The more things change -by Nadeem F. Paracha

All military dictators have had to eventually face not only armed insurgencies but also large scale democratic movements. – File Photo

The Pakistan army as an institution is a curious creature. A self-absorbed bulky white elephant, it can suddenly transform into becoming a raging bull in a china shop every time it feels the vast political and economic space it needs to move around in is being shrunken with the help of fences and boundary walls.

Though it has lost almost all of the wars that it has fought against archenemy India, it has done well against in this respect against the people of the country it it claims to defend.

It has constantly waged brutal battles against Baloch nationalists (1960-62; 1973-77; 2003-); mercilessly wiped out whole villages with the help of tanks in the interior of Sindh (1983 MRD Movement); ran circles around MQM activists in Karachi (1992), and, of course, has been accused of engineering a genocide of Bengalis in the former East Pakistan in 1971.

More than being a dependable and effective fighting machine, the Pakistan army has risen to become a monolithic corporate and political empire that has increasingly safeguarded its vast economic interests and social perks under the cover of being the guardians of that vague abstraction called the ‘Pakistan ideology’, and by constantly meddling in civilian political affairs.

In spite of all this and especially due to the fact that Pakistan’s civilian set-ups have always seemed to be look utterly chaotic and ragged compared to the shining, monolithic and high sounding cohesiveness of the army, most Pakistanis have been known to actually applaud military intervention in civilian affairs.

Though the above is true, many analysts and politicos who use this argument to endorse military intervention fail to mention the fact that honeymoon periods of military regimes in Pakistan have been rather short-lived.

All military dictators have had to eventually face not only armed insurgencies but also large scale democratic movements. The reason behind this has little to do with Pakistanis being great admirers of democracy, because constant military interventions thwarting the evolution of the democratic process has not exactly produced a democratic polity.

The main reason why military regimes have had to face intense political opposition in a not-very-democratic Pakistan is that Pakistan (unlike its monolithic military) is an extremely diverse entity with numerous ethnicities, muslim sects and religions.

Theoretically such a diversity is best served by an uninterrupted and evolving democratic system that produces its own filtering system, checks and balances, and helps most elements of an animated diversity become part of the country’s political, economic and cultural processes.

However, the Pakistan armed forces’ views in this regard have usually been rather myopic and with which it has constantly tried to enforce its monolithic and narrow understanding of nationalism and faith over a diverse polity of ethnicities, Muslim sects and religions present in Pakistan.

In its pursuit to do so – ever since Ayub Khan’s military regime – the military has bagged the help of various other forces of myopia and supporters of monolithic ideological constructs, such as politico-religious parties, right-wing sections of the media, conservative politicians, and many technocrats, industrialists and bureaucrats, all of whose own political and economic interests now seem to be attached to those of the military’s.

That’s why in the last few decades, especially ever since the mid and late 1970s, apart from, the military and its civilian mouthpieces have been so enthusiastic about safeguarding ‘Pakistan ideology’ and its Iqbal-meets-Maududi ‘Islamic’ raison d’être.

Of course, the safeguarding of the so-called Pakistan ideology (largely constructed in the 1970s after the 1971 debacle in former East Pakistan), may mostly mean the safeguarding of the military’s, the religious parties’ and their capitalist and bourgeois supporters’ political and economic interests from the perceived ‘chaos’ of a democratic system that, they fear and warn, might strengthen the political and economic aspects of Pakistan’s diverse polity and that this can lead to the Balkanization of the country.

That’s why the military and its economic and political allies have continued to harp loudly about the ‘threats’ that Pakistan faces from forces that want to divide the country on ethnic and sectarian basis, and it seems one of these threats include democracy.

Over and over again whenever a democratic (rather, an anti-dictatorship) movement or even the country’s largely immature and pot-holed democratic system has shown hints of liberating large sections of the population from the shackles of the vagueness and myopia we call the Pakistan ideology and hurl the people towards a more pluralistic, autonomous and progressive set of economics, politics and culture, the military has gotten nervous – as if it was about to loose a conquered people.

This is the time when it intervenes. The above process is vehemently denounced as being chaotic and a threat that may break Pakistan. And of course, never mind the fact that things like economic corruption were largely institutionalised during the Ayub and Ziaul Haq dictatorships and the fact that the military has come under increasing criticism of being one of the most shady institutions when it comes to generating and accumulating wealth, it’s allies are quick to denounce democratic set-ups as being inherently corrupt and a danger to the country’s security apparatus.


Let’s now briefly go through the political and ideological credentials of the four military regimes that Pakistan has suffered from to determine why after more than thirty years of military rule (out of Pakistan’s sixty-four years of existence), the country is still struggling to make up its mind about whether it wants an uninterrupted flow of democracy or a system that is constantly punctuated (and thus retarded) by military takeovers and indirect military interference through hostile pro-establishment politicians, right-wing media, religious parties and desperate political opportunists.

Field Martial Ayub Khan dictatorship

Ruling period: 1958-1969

Reasons given for take-over: Political chaos; corruption; threat to the unity of the federation (mainly from Sindhi, Baloch, Pushtun and Bengali nationalists, and from communism).

Promises made: To eradicate corruption; to wipe out politics of ethnicity; to unite the federation; to bring about ‘real democracy’ and/or a democratic system more suited to a third world country like Pakistan; to remain being part of Western alliances (led by United States) to protect Pakistan from Soviet-backed communist infiltration and take-over.

Achievements: A robust, state-funded capitalist economy and economic growth; secularization of the constitution and passing of liberal social and economic laws and policies; opening up Pakistan to economic and cultural aspects of western modernism and to the western cultures and markets.

Disasters: Brutal crushing of Baloch nationalist movement (1961); witch hunts against leftists ( and thus suspected ‘Soviet agents’); farcical electoral system (called ‘Basic Democracy’) that encouraged cynical and amoral politicking; widespread corruption emerging from the state’s nepotism; handing out lucrative deals to favourite businessmen and politicians and to relatives; failure of regime to make economic growth reach beyond the clutches of the preferred business, feudal and political elites; concentration of wealth among the chosen few; going in an ill-advised war with India and then backing out after claiming the army was winning the war; handing over power to another General after being bogged down by a popular democratic movement.

Ideological orientation: Secular and pro-west but highly authoritarian and anti-pluralistic.

King’s party: Pakistan Muslim League (Convention) formed in 1962 to give Ayub the platform to draft a constitution and become President.

General Yahya Khan dictatorship

Ruling period: 1969-71

Reasons given for take-over: Political chaos; threat to the unity of federation; spread of corruption and anti-Pakistan movements.

Promises made: Will end political chaos; hold free and fair elections; safeguard Pakistan’s borders.

Achievements: Holding of Pakistan’s first elections based on adult franchise (1970).

Disasters: Refusal to hand over power to majority party (the Bengali nationalist, Awami League); engineering a genocidal purge of Bengali nationalists, killing thousands of men, women and children in the process, accusing them of treachery; radicalizing religious youth ( especially from Jamat Islami) to help the military to eradicate Bengali ‘traitors’; incompetent administration and utter failure to eradicate corruption rampant among business elite, the military and the bureaucracy; whipping up anti-India emotions, then going in an ill-planned war with India, only to surrender meekly after claiming Pakistan forces were winning the war.

Ideological orientation: Largely secular and pro-West, but began to incorporate Islamic rhetoric during the purge in former East Pakistan (denouncing Bengali nationalists as being funded by Bengali Hindus), and then during the war against India that was explained as a fight between Islam and Hinduism.

King’s party: None, but gave patronage to factions of pro-military Muslim League and the Jamat Islami during 1970 elections. Both parties were routed by Awami League and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

General Ziaul Haq dictatorship

Ruling period: 1977-88

Reasons given for take-over: Political chaos; threat to unity of the federation; fears of civil war; threat to Pakistan ideology and to the Islamic credentials of this ideology; unchecked ‘immoral’ liberalism in society; threat from pro-India and pro-Soviet forces.

Promises made: To bring Pakistan back on track by enforcing ‘Islamic’ economic, political and justice system (Nizam-e-Mustapha, Islami Nizam); to turn Pakistan into an ‘Islamic welfare sate’; to cleanse society and politics by eradicating western and leftist influences; to hold elections in 90 days and make sure only ‘good Muslims’ are elected.

Achievements: Successfully ending the military operation in Balochistan; pulling back recession and economic uncertainty and halting the rot that had set in various institutions due to the Z A. Bhutto regime’s carelessly implemented nationalization policies; engineering the emergence of an economically vibrant urban middle-class, especially in the Punjab.

Disasters: Retarding the constitution with highly vague and unfathomable moral clauses that have not only caused and even justified intolerant acts of violence but have also been tough to rectify by the democratic governments that followed; plunging into the Afghan Civil War on the side of the US and Saudi backed Islamist forces; failing to check the flow of heroin and guns in society pouring in from the anarchic Afghan-Pakistan border; funding the emergence of radical/ puritanical Wahabi and Deobandi madressas and indoctrination centres to whip up enthusiasm among young Pakistanis for the ‘Afghan jihad’; giving a free hand to anti-Shia and anti-Barelvi outfits that were also being patronized by Saudi Arabia; allowing the infiltration of the armed forces by fundamentalist groups and the indoctrination of junior officers and common soldiers by these groups; tactically allowing the springing up of militant Sunni sectarian organizations; encouraging the existence of a thriving ‘parallel economy’ based on gun and drug trade and involving a number of businessmen and military men; failing to curb rampant corruption; enacting reactionary cultural policies that evicted a number of talented artistes, performers, intellectuals and media personnel from TV, radio, newspapers and other cultural platforms (accusing them of being ‘anti-Islam’); conducting constant witch hunts against leftist, liberal and anti-Zia politicians, students, journalists and lawyers; introducing discriminatory anti-women and anti-minority laws; exhibiting blatant nepotism, favoring pro-regime businessmen, traders and relatives; ignoring corruption among senior military personnel; allowing the radicalization of the ISI; patronizing Punjabi businessmen, traders, landed elite and politicians and consequently giving birth to a hatred towards Punjab in Sindh and Balochistan; hanging an elected prime minister through a controversial and one-sided trial and a largely compromised judiciary; sending thousands of opponents to jails and torture cells; leaving behind a society reeking of cynicism, moral hypocrisy, growing religious radicalization and intolerance and a twisted idea about the military being the only true guardian of Islam and ideology in Pakistan.

Ideological orientation: Islamist/conservative but pro-west.

King’s party: A revamped Pakistan Muslim League formed in 1986.

General Parvez Musharraf dictatorship

Ruling period: 1999-2008

Reasons given for take-over: Political chaos; rampant corruption; sovereignty of country under threat; civilian government insulting the prestige of armed forces; dynastic politics.

Promises made: Will eradicate corruption; protect state institutions; bring ‘real democracy’; tackle extremism in society.

Achievements: Revived a spiralling economy; took action against a number of extremist and sectarian outfits; allowed the mushrooming of private TV channels and the freedom of the media; took positive and progressive cultural initiatives; gave Karachi one of it’s finest and most stable city governments as part of the dictatorship’s ‘devolution of power’ scheme.

Disasters: Was selective towards action against extremist outfits, acting against some while clandestinely harbouring others (supposedly to be used against India in Kashmir and in Afghanistan to claim Pakistan’s stake in that country); lost initial burst of popularity by retorting to the Ziast tactic of engineering a farcical referendum to become president; gathered renegade and ‘sell out’ politicians from the country’s mainstream parties to form a cosmetic political party made up entirely of ‘lotas’; triggered another Baloch insurgency by assassinating the once moderate Baloch politician, Nawab Bugti; ignored the high handedness of the ISI against the Baloch; contradicted his liberal rhetoric by showing spite against some rape victims who went public about their cases ; mishandled a troublesome Chief Justice (accidentally turning an unimpressive, conservative judge into becoming a hero); delayed taking action against extremists who’d taken over a mosque in Islamabad (Lal Masjid) – the delayed action caused great chaos and thanks to the kind of coverage it got from the hostile right- wing media, the action sprang up a number of revenge-seeking Islamist outfits that created havoc among common civilians and soldiers alike; failed to check the threat that was stalking Benazir Bhutto; engineered a bubble-like economy and illusion of prosperity that, by 2007, burst and plunged Pakistan into a grave economic crises.

Ideological orientation: Largely liberal, but at the same time authoritarian and adding a more modern twist to the usual militaristic nature and make-up of the Pakistan ideology.

King’s party: Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) formed in 2002.

The writer is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and

Source: DAWN

2 responses to “The more things change -by Nadeem F. Paracha”

  1. Excellent Post… I just Love your article’s Nadeem F Paracha… Very comprehensively explained all aspects of the military dictatorships of Pakistan…