamentary system, with a healthy dose of influences from the United States and the rest of Europe.

In its 60 years of history, Pakistan had four military dictators with their rule expanding more than the half of the total years since its independence.

The first time military was directly involved in politics of the country was when General Ayub Khan seized power through a bloodless coup in October 1958.

Ayub Khan was opposed to democracy believing like any other dictator that parliamentary democracy did not suite to the people of his country. Like many subsequent military dictators he was contemptuous of politicians and political parties.

By the end of 1968, the public resentment against Ayub's regime touched a boiling point and an anti-Ayub movement was launched by the urban-middle class; including students, teachers, lawyers, doctors and engineers.

On March 25, 1969, he resigned and handed over the power to the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army, General Muhammad Yahya Khan, who immediately imposed martial law.

Yahya inherited a net of extremely complex problems and was forced to perform the multiple roles of caretaker head of the country, drafter of a provisional constitution, resolving the One Unit question, satisfying the frustrations and the sense of exploitation and discrimination successively created in the East Pakistan by a series of government policies since 1948. The end result of these complex problems and the seeds of Pakistan Army´s defeat and humiliation in December 1971 was the establishment of Bangladesh as an independent republic. Yahya hastily surrendered his powers to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, 43, the ambitious leader of West Pakistan´s powerful People's Party, on December 20, 1971.

Bhutto gave Pakistan its third constitution, oversaw Pakistan's nuclear programme, held peace talks with neighbour India and was more of an Internationalist with a secular image.

General Zia-ul-Haq, the Chief of Army Staff, came to power after he overthrew ruling PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a coup d'état on July 5, 1977 and became the state's third ruler to impose martial law. The coup itself was largely bloodless; however, he later had Bhutto executed.

The hanging of an elected prime minister by a military man was condemned by the international community and by lawyers and jurists across Pakistan.

Zia issued several decrees which amended the constitution and greatly expanded his power. Most significantly, the Revival of Constitution of 1973 Order granted Zia the power to dissolve the National Assembly virtually at will.

On May 29, 1988, President Zia dissolved the National Assembly and removed the Prime Minister Junejo under Article 58(2) b of the amended Constitution.

After eleven years, General Zia-ul-Haq once again promised the nation that he would hold elections within the next ninety days.

Zia was killed along with several of his top generals and the then United States Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Lewis Raphel in a mysterious aircraft crash on August 17, 1988, the circumstances of which remain unclear. His death with the American Ambassador gave rise to many conspiracy theories.

Pervez Musharraf is the current de facto President of Pakistan. Currently, his status as a President remains unconstitutional and thus illegal. He took power on October 12, 1999, ousting Nawaz Sharif, the elected Prime Minister, dismissed the national and provincial legislative assemblies, assumed the title of Chief Executive and became Pakistan's head of government, thereby becoming the fourth Army chief of Pakistan to have assumed executive control. Later in 2001, Musharraf appointed himself to the office of President of Pakistan.

After announcing his intention to combat extremists, Western countries have switched from sanctions to active support through military and monetary aid.

It has not been a good year for President Musharraf. Musharraf's sacking of the chief justice last spring, the lawyers' protests that rumbled on throughout the summer and the bloody storming of the Red Mosque in June last year, followed by a wave of hideous suicide bombings, all gave the impression of a country stumbling from bloody crisis to bloody crisis. By the autumn it had grown even worse. The declaration of a state of emergency and, finally, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto led many to predict that Pakistan was stumbling towards full-scale civil war and possibly even disintegration.

By the involvement of military in the politics, we stand in darkness now. There is despondency and hopelessness surrounding us with no light visible anywhere around. This slide down has been gradual but has rapidly accelerated in the last many years.

In a question/answer session after the address at Royal United Institute London, when asked how long you intend to be President after the general elections?

President Musharraf replied you give me a certificate I will sign it.

All the dictators make these kinds of promises again and again but they never fulfill them to gain their political advantages.

From the all above analysis, it has become crystal clear that psyche of all the four Generals of Pakistan remains the same. They seized power through coups supposing that the country needs them, they are better administrators, they can bring the country out of crisis which elected rulers are not capable of handling the current state of affairs of the country. And they were totally opposed to democracy believing like any other dictator that parliamentary democracy did not suite the people of their country. They kept hold on multiple roles for themselves at a time, i.e. the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief Executive, the Martial Law Administrator and the President of Pakistan, etc. They glued to power and did not give up their post till the public anger reached at the boiling point. They made the country unstable and insecure by their wrong policies which to them were in the best interest of the country. They broke the country in two parts, and they executed the elected ruler. They always used sticks to stop the peoples' voices, and never took the way of dialogue. They issued several decrees which amended the constitution and greatly expanded their power. Most significantly, the Revival of Constitution of 1973 Order granted Zia the power to dissolve the National Assembly virtually at will. Generals Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) and Pervez Musharraf (1999 to present) have held singular referendums to elect themselves President of Pakistan for further several years, as well as general elections voting in civilian Prime Ministers (politically subordinate to the President).

It is premature to say what will happen next, President Musharraf will resign and find safe exit or he will face impeachment or trial but one thing seems very clear, the people will not accept any military leader in future as they are suffering worst crisis: Three of the most vital areas are the dismal state of economy bordering the bankruptcy, inter-provincial disharmony striking at the roots of national integration and poor governance, or rather, near absence of governance.

The current Pakistan Government should rebuild national confidence and morale, strengthen the federation, remove inter-provincial disharmony and restore national cohesion, revive the economy and restore investor confidence, ensure law and order and dispense speedy justice, depoliticise state institutions and ensure swift and across the board accountability.

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