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July 6, 2019

Remembering July 5

Opinion

July 6, 2019

July 5 is not just a black day for the PPP but for all the democratic forces of this country. It was not only the PPP government that was ousted from power but democracy overall was derailed too. It was not a coup against one government but one against the entire democratic order and institutions in the country. We as a nation haven’t fully realised yet how much damage that intervention caused to this country.

July 5, 1977 is undoubtedly is a black day in the constitutional and democratic history of Pakistan. Every democrat in Pakistan can feel the travesty of what happened with state institutions, society and the political body as the consequence of that military coup. Pakistani society and state haven’t fully recovered from the 11 long years of the Zia regime.

Pakistan plunged into the darkest era that day. The then army chief General Zia overthrew the democratically-elected government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He imposed martial law and abrogated the 1973 constitution. Democratic and fundamental rights were suspended. Political parties were banned and political activism became a heinous crime. Women’s rights were suppressed in the name of religion. Censorship of the worst kind was imposed on the media.

Some people, and especially those born after the death of General Zia in a plane crash in 198, argue and wonder why we still discuss a coup that took place in 1977 and what relevance it has with the present-day problems faced by our country. Some even argue that we shouldn’t blame Zia for all our ills.

I disagree with these arguments. There are many problems that we are facing today as a consequence of the policies of that era. We cannot detach our past from our present. We learn from past mistakes to avoid repeating them again. We discuss July 5 military intervention because it fundamentally changed the direction of Pakistan on many counts.

A relatively progressive and liberal regime was replaced by the most repressive and reactionary right-wing military dictatorship. That was the beginning of a long process of the destruction of the fabric of Pakistani society. Pakistan has not been able to recover from the horror and tyranny of that period.

July 5 reminds us of how a 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-sponsored initiative to begin 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 dictatorship of General Zia. After having absolute power in his hands, General Zia and a small clique around him established a draconian, dictatorial, retrogressive and orthodox right-wing Islamic nationalist order in the country. He took away every progressive and democratic reform or legislation in the country and replaced it with discriminatory laws.

In the name of Islamisation, he targeted women and religious minorities in the country. 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. This era also saw the rise of a culture of corruption, narcotics and nepotism.

Zia used all state institutions and structures – the police, the judiciary, the intelligence apparatus etc – to repress progressive and democratic voices in the country. Politics became a crime and political activists were treated like terrorist and traitors. The regime changed the political culture and discussing politics was considered to be worse than a crime. All public places – including restaurants, tea stalls and offices – discouraged people from discussing politics.

The West shares responsibility for what happened with Pakistani society during that time. 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. They helped the regime transform Pakistan from a relative liberal and tolerant society to the one that exists today.

This openly violated basic democratic and fundamental rights and promoted intolerance, religious bigotry, extreme Islamic nationalism and a culture of jihad. The Pakistani people have paid a heavy price for the flawed policies of the West.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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