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December 16, 2019

Remembering 1971, APS


December 16, 2019

From December 16, 1971 to Dec 16, 2014, what lesson we have learnt from the two big tragedies as every year we mourn the day. While the massacre of 150 children and teachers of Army Public School, Peshawar, by the terrorists remind us of challenges ahead to overcome rising religious extremism, the tragedy of the fall of East Pakistan 50 years ago was the outcome of post-Independence politics of depriving majority right to rule.

Pakistan can still be put on the right path through ‘meaningful democracy’ without political engineering. Pakistan cannot afford another 1971 or APS. While there is still much to be done, which required political maturity, the passage of the unanimous Constitution of 1973, the 18th Amendment, which to large extent settled the issue of provincial autonomy, holding elections under neutral setup and independent and autonomous Election Commission are measures which could be regarded as the way forward after 1971. The present crisis of not reaching any consensus on the three members of Election Commission of Pakistan, including its chairman, both, government and Opposition had shown political immaturity. Similarly, the concept of independent ECP, independent Pemra and independent NAB, also need more clarity in the definition. People appointed on these positions should be judged on ‘merit’ rather which side has proposed the names. Now what lesson establishment has learnt from 1971 and APS? The two martial laws after 1971 did not go well for Pakistan, but there is more or less consensus that there is no other alternate to democracy.

Uninterrupted elections since 2008, and transfer of power from one party to another is a way forward but question mark remains when it come to pre-poll developments like making and breaking of parties or during the formation of governments.

But the biggest lesson which the establishment has learnt and which will have far-reaching impact on the society is the ‘war against terrorism’ and ‘extremism’. APS incident has jolted the whole nation. Pakistan suffered most due to past policies and the decision to eradicate all kind of terrorism after 2008 that resulted in massive military operation in Swat, South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Malakand and Karachi.

The whole nation came on ‘one page’ after APS, and never looked back. But the fight against extremism still looked a big challenge. Disbanding terror networks and Jihadi outfits, declaring groups outlawed may go a long way in regaining confidence of the world on Pakistan as a democratic country.

Pakistan is in the process of rebuilding institutions and independence of judiciary and independent media considered as essential part and two strongest pillars of the State. Thus, it is important that to accept their independence. There is always a room for improvement, which can come with the passage of time. Both these institutions also need to show more responsible behaviour as well.

Fall of Dhaka was the ultimate outcome of our continued failure to allow democracy to flourish from 1947 to 1971 and both civil and military leadership were responsible. While former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could have laid the foundation of a new democratic order had he accepted Awami League (AL) and Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman’s right to rule. The then military establishment should have handed over power to Mujeeb, come what may. After all Gen Yahya Khan and not Bhutto was the ruler during the crisis.

It is also important to assess the politics during the first 25 years after independence and how Pakistan’s ruling elite pushed Bengalis to the position which they never wanted. They were in majority from day one and had the right to govern the country.

Perhaps we would not have witnessed back-to-back martial law had the basic concept of democracy been accepted ie majority’s right to rule. Instead we allowed and gave legitimacy to one martial law after another.

Even after the tragedy of 1971, the third martial law was imposed on July 5, 1977 and that too when both government and Opposition had reached an ‘accord’ on fresh elections. Gen Zia could have further saved country from political turmoil had army went back to barracks after holding elections within 90-days on Oct 16, 1977 as promised. His lust for power resulted not only in the longest martial law but it led to the hanging of the first elected prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4, 1979. Had we learnt any lesson from 1971, the then military establishment would not have allowed Gen Zia either to prolong martial law or to hang Bhutto.

In his 11 years of rule, he took Pakistan to a path which ultimately resulted in extremist mindset, one which massacred children of APS in 2014.

Had we learnt any lesson from 1971, Zia would not have damaged country’s political narrative. He first got himself elected through an established fraud referendum in 1981, and later laid the foundation of ‘corrupt practices’ in politics through non-party based elections in 1985, which damaged our political culture. The ideological politics was replaced by ‘Karobari politics’. He also made controversial amendments in the 1973 Constitution at will as the PCO judiciary legitimised him and justified his rule. According to veteran bureaucrat Roedad Khan, the Bengalis lost the confidence in West Pakistan after imposition of Gen Ayub’s martial law. “Bengali bureaucrats started losing confidence in West Pakistan after the imposition of martial law and found no friends in Rawalpindi,” he recently told me on phone from Islamabad.

The first batch of Pakistan Civil Service of 1949 had 12 each from West Pakistan and East Pakistan and I myself was from the first batch, he added. Pakistan paid a heavy price as a result of two Afghan wars and the blame for these controversial decisions also go to the two military dictators Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf.

If Zia’s policies brought narcotics and Kalashnikov culture, corrupt practices in politics, sectarian and ethnic hatred, the post 9/11 policy of Gen Musharraf allowed global and local terror networks to attack Pakistani forces and people.

Had we not made Pakistani soil ‘hub’ for thousands of ‘mujahideen’ in the name of Afghan Jihad, we would not have faced the kind of pressure we are facing today, because the same ‘mujahideen’ were now branded as ‘terrorists’ and Pakistan was being blamed for making its soil hub for terror network. The meaningful democracy was never allowed to take roots and whatever system we have today, need much improvement but democracy cannot flourish without meaningful accountability and power to the grassroots level ie local governments. The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO