When Boots Come March­ing In

Pak­istan must be unique in the sense that here mil­i­tary rulers were ac­tu­ally in­vited by po­lit­i­cal par­ties to seize power.

Southasia - - COVER STORY - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

Pak­istan is by no means the only coun­try where the mil­i­tary has of­ten taken over the reins of govern­ment. In­deed, this has been a fa­mil­iar fea­ture in many coun­tries of the world. In Nigeria and Sierra Leone, for ex­am­ple, there were a num­ber of coups and bouts of mil­i­tary rule. But they were of­ten the re­sult of civil wars or fraud­u­lent elec­tions.

In South Amer­ica, Ar­gentina wit­nessed fairly long spells of mil­i­tary rule. There, too, civil war led to mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. In Chile, Gen. Pinochet top­pled Pres­i­dent Sal­vador El­lende’s govern­ment – at Amer­ica’s be­hest – be­cause he was a so­cial­ist.

Close to home, we have the ex­am­ple of Bangladesh where there was a coup af­ter the as­sas­si­na­tion of Sheikh Mu­jibur Rah­man and the coun­try had mil­i­tary rule un­der Gen­er­als Zi­aur Rah­man and Hos­sain Mo­ham­mad Er­shad. But they as­sumed power os­ten­si­bly to bring or­der amidst chaos. There was no par­tic­i­pa­tion of the people in these takeovers.

On the con­trary, in Pak­istan, the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tors did not as­sume power to end a civil war or po­lit­i­cal tur­moil – ex­cept in the case of Gen. Zi­aul Haq who in­ter­vened when the elec­tion fraud al­legedly com­mit­ted by the Pak­istan Peo­ples’ Party had pushed the coun­try to the brink of a civil war. Oth­ers stepped in to sat­isfy their per­sonal am­bi­tions more than any­thing else.

Gen. Ayub Khan, who later be­came field mar­shal, was the first such ad­ven­turer. Ex­cept for po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tions and some vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing a fa­tal at­tack on the deputy speaker of the leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly of East Pak­istan, the coun­try was rel­a­tively peace­ful. Such events else­where have never led to mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion. As re­gards cor­rup­tion, Pak­istan’s his­tory shows that this mal­ice has been con­gen­i­tal to its so­ci­ety. So, mak­ing cor­rup­tion an is­sue to jus­tify mil­i­tary coups was only a fig leaf for bla­tant am­bi­tion.

When­ever gen­er­als staged a coup in Pak­istan, they pro­claimed with much fan­fare that they would rid the coun­try of its ills and trans­form it into a par­adise on earth – peace­ful, pros­per­ous and, above ev­ery­thing, clean. Yet, at the end of the day, the coun­try had sunk deeper into the mire.

How­ever, a dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of mil­i­tary rules in Pak­istan that set them apart from sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences else­where in the world is that here mil­i­tary rulers re­ceived pop­u­lar and even po­lit­i­cal sup­port. Op­po­si­tion par­ties gen­er­ally ral­lied to usurpers’ sides and, in the case of Gen. Zi­aul Haq, the po­lit­i­cal par­ties that op­posed Z.A. Bhutto had ac­tu­ally in­vited Zia to seize power.

But all in all it has been a love­hate re­la­tion­ship be­tween the people and dic­ta­tors.

Ayub Khan set the ex­am­ple. People looked at him as the prover­bial Godot – the redeemer who would rid the coun­try of ram­pant cor­rup­tion. They thought their hopes were wellplaced be­cause Ayub launched, at the very out­set, a screen­ing ex­er­cise for all govern­ment of­fi­cials and fired a num­ber of se­nior civil ser­vants.

But, with the pas­sage of time, the coun­try’s prob­lems in­creased man­i­fold be­cause even the mil­i­tary - that had so far en­joyed a squeaky clean rep­u­ta­tion – also be­came in­volved in the game. Even the name of Ayub Khan’s son, Gauhar Ayub be­gan to be men­tioned among the cor­rupt. As a re­sult, people be­came dis­il­lu­sioned with him. Ul­ti­mately there was po­lit­i­cal un­rest with jalao and gherao ga­lore. When Ayub Khan fi­nally re­signed, there was not a sin­gle lachry­mose eye.

When Yahya Khan suc­ceeded Ayub, and thun­dered about bring­ing the coun­try ‘back on the rails,’ he too re­ceived a sim­i­lar warm wel­come from the people. Im­prov­ing upon his pre­de­ces­sor’s ex­am­ple, he started with sack­ing 303 top-rank­ing civil ex­ec­u­tives, though not a sin­gle mil­i­tary of­fi­cer was touched. Nonethe­less, his dras­tic ac­tion had a sober­ing in­flu­ence on the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But this step proved tran­sient and, at best, cos­metic. Army of­fi­cers were posted in civil­ian de­part­ments as paragons of hon­esty. But that was the kind of en­vi­ron­ment they were not used to. In their en­tire pro­fes­sional ser­vice, the army of­fi­cers had no op­por­tu­ni­ties for cor­rup­tion with the ex­cep­tion of those han­dling sup­plies and deal­ing with con­trac­tors. Their new jobs, how­ever, pre­sented them with temptations they had never dreamed of. As a con­se­quence, the civil ad­min­is­tra­tion slid back to square one.

More­over, just as the 1965 war had fu­eled Ayub Khan’s un­pop­u­lar­ity, the mil­i­tary de­ba­cle in East Pak­istan com­pounded that of Yahya’s. The he­roes of yes­ter­day be­came ze­roes in the pub­lic eye.

As stated in the fore­go­ing, Gen. Zi­aul Haq was in­vited and wel­comed by the Pak­istan Na­tional Al­liance (PNA) that in­cluded the right-wing po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious par­ties be­sides the Mus­lim League. But those who had brought him to power were dis­il­lu­sioned when he went back on his prom­ise to hold elec­tions within 90 days of seiz­ing power. Once again, peo­ples’ hopes were dashed. And like Ayub Khan, he too went on rul­ing merrily for a decade, un­til Prov­i­dence stepped in and he was killed in an air crash.

The in­ter­reg­num be­tween Zi­aul Haq’s de­par­ture and Gen. Pervez Mushar­raf’s emer­gence on the po­lit­i­cal fir­ma­ment of Pak­istan lasted for about 13 years from 1986 to 1999. Dur­ing this pe­riod Be­nazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif played see-saw with the of­fice of prime min­is­ter, each serv­ing two in­com­plete terms.

Mushar­raf had be­trayed no signs that he was schem­ing to seize power. He came to power quite un­ex­pect­edly. Nawaz Sharif had been nurs­ing a griev­ance against him for the Kargil episode that had sab­o­taged his ef­forts to im­prove re­la­tions with In­dia. As prime min­is­ter, he had the pre­rog­a­tive to dis­miss the army chief at will. But to dis­al­low the plane in which Mushar­raf was re­turn­ing from an of­fi­cial visit to Sri Lanka to land any­where in Pak­istan was an ex­tremely ques­tion­able move.

The army stepped in to save a dire sit­u­a­tion. Nawaz Sharif was shown the door. Un­like ear­lier coups, it was nei­ther pre­med­i­tated, like Ayub Khan’s, nor staged at the in­vi­ta­tion of po­lit­i­cal par­ties like Zi­aul Haq’s. This coup was thrust upon Gen. Mushar­raf un­ex­pect­edly be­cause in the nor­mal cir­cum­stances he would have safely re­turned to his job and all would have been hunky dory.

Per­haps be­cause he had come to power in an un­usual man­ner, Mushar­raf de­parted from the tra­di­tion of his pre­de­ces­sors. He did not de­clare mar­tial law in the coun­try. There­fore, in­stead of as­sum­ing the ti­tle of chief mar­tial law ad­min­is­tra­tor, he opted for the des­ig­na­tion of ‘chief ex­ec­u­tive’. And, in­stead of the usual mantra of erad­i­cat­ing cor­rup­tion, he set about re­form­ing the econ­omy and free­ing the me­dia. So, with­out claim­ing to be a ‘sav­ior’, his re­forms re­ceived pop­u­lar ac­claim.

But it was his clash with the ju­di­ciary – es­pe­cially his mis­treat­ment of the then chief jus­tice of the Supreme Court – that turned the masses against him. Love turned into hate and now when he is in deep wa­ters - be­ing pros­e­cuted for a num­ber of of­fences, in­clud­ing high trea­son – there are few people to ut­ter a word of sym­pa­thy for him.

In sum, the story of mil­i­tary rules in Pak­istan in­di­cates that the people are not pa­tient enough to al­low an elected govern­ment to com­plete its full term and then re­ject the party at the next polls. They pre­fer short­cuts to get rid of an op­pres­sor, even by un­con­sti­tu­tional means. But, this at­ti­tude seems to be chang­ing and is ev­i­dent from the lat­est de­vel­op­ment when the PPP govern­ment com­pleted its full term and a new govern­ment was peace­fully elected to power.

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