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Opinion

July 8, 2017

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In the shadow of the coup

In the shadow of the coup

Pakistan plunged into the darkest era of its history on July 5, 1977. The then army chief General Zia conspired with reactionary right-wing forces and overthrew the democratically-elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

A relatively progressive and liberal regime was replaced by the most repressive and reactionary right-wing military dictatorship. The democratic transition that began in 1973 came to an abrupt end on July 5, 1977. The liberal and enlightened face of Pakistan was altered. That was the beginning of a long process of the destruction of the fabric of Pakistani society. Since then, Pakistan has not been able to recover from the horror and tyranny of that period.

July 5 reminds us of how a military dictator began the project of reshaping the political, social, religious and ideological life of ordinary Pakistanis. Social and cultural values were reconstructed. It was not just a mere change of guard or a simple transition from a civilian leadership to a military one. It was an imperialist initiative to begun an offensive against any form of progressive, left-wing and liberal political, social and ideological values in the country.

The protest movement launched by the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) provided the ideological and social basis for the military dictatorship of General Zia. After having absolute power in his hands, General Zia and a small clique around him established a draconian, authoritarian, dictatorial, retrogressive and orthodox right-wing Islamic nationalist order in the country. He died in a plane crash nearly 30 years ago. But his ghost is still looming large over Pakistan.

He took away every progressive and democratic reform or legislation and replaced it with discriminatory laws. In the name of Islamisation, he targeted women and religious minorities in the country. He filled state institutions with right-wing religious supporters and hard-line Islamists. He unleashed a reign of terror against anybody who opposed his regime. Thousands of political activists, poets, writers, academics, intellectuals and trade union leaders were tortured and imprisoned. He gave a free hand to everybody who supported his regime to enrich himself through any means possible. He introduced the culture of corruption and the smuggling of narcotics and arms and encouraged nepotism.

He used all state institutions and structures – the police, the judiciary, the intelligence apparatus etc – to repress progressive and democratic voices in the country. He made politics a crime and political activists were treated like terrorist and traitors. His regime changed the political culture and discussing politics was considered to be worse than a crime. Notices were written in all the public places – including restaurants, tea stalls and offices – that people should refrain from discussing politics. It was forbidden to have political debates and discussions at public places. He brutally reversed the political process.

General Zia used a policy of divide and rule to strengthen his rule. He used already existing divisions as a policy to further divide society. The only purpose of the state machinery was to protect his regime and destroy his opponents. He imposed his reactionary agenda in the name of Islam, using religion to strengthen his rule. He divided society on the basis of religious sectarianism, ethnicity, language and nationalities. He promoted religious sectarianism in the country and created sectarian militant outfits.

Most social and political evils that still haunt us were created and developed during Gen Zia’s regime. He perfected the art of hypocrisy, and changed the character and direction of Pakistani society during the 10 years of his rule.

General Zia was the darling of the West when he was serving their interests. The champions of democracy and rule of law promoted the law of the jungle in Pakistan. The West ignored the brutal repression of the political parties.

The Western media, governments and academics always give the impression that the rise of religious extremism, intolerance, Islamic militancy and religious bigotry is a home-grown indigenous phenomenon that has nothing to do with imperialist policies. The fact is that imperialist powers helped the reactionary military regime of General Zia shape Pakistani society and fulfil their imperialist interests. They helped the regime organise and train jihadi organisations and create a culture of Islamic militancy. They helped spread reactionary ideas in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It was the Western democracies that strengthened the most repressive and brutal military regime in the country. They helped the Pakistani state at the time to pursue the jihadist agenda in and outside the country. Britain, Germany, the US and other Western powers were also helped by Saudi Arabia in their endeavours. They helped the military regime transform Pakistan from a liberal and tolerant society to the one that exists today. They supported a regime that was responsible for the torture and illegal imprisonment of thousands of political activists. This openly violated basic democratic and fundamental rights and promoted intolerance, religious bigotry, extreme Islamic nationalism and a culture of jihad.

Zia’s regime depoliticised society and encouraged anti-democratic forces in the country. He empowered the extreme right-wing religious forces and gave them a greater say in religious affairs, with the state withdrawing its authority and writ in such matters.

 

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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