Dictatorships in Pakistan

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Dictatorships in Pakistan

Masquerades of dictatorship

By Shahab Usto


FROM the inception of Pakistan to the exit of its latest strongman, Gen Musharraf, people have watched the kaleidoscopic masquerades of dictatorship, with each dictator changing the mask but retaining the soul.

Pakistan’s first decade passed under the extended shadows of colonial dictatorship which had four prominent features. First, the colonial legal framework, the India Act of 1935, was maintained. The act sowed the seeds of conflict within the executive by introducing a ‘dyarchy’ at the centre. The purpose was to make the appointed governor-general exert dominance over the elected prime minister.

Second, true to the colonial obsession with security, a security rather than a welfare state was erected on the twin pillars of ‘ideological threats’: communism and Hinduism. The Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case and the Kashmir dispute were adroitly used as conclusive evidence of these threats.

Third, the colonial method of ‘divide and rule’ was continued. Disillusioned, the Bengalis abandoned the Muslim League soon after Independence. The rifts between Daultana and Mamdot in Punjab, Ghaffar Khan and Khan Qayoom in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP) and Khuhro and Hidayatullah in Sindh were exploited by a half-sly and fully senseless governor-general to dismiss elected prime ministers, and that too with judicial approval.

Fourth, stifling the spirit of the compact of the resolution of 1940 which promised, inter alia, cultural freedom to the nationalities, a Stalinist ‘cultural’ policy was pursued to instill ideological rather than cultural consciousness among the nationalities. Urdu was made a vehicle of this cultural onslaught, which soon boomeranged into alienation and led to national resistance in the east, culminating in the birth of Bangladesh.

The second decade began with the first constitution in 1956. The constitution was an oxymoron. It laid the foundation of a federal and democratic country but denied the fundamental principles of democracy and federalism: majority rule and provincial autonomy.

The so-called ‘parity’ was nothing but a stratagem to forestall the Bengalis from forming the central government, and to keep civilian rule eternally servile to a dictatorship duo: the bureaucrats led by Iskander Mirza and the closeted Bonapartists led by Gen Ayub.

Employing Goebbelsian sophistry, a well-entrenched myth was created to malign politicians as being inherently inept, corrupt and unsuitable for governance, notwithstanding the fact that some of these politicians were Jinnah’s comrades and anti-colonial stalwarts. In just two years, five governments were removed by this bureaucratic dictatorship.

In 1958, Gen Ayub climbed the pulpit wearing a Bonapartist mask. Napoleon Bonaparte, notwithstanding his eternal quest for military glory, had also aimed for social and political engineering. Modern continental Europe and its civil law owe much to his political genius. Ayub also wanted to reinvent his image as a great general and social builder.

But alas, the self-appointed field marshal failed to leave any Bonapartist imprints in the annals of the military or in the development of social and political institutions. All he created was a totalitarian state with its attendant ills: central planning, crony capitalism, a fearsome security apparatus, draconian press policies, political repression and a pro-US military alliance. As a result, when he was removed from power by his fellow generals, the country was internationally isolated and internally left facing a gruesome civil war between the two wings.

The third decade began with the third dictatorship. Yayha’s dictatorship was closer to the garrison state of Frederick the Great — rule of the army, for the army and by the army. Initially, Yahya wore no ideological mask. But when the majority voters gave a clear and loud mandate to the Awami League in 1970, he put on the mask of a national saviour, refusing to hand over power to the ‘renegade’ Bengali leadership.

Hubris made him blind to the political reality that dictatorship, howsoever masked, had failed to resolve the national crises. It was time for him to transfer power to the elected leadership to resolve the crises. True, such a move was fraught with the possibility of Bengalis seceding from the federation, but at least that would have saved the country the subsequent bloodbath and ignominy of defeat. Alas, it was not to be. The dictator was unable to understand the nexus between democracy and national integration.

Then came a brief democratic interregnum during which the country received its third constitution in 26 years, but one that was abrogated by the fourth dictatorship. General Zia’s dictatorship was forged in the mould of Cromwell. Both rose to power through regicide. Both relied on the army to sustain themselves, and both used religion to legitimise their tyranny. Not surprisingly, both left a common legacy: religious violence, political conflict, cultural regression and international isolation.

Indeed, Zia’s dictatorship turned out to be the most destructive because he targeted the soft underbelly of the polity: the socio-cultural ethos and schismatic diversity. Like Mussolini, he wanted to change through force and fiat not only the economics, politics and foreign policy of the country, but also the personal morality, political precepts and religious beliefs of the people, a task left only to prophets or revolutionaries, not unpopular despots like him.

In the fourth decade, four elected governments were toppled by the same kind of dictatorial powers that operated in the first decade, and on similar charges: corruption, inefficiency, security risk.

In the fifth decade, the country saw its fifth masquerade of dictatorship. Gen Musharraf came as a Kemalist, which he was not by analogy or actions. Ataturk was the hero of Gallipoli, where he defeated the Allied forces. Musharraf was smudged in the debacle of Kargil.

Kemal abolished the decadent caliphate and created a modern secular Turkey. Musharraf banished secular leadership and ruled with the help of social and religious conservatives. Kemal earned peace and respect for his nation. Musharraf pushed the country into a self-destructive war, making it subservient to US dictates.

Kemal was universally venerated as Ataturk (father of the Turks), but alas, Musharraf could not secure enough votes to legitimise his military rule. Finally, Kemal strengthened political institutions, whereas Musharraf botched them for his personal gain.

In fact, Musharraf’s dictatorship was a rehash of the Ayubian model. Hence, his legacy is not different from that of Ayub: civil war, economic disparities, political crisis and institutional breakdown.

Its time that the masquerades stopped. Not because all the masks of dictatorship have been ripped open by the people, but because now the people can rip out its soul.


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