the 4th of April 1979, in a H-Block cell, putting
in one more tedious day, the ennui was broken by someone
returning from a visit with the news that the deposed
first elected leader of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,
had been hanged. Earlier the high court in Lahore,
crammed with acolytes of the military dictator, Zia
ul Huq, in a trial described as being of doubtful
judicial propriety, had convicted him and passed
the death penalty. The countrys Supreme Court
approved the findings with Zia alone holding the power
to exercise clemency. Bhutto was chair of the Islamic
Summit. He had good relations with Pakistans
four financial backers in the Islamic world, Iran,
Saudi Arabia, Libya and Abu Dhab and his personal
relationships with the leaders of each were excellent.
He also had good relations with the Chinese and Soviet
states. All of this was reinforced by considerable
international pressure but it failed to break the
malign resolve of Zia.
on the wing in H-Block 4 seemed indifferent - it was
just another item of news from one of the worlds
many trouble spots. It didnt feature in the
after hours (when officialdom in the jail went into
hibernation for the night) chit-chat as many other
items would such as the Sandinista Revolution three
months later or the attainment of Zimbabwean Independence
the following year.
own interest in Pakistan, limited as it was, had been
generated two years earlier in Cage 11. There, political
documentaries, through popular interest rather than
ideological imposition, took preference over all TV
viewing apart from soccer. Exposure to current affairs
at home and elsewhere was frequent. We watched as
Zia ul Huq deposed the democratically elected Bhutto
in a military coup and declared himself president.
then, before we became familiar with his bottomless
deceit, Zia exuded the demeanour of a ruthlessly ambitious
man governed by what Air Marshal Mohammad Asghar Khan
referred to as the influence of unbridled power,
the effects of which increased with every day that
passed.' In terms of anti-democratic sentiment there
seemed little to distinguish him from Argentinas
Videla and Chiles Pinochet both of whom ruled
the roost in their own respective countries at the
time. Consequently, there was nothing vaguely amazing
when he manoeuvred to have the deposed Bhutto tried
for the 1974 assassination of a political opponent.
A move described many years later by Asghar Khan as
motivated by political considerations
not the action of an impartial head of state.
my cell, Bhuttos death shocked me. There was
no need to be familiar with the thoughts of Asghar
Khan to conclude that the decision to execute smacked
of a biased mind rather than that of an impartial
referee. It reminded me of the similar fate
that befell Salvador Allende of Chile six years previous.
A political leader democratically endorsed and who
had brought much needed relief to poorer sections
of society, being done in by the right wing military.
At least the Chilean generals made no pretence at
due process, simply murdering the president in his
palace on the day of the coup.
years after Bhuttos execution, when Zia fell
out of the skies like a stone after his plane had
been bombed, I instinctively abided by Salman Rushdies
stricture (whether he had yet issued it I do not know)
that 'when a tyrant falls, the world's shadows lighten,
and only hypocrites grieve'. Zia had been promising
the return of democracy from the day and hour he had
overthrown Bhutto. Eleven years after the first promise
it took a bomb to remove the biggest obstacle - himself.
With him now out of the picture there existed a genuine
chance that civilian elections rather than military
coups would determine the future government of the
country. For a while it appeared to be so when Bhutto's
daughter, Benazir led his party back to office. It
was a temporary respite which collapsed amid a welter
of allegations about corruption.
really surprising in a country which for roughly half
of its history since it was officially founded in
1947 had been subjected to the rule of military dictators.
Much of it was an inheritance from the colonial era.
Britain took control of the Indian sub-Continent in
1757 after the Battle of Plassey in which its military
might defeated Mughal forces in Bangal. When it packed
its bags, its influence went on the wane but was replaced
by that of the Americans. According to Tariq Ali,
by 1954-55 the United States military was closely
liasing with the Pakistan officer class. By the turn
of the decade the countrys key officers were
being trained in Fort Bragg rather than Sandhurst.
In his view there took place a very clean transition
from loyalty to one imperial power to another.
By the time of the 1958 US organised military coup
the links with the United States were very firm.
The army according to Tariq Ali was the one institution
that the US felt it could trust. Decades later this
would come to haunt the Americans when in the only
victory ever won by the Pakistan Army it established
the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Ironically, it
was under Zia that the Taliban mushroomed in religious
schools throughout Pakistan. According to Tariq Ali
the United States and Saudi Arabia were fully
involved in the funding and financing of these schools.
I mean, the United States used the Saudis as a conduit
to do it. Even more ironically Zia was supported
by the US while Bhutto believed that Washington had
given the nod to his execution. In his last written
communication from prison he referred to a meeting
with Kissinger, at which the roaming war criminal
told him if you do not desist on the nuclear
question, we will make a horrible example out of you.
A horrible example indeed was made which saw Bhutto
go to his grave while Zia, with US support, moved
his finger even closer to the nuclear button. Seemingly
military dictators with nuclear bombs are to be trusted
in a way that democratically elected politicians are
Ali Bhutto, equipped with a bachelor of arts degree
from the University of California at Berkeley and
master of arts from Oxford, was president of Pakistan
from 1971 to 1977 and prime minister from 1973. Earlier,
as foreign minister in the government of Ayub Khan
from 1963 he set out to reverse the reliance on the
US and develop a nonaligned neutrality.
In 1967 when he formed the Pakistan People's Party
(PPP) he emulated the style of dress of the Chinese
Communist Party and called for the introduction of
"Islamic socialism" in Pakistan. After the
establishment of Bangladesh in 1971, which saw the
Pakistani military humiliated by the Indian Army in
East Pakistan, Bhutto became president.
Pakistani leader Bhutto introduced progressive economic
policies which included nationalising major industries,
life insurance companies, and private education faculties.
He also legislated to ensure tax relief for the poorest
farm employees and placed an upper limit on the amount
of land an individual could own. He withdrew Pakistan
from the British Commonwealth of Nations and from
the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), sponsored
by the United States.
of Bhuttos many miscalculations lay in thinking
he could trust Zia whom he had appointed to chief
of staff over others considered higher in the pecking
order. Zia transmitted all the right signals and the
Pakistan president misread him as reliable. He was
oblivious to the fact that he was feeding a megalomaniac
who, in the words of Khan, would prove determined
to hang on to power and to remove from his path
any impediment, that could create difficulties for
him or endanger his position in the future.
spite of all these lessons Pakistan, at present, is
subject to yet another bout of military rule. And
on the basis of recent events there is little cause
for optimism that such dictatorial power is to be
lessened. The tendency is even further toward the
anti-democratic concept of an ever greater leadership-led
is a word loved by political charlatans and entrepreneurs,
eager to justify breaking with previous understandings
and jettisoning earlier undertakings. It conceals
a multitude of political sins. General Pervez Musharraf
- totally consistent with the power lusting rather
than the principled - declared that Pakistan
is passing through a very crucial transitional period.
And with unashamed doublethink he claimed the country
was under democratic dictatorship advancing
toward guided democracy. One of his first
moves has been to emulate Zia before him by granting
himself the authority to dissolve parliament. According
to the New York Times the changes will
also institutionalise the political role of the military
in politics by allotting it some seats on a newly
created National Security Council. Musharraf
has also assumed the power to appoint judges to the
a country with a population of 140 million, the latest
opinion polls show that a majority of Pakistanis oppose
most of the amendments enacted by Musharraf. Some
within the countrys opposition have called upon
the US to pressurise Musharraf to desist from the
present course. In this they either ignore or fail
to see that Musharraf is doing what he does precisely
because of American support. When he initially seized
power in a coup detat in 1999 the US treated
him as a pariah. He has since exploited US strategic
desperation in the wake of September the 11th based
on an awareness of the fulcrum that his country has
become. The Pakistan Times has claimed he is
one of the pivotal men in the U.S. 'war on terrorism'.
All of which dilutes any sense of surprise when George
Bush approves Musharraf on the grounds that 'he's
still tight with us in the war against terror.
political and human rights groups in Pakistan are
justifiably more cynical about the chances of the
US acting as a force for positive change within the
country. They feel that by not restraining Musharraf,
the American administration would be following a long-established
pattern of approving military dictators against democratic
forces when the interests of the generals would dovetail
with those of the US. As Tariq Ali recalls from the
days of his youth spent growing up in Pakistan:
used to be very hostile to the United States as
kids because we felt that the United States was
backing the military dictatorship in our country.
W e knew that without American support these military
dictators couldn't exist, and yet whenever a choice
was offered - democracy or dictatorship - the United
States backed the military.
absence of any real ethical dimension to US foreign
policy, perennially subject to the imperatives of
naked raison detat, must in some way help explain
the infusion of life into a pool of fundamentalism
where theocratic fascism invites Arab and Islamic
youth to drink from. The result is that American citizens
are subject to the same murderous frenzy that their
own government helps to visit onto others.
citizens are particularly laudatory about the vibrancy
of the democracy that exists in their country. But
as had been said elsewhere the price of the liberty
which that democracy offers is eternal vigilance.
And it is incumbent upon those most in danger of attack
from theocratic fascism to behave most vigilantly
in respect of their own government. Such vigilance
requires that military dictators such as Musharraf
are deprived of all sustenance. Democratic America
at home, fortunately graced by ethical stalwarts such
as Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, should exercise
democratic accountability over its governments
anti-democratic activities abroad.
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