Nationalism without a Nation and even without a People?

After sixty-one years of its existence, Pakistan has gone from a ‘nation’ searching for a country to a country searching for a nation (Lal Khan, Pakistan’s Other Story, Lahore, The Struggle Publications, 2008 p.298).

Nationalism is a modern ideology that was yet unknown in mid-nineteenth century British India when the first signs of separatist trends that would give birth to a Pakistan crystallized. The Muslims were even less an exception to the rule as, despite their relatively small numbers—they made up one-fifth of the population of the Raj— they were wracked by both religious and social divisions.

Which Islam (s)?
Regarding religion, diversity among Muslims tended to be underestimated in British India as elsewhere due to a dominant analysis of Islam in purely scriptural terms. Differences are easily levelled when the fundamental theological and philosophical principles that can be said to constitute the core of Islamic faith are enshrined in a single scriptural source and are supposed to be universally adhered to by all those who call themselves Muslims. From such a standpoint, it is easy to define a Muslim based on the pillars of Islam:

1. Shahada (professing faith in Prophet Muhammad as enshrined in the Quran)
2. Daily prayers
3. Fasting for Ramadan
4. Zakat (almsgiving)
5. Pilgrimage to Mecca.

But this interpretation reflects a classic bias consisting of understanding a culture or civilization through what Robert Redfield called the great tradition.

In British India more than anywhere else perhaps, the little Muslim tradition, that of the people and not of the clerics, was highly complex and partly syncretic. More so it readily made room for seemingly heterodox elements such as the cult of saints or possession rites, in which certain trances had a curative purpose akin to exorcism.

This heterogeneity owed much to India’s distance from the Islamic crucible in the Middle East, both from a geographic and cultural standpoint. Not only was Islam transformed on arriving in India through contact with Turkish and Iranian influences, but Indic civilization was extremely foreign to it. Since it was unable to take over entirely, its followers and promoters were obliged to adapt—as elsewhere, like in Indonesia for instance. This adjustment resulted in various types of synthesis, the Sufi phenomenon being one of the more striking of them.

Sufism took on considerable importance in India due to its affinities with the Hindu ideal of asceticism. Its main figures attracted a number of followers, mostly from the lower strata of Indian society, and allowed a particular form of Islam to assert itself. This popular congregation-based Islam established the cult of saints and institutionalized dargahs—places of retreat of the holy men and later their tombs and shrines—which became places of pilgrimage. In the sixteenth century, under Akbar’s reign, the ulema declared that the pilgrimage to Mecca was no longer an obligation, while pilgrimage to shrines of Sufi saints was spreading.

Among the congregations, the Chishtis became one of the most popular. Established in India in the late twelfth century by Khwaja Muinud-din Chishti, a native of Sajistan (at the crosswords of contemporary Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan), its epicentre soon became the Dargah of Ajmer (Rajasthan) where the founder of the Chishti order had moved and was buried. This Sufi order owed its influence—including among Hindus devotees—to the ascetic nature of the Chishti line that has come down through time. Other congregations on the contrary would become associated with the government, such as the Suhrawardis who would obtain benefits in kind (land in particular). Still others, such as the Naqshabandis, originating from Central Asia, would not only develop close relations with the authorities, but also show a sense of orthodoxy that resulted in hostile reactions to the Hindus—and the Shias.

Aside from the Sufi orders, other sects constantly developed within Indian Islam. The Muslims of the subcontinent first brought with them one of the structuring divisions of Middle Eastern Islam, the opposition between Sunnis and Shias. This schism for a long time remained latent, probably due to a strong demographic imbalance, the latter being only a small minority. But the political and social influence of this group should not be underestimated. Among them were many landowners as well as major dynasties such as the one that ruled over the Awadh kingdom in Lucknow until the mid-nineteenth century.

Among the Shias, the Ismailis mainly settled in western India, in Gujarat and the Bombay region. The Bohras formed the largest group among them. They recognize Ali as successor to the Prophet, but-like other–they diverged from the Twelvers after the death of the sixth Imam in AD 765, considering that his elder son, Ismail (and not his second son) should have taken over from him. Paying allegiance to the Cairo-based Fatimid Caliphate, they established their own church. Bohras experienced a schism in the sixteenth century that spawned two groups, the Dawoodi Bohras and the Sulaimani Bohras. While the latter would remain in the Middle East, the former migrated to India in 1539 and adopted a separate leader, the Syedna, to whom they paid full allegiance (and taxes). There, they attracted Hindus—including Brahmins—in relatively large numbers. Bohras have adopted a dress code that makes them easily identifiable. Other Ismailis coming from the Middle East, the Khojas, followed a partly similar trajectory. When they migrated to India in the twelfth century, their leader the Aga Khan-who claims to descend from Ali-remained in Persia till the nineteenth century, when they moved to India as well. Like the Bohras, the Khojas are mostly converts from Hinduism, but they have primarily attracted members of merchant castes such as the Bhatias (whose marriage customs they have retained). Muhammad Ali Jinnah-who married a Parsi-was born in a Khoja, business family.

The creation of new sects has continued into the modern era. In the late nineteenth century for instance, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1915) founded a movement known either by his namesake Ahmadi, or after his place of birth, Qadian, in Gurdaspur district in Punjab. This man claimed to be the new Messiah, contradicting the Muslim belief that Muhammad was the last Prophet. At his death, his disciples numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

Although the Ahmadis were recruited among various castes, the Bohras and the Khojas, as mentioned above, came from Brahmin castes and merchant castes-and continued to pursue some of their caste-related activities after having left Hinduism. The coincidence of caste and sect is not rare in Indian Islam. This is the case of Memons. Originating with the conversion of one Hindu merchant caste, the Lohanas, in Gujarat by a Sufi saint in 1400, the Memons finally settled in Bombay in the early seventeenth century, where they prospered in trade and industry while maintaining a separate religious identity. At the other end of the social scale, the Moplas were Muslim peasants from Kerala who descended from the early Arab migrants settled on the Malabar Coast starting in the eight century. Exploited by the Hindu landowners, the Moplas were known for their frequent uprisings–the jacquerie of 1836 being the most famous of a long series of them. An ethnic community speaking its own language, Malayalam-which gave rise to a literature written in Arabic, Mappila Pattu-the Moplas also have their own priests, Musaliyars.

Castes and Tribes
Despite the egalitarian values that Islam professes to promote, at least since the Raj which reified social categories, the Muslims of South Asia form a hierarchical community, be they part of caste-based milieus or of the tribal world-or even a combination of the two. * The fact that the mechanisms of the caste and tribe overlap is not so surprising since caste implies endogamous practices that flow from relations of kinship also characteristic of tribes.

*In his seminal work on the Pashtuns, Barth shows that their predominantly tribal universe allows for caste practices in the Swat Valley. (Frederick Barth, Political Leadership among the Swat Pathans, London, The Athlone Press,1965).

The Pashtun tribal structures are based on a segmentary lineage system, each tribe comprising clans, sub clans and still smaller kin groups claiming that they descend from a common ancestor. Social hierarchies in this milieu have traditionally been fluid since they rely on the observance of (or disregard for) a code of honour, Pashtunwali, based on—among other things—righteousness and courage (for instance in seeking justice—a quest which has resulted in cycles of family-related vendettas). Tribal chiefs were men who best complied with life-style and displayed leadership qualities— hence the notion of individual captaincy emphasized by Frederick Barth. As a result, they received the title of Khan, whereas those who came under them were usually known as Maliks. Yet, Khans, were primus inter pares who could lose their status if their personal qualities eroded—and if rivals joined forces to dislodge them from power. The theoretically impermanent character of these hierarchies reflected the fundamentally egalitarian nature of Pashtun social order that was evident from the modus operandi of the jirgas, the plenary assemblies convened when an important issue had to be sorted out collectively. Certainly, only those who had inherited land were allowed to take part in jirgas, but land was regularly redistributed to prevent the best plots from remaining with the same families forever. This basically egalitarian system known as wesh was spoiled by the British when they recognized property rights of the big Khans. They did so to promote a group of landlords on whom they could rely to establish their authority via indirect rule. This policy, which took shape at the expense of small Khans precipitated the decline of the jirga culture. The big Khans henceforth exerted decisive influence in the assemblies thanks to the protection of the British, to whom they paid allegiance in return. Pashtun society had become (more) hierarchical.

Baloch society was also structured along somewhat similar tribal segmentary lineages during the Raj, but in a rather more inclusive perspective. Indeed, Baloch tribes were the by-products of migrations dating back to the sixteenth century. When the British Raj established authority over the Baloch area, at the confluence of today’s Pakistan and Iran, these tribes had already amalgamated groups coming from Iran as well as Pashtuns, Sindhis and Punjabis. Hence their resilient multilingual character and the fact that language has never been a distinctive cultural feature of the Baloch. Their unity came more from endogamous practices and their solidarity against others when they came under attack. Hierarchies were also more marked than on the Pashtun side right from the beginning because of the authority of Khans and Sardars who dominated the jirgas.

While tribes prevail west of the Indus, caste hierarchies play a dominant role in Punjab and Sindh, two regions more directly connected to Indian civilization. The caste system which originated in the Hindu world is based on three complementary criteria:

• The relation of purity and impurity, Brahmins of the top hierarchy embodying the first pole and Untouchables, at the extreme, representing the epitome of impurity in the social sphere.
• Professional specialization, each caste being traditionally associated with a socio-economic activity linked to its status.
• Caste endogamy, which perpetuates the social structure over time, each caste providing the frame of a closed marriage market.

Indian Islam softened the contours of this system without really questioning it. The most discriminating criterion of the Hindu caste hierarchy, the relation to purity and impurity, has generally not been as preponderant among the Indian Muslims as among the Hindus. As a result, upper caste and lower caste Muslims could generally attend the mosque together. But the Arzals (former Untouchable converts) usually remain excluded from it unless they remain on the steps outside. Similarly, they could read the Quran but not teach it.

Although observance of the relation to purity and impurity is less systematic in Muslim circles than in Hinduism, Indian Islam has established a social stratification based on geographic origin that is nearly as strict. The so-called noble (Ashraf) upper castes are made up of descendants of Muslims who (allegedly) migrated to India from abroad, whereas those who converted to Islam after it spread throughout Indian territory make up the two lower categories, the Ajlafs (lower castes) and the Arzals (formerly Untouchables) *.

*This rule is subject to many exceptions; some upper castes having gone from Hinduism to Islam without a drop-in status. Such is the case of Rajput castes in North India, for instance.

The first are subdivided into three categories in which are found:

1. those of Middle Eastern extraction (the Syeds who claim descent from the Prophet and the Shaikhs who say they have roots in Mecca and Medina),
2. those claiming a Central Asian, and particularly Afghan, lineage, the Pathans (or Pashtuns) and
3. last, the Mughals who claim Turkic or Tartar origins. *

*Few, the Mughals are concentrated in Rohilkhand, a region on the Ganges plain.

The Rajputs (a high Hindu warrior caste) are the only converts who are part of the social elite. The others are part of the Ajlafs when they are of Shudra origin, which is most usually the case. These were lower caste Hindus primarily cultivators and artisans who converted to Islam in the vain hope of escaping an oppressive social system. Most of them are weavers (Julaha or Momins). The Arzals are the descendants of Hindu Dalits who followed the same route with the same result. Among them are mainly sweepers (Bhangis in Sindh and Churas in Punjab) to whom are assigned the most thankless cleaning tasks.

Traditionally, these status groups often matched caste-specific jobs and were more reminiscent of the Hindu hierarchy as many indian Muslims came from this religion. The Syeds and Shaikhs, like the Brahmins, were scholars occupying positions of power in the traditional state apparatus; the Pathans—reminiscent of Hindu Kshatriyas-dominate the military (more so since the British saw them as a martial race and recruited them into the army in great numbers). As for the Memons, Bohras and Khojas, they usually ran business. The Ajlafs have remained cultivators and artisans—a particularly high number of weavers converted by entire caste. As for the Arzals, they formed a populace that can be exploited at will—and still do.

These social divisions go together with a legacy of strong geographic contrasts. A brief comparison between the Muslims of Bengal, those of the Gangetic Plain and those of Punjab suffices to illustrate the point. The first, primarily a result of mass conversion of castes of Hindu peasants, remained traditionally at the bottom of the social pyramid, even when the ruling dynasties were of Islamic faith. Not only were the Muslims of Bengal less numerous in urban centres—such as Calcutta— but in the countryside they were often under the command of Hindu landowners. At the other geographic extreme of India in Punjab—another predominantly Muslim province, like Bengal—the Muslims were also predominantly rural, Hindu merchants and intelligentsia dominating in the cities. But Punjab which warrants attention because of the key role it will play in Pakistan*—in contrast to Bengal, experiences some radical changes under the Raj. The British who were grateful to the Muslims of Punjab for their help during the 1857 Mutiny developed the economy of the region through the creation of a sophisticated irrigation system. The canal colonies would contribute to the formation of a new class of farmers in which Muslims would be over-represented since the Hindus were more over-represented in the cities, among traders and professionals. The British also protected the farmers from moneylenders by passing the Punjab Alienation of Land Act in 1900, which prevented non-agricultural tribes (mostly Hindu traders) from acquiring land.

*At the Quetta Command and Staff College, the soldiers trained to become the officers of the Pakistan Army learn that each country is organized around a vital province, its heartland, whose loss results in disintegration. In case of Pakistan, Punjab is naturally this key province.

Finally, the British recognized pirs (descendants of Sufi saints in charge of their dargah) as part of the cultivating group -making their land inalienable—and other groups (including. Muslim Jats and Rajputs) as a martial race, which gave then new opportunities in the army. The Muslims of Punjab did not for all that constitute an elite as they did in Gangetic India.

The Ganges Plain from Delhi to Bihar, the true crucible of Muslim civilization in India, was the area in which several Muslim political structures were experimented, from the Delhi Sultanate to the Mughal Empire—of which the capital was also Delhi for most of the time. After the gradual disintegration of the Mughal Empire, it was also in this region that many successor states ruled by Muslim dynasties, including the Kingdom of Awadh, took shape.The British who took over most of them in the first half of the nineteenth century, baptized the region the North-Western Provinces and Oudh in 1860, later renaming it the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh in 1902 without changing its borders—which independent India would moreover keep for many years as the northern province of Uttar Pradesh was not subdivided until 2000.

Muslim society in this area was dominated by Ashraf of four categories, the Syeds, The Shaikhs, the Mughals and the Pathans. This elite—into which Muslim Rajputs readily include themselves without being accepted by the Ashraf as regards marital unions—is clearly distinct from the long list of Ajlafs* and even more so from the Arzals. The Syeds and the Shaikhs have a virtual monopoly on clerical occupations, which are often handed down from father to son. At the bottom of the social pyramid, the Bhangis suffer discrimination that excludes them not only from holy places but also restricts commensality. It is worth noting that in Northern India Muslim society there were practically no large merchants likely to go into industry.

*It includes Julahas (weavers), Darzis (tailors), Qasabs (butchers), Nais or Hajjams (barbers), Kabariyas (green grocers), Mirasis (musicians), Dhuniyas (cotton carders), Fakirs (beggars), Telis (oil pressers), Dhobis (launderers) and Gaddis (herdsmen and milk producers). See Ghaus Ansari, Muslim Caste in Uttar Pradesh.

From both a social and religious standpoint, Indian Islam across the territory delineated by the British Raj thus formed a mosaic that complicated the ascendancy of communal boundaries. It was a mosaic that not only fragmented the group but also made it more porous to outside, particularly Hindu, influences, as much due to forms of religious synthesis as to social ties. In fact, popular Hinduism and popular Islam have been the crucible of many syncretic practices which developed in particular around places of what thus became joint worship. Yet, even if Islam’s adaptation to Indian soil and its own internal tensions clearly show that this religion does not have the fine sociological unity that a scriptural approach would lead one to believe, the scale of the theological and doctrinal conflicts among Muslims of the Great Tradition should not be exaggerated. After all, Indian Islam has always seen, much more than many others, overwhelmingly dominated by Sunnism and a school of law, the Hanafi school.

This overview also suggests that the Muslims of the United Provinces were in a very peculiar situation, which explains their pioneering role in the movement that was to lead to Pakistan. The Muslims of the Ganges Plain formed a small minority in the province. In the first census, which took place in 1881, there were about 6 million of them, as opposed to 38 million Hindus. But although they were less than 14% of the total, they continued to be most influential, as evident from the fact that they accounted for two-fifth of the urban population. This overrepresentation in towns and cities—in stark contrast with the situation of their co-religionists of Bengal and Punjab—reflected their key position in the bureaucracy but should not conceal their importance as a landed group as well, since the Muslim aristocracy used not to live in villages. This is a legacy of their past domination and sign of their resilience.

Although they made up an eighth of the population, the Muslims owned one-fifth of the farmland, often as large landlords. The Taluqdars in Awadh, whose ancestors under the Mughal Empire were in charge of collecting taxes and meting out justice, continued to dominate the country, as the British recognized their property rights. Numbering fewer than hundred, these men exerted an influence that had as much to do with their prestige as their economic clout—including as moneylenders. The other pole of Muslim power came from the over representation of the Ashraf elite within the administration. Civil servants, whose prominence dated back to the Mughal Empire, retained power in the successor states—particularly the Kingdom of Awadh—that was handed from one generation to the next. In 1882–statistics not being available prior to that—the Muslims still made up 35% of the civil servants in the United Provinces—and even 45% of the Uncovenanted Civil Service.* Although they occupied two poles of power—one more rural and informal, the other more urban and administrative—these two groups, Muslim landlords and civil servants were part of the same world, that of an elite proud of its past and cultivating the refinement of the Ashraf culture. It was within this relatively small circle—there were 2.5. million Ashraf in 1881 in the United Provinces—that Indian Muslim separatism was born in the wake of the 1857 Rebellion when the status and the interests of this elite group were challenged.

*Francis Robinson points out that Muslims occupied 55% of Tahsildar posts, highly sought after as these local officers wielded great influence over their district.

By courtesy:

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Pakistan after the Partition

The period covered is till year, 2005

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On September 11, 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah died of tuberculosis. Just a little more than a year earlier, Pakistan, the nation that Jinnah had devoted the last years of his life to creating, celebrated its independence. Fittingly, Jinnah had served as the nation’s first governor-general, continuing in the role of the Quaid-i-Azam, or great leader, of India’s Muslims that he had held for years.

Jinnah’s successor as the leader of Pakistan, already holding the office of prime minister, was Liaquat Ali Khan, who had served as Jinnah’s chief lieutenant in Pakistan’s independence negotiations. Like Jinnah, Liaquat Ali was a westernized, secular figure. Unhappy with that and frustrated by the prime minister’s failure to act aggressively with regard to the issue of Kashmir, a small group of conspirators arranged to have Liaquat Ali assassinated in October 1951. Subsequently, Pakistan fell under the control, first, of a series of pedestrian civil bureaucrats reared in the British service traditions and, after 1958, under the steel frame of martial ‘law’.

Pakistan’s first years of independence, therefore, were quite different from those in neighbouring India, where the presence of Jawaharlal Nehru and the government’s status as the inheritor of the subcontinent’s many traditions provided a large measure of political stability and continuity. Pakistan, instead, had to create a nation almost from scratch. Unlike in India, there was no logic to Pakistan, a problem that was exacerbated by the fact that the country was divided into two wings. West Pakistan was carved from the former British Indian provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan (from the Northwest Frontier Province) and parts of the Punjab and Kashmir. It contained the nation’s first capital, Karachi, as well as most of its major military installations. East Pakistan, the other wing was made up mostly of the eastern portion of Bengal province. Its population, which was larger than that of the western wing, had a vastly different culture from that of West Pakistan, and maintained separatist sentiments of its own. Further, West Pakistani politicians hesitated to weaken their power by granting the easterners the representation in the national government that their population justified. Beyond these considerations was the fact that Pakistan had effectively seceded from a much larger and longer-lasting entity, India. To novelist Salman Rushdie, who traces his heritage back to both countries, to build Pakistan it was necessary to cover up Indian history, to deny that Indian centuries lay just beneath the surface. This building process continues.

The commander-in-chief of Pakistan’s army, Mohammad Ayub Khan, seized political control in 1958, and the nation’s subsequent history was one of military coups and counter coups punctuated by occasional, quasi-democratic elections. Early in Ayub Khan’s rule, Pakistani leaders moved their capital from Karachi, which lay far away from the nation’s other population centres and military installations, to a new city, Islamabad.

Ayub Khan’s first major challenger was Fatima Jinnah, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s sister, who ran for president of Pakistan in 1964 but did not win because of Ayub Khan’s limiting of the franchise in managed elections. His second opponent was an East Pakistani Bengali politician, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who emerged to prominence in 1966 as head of the so-called Awami League. Rahman called for greater autonomy for East Pakistan, including an independent military and a separate currency. His third opponent was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a sophisticated politician descended from a wealthy Sindhi family. Ali Bhutto had risen to prominence as a diplomat under Ayub Khan but had since split with the leader. He formed the so-called Pakistan People’s Party in 1967, pledging a sort of ‘Islamic socialism.’ In 1968, both Mujibur Rahman and Ali Bhutto were arrested, although far from halting Pakistan’s apparent fragmentation, the arrests inspired civil unrest in both West and East Pakistan among the two leaders’ supporters. Ayub Khan retired in 1969, turning power over to another general, Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, who was willing to use greater force to limit public expressions of political discontent, especially in the east.

In December 1970, Pakistan held nationwide elections, the results which showed that strong boundaries of cultural and political interests separated the nation’s two wings. The two great victors were Mujibur Rahman, whose party nearly swept all the allotted seats to East Pakistan in the National Assembly in Pakistan’s new capital of Islamabad, and Ali Bhutto, whose Pakistan People’s Party took most votes in the West. His decisive victory should have allowed Mujibur Rahman to become Pakistan’s prime minister, but neither Ali Bhutto, now serving as Deputy Prime Minister, or Yahya Khan, were willing to accept a Bengali as the leader of Pakistan. When the three proved unable to come to an agreement, East Pakistan declared its independence as Bangladesh, and the Pakistan Army failed to hold its recalcitrant eastern wing. The Indian Army stepped in, as Indian leaders were fearful of a massive wave of refugees crossing the border into Calcutta and the rest of Indian West Bengal, and the independence of Bangladesh came to fruition in December 1971.

Pakistan Splits: The War for Bangladesh

One of the clearest of the arbitrary borders left in the wake of India’s partition in 1947 was the separation between the eastern and western ‘wings’ of the new nation of Pakistan. Even though the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of both wings were Muslim, they had little else in common. The Punjabis, Sindhis and Pathans of West Pakistan had completely different languages and cultural traditions than the Bengalis of East Pakistan. In fact, the easterners had greater affinity towards the Hindu Bengalis of Calcutta and the rest of Indian West Bengal.

 In 1966, the politician Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, unhappy with the fact that his Bengali home of East Pakistan was often ignored by leaders in West Pakistan, produced a document that was to provide the foundation of an independent Bangladesh, a political partition of Pakistan that would echo the partition of India in 1947. His six-point program called for nearly full autonomy for East Pakistan; new electoral procedures; a separate East Pakistani militia; separate currency; independent control over foreign earnings; and almost complete control over taxation in the province. Pakistan’s government could not approve these demands, but when Rahman’s party won nearly all East Pakistan’s assembly seats in 1970, he could no longer be ignored. After Rahman called for a general strike in East Pakistan, the nation’s military leader, General Yahya Khan, sent a large force of 60,000 troops to the east to maintain order.

 In March 1971, brutal fighting broke out between these troops and the local people, who now demanded full independence and formed themselves into militias. Rahman was arrested and imprisoned, and millions of Bengalis fled across the border into India to escape the expanding violence. At the United Nations, India decried the bloodbath in East Pakistan and grew concerned about how they were to feed and house millions of refugees crossing a Bengali border that had recently been created. The United States for its part, sided with Pakistan, unhappy with India’s flirtations with the Soviet Union. In October, a large, Indian-trained force of Bengalis moved back into East Pakistan to do battle with Yahya Khan’s troops. They were followed by three divisions of the Indian army, supported by the Air Force. India and Pakistan were now fighting their third war since independence.

 Pakistani aircraft attacked Indian cities in the West, and India responded with its much greater air-power capability, stifling any possible Pakistani advances. In the east, India’s forces moved quickly on the local administrative capital of Dhaka, as Pakistan’s troops, now holding out among a very hostile population, could not hope for any reinforcements. Pakistan surrendered on December 15, 1971, and the new nation of Bangladesh was born. Mujibur Rahman returned to Dhaka in triumph. The Indian subcontinent had once again been partitioned.

 As had been the case in Pakistan’s early years, at first the new leaders of Bangladesh clung to a democratic ideal, but by 1974 Mujibur Rahman abandoned democratic processes in favour of a more powerful executive branch, citing excessive corruption and other internal threats to the nation. He was assassinated in a military coup in Dhaka, the nation’s capital, in August 1975, and Bangladesh succumbed to a series of military dictatorships of varying degrees of effectiveness and severity for years. In recent years, Bangladesh has relied on legitimately elected leaders, but it remains subject to political violence and instability.

In Pakistan itself, Ali Bhutto rose to the pinnacle of leadership. After a strong denunciation during negotiations in the United Nations Security Council of India’s interference in the war in East Pakistan, Bhutto returned to Pakistan to find that he had secured the backing of the nation’s military and civil elite. During a non-violent coup, General Yahya Khan was convinced to step aside, and Bhutto replaced him as prime minister. Under his leadership, Pakistan’s politicians devised and approved a new constitution, which took effect on August 14, 1973. It was Pakistan’s third. Among its major changes from previous constitutions was the declaration that Islam shall be the state religion of Pakistan. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, by contrast, had declared in 1947 that Pakistan was to have complete freedom of religion, that religious caste or creed . . . has nothing to do with the state.

In 1977, after elections had been deemed unsatisfactory by Ali Bhutto’s opponents, the prime minister was forced from power by yet another military coup, this one led by General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Bhutto himself was imprisoned and, in April 1979 executed after being found guilty of conspiracy to engage in political murder in a mysterious incident in 1974. After a reasonably peaceful period, during which Zia ul-Haq largely managed to maintain order as well as his own popularity, the General died in an airplane crash in August 1988. Among his strongest legacies was the increased presence of Islamic tradition in government, such as elements of Sharia, Islamic law as described in the Koran. Zia ul-Haq did not want to create a theocracy in Pakistan; his feelings were more sophisticated and subtle, although they still differed notably from those of Jinnah, the nation’s founder. Zia ul-Haq argued in 1981 that Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state. Take out Judaism fromIsrael and it will collapse like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse.

Sharia is open to varied interpretation, as Pakistan’s politicians and legal experts were to discover. Despite Zia ul-Haq’s views and the emergence of conservative Islamic political parties, though, most of Pakistan’s elite cling to the notion that their nation should remain a secular one, where Muslims can live and worship free from oppression. Most Pakistanis have been content to let Islam guide individual behaviour rather than become the religion of the state. In this, they seem to hold more to Jinnah’s conception of Pakistan as a nation of people bound together by tradition and culture as well as religion, rather than Zia ul-Haq’s notion of religious ideology alone.

This secular emphasis has helped Islamabad politicians hold together a nation containing a broad diversity of linguistic and ethnic groups. Since most of these groups are Muslim, there are fewer sources of religious tension than in neighbouring India. Nevertheless, linguistic, economic, and cultural tensions still exist among these people, thrown together by the creation of arbitrary geographical borders. For example, although Urdu is the nation’s main language; the tongue in which government business and most educational instruction are conducted, 48% of the population speaks Punjabi as their first language. Other major languages include Sindhi as well as Pashto, one of the languages spoken by the many tribal groups who inhabit the frontier regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some members of these groups advocate complete separation from Pakistan. Another outspoken and discontented group, the Muhajirs, is made up of migrants from India, many of them wealthy and with strong economic ties with India. Most have settled in Karachi and have little long-term personal identification with Pakistan. Hindu or Sikh groups in Pakistan, meanwhile, are quite small and not organized in such a way to allow meaningful communal action.

After a brief period of government under President Ghulam Ishaq Khan following Zia’s death in 1988, Ali Bhutto’s daughter Benazir Bhutto became prime minister. Among her promises was to return Pakistan to status as a full democracy, and many Pakistanis were happy that a civilian government had now replaced the military one of the last 11 years. The pattern of factional squabbling, charges and counter charges continued, however. During the 1990s, Benazir Bhutto returned to power once, holding office from October 1993 to February 1997. Nawab Sharif, her main opponent and the head of the Muslim League, held office both before and after her second term. Both presided over civilian elected governments. Pakistan’s political instability created a vacuum of authority in which the nation’s elite, army, and traditional landlords especially, wielded a great deal of influence, however. When Sharif made the decision to force aside his army chief of staff, General Pervez Musharraf, the general staged yet another of Pakistan’s military coups. Musharraf took over Pakistan on October 12, 1999 and remains the nation’s leader with Sharif and Benazir Bhutto occasionally voicing vocal opposition.

Pakistan’s political instability has shadowed the nation’s role in international politics. Beginning in the 1950s, and partly in response to India’s non-aligned status, Pakistan became a major ally of the United States during the Cold War. As such, Pakistan received a great deal of military and economic aid from the West. Being a recipient of military aid may have given Pakistani leaders a false sense of the nation’s military capabilities; it was only after their loss in the war over Bangladesh that Pakistani leaders stopped trying to be India’s military equal. Then, after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan became a staging point for Western efforts to support anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan, bringing in more aid, much of which was designed to support the more than a million Afghan refugees who fled across the porous border between the two countries. During the 1980s, for instance, Pakistan was the third largest recipient of American aid after Israel and Egypt, and it was described as a bulwark against the spread of communism.

In the new millennium, Pakistan found itself again at the front line of international conflict, this time with the fight against Islamic fundamentalist terrorists based in Afghanistan. Pledging to support the United States and other nations in their attempts to control Afghanistan’s Taliban fundamentalists and their global allies, the Islamabad government has once again been the recipient of foreign aid. One unforeseen consequence of this in contentious Pakistan has been the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in some segments of the populace, although the government, and most of the population, remains committed to secularism in public life.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah had worried, in the years and months leading up to independence, whether he might inherit a moth-eaten Pakistan, shorn of the economic capabilities of West Bengal and eastern Punjab, both of which were awarded to India. As it happened, Pakistan proved very capable of supporting itself, at least until the 1990s, when many signs of trouble became apparent. In the 1980s, in fact, World Bank statistics suggested that Pakistan was on the verge of crossing a significant economic boundary: moving from the status of a low-income country to that of a middle-income one. Certain areas of the country, especially the Punjab, remained strong in its agricultural production, and by the end of the 1980s, Pakistan was producing a substantial surplus of food grains, as well as cotton, much of which was sold to the Islamic MidIdle-East. In industry too, Pakistan held its own despite much government manipulation and corruption. By the 1990s, however, poverty was increasing, industry had reached a state of stagnation, and the nation’s national debt was so extensive that Pakistan was nearly bankrupt.

In May 1998, Pakistan staged its first public tests of nuclear weapons. Always a nation with a cohort of highly educated citizens, Pakistan had been theoretically capable of building nuclear weapons for years. Only after India publicly tested its own weapons did Pakistan respond with its tests, though, and both nations are now officially members of a select group of acknowledged nuclear powers. This has inspired increased tensions between the two nations, which, since partition, have gone to war three times. With nuclear capability comes a sense of responsibility, however, and leaders on both sides have made halting gestures that suggest that they understand they must live side by side-that they must come to terms with the arbitrary geographical borders of 1947.

Some of these gestures are simple: for instance, after many years, it is now possible to travel by bus between the Indian city of Amritsar and the Pakistani city of Lahore. The two stand only 40 miles apart and were the centre of violence that attended the partition in 1947. In March 2004, the Indian national cricket team made its first ever tour of Pakistan; both nations love the sport and matches between the two have sometimes looked like symbolic wars. The tour went peacefully, even though the Indian team defeated its Pakistani counterpart. Also, since 2003, summit meetings between Pervez Musharraf and his Indian counterparts Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh created still more hopes for stronger ties between the two countries.

There is little chance that Pakistan and India will be reunited in the foreseeable future, or that the problem of Kashmir will be solved to the satisfaction of all sides. The far greater possibility is that, as has been so often the case in the history of the subcontinent, these borders will become increasingly irrelevant—that the arbitrary border imposed in 1947 and after are, like all arbitrary borders, subject to change. If both Indians and Pakistanis can move across the borderline easily, and if goods and ideas flow just as easily, ordinary people on both sides of the border may yet move again towards a new version of the subcontinent’s historical ideal of unity and diversity.

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Towards the Watershed of 1971

During a visit to Dhaka in the late summer of 1968, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared Bengali demands for provincial autonomy to be in the best interests of the country. He assailed civil bureaucrats, the CSP in particular, for treating the people of the eastern wing as Kala Admees, literally black men. This derogatory attitude had misled the government into implicating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the Agartala Conspiracy Case when they might have tried negotiating with him. Self-interested quarters in West Pakistan had started attacking the Awami League’s demands the moment they were announced by Mujib without examining their merits and demerits. Bhutto regretted that Mujib had refused his invitation to debate the six points set forth in public. Only two of the six points were totally unacceptable to the PPP leader, who was prepared to discuss the others in order to remove doubts and misgivings. He urged the government to find some political solution of the problem as such issues cannot be solved byforce.

Three years later, when the golden hues of eastern Bengal’s lush green landscape had been turned red with the steely might of oppression, the sharp-witted Bhutto stood knee deep in the bloodshed in East Pakistan alongside the leadership of a hated military junta. Upon returning to Karachi from Dhaka after the military crackdown on the night of March 25, 1971, the former foreign minister thanked the Almighty for saving Pakistan. He defended the military action publicly and accused Mujibur Rahman of conspiring with India to dismember the country. In private, he conveyed to Yahya Khan that even if limited military action had been found necessary to counter the threat of secession, a resolution of the crisis demanded a political solution that gave the people of the eastern wing their due share of both political and economic power. If the correct course is not followed, Bhutto wrote in a memo to Yahya Khan, then why should East Pakistanis want to stay a part of Pakistan–what stake would they have left in Pakistan with their due rights denied to them? Bhutto warned Yahya against projecting discredited Bengali politicians and strongly recommended providing economic relief to the rural populace of East Pakistan who had not yet been swept away by the Awami League’s propaganda. It was dangerous to create a situation in which the government was left facing a hostile public in both Wings during this national crisis, particularly when India is waiting to take advantage of the situation.

The military regime was disinclined to countenance civilian rule until the successful conclusion of the counterinsurgency operations in East Pakistan. Mindful of the risks involved in attacking the junta, Bhutto confined himself to calling for a transfer of power in the west, which he defined as democratization to deflect criticisms of his thirst for power. Similar steps were to be taken in the eastern wing whenever circumstances became conducive. Despite clear differences in their stances, Bhutto has come to be regarded as Yahya Khan’s accomplice in the making of the colossal human tragedy that culminated in the breakup of Pakistan in December 1971. Bhutto vehemently denied the charge. His differences with Mujibur Rahman were not in the nature of power struggle but a struggle of conflicting equities. For the Awami League leader, equity lay in an independent Bengal . . . for me in the retention of Pakistan. Mujib claimed that the six points were the property of the people of the eastern wing. For Bhutto, Pakistan was the property of the people and the Awami League’s demands a concealed formula for secession. it was in this that our points of view clashed.

The question of who ultimately was responsible for the 1971 debacle has spawned a rich harvest of commentary. At the political level, the debate on the causes of Pakistan’s disintegration has three sides to it in much the same way as one about India’s partition. The Pakistani Army might be seen as replacing the British at the base of the triangle, with Bhutto and Mujib substituting the Muslim League and the Congress as its two sides. As in 1947, the primary hurdle in the way of a mutually acceptable arrangement was how power was to be shared between the main political contenders within a federal state. The similarities between 1947 and 1971 should not be allowed to obfuscate the key difference between them. Unlike the British, who were transferring power before leaving the subcontinent, the Pakistani Army wanted to secure its own interests before passing the mantle to the victorious political parties. Despite the army’s self-interest in the outcome of the negotiations with the Awami League, a powerful current of popular opinion in Pakistan and Bangladesh has held that Bhutto in his greed for power bamboozled a mentally and physically unfit Yahya into dismembering the country. On this view, a conniving and unprincipled politician tricked the army into committing national suicide. Although there may be some merit in this view, the events of 1971 also had a fourth dimension in the form of India’s role, which had a direct bearing on the Pakistani Army’s calculations. To make sense of the single most important watershed in the subcontinent’s post independence history, therefore, requires retracing the evolution of the Awami League’s demands for provincial autonomy within the context of the formation and consolidation of Pakistan military bureaucratic state structure.

The Politics of Denial

Starting its independent career without the semblance of a centre, Pakistan showed its determination to parry external and internal threats to its survival by developing an elaborate hydra-like state structure during the first two and a half decades of its existence. Steeped in the classical tradition of colonial bureaucratic authoritarianism, the state sought to penetrate society, extract resources from the economy and manipulate the polity rather than devolve responsibilities or serve as a two-way channel of communication between the rulers and ruled. The early demise of representative political, processes shored up the centralizing logic of bureaucratic authoritarianism, replacing the democratic requirements of consensus with the dictatorial methods of coercion. The primacy of the central state in all spheres of a society characterized by regional heterogeneities and economic disparities generated rancour among the constituent units, breeding a web of political intrigue and instability that affected the functioning of state authority at the local and provincial levels.

Unable reconcile the imperatives of state building with those of nation building, successive ruling combinations tried to gain legitimacy by playing up the Indian threat and paying lip service to a vaguely defined Islamic ideology. With a narrowly construed security paradigm defining the centre’s conception of national interest, the perspective of the provinces was sidelined, if not altogether ignored. Rumblings of protest in the provinces were put down with an iron fist or given short shrift by invoking the common bond of religion. Islam in the service of a military authoritarian state proved to be divisive. Far from unifying a people fractured along regional and class lines, the state’s use of religion encouraged self-styled ideologues of Islam to nurture hopes of one day storming the citadels of the Muslim state. The great populist poet Habib Jalib poured scorn on the state’s appropriation of Islam to promote national unity. “ISLAM IS NOT IN DANGER” he cried out in a memorable poem. It was the idle rich, the exploiters of the peasantry and labour, the thieves, tricksters, and traitors in league with Western capitalists who were endangered.

Proponents of such populist ideas were hounded and winnowed out. With the press in chains and civil society the target of novel forms of social and political engineering, the odds were stacked against the advocates of democracy. After derailing the political process in 1958, the military-bureaucratic establishment tried securing its bases of support. This meant bypassing political parties and using state power to bring segments of dominant socioeconomic groups under the regime’s sway through differential patronage and selective mobilization. During the heyday of modernization theory in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Pakistan under military rule was hailed in some quarters in the West as a model of social harmony and political stability in the developing world. The expectations were sorely belied by the realities on the ground. The methods employed to construct and consolidate the state exacerbated provincial grievances, with dire consequences for Pakistan’s political stability and tenuous federal equation. State-sponsored processes of political inclusion and exclusion, the economics of functional inequality, and neglect of regional disparities made it increasingly difficult to administer two geographically separate parts, triggering the ignominious downfall of two military regimes and sowing the seeds of disintegration of the country.

The breakup of Pakistan was the result of the autocratic policies of its state managers rather than the inherent difficulties involved in welding together linguistically and culturally diverse constituent units. Islam proved to be dubious cement not because it was unimportant to people in the different regions. Pakistan’s regional cultures have absorbed Islam without losing affinity to local languages and customs. With some justification, non-Punjabi provinces came to perceive the use of Islam as a wily attempt by the Punjabi-led military-bureaucratic combine to deprive them of a fair share of political and economic power. Non-Punjabi antipathy towards a Punjab-dominated centre often found expression in assertions of regional distinctiveness. But politics more than cultural differences stoked regional resentments. Clarion calls for provincial autonomy were effectively demands for better job opportunities, basic social services, and a larger cut of state finances.

Here the fault lines in the Pakistani state structure played a decisive role. The demands of the military establishment on the state’s meagre resources left little for development in the provinces. Seeing India as a near and present danger, the military-bureaucratic establishment used Pakistan’s geo-strategic location to attract American military and economic assistance in return for supporting Washington’s Cold War agenda. Once a partnership had been struck with the United States, a security-conscious state fostered a political economy characterized by high defence and low development expenditure. The primary goal of the state’s development initiatives were to enhance revenue rather than social welfare— a process that saw the no- elected institutions edging out the elected institutions in the struggle for dominance in the new state. These non elected institutions carried a legacy of uneven recruitment patterns from the colonial era, compounding the difficulties in integrating diverse linguistic and socioeconomic groups.

An overarching reason for the Pakistani state’s faltering steps in the quest for social support and legitimacy was that the federal centre came to represent the interests of the dominant non-elected institutions more effectively than those of the regional socioeconomic groups to which at different stages it was loosely tied. Apart from extending patronage to its functionaries and locating them in key sectors of the economy, the state defined the field of political privilege. In the absence of democratic politics, the dominance of a predominantly Punjabi civil bureaucracy and army heightened the grievances of non-Punjabi provinces and the linguistic groups within them. The entrenched institutional supremacy of a Punjabi army and federal bureaucracy, not Punjab’s dominance over other provinces per se, had emerged as the principal impediment to restoring democratic processes in Pakistan. In the face of chronic tensions between the centre and the regions, the religious glue of Islam alone could not bind a diverse and disparate people into a nation.

The proposed homeland for India’s Muslims was envisaged in the Lahore Resolution of 1940 as a federation of sovereign and autonomous units. The hint of confederalism quickly fell by the wayside in the heady aftermath of 1947. The first requirement of the new government in Karachi was to establish its writ over two geographically distinct constituent units. In the absence of a preexisting central apparatus and effective political party machinery in the provinces, pragmatism was the better option. The Government of India Act of 1935 was adapted as the provisional constitution and later made the bedrock of the 1956 and the 1962 constitutions. Aimed at perpetuating, not terminating colonial rule, the Act of 1935 retained certain unitary features of the British Indian state to counterbalance the concessions of federalism. Unlike most federal systems of government, the constituent units were made subject to a single constitution. The federal centre arrogated superior powers in legislative, financial and political matters. Soon after independence, the provinces were deprived of the financial autonomy granted to them under the act and made dependent on central handouts which, given the severe shortage of funds, were wholly inadequate for their development needs.

The future course of democracy was imperilled in a country whose federal configuration to begin with consisted of fifteen different entities—five provinces and ten princely states—of vastly uneven size and political importance. Troubled by the political implications of an overall Bengali majority in the federation, officialdom in West Pakistan gave enthusiastic support to the merger of the western wing under the one unit scheme. Unlike the western wing, with its heterogeneities, East Bengal was in relative terms linguistically and culturally homogenous. It was also politically more volatile than parts of West Pakistan. Bengalis felt passionately about their autonomy and were prone to leftist ideologies and sporadic bouts of violence. They resented the use of their hard-earned foreign exchange to beef up a military establishment wedded to the curious strategic doctrine of defending the eastern wing from West Pakistan. Seeing an Indian hand in Bengali demands for provincial autonomy, the federal government declared them seditious and, in turn, used this to justify its centralizing and homogenizing designs. But neither the threat of India nor the allure of Islam could save the centre from the wrath of constituent units reduced to being hapless appendages in a state that was federal in form and unitary in substance.

If East Bengal was a thorn in the side of the federal establishment, the fourteen units composing the western wing presented a political and constitutional conundrum. Most of the princely states claimed some semblance of sovereignty and had to be cajoled and coerced into acceding to Pakistan before being summarily bundled into the one-unit scheme of October 1955. Those that resisted, Kalat, for instance—were clobbered with an iron hand. As the largest of the tribal states in Baluchistan, Kalat enjoyed the allegiance of tribal chiefs who, though monitored by the British resident in Quetta, had retained autonomy over their local affairs during the colonial period. The Pakistani centre’s encroachments on Baluchistan threatened to alter a jealously guarded status quo. Sporadic eruptions of armed insurgency became a recurrent feature of politics in Baluchistan. This was not too difficult given the impoverishment of the people and the absence of the most rudimentary forms of infrastructure for the economic development of the province. During the 1960, Sher Mohammad Marri spearheaded the resistance under the umbrella of the Baluch Liberation Front. The battles fought by the Pakistani Army in the rugged terrain of Baluchistan shaped its institutional psyche in decisive ways. Baluch nationalists were labelled miscreants working hand in glove with either Afghanistan or the country’s premier enemy. This perception did not remain confined to the military. Tarring regional demands with the Indian brush became such an entrenched part of the official discourse of nationalism in Pakistan that the managers of the centralized state regarded legitimate demands for provincial autonomy with deep suspicion.

Consequently, even in the relatively quiescent parts of West Pakistan, there was no love lost for an unresponsive centre that continued swallowing up larger and larger chunks of provincial revenues without contributing much for the development of local infrastructure and social welfare. The massive demographic changes accompanying partition strained the limited administrative capacities of Punjab and Sindh to breaking point. While the exodus of non-Muslims disrupted the economic and educational networks in these provinces, accommodating the bulk of the 7.2 million Muslim refugees from India within a short span of time was impossible without the sustained help of the central government. Preoccupied with matters of defence and its own political survival, Karachi’s assistance to these provinces fell well short of expectations. In the absence e of funds and efficient administrative solutions, the rehabilitation of refugees was quickly transformed into an explosive political issue. Several provincial politicians used it to chip away at the centre’s uncertain authority.

Accounting for 10% of Pakistan’s population by 1951, the refugees permanently altered the political landscape of Punjab and Sindh. Despite taking in a much larger percentage of Muslims fleeing parts of East Punjab ravaged by violence, Punjab had a relatively easier time absorbing the mainly Punjabi-speaking migrants into its social fabric. By contrast, the influx of mainly Urdu-speaking migrants into Sindh created a clutch of political and cultural problems for the provincial administration. More than half a million refugees came to Sindh during the initial years of independence. Almost two-thirds of them opted for urban centres like Karachi and Hyderabad while the remainder settled in the rural areas of this overwhelmingly agricultural province. In principle, the incoming migrants were expected to replace the non-Muslims in both the urban and rural areas. However, the problem of resettlement was far more complicated and the ensuing tensions between local Sindhis and the newcomers much fiercer than in Punjab. For one thing, the outflow of Hindus to India was slower in Sindh than in Punjab. For another, some of the more powerful Sindhi Muslim landlords are said to have grabbed nearly two-thirds of the agricultural land vacated by the Hindus before migrants from UP, Hyderabad Deccan, or East Punjab could make their presence felt. The situation was particularly fraught in Karachi, a thriving cosmopolitan city of 400,000 in 1947, but one in which construction activity had not kept pace with the growth in population due to World War II. The preferred destination for a majority of uprooted Urdu-speakers from North India’s urban areas, Karachi had thinly spread municipal facilities, whether for health, communications, water supply, electric power, or housing, that were incapable of bearing the burden of its new population.

The sheer pace of the sociocultural and political transformation of Sindh can be seen by the jump in the number of Urdu speakers from a mere 1% of the population in 1947 to 12% by the time of the 1951 census. With just a sprinkle of Urdu speakers at the time of partition, Karachi by the late 1950s had become a migrant city with more than half its population claiming Urdu as their mother tongue. This would not have been possible if the provincial government had succeeded in getting its way. Within a year or so of partition, relations between the centre and the Sindh government had nose-dived over the forcible separation of Karachi from the province. Justified on the grounds of national interest, the loss of Karachi rankled the Sindhis all the more because they were not compensated for the loss of the province’s primary revenue earner. Under the circumstances, the centre’s advocacy of Urdu-speaking migrants’ right to space, gainful employment, and adequate political representation was perceived as a deep-seated conspiracy to displace Sindhis from a position of dominance in their own province. The centre’s preference for authoritarian methods over democratic ones even during the first decade after independence only confirmed the worst fears of the Sindhis. Calling themselves muhajirs, or refugees after the early community of Islam that migrated from Mecca to Medina, the Urdu speakers believed that their sacrifices of life and property for Pakistan entitled them to a privileged position in the new state. Lacking a provincial base of their own, the class, occupational, and emotional profile of many Urdu speakers made them particularly susceptible to the appeal to religion by self-styled “Islamist” parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami and the JUP, which had made Karachi the focus of their oppositional politics. Paradoxically enough, their religious pretensions and claims of cultural superiority over other linguistic groups suited a West Pakistani establishment, harping on the Islamic identity of Pakistan and Urdu as the cultural motif of its national unity, much more than political parties with provincial bases of support.

The concordat between the centre and the better-educated Urdu speaking muhajirs, many of whom held top positions in the federal bureaucracy, had large implications for Pakistani politics. Even before the first military takeover of 1958, the migrants’ success in creating a social and political niche for themselves, especially in Karachi, was intensely resented not only by Sindhis but also by Punjabis, Pathans, Gujaratis and Baluchis who had come to the city looking for employment and a better quality of life. Antipathy towards the Urdu-speaking migrants was not a facet of the Sindhi sociopolitical scene alone. It extended to other provinces where the educated classes felt slighted by the cultural pretensions of the Urdu speakers. This was true even of those members of the urban Punjabi middle and upper classes who accepted Urdu as their lingua franca in the interest of national cohesion. Urdu was much less prevalent in the NWFP and Baluchistan. The Pathan provincial elite gradually took to it for pragmatic reasons without abandoning their own mother tongue, Pashto. In Baluchistan, Urdu was resisted as an alien imposition by a rapacious and indifferent government.

The suspension of democratic government in October 1958 gave a fillip to these sentiments and, in turn, provoked the centre into draconian measures in the name of national unity. Disgruntled politicians with regional bases of support were either locked out of Ayub’s bureaucratically controlled political system or locked up in jail on various grounds. Pakistan under military rule flouted the elementary norms of federalism, accentuating strains in centre-province relations. As the non-elected institutions were the main beneficiaries of administrative centralization and democratic denial, their overwhelmingly Punjabi character caused bitterness among non-Punjabis. Unable to allocate financial resources equitably to the provinces and unwilling to grant them their share of power, the federal union of Pakistan was built on a fragile branch that was liable to break under the weight of its own contradictions.

To prevent this eventuality, steps had been taken as early as 1949 to placate the non-Punjabi provinces by instituting a quota system for recruitment to the federal government services. This failed to provide adequate, far less equitable representation to the provinces or the linguistic minorities within them. Instead of correcting centrifugal trends, a centralization drive by an administrative bureaucracy dominated by Punjabis and Urdu speakers fanned provincialism. Bengalis led the non-Punjabi charge in demanding better representation in the civil, diplomatic, and armed services. The federal centre was accused of pursuing policies of internal colonization by posting Punjabi and Urdu-speaking civil servants to the non-Punjabi provinces to pilfer their meagre share of resources. Instead of consulting with the provinces or making a prior reference to the legislature, the federal centre soon after independence had temporarily withheld the share out of income tax. In an audacious move, the centre arbitrarily took away the right of the provinces to collect sales tax, the single most elastic source of their revenue. Justified in the name of national interest, the centre’s monopolization of the entire gamut of fiscal and financial arrangements to pay for a debilitating defence burden extinguished such hopes as existed of generating a measure of federal bonhomie.

The nub of Bengali hostility towards the West Pakistani establishment was the pernicious logic of functional inequality. Once militarization and industrialization became the twin pillars of Pakistani officialdom’s development rhetoric, an astonishing range of special concessions were offered to West Pakistani-based business families at the expense of the agricultural sector in East Pakistan. Raw jute grown in the eastern wing was the leading foreign exchange earner during Pakistan’s first decade of independence. In the fall of 1949, Pakistan exercised its financial sovereignty by refusing to follow the example of Britain and India and devaluing its currency. As the centre’s economic wizards had correctly calculated, this boosted export earnings by nearly 40%. The non devaluation decision brought down jute and wheat prices while those of other essential commodities increased. By imposing heavy export duties to the detriment of agriculture, the central augmented its foreign exchange reserves. The additional foreign exchange was used to finance the defence procurement effort and the industrialization of West Pakistan. Bengali grumbles about being used as milk cow for the security and development of the western wing were dismissed or conveniently misread as evidence of secessionist and pro-Indian tendencies.

So long as even the most compromised form of a federal parliamentary system was in place, it was impossible to leave the provinces completely in the financial lurch. Soon after the controversial erosion of provincial fiscal rights, the central government entered into negotiations with the provinces to arrive at a more mutually acceptable allocation of financial resources. An official of the Australian treasury, Jeremy Raisman, had been asked by the Pakistan government to examine the existing financial arrangements between the centre and the provinces. In January 1952, the Raisman Report increased the provincial proportion of federal finances. It gave East Bengal just under two-thirds of the export duty on raw jute but turned down Punjabi and Sindhi requests for a cut in the export duties in view of the federal government’s precarious financial position. Raisman also rejected provincial demands that the sales tax should be distributed among them and not shared between them and the centre. Although a positive development in an otherwise grim federal landscape, the Raisman Award did not go far enough in alleviating centre-region frictions over the all-important issue of financial autonomy.

If the centre’s tight fistedness could be justified in the light of the strategic and economic consequences of partition, its overbearing attitude towards the cultural sensitivities of the provinces was inexcusable. There were powerful undercurrents of cultural alienation in provincial demands for autonomy. Bengali outrage at the centre’s Urdu-only language policy was just the tip of the iceberg, concealing a deep-seated resentment at the marginalization of their culture in the emerging narratives of the Pakistani nation. The wounded pride of the Bengalis had met with a rude shock on February 21, 1952, when the centre’s crackdown on the student-led language movement in Dhaka led to the killing of four students and injured several more. Commemorated as Martyrs’ Day by Bengali ever since, the incident is thought to have marked the beginning of the politics of dissent that culminated in Bangladeshi nationalism and independence. Bengali linguistic nationalism, however, was one among several factors that led eventually to the breakup of Pakistan.

Bengalis were not alone in feeling aggrieved by the centre’s imposition of Urdu as the official language. A section of Punjabis belonging mostly to the lower and less well-off middle classes, bemoaned the loss of their linguistic tradition in the rush to embrace Urdu. They felt alienated by the state’s artificial attempts to imitate the mores of the Mughal court. Their opposition was not to Urdu but to its patronage by the federal centre at the expense of Punjabi, a language with a rich and vibrant oral and written literary history spanning a thousand years. Confusing cultural assertion with parochialism, the central government harassed Punjabi intellectuals working to promote their regional language, declaring the more recalcitrant among them as “anti state.” The suspension of parliamentary government in 1958 dealt a hammer blow to regional linguistic aspirations not only in Punjab but also in non-Punjab provinces. Fancying himself as the great unifier, General Aruba suppressed regional literary associations, dubbing some of them as extensions of the banned Communist Party.

State coercion could at best curb the growth of mass-based language movements, not dilute the enthusiasm of the more ardent protagonists of linguistic regionalism. Bengalis defied the government’s crude attempts to prevent them from celebrating the birthday of the revered Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. The ban on his works in the state-controlled media heightened Tagore’s appeal as a symbol of Bengali resistance against an intrusive and dictatorial centre. Bengali writers and poets used Tagore, along with socialist and communist themes, to highlight the exploitation of East Pakistan and attack the state’s Islamic ideology. In West Pakistan too, regional languages like Punjabi, Pashto and Sindhi continued to expand their readership by increasing their literary production independently of the state. Advertising the risks of forcibly regimenting cultural traditions, Urdu came to be seen as an alien implant at the service of a neo-imperialist agenda.

The centre’s myopic handling of provincial sensibilities on language was matched by ham-handed attempts at marshalling Islam in the cause of nation building. With the religious ideologues agitating for the introduction of sharia, senior bureaucrats set about feverishly establishing the religious credentials of the state. The result was a strange convergence of interest between an authoritarian centre, besieged by a crescendos of demands for provincial autonomy, and a spectrum of Islamic ideologues looking for ways to squeeze through the woodwork to the apex of state power. Although it is impossible to exaggerate the extent of the symbiosis between these two distinct forces, the state’s emphasis on its religious identity lent greater legitimacy to the would-be-ideologues of Islam than the ground realities merited. But there was a world of difference between using religious preachers to advance the state’s homogenizing logic and a commitment to turning Pakistan into a conservative, hidebound Islamic state on a narrowly construed reading of Islam.

Ever since the Objectives Resolution of 1949–ostensibly a victory for modernist interpretations of Islam—the so called religious parties had chastised the state overlords for not living up to the ideals of Islam. Mawdudi, the leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, lent ideological starch to this argument. In his opinion, it was the duty of a state created in the name of Islam to mold the hearts and minds of its citizens according to the tenets of their religion. There was no scope for citizens to influence or contest the state’s understanding of Islam. Mawdudi defended this on the grounds that because sovereignty in an Islamic state was vested in Allah, such perfect justice and equity will prevail that dissent would amount to apostasy. The Jamaat ideologue had pretensions about pressing his credentials as an Islamic scholar with infallible authority to interpret the divine will. Consistent with his view of the state in Islam as a spiritual democracy, Iqbal had proposed reposing the authority in an elected Parliament. In Mawdudi’s authoritarian conception of an Islamic state, there was no possibility of Parliament debating, far less defining God’s will. Muslims not confirming to his idea of Islam were implicitly excluded from Mawdudi’s definition of a believer. In another significant departure from the poetic visionary of Pakistan, who had held that the idea of the state was not dominant in Islam, Mawdudi considered the acquisition of state power vital to attain the ideal Islamic way of life. He proposed a jihad to seize state power and declared the lesser jihad (against the enemies of Islam) to be more important than the greater jihad (with one’s inner self). Jihad was justified against internal Muslim others quite as much as against non-Muslims, sharpening the edges of the fault lines in the battle for the soul of Pakistan. There was no place in this scheme of things for any mutually negotiated coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Islamic state was the ideological embodiment of Muslim belief in one God and the Prophet Muhammad. Consequently, non-Muslims had to be debarred from holding key positions of responsibility. The same logic led Mawdudi to propose that Indian Muslims, a rump of a once significant community, had no choice but to live according to the dictates of the Hindu-majority community.

Mawdudi’s idea of indoctrination and his strident anti-Indian rhetoric coupled with an insistence on Islam held out attractions for a military dominated state. However, there was no question of the decision makers in the military and civil bureaucracy letting the clerics rule the Islamic roost. During Ayub Khan’s era of enlightened Islam, Mawdudism became a word of execration and also fear. The religious lobby’s potential to kick up a popular storm to the detriment of an authoritarian regime fully dawned on the general within years of his usurpation of state power. Moon sighting for the Muslim festival of Eid was a source of contention among the believers, with the clerics using it as an opportunity to enhance their public reach. When the Ayub regime tried rationalization of the process in 1967 by setting up a committee that proceeded to announce a day for Eid, the ulema led by Mawdudi protested this unwarranted intervention by the state in a sphere they regarded as their exclusive preserve. Five of them were quickly put behind bars, including Mawdudi, and the press prohibited from reporting on the matter. Throughout the Ayub era, Mawdudi bore the brunt of the state’s coercive apparatus and was dragged through the courts in lengthy and financially withering legal battles. Ayub vented his fury against the Jamaat leader, calling him a traitor and true enemy of Islam. In any other country, the dictator opined, Mawdudi would have been lynched like a dog, but in Pakistan we have rule of law of which traitors take full advantage and protection.

A gaggle of senior civil bureaucrats close to Ayub’s way of thinking set about conjuring up the idioms of an Islamic ideology designed to expedite national integration rather than any visible kind of religiosity. What ensued was a scrappy tug-of-war between self-styled ideologues at the helm of state power and the bearded legions with their prayer rosaries, whether in the mosques, seminaries, or on the streets, over the authority to interpret the message of Islam. Among the main casualties of the struggle was the centre-province equation, with dire consequences for the federation. The state’s recourse to religion was designed to counter claims based on cultural diversity and difference. Intended to facilitate unity among Pakistan’s diverse regions, cynical uses of Islam served to undermine any sort of consensus on national identity. For a largely destitute populace seeking to eke out a decent living, matters to do with Islam’s ritualistic, doctrinal and spiritual aspects were not the primary issue. Singling our Islam as the only thread in the intricate regional weave of Pakistan’s national identity was a crudely conceived policy of homogenization through which the military-bureaucratic state succeeded in making an issue out of a non issue. A citizenry more in tune with the eclectic and varied social makeup of the country was quite comfortable wearing multiple affinities of region, religion, and nation. Policies of national indoctrination in the name of Islam generated derision, dismay and dissension, most noticeably in the eastern wing.

The votaries of the Pakistani state’s centralizing and homogenizing project arrogantly dismissed dissenting reactions as products of ignorance, insularity, and worse still, secessionist inclinations. General Ayub had a visceral dislike for the advocates of provincial rights, who he thought were disrupting the economic progress of the country. The Pakistan Council for National Integration was established with the explicit objective of promoting better understanding among the people of the two wings in order to fashion a common national outlook. Reading rooms were opened in key cities, and lectures, seminars and symposia were held on the theme o& national unity and integration. Some of these did help lift the veil of ignorance between the two halves of the country. But without qualitative changes on the political and economic front, integrative rhetoric without a concrete action was wholly ineffective in bridging the gulf separating the Bengali from the people of West Pakistan.

Ayub had banked on the leavening effects of his economic development policies to justify keeping tight curbs on political activity. This was excessively optimistic, as he soon found out. Under his regime’s externally stimulated development policies, East Pakistan received a bigger share of state resources than in the 1950s. But with 55% of the population, a share of 35% of the total development expenditure was neither fair nor equitable. The centralized nature of the state-directed development effort, in any case, ensured that the economy of the eastern wing continued to lag well behind that of the western wing. The regime’s growth oriented strategies increased regional income disparities without any improvement in Bengali representation among army officers, which remained at a lowly 5%. The higher income levels in West Pakistan were ascribed by officialdom to the effects of the “Green Revolution” and the leap in agricultural production that had ensued after the introduction of new technologies. In fact, inter regional discrepancies in growth and development were a direct result of the policy to use East Pakistan’s export surplus to finance West Pakistan’s deficits. The federal government’s hollow propaganda incensed Bengali popular opinion further, galvanizing support for the Awami League but, at the same time, threatening to subsume its campaign for provincial autonomy with cries for full independence.

By courtesy of: The Struggle for Pakistan by Ayesha Jalal, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2014

Authoritarianism and Downfall

Democracy in Disarray 1974-1977

 The fact that Zia’s legacy far outlives Bhutto’s also explains how much Pakistan has changed since 1977. The crowds waved when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto addressed them. The crowds waved when he was removed. From ecstasy to angst, Bhutto’s equation with the masses experienced a complete spectrum of emotions that, arguably, remains unparalleled in national political history

 Some historians have suggested there are two phases to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s five-and-a-half years in power. In the first phase, one sees a pro-poor, populist Bhutto, supported by many urban leftists in his party, who undertakes many far-reaching structural economic and social reforms – from land reforms to nationalisation and social-sector interventions. He is also given credit for having seen Pakistan’s first democratically agreed to Constitution approved and passed by a parliament based on universal franchise. His stature as a crafty negotiator helped him deal with Pakistani nationalists, as it did with Indira Gandhi in Simla in 1972.

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Even though Karachi was never a PPP stronghold, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was just as impassioned in his election campaign here as anywhere across the country. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad. 

 

This first phase lasted perhaps three years, somewhere into 1974, but soon after, one begins to see a different Bhutto; one who discards his radical allies and moves towards his landed and feudal base, making him authoritarian and dictatorial, abandoning the social groups that had been responsible for his phenomenal rise.

Bhutto was many things to many people and constituencies, playing different roles as circumstances demanded. He could be a democrat but also mercilessly authoritarian; a benevolent feudal with modernist tendencies; a nationalist with regional aspirations; and a secularist courting Islamists. Perhaps it was for these multiple and often contradictory reasons that no political leader in Pakistan has been as reviled or cherished as is Bhutto even four decades after his death.

A Year of Unintended Consequences

At least four events in 1974 had a major bearing on what was to happen to Bhutto and to Pakistan, with long-term consequences that have had an impact even to this day.

In February 1974, Bhutto was able to organise and host the Second Islamic Summit Conference in Lahore, with as many as 35 heads of state and government present.

From Shah Faisal of Saudi Arabia to the popular Muammar Qadhafi of Libya to the revolutionary Yasser Arafat, Bhutto was able to make a political statement about Pakistan’s position in the Muslim world. He also used this opportunity to recognise Bangladesh by inviting Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

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The chemistry between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (left) and his one-time nemesis Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was worth watching during the proceedings of the Islamic Summit. Even a semblance of it just three years earlier might have led to a history different from what it actually turned out to be. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

 

With the first OPEC oil price rise in 1973, which led to the westernisation and modernisation of the oil-rich states, Bhutto opened the doors to the Gulf states and to the Middle East for Pakistan’s migrant labour and its remittance economy; still a key pillar of Pakistan’s economy with numerous unintended consequences. Ironically, it was Gen Ziaul Haq who benefitted the most from these ties, and, in many ways, one can make the argument that the close ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states changed the social, religious and political composition of Pakistan in ways which would have made Bhutto most uncomfortable.

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That he was able to garner a seriously impressive procession in a city hostile to his politics and persona was nothing but Bhutto’s charisma at work. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad. 

 

 

 Ayesha Jalal makes the assertion, though unfortunately provides no evidence for this, that during the Islamic Summit, “King Faisal indicated to Bhutto that Saudi aid [to Pakistan] would be contingent on Pakistan declaring Ahmadis a non-Muslim minority”. Other scholars have given far more domestically-oriented reasons and arguments for why the community was declared a minority by the National Assembly unanimously in September 1974. The consequences of this move, in which Bhutto participated, continue unabated to this day, again in ways that Bhutto would not have recognised. Today, it indicates why and how the idea of a just and inclusive notion of Pakistani citizenship failed.

The third major development in 1974 was India’s nuclear test in May. While Bhutto had the ambitions to build nuclear weapons some years prior to India going nuclear, Pakistan’s ‘Islamic Bomb’ was to be acquired even if we had “to eat grass”.

One further development in November 1974 was to cost Bhutto his life. The murder of Nawab Mohammad Ahmad Khan Kasuri, the father of dissident PPP leader Ahmed Raza Kasuri, who, many believe, was the intended target, was blamed on Bhutto, and the case was opened against him once he had been deposed by Zia in 1977, leading to Bhutto’s execution on April 4, 1979.

All these events in 1974 were to have far-reaching implications, years and decades from when they took place, beyond Bhutto’s life. In July 1974, one of the old guards of the original PPP, J.A. Rahim, the first secretary-general of the party, was beaten up brutally by Bhutto’s personal henchmen, the Federal Security Force, supposedly on Bhutto’s orders. This was just one indication of the growing authoritarianism of Pakistan’s first elected leader.

Other incidents occurred during the course of Bhutto’s reign, where editors and publishers of newspapers critical of his policies were often roughed up and threatened. Both the editors of Dawn and Jasarat were arrested under Bhutto’s increasingly draconian regime. Also not spared were nationalist leaders like Khan Abdul Wali Khan, as the National Awami Party (NAP) was banned in February 1975 after the murder of Hayat Khan Sherpao, a senior PPP leader who some saw as a contender to Bhutto, in Peshawar. Wali Khan and others were incarcerated in the Hyderabad Conspiracy case, and were later released only when the walls around Bhutto started to close in.

Creating an Opposition

 

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Elegantly dressed almost always, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was at ease in his interactions with media. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad. 

 

 While Bhutto certainly gave the awam, the working people, political consciousness for the very first time through his reforms and rhetoric, he also alienated this very constituency by moving away from many of his earlier promises. Moreover, given his reforms, he was bound to accumulate many enemies along the way. From landlords to business groups, from religious parties to groups that saw Bhutto’s ways as ‘un-Pakistani’ and ‘un-Islamic’, and from the US, which didn’t approve of Bhutto’s independence or his desire to go nuclear, to even the military officers who had been dismissed by him because they had expressed disagreement. Bhutto’s conceit and authoritarianism was central both to his achievements as well as to his downfall

In July 1976, Bhutto made a key error by nationalising flour and rice husking mills, and cotton ginning factories. Not only had he gone back on his word of no more nationalisation, but this decision hit a core constituency of the middle and petit bourgeois classes that could have been allies of the PPP in the Punjab. This one single decision by Bhutto alienated them from his populist and progressive economic policies. These groups may have voted for Bhutto in 1970, but with their key economic interests threatened, they turned their back on him. That many of these individuals and groups belonged to the more socially conservative segments, only made them become a powerful tool in the hands of a strong political and social opposition that was largely Islamist and was looking for revenge.

The opportunity came in January 1977 when Bhutto announced early elections. There was little doubt that Bhutto would be re-elected, for there was little organised political opposition in place. No single party would have been able to oust Bhutto. However, a coalition of nine parties, many of which were Islamic parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan, formed a conservative and right-wing coalition titled the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). The fact that the National Democratic Party led by Sherbaz Mazari and Begum Nasim Wali was also part of the PNA demands far greater analysis than simply labelling PNA as being an Islamist conspiracy. The PNA was a broad spectrum of left-leaning, centrist and rightist parties with their main focus on opposing Bhutto.

The PNA fought a campaign on the basis of an anti-Bhutto agenda, citing his ‘un-Islamic’ ways, and was helped by the newly alienated middle and petit bourgeois classes, especially in the Punjab. The results after the March 7 elections left the PPP with 155 seats and the PNA with 36. The equation surprised not only the opposition parties, but also the PPP, and, indeed, Bhutto himself. While the PPP would probably have retained government in the 200-strong National Assembly, such a massive victory margin suggested foul play. The PNA boycotted elections to the provincial assemblies and organised extensive street protests against the Bhutto government.

The PNA movement, as it is called, was clearly Pakistan’s most successful right-wing political movement, just as Bhutto’s 1968-69 movement was Pakistan’s most successful popular movement. Some scholars have made claims that the PNA was being funded through dollars coming from abroad; a claim which Bhutto indirectly referred to in his address to the National Assembly at the time.

The strong anti-Bhutto movement had acquired an Islamist hue from very early on, and, despite Bhutto making numerous symbolic concessions – such as banning alcohol, declaring Friday, instead of Sunday, as the weekly holiday – the PNA leaders were not going to ease their pressure on Bhutto.

Following sustained street protests, negotiations continued between March and July, and while there is now evidence that an agreement between the PNA and Bhutto had been reached around midnight July 3-4, Gen Zia, Bhutto’s hand-picked Chief of the Army Staff, in a military operation ironically called Fairplay, declared Martial Law on July 5, 1977, and deposed and imprisoned Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

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When Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto spoke, his hand-picked Army chief, General Ziaul Haq, listened … rather submissively. Little did Bhutto know of the machinations behind the meek visage. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

 

 One cannot but emphasise the fact that General Zia’s coup and Martial Law was also encouraged by the practices and whims of some political leaders of the opposition. Retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan had written an open letter to the three services chiefs, including Zia, to rise up against Bhutto. The practice by opposition politicians inviting the military to remove an elected leader was to continue well into the 1990s, with some overtones as recently as 2014 during the famous dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad.

Moreover, as Shuja Nawaz has argued, evidence also emerged that some senior generals had established close links with the opposition parties. There seemed to be a clear common interest of those who financially backed the PNA movement, the generals who wanted a return to order and stability, and Islamist groups who felt that, with Bhutto out of the way, they would be closer to imposing some form of Islamic order in Pakistan.

Not just was Pakistan’s first democratically elected leader later executed in a trial which many believed was fixed from the start, in 1979, but Pakistan changed forever after July 5, 1977. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan and his vision died not so much on December 16, 1971, as they did on July 5, 1977.

Legacy

Though he imposed curbs on freedom of expression and dealt with newspapers with a rather heavy hand, Bhutto never shied away from media interactions. If anything, he gained some sort of energy dealing with journalists. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad.

 The slogan which one hears now only infrequently, Zinda hai Bhutto, zinda hai, is as irrelevant to today’s Pakistan as is the attempt by some liberals to find and secure the Pakistan originally conceived and founded by the Quaid. Both ideals have been brushed aside by history’s changing tides in Pakistan.

Bhutto’s policies of social democracy, nationalisation, asserting working peoples’ consciousness and rights, his brand of ‘third worldism’, were all manifestations of a particular historical age. Now, neoliberalism and social conservatism tainted through a Saudi brush are the dominant cultural, social and economic forms of practice in today’s Pakistan, and, to some extent, globally.

Yet, in many ways, the issues of social justice, equality and sovereignty – themes that formulated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ideals for Pakistan – still remain relevant to our age where growing inequality, intolerance and militancy define where we have come since July 5, 1977. The fact that no politician today raises these issues is a sad reflection of how Bhutto’s ideals have been forgotten. Moreover, the fact that Zia’s legacy far outlives Bhutto’s also explains how much Pakistan has changed since 1977.

Authoritarianism and the downfall by S. Akbar Zaid. The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and teaches at Columbia University in New York and at the IBA in Karachi.

Courtesy of:

HBL has been an indelible part of the nation’s fabric since independence, enabling the dreams of millions of Pakistanis. At HBL, we salute the dreamers and dedicate the nation’s 70th anniversary to you. Jahan Khwab, Wahan HBL

 

The Promise of Democracy

The Triumph of Populism 1971-1973
Like Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, before him, 24 years later, Bhutto, the Quaid-e-Awam, was building a new country.

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Wearing a Mao cap, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is seen in this undated file photo on the top sitting at a dhaba, a roadside eatery, giving seemingly complete access to the common man. It was forays like this that earned him the title of the Quaid-i-Awam – the leader of the people which, in many ways, he actually was. 

With the surrender of Pakistani troops on December 16, 1971, in Dhaka, Bangladesh came into being, and with that, the end of the Pakistan that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had originally created. It also resulted in the end of 13 years of military rule in what remained of the country. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was in New York at the time, flew in to Rawalpindi on December 20, and, with the assistance of a group of the military’s general officers who had been dismayed by Gen Yahya Khan and his core group over the defeat, forcing Yahya out, became the president of Pakistan as well as its only civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator.

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Maulana Kausar Niazi (extreme right) leading the prayers at a ceremony to mark the authentication of the Constitution on April 12, 1973. On the left is President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto standing beside Fazal Elahi Chaudhry, who at the time was the Speaker of the National Assembly and later became President of Pakistan on August 14, 1973, when Bhutto took oath of the office of the prime minister. | Photo: National Assembly Archives 

Within a matter of days, Bhutto began to put into effect his mandate of the people, based on his electoral manifesto which had won him a majority in the elections in West Pakistan a year earlier. While economic and social reform was a key plank of the Bhutto promise, what needed pressing attention, among numerous things, was the return of the 93,000, mostly military, prisoners of war (POWs) in India.
In 1971, Pakistan had lost not just East Pakistan, but half its navy, one-third of its army, and a quarter of its air force. India occupied 5,000 square miles of West Pakistani territory. The military stood humiliated after the surrender, and this was the first of only two opportunities (the other was in 2008) when elected leaders could have established long-lasting democratic rule in Pakistan.
Bhutto even initiated a judicial commission, under chief justice Hamoodur Rahman, “to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the atrocities and 1971 war”, including the “circumstances in which the Commander of the Eastern Military Command surrendered the Eastern contingent forces under his command who laid down their arms”.
Bhutto outdid himself when he met Indira Gandhi at Simla in July 1972 and got the better of her through his persuasive negotiating skills, and secured the release of Pakistani POWs (who came home in 1974), with India returning Pakistan’s territory, and both countries accepting the ceasefire line in Kashmir as the Line of Control. Bhutto returned a hero, yet again, to Pakistan, not just for the people, but also for sections of the military.
On a parallel track, Bhutto’s leftist economic team was implementing promises that had been made during the election campaign of 1970. With roti, kapra aur makaan the key slogans of Bhutto’s electoral commitment of his notion of Islamic Socialism and social justice, the manifesto of his Pakistan People’s Party had promised the nationalisation of all basic industries and financial institutions.
It had stated that “those means of production that are the generators of industrial advance or on which depend other industries must not be allowed to be vested in private hands; secondly, that all enterprises that constitute the infrastructure of the national economy must be in public ownership; thirdly, that institutions dealing with the medium of exchange, that is banking and insurance, must be nationalised”.

Economic Agenda

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto addressing a gathering in this undated file photo in Karachi. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

The economic policies of the Bhutto government rested on the premise that the control of the leading enterprises was to be in the hands of the state. It ought to be pointed out that while this policy of nationalisation has been much maligned by critics of Bhutto, his policies were a reflection of the times and of the age in which they were implemented.
Since Bhutto’s rise to electoral success was based on his populist critique of Ayub Khan’s economic policies of functional inequality resulting in the infamous ‘22 families’, issues of redistribution, nationalisation and social-sector development were fundamental to his economic programme. Literally within days of taking over power, in January 1972, Bhutto had nationalised 30 major firms in 10 key industries in the large-scale manufacturing sector, essentially in the capital and intermediate goods industry.
In March 1972, his government had nationalised insurance companies, and banks were to follow in 1974, as were other industrial concerns in 1976. In addition to nationalisation, extensive labour reforms were also initiated by the Bhutto government, giving labour far greater rights than they had had in the past.
With the need to break the industrial-financial nexus a pillar of Bhutto’s populist social agenda, in a country which at that time was predominantly rural and agricultural, the ownership of land determined economic, social and political power. Bhutto had promised to break the hold of the feudals (notwithstanding the fact that he himself owned much land) and undertook extensive land reforms in March 1972.
In a speech, he said his land reforms would “effectively break up the iniquitous concentrations of landed wealth, reduce income disparities, increase production, reduce unemployment, streamline the administration of land revenue and agricultural taxation, and truly lay down the foundations of a relationship of honour and mutual benefit between the landowner and tenant”.
The PPP manifesto laid the premise for this action by stating that “the breakup of the large estates to destroy the feudal landowners is a national necessity that will have to be carried through by practical measures”. The government had decided that the land resumed from landowners would not receive any compensation unlike the Ayub Khan reforms of 1959, and this land was to be distributed free to landless tenants. The ceilings for owning land were also cut from 500 acres of irrigated land to 150 acres in 1972.
Although a lot of propaganda was churned out about the success of the 1972 reforms, the resumed land was far less than was the case in 1959, and only one per cent of the landless tenants and small owners benefited from these measures. Nevertheless, like labour reforms, tenancy reforms for agricultural workers and for landless labour did give those cultivating land far greater usufruct and legal rights to the land than they previously had.
Along with these structural interventions in the economy which changed ownership patterns and property rights, an ambitious social-sector programme, consisting, among other things, of the nationalisation of schools and initiating a people’s health scheme providing free healthcare to all, was also initiated.
However, while economic and social reform was a key plank of the Bhutto promise and his energies were also consumed by the process of getting the POWs released, giving Pakistan its first democratic constitution was also high on his agenda.

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A meeting of the main opposition United Democratic Front at the Intercontinental Hotel in Rawalpindi ahead of the passage of the Constitution in 1973. Seen from left to right are: Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, Sardar Sherbaz Mazari, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Syed Shah Mardan Shah Pir Pagaro, Maulana Mufti Mehmood, Professor Ghafoor Ahmed, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, Ahmed Raza Kasuri and Khan Abdul Wali Khan. | Photo: Sherbaz Mazari Archives 

Although 125 of the 135 members of the National Assembly voted for Pakistan’s Constitution on April 10, 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is given, and deservedly so, credit for making a large, discordant group of nationalists and Islamists to agree to the draft.
To get leaders like Wali Khan, who was the parliamentary leader of the opposition, Mir Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo, the sardars of Balochistan, Mufti Mahmud, and Mian Tufail, who had replaced Maulana Maudoodi as the Jamaat-e-Islami Amir, to build a consensus on a document that would determine Pakistan’s democratic trajectory was a major feat.

The Constitution came into effect on August 14, 1973, setting out a parliamentary form of government, with Bhutto as Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister. Since Bhutto ruled the Punjab and Sindh, he had made concessions to the nationalists in order to make them agree to his terms. Ayesha Jalal quotes Bhutto as saying that while Wali Khan “vehemently opposed” the Constitution, he skilfully manoeuvred the Khan and “smashed him into becoming a Pakistani”.

A key clause in the 1973 Constitution required members of the armed forces to take an oath promising not to take part in political activities and making it illegal for the military to intervene in politics. Clearly, the military did not read or care for the Constitution either in 1977 or in 1999.

Nationalists and Military

While the PPP had its governments in the Punjab and Sindh, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan were ruled by coalition governments formed by the National Awami Party (NAP) and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) which gave a voice to Baloch and Pashtun nationalisms of the 1970s variety.
In February 1973, weapons were found in the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad that were supposedly meant for armed insurrection by the nationalists in Balochistan. On February 14, Sardar Attaullah Khan Mengal’s government in Balochistan was dismissed, and the next day, the NAP-JUI government in the NWFP resigned, while Bhutto’s governor in Balochistan, Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti, resigned in October 1973 as a political crisis emerged and grew stronger by the day.
Many of the sardars and their tribesmen had started a militant movement for a Greater Balochistan, joined in by many Cambridge-educated scions of elite households, largely from the Punjab. Bhutto called in the military, with General Tikka Khan, dubbed by many as the ‘butcher of East Pakistan’, to curb the armed uprising and for Tikka Khan to add another accolade to his titles, that of the ‘butcher of Balochistan’.
So soon after having lost political and public support, once again, a constitutional crisis slowly brought in the military into a position of increasing prestige and prominence. The lessons of just a few years ago, of giving nationalists their rights and accepting electoral outcomes, were once again being brushed aside by the same democratically-elected leader, and, indeed, by the military.

Early Signs of Authoritarianism

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A rare photograph of the Bhutto Family in its prime. Seen from left to right are Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto (looking leftwards), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shahnawaz Bhutto. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

As his rule progressed, we see clear signs of hubris and authoritarianism emerging in the political practices of Bhutto, but there were early signs which may have suggested what was to come, with Shuja Nawaz and many other authors seeing the rise of an eventual “civilian dictatorship”. One example of this was the decision to set up the Federal Security Force (FSF), a paramilitary organisation, so as not to rely on the military, as early as September 1972. The FSF, whose head later became a state witness in the infamous Bhutto trial, was once seen as ‘Bhutto’s private military arm’.
Furthermore, it is ironic that while Bhutto was a social democrat, giving numerous rights and powers to the downtrodden, to the labourers and to the peasants and landless workers, he also used the power of the state to undermine the force of the street, particularly in Karachi. In the summer of 1972, organised trade unions in Karachi took to the streets and initiated industrial action in the form of strikes, but were met by a brutal police force resulting in the death of a number of workers. Organised labour, which had supported Bhutto’s rise, was dealt a harsh blow about the reality of incumbent politics.

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Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was as comfortable, if not more, in the company of foreign dignitaries as he was with the masses at home. He is seen here in Washington DC with United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (left) during a visit in February 1975. Seen in the middle is Begum Nusrat Bhutto. 

Like Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, before him, 24 years later, Bhutto, the Quaid-e-Awam, was building a new country. Both had dismissed provincial governments and showed signs of an incipient authoritarianism and desire for centralisation and control. We do not know what Jinnah would have done had he lived, but Bhutto’s democratic and socialist credentials were soon to come undone.
Arrogance and clear signs of intolerance of dissent were emerging in the Pakistan of 1972-73. Many of the promises made in the late 1960s and the early 1970s by Bhutto were to be played out between 1974 and 1977, setting a stage for Bhutto’s regional and global aspirations and ambitions.
However, perhaps it was the same ambition and confidence that had led him to an electoral victory in 1970 which was to become a cause for his eventual downfall in 1977, and then death in 1979. He had also made far too many enemies along the way, and many of them were just waiting for their opportunity to settle scores. Between 1974 and 1977, Bhutto was to give them many such opportunities.

The promise of democracy by S. Akbar Zaidi. The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and teaches at Columbia University in New York and at the IBA in Karachi.

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Despotic Islamisation

Of the numerous Pakistani rulers, the one person who single-handedly changed Pakistan, perhaps forever, but certainly for some decades, was the military dictator, General Mohammad Ziaul Haq. In his speech to the nation on taking over power on July 5, 1977, Gen Zia said he had done so only to defend democracy and for the well-being (baqa’a) of Pakistan, that he had no political ambitions whatsoever, and that he would leave his post of Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) after three months – the infamous 90 days – and hand over power to Pakistan’s elected representatives.

 

The photographs above show Habib Jalib, a poet known for his revolutionary zeal, being attacked by policemen during a demonstration organised by the Women’s Action Forum against the Law of Evidence that was promulgated by General Ziaul Haq. The photographs were taken on February 12, 1983, by Dawn photographer, the late Azhar Jafri, and symbolise the tyranny and repression that characterised Zia’s reign over Pakistan.

Moreover, the Constitution was not in abeyance, Zia told the listening public, but certain parts of it were to be put on hold. No judicial authority could challenge the proclamations of the Martial Law setup, and the CMLA seemed to be above the law. He said he had discussed the matter with the Chief Justice, who seemed to agree with him, and the Supreme Court some months later invoked the Doctrine of Necessity to allow Zia to continue with his actions for years to come.

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The last few sentences of the 14-minute speech of this self-styled ‘soldier of Islam’, ended with the following statement: “Pakistan, which was created in the name of Islam, will continue to survive only if it stays with Islam. That is why I consider the introduction of an Islamic system as an essential prerequisite for the country.” As Shuja Nawaz argues, Zia became a “ferocious instrument of change for Pakistan”

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GENERAL Ziaul Haq, flanked by senior officers, is seen smiling at the traditional soldiers’ feast held at the Army barracks. At least in public, Zia was all smiles all the times. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

If one were just to list the numerous changes Zia brought about in his 11-year rule, what stands out as his legacy to Pakistan would be a type of Islamisation – of a particularly severe kind – based on Saudi Wahabism, which was quite alien to Pakistan when it came into being. Moreover, this Islamisation, supported by a severe despotic, military dictator, led to the rise of Islamists within the military, which at the time was Pakistan’s most powerful and dominant institution. He and his government gave what can only be called state sponsorship to militant Islamic Sunni sectarian groups, which resulted in a strong anti-Shiaism in Pakistan. His tenure saw the state-sponsored export of Islamic jihad to several parts of the world.

Saudi Arabia began to play a far greater role in the religious, cultural and political life of Pakistan, and has continued to do so. Zia benefited immensely from Bhutto’s overtures to the Gulf countries in the mid-1970s, as the Gulf boom solved many of Pakistan’s economic problems. Often not considered, but equally important, was the rise of the petit bourgeois trading and lower middle classes that benefitted from the dominance of a Punjabi/Arain from Jullundur who could speak the language of a constituency which had otherwise not had a voice.

Moreover, this socially conservative petit bourgeois class, which was hurt by Bhutto’s 1976 nationalisation of rice-husking and cotton-ginning factories, found in Zia a voice which strengthened the anti-Bhutto constituency. With petit bourgeois capitalism and a Saudi-Wahabi Islam, Zia gave representative voice to new social classes that became powerful over subsequent decades.

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LONDON was a favourite spot for intellectuals who tried to stay away from Zia’s Pakistan. Seen here is the iconic Faiz Ahmed Faiz at the Urdu Markaz Mushaira that was organised by the BBC in the 1980s. He is flanked here by Ahmed Faraz and Zehra Nigah on the right and Gopi Chand Narang on the left. | Photo: Faiz Ghar Archives.  

Although many liberals are uncomfortable with Zia’s Islamisation, they often ignore his gift to the lower middle classes: a political stake in the mandi towns, mainly of the Punjab. Bhutto had undertaken certain reforms that had allowed the small and medium entrepreneurs to emerge and consolidate their economic condition; Zia gave them further impetus to build their vision on Islam.

 CHANGING FORTUNES

There were at least three clear phases in Zia’s endless 11 years: from July 1977 to April 1979 when the two-men-one-grave chatter became part of public conversation; from December 1979 to around 1985 when Pakistan became a frontline state in the Afghan war; and then from March 1985 to May 1988 during which he experimented with praetorian democracy and when his own system came back to challenge him.

Although all political leaders except Begum Nasim Wali Khan had been arrested, once Bhutto was released, it became evident to Zia that Bhutto was still very popular across the country as he began his campaign for the promised elections. He always had a large public following, but after being imprisoned, his status grew further. He would probably have won the elections whenever they were held.

The case related to the murder of a political opponent was registered in 1975 when Bhutto was still the prime minister, and had been settled. Once Bhutto had been removed, Zia reopened it in September 1977 in far more hostile circumstances. And, as time passed, Zia kept postponing elections, saying it was not ‘written in the Quran’ that elections were to be held at a given date.

Election activity continued as Bhutto was arrested on murder charges, and Zia decided to do what all the three military dictators have done; hold Local Body elections, rather than national or provincial elections. The PPP won the 1979 Local Body elections, and it became clear to Zia that if ever Bhutto were to be released, he would win the general elections and was bound to hold Zia accountable for what the general had done in 1977. One grave, two men. We know what happened next. Despite clemency appeals aplenty from across the world, Zia insisted he would follow the orders of the court.

Bhutto’s judicial murder was not the only event of significance which happened in 1979 which had a huge bearing on regional and domestic circumstances. In February 1979, the Iranian Revolution gave a greater sense of identity to the global, and particularly Pakistani, Shia community, which had earlier felt marginalised in world developments. Imam Khomeini’s revolution made it difficult for a Sunni Zia, who already had close ties with Saudi Arabia, to continue to marginalise the Shias of Pakistan. While still ostracised in dominantly Sunni Pakistan, the Shias fought many battles against the ‘Sunnisation’ of Pakistan, and made their political presence felt. Yet one sees the beginnings of a marked, organised, violent, sectarian divide which still has not abetted.

In October 1979, Zia moved further towards converting Pakistan into a totalitarian state, clamping a ban on political activities and gagging the press with imprisonments and the flogging of journalists.

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Public floggings became a common sight during General Ziaul Haq’s tyrannical reign, especially in its early part. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

The economy did not do exceptionally well in the 1977-79 period, and one wondered, despite Bhutto having gone and the PPP in some disarray, if organised politics would contest this unfamiliar, severe, despotic government. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 put to rest all such speculation and made the way possible for many long years of Zia’s rule.

The story of the first Afghan war is well known, as are its consequences for Pakistan. Four million refugees from Afghanistan, millions of new heroin addicts amongst the Pakistani youths, billions of dollars in aid to the military to fight the American war in Afghanistan – backed with Saudi funding – and Jihad becoming a profession. While the CIA helped strengthen the ISI, the broader mullah-military alliance became entrenched for many decades, and probably still is.

Pakistan’s frontline status was milked to the core by Pakistani generals, with the emergence of categories of ‘millionaire generals’, many of whom were accused of siphoning off CIA funds meant for the Afghans, or then having made money from lucrative narcotic deals. Pakistan during its Islamisation phase under its own soldier of Islam was the single largest supplier of heroin globally.

Along with the trade in narcotics came the trade in arms that gave rise to the ‘Kalashnikov culture’ still on display in the country. The military, like never before, had become a corporate entity, involved in all kinds of activities; legal and illegal. Perhaps never before had Pakistan’s armed forces been drawn into a nexus of military might, money, corruption and privilege.

Despite all this and more, Zia needed to find some civilian or constitutional cover to prolong his rule after a certain time. An orchestrated Majlis-e-Shura was followed by an ill-worded referendum seeking the electorate’s approval of his Islamic reforms – getting an embarrassing approval rate in return. Then came the praetorian democracy in the form of partyless elections in 1985 that led to the elevation to prime ministership of a relatively unknown politician from Sindh: Mohammad Khan Junejo who was chosen by Zia to become his subservient prime minister.

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Though he came from nowhere in the wake of the partyless polls of 1985, Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo, donning a Jinnah cap here, tried to be his own man. He raised and pointed the finger a few times too many and paid the price on May 29, 1988, with the dismissal of his government – and the National Assembly. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives

Even Junejo grew in confidence in this short span, and insisted that martial law be lifted. He disagreed with Zia on the end-game in Afghanistan, and, following the Ojhri Camp blasts in April 1988 which exposed the growing relative independence even of a partyless legislature, the National Assembly stood dissolved in May 1988; Zia using the Eight Amendment which was inserted into the Constitution as a prerequisite for parliament to proceed and for martial law to be lifted in 1985, and allowed Zia to dismiss parliament under Article 58-2(b). Like Islamisation, the Eighth Amendment was Zia’s gift to the Pakistani pubic, and determined all political and electoral activity for a decade after his death. Unlike his Islamisation programme, however, parliament was eventually able to rid itself of 58-2(b) although, as the recent dismissal of Nawaz Sharif shows, key elements of the Eighth Amendment still determine the fate of politics in Pakistan.

RESISTANCE

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The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), starting in August 1983, was up against a government which was trying its best to convert the very concept of democracy into something abhorrent and objectionable. Right across the country, activists came under brutal attack by police as a matter of routine. And yet, they had the last laugh, even if a rather muted one, when partyless polls were announced in 1985. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

No matter how despotic a ruler, and no matter how well the economy did – under Zia the economy grew on average 6.7 per cent, with remittances playing a strong distributive effect – dictatorship always gives rise to resistance. The MRD movement of 1983 and 1986, and Benazir Bhutto’s triumphant return to Pakistan in 1986 were all expressions of defiant protests. Religious minorities, in particular Ahmadis, suffered the most and were made third class citizens with few rights. Still worse, they were often unable to even protest since the environment had turned hostile against them.

Not fully recognised is the role of women’s groups, particularly that of the Women’s Action Forum, which took on the might of a misogynistic state. The punitive measure and restrictions imposed on women included the Law of Evidence, Hudood Ordinance as early as 1979, and Zina Ordinance which obscured the distinction between rape and adultery. The struggle for women’s rights provided further sustenance to the demands for greater democratic and universal rights, and women, perhaps led by Sindhiani Tehrik and WAF, symbolised resistance to a despotic dictator more than any other constituency, social, political, ethnic or religious. Women became the symbols of resistance and played a key role in the revival of democracy under Zia.

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BUSHRA Aitzaz, a human rights activist, was one of the women who were arrested during a protest organised by the Women’s Action Forum in Lahore in February 1983. The protestors were subjected to brutal violence at the hands of policemen armed with batons and teargas. | Photo: Aitzaz Ahsan Archives. 

One wonders what would have happened if Zia’s plane had not fallen from the sky on August 17, 1988, because we really don’t know who killed the general. Jo Epstein, in a very interesting article in Vanity Fair, gives a list of many elements that had reason to see Zia go. The fact the list is long only highlights how unpopular Zia really was. It included such diverse and divergent forces as the Indian RAW, Israeli Mossad, Soviet KGB, Afghan KHAD and right down to the Al-Murtaza branch of the PPP.

Perhaps elements in the American CIA might have wanted to tackle Zia, but since he was such a sycophantic ally, one wonders why they would have gone this route. Quite possibly, there were some in the military who by then had felt tired of Zia’s ways. They knew they could not just wish him away, and must have hoped for some miracle from the skies. We will never know.

But it cannot be denied that many people must have looked up to the heavens on August 17, 1988, and raised their hands in prayer.

Despotic Islamisation by S. Akbar Zaidi. The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and teaches at Columbia University in New York and at the IBA in Karachi.

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