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October 13, 2020

Was Oct 12 coup justified?


October 13, 2020

Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing Insaf Lawyers Forum on Friday, questioned why former prime minister Nawaz Sharif always had problems with successive army chiefs and strained relationship with the ISI heads .

His hard-hitting speech came just days before Oct 12, which reminds us of the military takeover 21 years ago on this day, an action which was defended among others by Imran Khan himself.

Khan, during his speech also referred to a reported incident where it was believed that the former ISI chief Lt-Gen (retd) Zaheerul Islam asked for the resignation of the then PM Nawaz Sharif and asked, “Why did he (Zaheerul Islam) say that? And why did you (Nawaz) silently listen to that? Because he knew how money you had stolen.”

But, on Oct 12, when Nawaz Sharif as a prime minister sacked the then army chief General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and appointed former ISI chief General Ziauddin Butt as the new chief, he was not even asked to resign and just removed by the then commanders, who did not accept his decision.

Within hours, the elected government was overthrown. Now, was that action justified even if the PM decision was controversial? Whether he has the constitutional and legal authority or not? Those who defended the takeover believed that Sharif, if at all made up his mind to remove him, should have waited for Gen Musharraf's return from Colombo.

Imran, who was new in politics at that time as he had joined the field in 1995, welcomed the military takeover, and supported General Pervez Musharraf till 2002, when he parted ways over differences on the elections and formation of government.

Years later, Khan regretted his decision to support Musharraf and became one of his biggest critics. The prime minister was right that Nawaz Sharif never had good relations with the powerful quarters and some former army chiefs like General (retd) Aslam Beg, General (retd) Jehangir Karamat and Gen (retd) Musharraf. But, was the former PM at fault all the time or was the other side also responsible as well.

For instance, Sharif was wrong in the case of Gen Jehangir Karamat, as even if the latter had given an idea of the National Security Council or Committee, the issue could have been resolved.

It was also true that after the 1997 elections, Sharif also tried to become a civilian dictator as, what he did with former president Farooq Leghari, former chief justice of Pakistan Sajjad Ali Shah and then with Gen Karamat were actions simply uncalled far.

However, it is also a fact, as confirmed by one of the colleagues of Gen Karamat, that he never wanted to give this idea, but some of his colleagues including General Ali Quli Khan, who wanted that the message should reach the political leadership, pushed him to do so. All this was in the backdrop of national security and strategic issues, a well informed source told the writer.

Sharif first wanted to dismiss him, but the latter himself resigned and was replaced by General Pervez Musharraf. His name was proposed by Shahbaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. It is important to have a fair assessment of all these actions for a better way forward and any meaningful dialogue on a New Political Order.

Political leadership and political parties have lots of problems including credibility and lack of democratic culture in their own parties, but the fact remains that leaders like Sharif were the products of dictators. The question is why military dictators picked politicians, which in anyway was not their job, and a violation of their own oath.

For example, why, in the first place, Gen Ziaul Haq needed someone to counter parties like Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). His job was to hold elections in 90 days and ask troops to go back to barracks.

Similarly, why Musharraf stayed for nine years? He had problems with Sharif and his commanders sacked him and the elected parliament.

Like Zia, he should have also held elections within 90 days or six months and returned power to the elected representative. It was not his job to make parties like PML-Q and the PPP-Patriot.

One of Musharraf's colleagues Lt-Gen (retd) Amjad Shoaib told the writer that after the coup, he himself proposed elections within six months, but senior colleagues did not agree as they wanted to bring some reforms.

The dilemma of such unconstitutional actions had been that in a bid to get legal sanctions, the dictators also brought the PCO judges and damaged the higher judiciary as well.

Both Zia and Musharraf held referendums in 1981 and 2001, respectively, in a bid to test their own popularity and each time people rejected them. Yet, they declared themselves winners with over 90 per cent support.

Nawaz Sharif was the product of General Ziaul Haq and General Ghulam Jillani and was later groomed by former ISI chief, General Hameed Gul. Were all these three justified in their actions in the first place?

After the death of General Zia in a plane crash, General Aslam Beg took over as the new army chief and instead of imposing martial law in the wake of the crash, Ghulam Ishaq Khan took over as president and elections were announced. Beg's decision was appreciated by all political parties and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto even gave him ‘Tamgha-e-Jamhooriat’.

But, just before elections, Gen Gul, in a bid to cut to size rising popularity of the PPP and Benazir Bhutto, formed Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). Question arises here as to why Gen Beg did not take any action against Gul. The latter always defended his decision, but it did not go well in our political history.

The IJI was used first for bringing no-confidence move against PM Benazir Bhutto, and later 1990 election were managed, which years later was declared by the Supreme Court as 'rigged' in the famous Asghar Khan case.

The court still awaits an FIA action against those who distributed the money and those who had taken the money in the light of the affidavit submitted by former ISI chief Lt-Gen Asad Durrani.

Sharif developed differences with General Aslam Beg in 1991, after the latter issued a statement in regard to Iraq's attack on Kuwait, which was contradictory to the position taken by the civilian government. So was Sharif, who was the prime minister, wrong?

Gen Beg was replaced by Gen Asif Nawaz, who was regarded as a tough General within the army. After the 1992 army operation in Sindh particularly in Karachi against the MQM militancy, reports started appearing in the newspapers that the General had planned against the political leadership as well

In 1993, the Supreme Court restored the government of Sharif, after it was sacked by former president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan. However, Ghulam Ishaq resisted as he was not ready to accept Sharif. Parliament could have impeached the president but, in a bid to avoid the political crisis, the then army chief Gen Waheed Kakar intervened and gave a formula for fresh elections and asked both Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Sharif to resign. Sharif did not face much problem with the chief.

Both political leadership as well as those who matter need to learn lessons from the past if we really want to establish civilian supremacy and New Democratic Order. Political parties just need to democratise themselves, which they have failed so far without much justification.

No coup like Oct 12, 1999, could be justified under any circumstances as Prime Minister Imran Khan himself says, "I am democracy”. He just needs to practise it by respecting dissent in the first place.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.