Of flawed democracy and dictatorship

July 5 is celebrated as a ‘black day’ by the PPP ever since General Ziaul Haq toppled Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government on that date back in 1977. Thirty-three years on and Pakistan is still suffering the after-effects of that fateful military coup. Before moving to Zia’s legacy, we should first look into the reasons why Z A Bhutto became so isolated that despite a coup, not many of his supporters came out on the streets to protest against this misadventure.

Mr Bhutto’s PPP came to power on the shoulders of the 1968-69 movement against General Ayub Khan. The Left’s contribution to the movement’s success was significant. In the general elections of 1970, the PPP got a considerable number of seats because of the support from the Left. When Bhutto actually came to power after the Bangladesh debacle, he turned on the Left both within his party and outside. There was a basic flaw in Mr Bhutto: his feudal streak. Coming from a feudal background, Mr Bhutto had some autocratic tendencies that eventually led to his downfall. His penchant for humiliating his opponents – be they from the PPP or the opposition parties – diminished his support within the political class to an extent that no self-respecting person was left by his side at the end. Despite the PPP having a socialist manifesto and its attempts at land reforms and nationalisation, Mr Bhutto never regained the Left’s support. Other reasons why the Left was disappointed with him were how he attacked the working class, opened the doors to the feudals inside the party in the mid-70s, and launched a military operation in Balochistan. The feudals were the very people Bhutto had attacked in the PPP’s original manifesto. Once the feudals entered the party, they took back the land from the peasantry by hook or by crook, thus leading to a failure of the land reforms. Mr Bhutto’s poorly thought through nationalisation policy could not take off because he handed the nationalised industry to the bureaucracy, who in turn ruined whatever dynamism it possessed.

General Ziaul Haq was the antithesis of all that the PPP stood for. It was during his rule that the Federal Shariat Court termed land reforms un-Islamic, eventually undoing Bhutto’s flawed land reforms. The propertied classes never forgave Bhutto for the land reforms and nationalisation and their response was so vicious and revengeful that in the end their support to General Zia resulted in his execution and the complete reversal of these policies. No other government has even touched this subject again. The privatisation drive also started during Zia’s era, and its flaws in turn further deteriorated the economic condition of the country. Zia’s Islamisation drive is no secret. Started embryonically by Bhutto with his covert support to Afghan fundamentalists, Zia took it one step further and declared an all-out support to them after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Till today our military establishment is still involved in the export of jihad. No sooner had the Soviets withdrawn from Afghanistan, a jihad was launched in Kashmir without even pausing for breath. The establishment wrongfully thought that since this policy was a success in Afghanistan, it would yield the same outcome in Kashmir. The credibility of Kashmir’s national liberation movement was blown to smithereens once a fundamentalist colour was given to it due to Pakistan’s interference.

It is time to reverse General Zia’s draconian policies. The political class must come out in full force and build a consensus to repeal the Zia-sponsored so-called Islamic provisions from our laws. If we are to become a progressive state, there is no room for laws such as the Hudood Ordinance and Blasphemy Law. Let us rebuild the future of Pakistan instead of allowing it to suffer any longer the damage wrought by extremist terrorist ideology.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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