Date Published: July 05, 2012
There is a whole generation of Pakistani youth who are oblivious to what our history is truly about. With all due respect, they tend to live in a self-created bubble and overlook some of our harsh realities. Each year, when July comes, my mind automatically takes me back to the year 1977. Many of my overly charged and hypnotised youth were still somewhere in heaven, waiting to be conceived, when Pakistan went through one of its worst transformations. To date, it has not come out of the shadows of what went so utterly wrong in that one particular year.
When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went for early elections in 1977, his circle of ‘yes men’ gave him an overly optimistic picture. They said he was guaranteed a hands-down victory. In March of that year, that is exactly what he seemed to have received. The opposition parties had formed an election alliance called the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). It was an alliance of nine parties, mostly religious, and all anti-PPP. Their flag had nine stars, strangely resembling the flag of the United States, but green in colour.
The PNA, after the results of the National Assembly were announced, immediately boycotted the provincial assembly elections. Their claim was that the entire election was rigged. Then it almost felt like all hell broke loose. The country was engulfed with agitation and protests. No one, however, knew where the money was coming from.
I still have a clear memory of my late father pacing up and down in our home listening to the BBC’s Urdu transmission on the radio to get updates on what really happened in Karachi and around Pakistan. My 12-year-old mind often wondered that the British were supposed to be the villains — at least, that is what our textbooks taught us, yet we relied on a country thousands of miles away to hear the truth about what transpired within miles from our own home. Schools, colleges and universities were closed for the rest of the term, as conditions deteriorated around the city very rapidly. Then we heard that Mr Bhutto and the opposition parties had agreed on dialogue and negotiations. All of us took that as a positive development.
By mid-June or so, there was relatively good progress. Towards the end of that month, in principle what the PPP and PNA had agreed upon was a fresh election and decided to work on the details and modalities. That ill-fated morning of July 5, I was in Rawalpindi. Something was different that day. The Asghar Mall Chowk had that cunningly different tone to it. Traffic headed towards Murree Road was unusually light. The noisy buses headed towards Pir Wadhai were fewer than normal days. Later that day, the rumours started to fly that ‘our valiant army’ had taken over the reins and martial law was being imposed. That evening, PTV started to play anthems praising the Pakistani military.
Then he came on the screen, a spectacled General Zia in his khaki uniform, and started to unleash his pack of lies. His honest and sincere demeanour fooled many. Again, there was a 12-year-old who was not able to swallow his cleverly crafted story. Had the military moved in back in April or May, his story would have been partially believable. His timing and narrative was not making sense at all. I still remember his words to return to the barracks in 90 days and his promise to hold free and fair elections on October 18, 1977. One had to be dumb or an idiot to buy that one, because if that was the goal, then both government and opposition were capable of doing that on their own. Who needed the general and why?
What transpired after that was a sheer mockery of our faith and its real values. The memories are bitter and most of our overly patriotic youth would like to brush them aside as partisan rants. But one op-ed is inadequate to share the miseries of thousands who became victims of a butcher in that military uniform. But what is relevant is to clearly demonstrate that nothing much has changed.
Here are some very pertinent questions that I would like to raise here and I would like the learned, talented thinkers, historians, politicians and above all, the patriotic youth, to ponder and perhaps opine on.
a) Who brought a coalition of mostly religious parties called the PNA together?
b) What happened to the call of the PNA, which was cleverly termed as Nizam-e-Mustafa? Why did it abandon the system of what they called the Prophet’s system, out of fear of the general’s stick?
c) If the PNA was sincere and keen about the elections and demonstrated their street power in April and May of 1977, then why did they accept Zia’s martial law? Why were they not able to carry out the same agitation post-July 1977 and demand that Zia keep his word?
d) Why did the honourable judiciary aid and abet a general’s unconstitutional act by reference to the ‘doctrine of necessity’?
My list of questions is much longer, but for the sake of brevity I will stop here. History is undoubtedly a rearview mirror that enables us to focus on the present and to chart the future. Those of us who are still naïve enough to buy the commonly peddled narrative being sold by the patriots and righteous of the land ought to dig into my burning questions. I am afraid the answers are going to be very painful for them. In the end, a relatively obvious and recurrent theme would emerge. The comparisons and deductive reasoning should lead to some very obvious yet extremely dark answers.