By Saeed Qureshi
Five governments in Pakistan were changed either by street agitations or through military intervention. The first was headed by Ayub Khan, the second by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the third was the first PMLN government (1993-1996), the fourth was the second PMNL government (1997-1999) and the fifth that of Pervez Musharraf. The incumbent PMLN government may be the sixth one but the chances of its unceremonious send off seem to be slim.
The reasons for such an assessment are that Imran Khan is not a Bhutto and his appeal is limited to a section of the population, second the ground realities are different now, and third that PMLN is a duly elected government and supported by second largest party PPP. However, the perpetual chaos and continual turmoil may prompt army to step in.
Ayub Khan captured power through a military coup. As a result of the popular uprising launched by ZAB, Field Marshall Ayub Khan bowed out of power in March 1969 after a decade’s autocratic governance. But he bequeathed a legacy of economic vibrancy for Pakistan. The Tashkent pact signed with India after 1965 war turned out to be his bête noir and the nation accused Ayub Khan of watering down the boons of war that the army and the nation fought in unison.
One could recall in the hindsight the intensity of emotions and the fervor and a bubbling spirit of patriotism and sacrifice in those days of war with India in September1965. The Tashkent agreement was profitably and deftly exploited by ZAB who was his foreign minister but had parted company with him to launch a countywide vilification campaign for his ouster. ZAB was a charismatic figure and knew the art of rhetorical outbursts and soon he became a darling and most lovable revolutionary leader of the entire nation.
He knew the art of mobilizing a subdued nation and truly that was the ripest moment for a phenomenal change that the Pakistani nation was yearning for long. The Tashkent declaration worked like fuel on the fire. On December 18, 1971, Bhutto was taken to the President House in Rawalpindi where he took over two highest positions from Yahya Khan: one as the President and the other as the Chief Martial Law Administrator. Thus he was the first civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator of the dismembered Pakistan. That was the most glorious moment for ZAB.
But unfortunately he became obsessive and so much power drunk that he started sacrificing his secular, liberal, socialist and democratic credentials at the altar of power. After the PNA movements in 1976 against the alleged rigged elections, he abandoned all his cosmopolitan principles and accepted all the conditions of the PNA. Pakistan from that moment turned into a conservative and orthodox Islamic state with curbs of religious freedom of the minorities, ban on production and use of liquor that amounted to the curtailment of civil liberties.
But his volte face did not rescue him from the inevitable fate of a betrayer of his conscience, creed and principles. The PNA after getting all their demands accepted and made part of the constitution, still kept him on the tenterhooks that culminated in the proclamation of Martial law by Ziaul Haq and the rest is history. He was sent to gallows for a controversial murder case.
Pakistan came under a brutal dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq who ruled Pakistan with an iron hand. He suppressed all dissent, curbed calls for democracy and human rights with full might of the state. He was the one in whose time even journalists were lashed. General Zia’s one plus point is that he spearheaded a crusade against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and succeeded in throwing them out of that perennially bedeviled country. But he too was killed in the mysterious helicopter crash. It is still not known who was behind that plot.
The political parties that ruled the roost in Pakistan have been showing scant interest in the welfare of Pakistan and its consolidation. The four governments (two each) of PPP and PMLN were kind of family-centric and thus Pakistan remained a country to be fleeced and bankrupted by the vested interest by these ruling cabals.
In the first PMNL government that lasted for barely three years, Nawaz Sharif had to resign under military pressure. The Nawaz Sharif’s second government (1997-1999) remained locked in a confrontation with judiciary and army. Nawaz Sharif was deposed through a military coup by General Musharraf On October 13, 1999.
However since his return to Pakistan in December 2007 from long exile, Nawaz Sharif has been supporting democracy and kept extending cooperation to PPP to complete its five years constitutional tenure.
Of late, Imran Khan has emerged as a formidable political contender of Nawaz Sharif and the ongoing standoff between the PMLN and PTI led has been swelling beyond conjectures. Imran Khan has portrayed himself to be an obdurate and inflexible rival who doesn’t seem to be in a mind frame to patch up with Sharif. His demand is the ouster and trial of Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif.
This irreconcilable attitude from Imran Khan and his mobilization of the country’s youth and disgruntled sections had created an unprecedented prolonged rally in the federal capital. But overall Imran Khan doesn’t enjoy the support of the majority of the people of Pakistan. He can keep demonstrating in Islamabad and other cities of Pakistan indefinitely but there should be an end to this French style revolution call.
Imran is trying to knock down the political edifice by forcing Sharif and PMLN out of power. The insistence on this demand through violence and show of street force may finally impel the armed forces to step in to disengage both the sides and take the country back to another prolonged and indefinite martial law. If that happens, it would be the fourth time in Pakistan of the ouster of a government through military take-over.
Even if Imran Khan succeeds in forcible ouster of the PMNL from power then what next? Will he like the traditional revolutionaries walk into the prime minister or president house and start issuing orders? Still he will have to gain power through the votes of the people.
Will he without any constitutional authority force his dictations? Would the other political parties keep watching him doing all these things with folded hands? Would there not be a political vacuum of governance? It is not difficult to fathom which power will fill that vacuum. It would be then fourth military rule in Pakistan. As for interim government to hold midterm elections, it is doubtful that the other parties would agree to this demand.
The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat. This and other articles by the writer can also be read at his blog www.uprightopinion.com.