Those in the dock after 1977, 2018 polls

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 03:37 PM, 3 Jul, 2021
Those in the dock after 1977, 2018 polls
File photos.

On Monday (July 5) falls the 44th anniversary of the overthrow of the ZAB regime, or the imposition of martial law by Gen Ziaul Haq. 

The day has almost been forgotten by all political parties and, at most, a few-line statement is likely to be issued by the PPP to condemn the military intervention. 

But hardly anyone has ever deeply analyzed the sea change that has taken place on the political landscape over the past decades. 

Likewise, political parties have learnt no lesson from their bitter experiences nor have they changed their conduct for a better future. 

In 1977, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, confident of his certain victory because of his government’s enviable performance and the party’s popularity, held premature general elections which all opposition parties rejected, alleging they were massively rigged. Within no time the opposition parties set up an alliance – Pakistan National Alliance – and launched a movement against the government. 

(It is alleged that it was a US-backed plan to punish ZAB for starting nuclear programme in the country).  

The two sides also held a number of rounds of talks to resolve differences and hammer out a future course of action. The talks for fresh elections were still in progress when Gen Zia, contrary to all expectations because of his unbelievable loyalty to the PPP chairman, imposed martial law. 

To sum it up: The PPP was in the dock for rigging the elections. The army that was supposed to act as a neutral arbiter exploited the situation created by the opposition parties. 

But there is a drastic change in the situation now. 

At present, the PTI is in power as a result of the 2018 general elections.  Except for a few parties that are in the ruling coalition, all parties, including the PPP and the PML-N, are in the opposition. And the military establishment is in the dock for bringing the PTI to power by manipulating elections and thwarting the opposition parties’ moves to dislodge it. They call the military leadership as ‘selectors’ and Prime Minister Imran as the ‘selected’.  

The PTI and the military establishment are together because of commonality of their interest while the opposition parties are reviling them day in and day out, at times crossing all limits. 

In this situation when political players have no principles and they keep trying, mostly secretly, to get closer to the same ‘selectors’ to brighten up their future prospects, it’s hard to say anything about the emerging political alignments or the likely political scene. 

The parties that had launched the movement against the 1977 PPP regime included JUI, JUP, Muslim League, Tehreek-i-Istiqlal, Pakistan Democratic Party, Jamaat-i-Islami and Khaksar Tehrik. 

Some of these parties – like PDP, Tehrik-i-Istiqlal, Khaksar Tehrik - have totally disappeared from the scene while others have adapted to new situations. 

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Maulana Kausar Niazi represented the government in talks with the PNA leaders. The opposition was represented by Mufti Mahmood (father of Maulana Fazlur Rehman), Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and Professor Ghafoor Ahmed. 

Unfortunately, none of them is alive today. 

Gen Zia remained in power till his death in August 1988 in a mysterious air crash, in which then US ambassador was also killed. 

(Mian Nawaz Sharif, who set a new record by becoming prime minister three times after serving as Punjab chief minister for two terms, was the discovery of Gen Ghulam Jilani Khan and Gen Zia and he came to power with their support. Although he is now opposed to military’s involvement in politics, he would not have appeared on the political horizon without these generals’ unstinted backing). 

The opposition alliance (MRD) set up against Gen Zia’s martial law had failed to bring about slightest change to the situation. The movement had been crushed. The apparent icon of humility Gen Zia would have been in power for long had the air crash not taken place. 

The Zia martial law did not change the attitude of most of the parties towards democracy. While some acted as its allies, others always repented their decision of not contesting the 1985 party-less elections although they were regarded as contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.  

The parties have such a ‘strong’ love for democracy that almost all of them had welcomed the overthrow of the Nawaz Sharif government in October 1999 by Gen Pervez Musharraf.   

However, adversities brought arch-rivals Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto closer and in May 2006 both the exiled leaders signed a Charter of Democracy at a ceremony in London. This was a commitment to not work against each other. 

However, the CoD failed to bring the desired results.  

Both these parties act as allies and adversaries, depending upon their momentary interests. The opportunism of the PML-N on this front is exposed when the two brothers simultaneously use confrontational as well as conciliatory approach towards the army and are lauded by their respective supporters as towering statesmen.