Revisiting political movements in Pakistan

October 26, 2020

LAHORE: During the last 73 years, Pakistan has witnessed the rise of numerous religious, political and secular social movements, which were mostly aimed at dethroning the rulers, and the current...

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LAHORE: During the last 73 years, Pakistan has witnessed the rise of numerous religious, political and secular social movements, which were mostly aimed at dethroning the rulers, and the current show of power, being displayed by the 11-party Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) against the sitting Imran Khan-led government is also no exception.

However, there have been a few long marches and political movements in Pakistan’s history that were not initiated to topple any government, and they did achieve their set targets somehow and peacefully ended.

For example, on July 4-5, 1980, the Shia community had marched on Islamabad to protest the enforcement of the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance by the then president, General Ziaul Haq.

The protesters, led by Shia leader Mufti Jaafar Hussain, had laid an effective siege, literally paralysing the bureaucracy in the Capital. It was then that the government had caved in to the protesters’ demands and declared them exempt from paying Zakat to the state.

Nawaz Sharif can also claim that he had also undertaken a half, yet successful, long march on Islamabad on March 15, 2009, which was not intended at ousting any government, but to get the deposed judges reinstated.

Overall, many political movements in Pakistan have undoubtedly been successful as they accomplished their envisaged goals.

In fact, the creation of Pakistan itself was the result of a social movement, led by the All-India Muslim League, against the British rule.

A research undertaken by the Jang Group and Geo Television Network shows that with the murder of the first Pakistani prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951, the political rot had started in the country and the struggle for power had commenced, trampling upon all norms, ethics and principles.

Then the second prime minister Khwaja Nazimuddin was sent packing by the then governor general Ghulam Muhammad on April 17, 1953. Earlier, the first martial law was imposed in parts of Punjab on March 8, 1953 during the anti-Qadiyani movement.

In complete disregard to decent parliamentary practices, the cabinet was made to elevate the finance minister, Ghulam Mohammad, to the post of Governor General of Pakistan.

Nazimuddin knocked at the doors of the Supreme Court where Justice Munir had to invent the doctrine of necessity to validate Ghulam Muhammad’s illegal act. Then came Muhammad Ali Bogra, who too was dismissed by Ghulam Muhammad in 1954, but later was again appointed as premier, but he did not enjoy majority in the Constituent Assembly.

Therefore, Governor General Iskander Mirza dismissed his government in 1955.

A chronological flashback of such movements reveals that the first significant political turmoil took place between 1956 and 1958.

After the first Constitution of the country was ratified by the Constituent Assembly in 1956, Maj Gen Iskander Mirza became the first President of Pakistan.

Mirza subsequently developed grievances with the parliament and sought more power in a bid to control the prime minister.

Consequently, three prime ministers -- Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, Huseyn Shaheed Suharwardy and Ibrahim Ismael Chundrigar -- were sent packing in quick succession or within a period of two years.

Sir Feroz Khan Noon became the prime minister in 1958 and the tug-of-war between the president and parliament became more serious.

Prominent politicians of the time, including the likes of Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, started street demonstrations against Iskander Mirza. Khan, an important political figure, was also among the leaders of the protests.

Stranded in a dark alley, Mirza opted to abrogate the Constitution on October 7, 1958, dissolved the parliament and imposed martial law, making General Ayub Khan the chief martial law administrator.

Mirza had no idea that two weeks later, he too would be ousted by Ayub Khan and sent to London, where he would be seeking political asylum for rest of his life.

Ayub Khan ended the role of the president and became the chief executive of the state.

In 1965, Ayub was confronted by a loud cry for democracy from different sections of society.

Students had spearheaded this movement. The National Student Federation (NSF) launched protests in major cities when Ayub Khan decided to celebrate the ‘Decade of Development’ calling it a ‘Decade of Decadence’ instead.

Ayub tried to tackle the protests with use of force, which further emboldened the opposition. On Nov 7, 1968, police fired at a student rally in Rawalpindi, which resulted in the deaths of three students and fired up the protests against the government. Mainstream politicians also joined the movement, along with intellectuals, journalists and recession-ridden industrial workers.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had formed his own party in 1967, became a key opposition figure.

Ayub Khan subsequently lost support of the military establishment too and had to relinquish charge in March 1969.

The reins of power were handed over to General Yahya Khan, who transferred the country's control to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after his victory in the 1970 general elections. An unhappy Shaikh Mujeebur Rehman then joined hands with India and Pakistan resultantly lost its Eastern wing, now called Bangladesh.

Coming to Bhutto's stint in power, it was after 13 years of martial law that a civilian ruler (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) had succeeded in getting power, and remained posted as the president under special arrangements till the 1973 Constitution was passed.

Bhutto then resigned as president to become the prime minister of Pakistan after passage of the 1973 Constitution.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called shots comfortably for a few years, but was taken aback by the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) led opposition movement of 1977.

The PNA movement was similar to the 2014 long march called by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, as it was also initiated due to alleged election rigging.

Bhutto's PPP had won the general elections of 1977 with a large margin but his political foes had accused him of rigging the polls.

The nine-party alliance, called the PNA, rejected the election outcome; its members boycotted assembly sessions and staged demonstrations against the government.

The PNA, led by Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Maulana Maududi, Air Marshal Asghar Khan and Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi etc, held rallies and processions across the country and demanded Bhutto’s resignation.

Many analysts said the PNA was funded by the influential business class that was enraged by Bhutto’s socialist policies and his ruthless nationalization drive that made many tycoons lose their industries and wealth overnight.

Bhutto, after initial resistance, did try to negotiate with the PNA but it was too late as Army Chief General Ziaul Haq showed the door to the elected premier, arrested and tried him in courts.

Bhutto was hanged in 1979.

General Ziaul Haq then had to face the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) that was chiefly led by the PPP.

It carried out protests in major and interior cities of Sindh but to no avail. Zia was strong enough to deal with situation.

The army was used to curb the demonstrations in many areas. There were violent incidents of shooting at the protestors and a considerable loss of civilian lives was reported at several occasions.

Zia played a vital card and announced the 1985 non-party polls.

The MRD partners obviously had divergent views about taking part in the polls and the PPP went for a boycott, much to the pleasure of General Zia.

The PPP believed it would only legitimise Zia’s regime if it took part in the elections.

And then came a few years where Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto had each won two stints in power.

In 1992, the late Benazir Bhutto announced a long march against the government of Nawaz Sharif, levelling allegations of corruption and also dubbing the 1990 elections “rigged”.

The long march that took place in November 1992 saw the participation of various renowned leaders including Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Muhammad Khan Junejo, the late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Gohar Ayub Khan, Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo and Hamid Nasir Chattha among others.

However, the Sharif government using state power cracked down on it and arrested several leaders. This march could not achieve anything significant and was successfully suppressed by the government.

However, Benazir threatened to march on Islamabad with thousands of supporters again in 1993.

Upon increasing pressure from the opposition, the then Army chief Abdul Waheed Khan Kakar had to send packing both Nawaz Sharif and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

During Benazir Bhutto’s second term (1993-96), Sharif was reported to have embraced the sitting prime minister’s estranged brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto and both had planned a train march against the ruling regime.

However, the October 27, 1996 protests spearheaded by the Jamaat-e-Islami and other political entities had reaped their desired objective of toppling a sitting government in quickest time.

Just a week later, on Nov 4, 1996, Premier Benazir Bhutto’s government was dismissed by the then president Farooq Leghari on charges of corruption primarily.

As history would have it, on July 20, 1996, Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s Jamaat-e-Islami had triggered protests against the Benazir government, alleging it of being utterly corrupt.

Qazi Hussain resigned from the Senate on Sept 27 of the same year and announced starting a long march against Benazir Bhutto and her men calling shots in the power corridors.

In 2008, the lawyers’ community took to the streets when General Musharraf deposed the then chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and sixty other judges. The long march of 2008 was mainly a display of activism by the civil society.

Although massively attended, it could not achieve restoration of judges.

In 2009, a second long march was announced during the government of Asif Ali Zardari for the same purpose as stated in the initial paragraphs.

However, this time around, Nawaz Sharif had decided to lead the march from Lahore.

However, as the march was in progress, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, in a televised speech on March 16, 2009, announced restoration of deposed judges, resulting in the long march being called off.

On January 14, 2013, the Pakistan Awami Tehrik chief, Dr Tahirul Qadri, had chosen the cold, chilly and wet January for his eventful 2013 long march against the then ruling Pakistan People’s Party government.

Qadri had also called for a pre-election interim government to be appointed with input from the country's judiciary and military.

Qadri's January 14 to 17, 2013 long march from Lahore to Islamabad ended after the then PPP government agreed to hold parleys with Qadri, who was demanding electoral reforms and dissolution of the National Assembly, all four provincial assemblies; and the disbanding of the country's Election Commission.

Then followed the eventful PTI-PAT Azadi March, shown live by the mainstream Pakistani television channels, day and night.

This protest lasted for 126 days from August 14 to Dec 17, 2014, only to send ripples down the spine of the Nawaz Sharif government.

The march was organised to protest the alleged rigging in the May 2013 polls, which had seen Nawaz Sharif becoming prime minister for the third time. The Azadi March participants demanded dismissal of the PML-N government and resignation of prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

On Nov 8, 2017, a 22-day long sit-in was organised by the Tehreek-e-Labaik and the Sunni Tehreek in Islamabad, after the PML-N government and the protesters signed an agreement, facilitated by the Pakistan Army.

However, the truce was reached following Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s resignation. According to the agreement, an inquiry board would be set up to take action against those responsible for the controversial amendment to the Finality of Prophethood declaration for electoral candidates within 30 days.

On Oct 27, 2019, Maulana Fazlur Rehman had led an 18-day-long Azadi march on Islamabad. He had vehemently opposed Premier Imran Khan and demanded his resignation. Tens of thousands of protesters followed Fazlur Rehman, who had resorted to the streets.

The march was called off on Nov 13, 2019 and was converted to a blockade of major roads as ‘Plan B’.

After Nawaz Sharif left Pakistan for the UK on an air ambulance on Nov 19, 2019 for treatment, the Plan B involving blockade of roads was also called off.

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