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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Dangerous Denials

          Karl Marx said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience?” The successive governments in Pakistan have been living in a consistent state of denial since 1948 on many counts. Consequently, the vicious cycle of history repeating itself with ugly and unexpected happening have never ceased, with sham democracy by the corrupt being the worst outcome. When people in the helms of affairs are confronted with this reality, the often repeated cynical response is, “It’s not denial. I'm just selective about the reality I accept”. Although, the refusal to believe until proof is given is a rational position; yet, denial of all outside of our own limited experience is absurd. However, with the rise in political status or in bureaucratic pay grade, the tendency to adapt to a blurred vision and to indulge in denial of stark reality becomes a way of life with unending pitfalls. One wonders as to what will convince the ruling elite in Pakistan that “You will find peace not by trying to escape your problems, but by confronting them courageously; and you will find peace not in denial, but in victory”.

                A brief look on our state of denials is considered imperative to underscore the moot point. At the time of birth of Pakistan, both the military and the civil bureaucracy were affected by the disruptions wrought by partition. The politicians were corrupt, interested in maintaining their political power and securing the interests of the elite; so to have them as the representative authority did not provide much hope of a democratic state that provided socio-economic justice and fair administration to all Pakistani citizens. Ranging controversies over the issue of the national language, the role of Islam, provincial representation, and the distribution of power between the center and the provinces delayed constitution making and postponed general elections. In October 1956 a consensus was cobbled together and Pakistan's first constitution declared. The experiment in democratic government was short but not sweet. Ministries were made and broken in quick succession and in October 1958, with national elections scheduled for the following year, General Mohammad Ayub Khan carried out a military coup with confounding ease.

Between 1958 and 1969, President Ayub Khan, through autocratic rule was able to centralize the government without the inconvenience of unstable ministerial coalitions that had characterized its first decade after independence. Khan brought together an alliance of a predominantly Punjabi army and civil bureaucracy with the small but influential industrial class as well as segments of the landed elite, to replace the parliamentary government by a system of Basic Democracies. Basic Democracies code was founded on the premise of Khan's diagnosis that the politicians and their "free-for-all" type of fighting had had ill effect on the country. He therefore disqualified all old politicians under the Elective Bodies Disqualification Order, 1959 (EBDO), which opened up the opportunity to bribe and buy votes from the limited voters who were privileged enough to vote. By giving the civil bureaucracy (the chosen few) a part in electoral politics, Khan had hoped to bolster central authority, and largely American-directed, programs for Pakistan's economic development. But his policies exacerbated existing disparities between the provinces as well as within them. Which gave the grievances of the former East Pakistan a potency that threatened the very centralized control Khan was trying to establish. In West Pakistan, notable successes in increasing productivity were more than offset by growing inequalities in the agrarian sector and their lack of representation, an agonizing process of urbanization, and the concentration of wealth in a few industrial houses. In the aftermath of the 1965 war with India, mounting regional discontent in East Pakistan and urban unrest in West Pakistan helped undermine Ayub Khan's authority, forcing him to relinquish power in March 1969.

After Ayub Khan, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan headed the second military regime from 1969-1971. By that time the country had been under military rule for thirteen of its twenty-five years of existence. This second military regime emphasized the extent to which the process of centralization under bureaucratic and military tutelage had fragmented Pakistani society and politics. The general elections of 1970 on the basis of adult franchise revealed for the first time ever in Pakistan's history how regionalism and social conflict had come to dominate politics despite the efforts at controlled development. The Awami League, led by Mujibur Rahman, campaigned on a six-point program of provincial autonomy, capturing all but one seat in East Pakistan and securing an absolute majority in the national assembly. In West Pakistan the Pakistan People's Party, led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, had a populist platform that stole the thunder from the Islamic parties and emerged as the largest single bloc. The prospect of an Awami Leagues government was erroneously considered a threat to politicians in West Pakistan who in conspiracy with the military leadership prevented Mujibur Rehman from taking the reins of power…the great political denial. This was the final straw for the east wing who was already fed up with their under-representation in all sectors of the government, economic deprivation and then the suppression of the democratic process. An armed rebellion in former East Pakistan engendered all of these frustrations, which caused Indian military intervention to crush it. Pakistan was now involved in its third war with India, thus clearing the way for the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971. Although Bhutto's PPP won the 1977 elections, the Pakistan National Alliance-a nine-party coalition (IJI), charged him with rigging the vote (yet another denial). Violent urban unrest gave the army under General Zia-ul Haq the pretext to make a powerful comeback to the political arena, and on July 5, 1977 Pakistan was placed under military rule yet again and the 1973 Constitution was suspended.

Upon assuming power General Zia banned all political parties and expressed his determination to recast the Pakistani state and society into an Islamic mold. In April 1979 Bhutto was executed on murder charges and the PPP's remaining leadership was jailed or exiled. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 caused Zia's regime to receive international support as a stable government bordering Soviet territory; Pakistan played the Cat’s paw role in fighting a so named Jihad against former Soviet Union and Gen Zia and ISI was thanked and abandoned by USA for winning the greatest victory against their prime foe, leaving behind a large number of Jihadi/ militants, Afghan refugees, socio-economic troubles and a legacy of religious extremism in place to be confronted by Pakistan alone that continues till to date.  General Zia was killed in a mysterious air crash in August 1988 and Ghulam Ishaq khan became the president. From 1988 to 2022, Pakistan has seen frequent dismissal of civilian led governments on corruption charges including ten year direct/indirect rule by General Musharraf; thus the democratic experiments remained one step forward and two steps backward. Like General Zia, once again General Musharraf accepted a second fiddle role for fighting against the same Jihadi outfit this time rebranded as international terrorists by the USA in the background of dubious 9/11 attacks in America. The outcome of 180 degree turn by Pakistan has proved to be even more catastrophic as till now, neither there is any let up in extremism and militancy nor any relief in tail twisting by the USA with complete economic strangulation of Pakistan. Therefore, throughout the choice for Pakistan has remained ‘between a rock and a hard place’.

What was started as denial of Father of the Nation’s vision about the state of Pakistan’s concept with respect to the domestic, foreign and defence policies and guidelines for the role of the state institutions has unfortunately kept multiplying the backlash. The mysteries and intrigues surrounding the demise of the Quad e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, murder of Liaqat Ali khan, Fatima Jinnah, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, General Zia ul Haq, Benazir Bhutto and murder attempts on former Prime Minister Imran Khan have been kept under wraps and historical facts are either denied or obscured in a deliberately spread  confusion. The dirty machinations which commenced by Iskander Mirza promoting himself as a major general, quick dismissal of elected prime ministers and governor generals, becoming president, promotion of Field Marshal Ayub Khan declaring Martial law, becoming the president for ten years, followed by three more military rulers i.e. General Yahya, General Zia and General Musharraf, repeated dismissal of PMLN and PPP governments and a short lived PTI Government, writing off all corruption and criminal charges and even removing proven crimes of the PPP and PMLN overnight, and quick fix return of the yesterday villain in the power seems as imminent, as endangered is the PTI leadership facing the same fate as was the case for his predecessor. Sadly, it is considered an insult to even an average intellect and a passionate heart. Even the two greatest tragedies of 16 December 1971 and 16 December 2014 have not shaken the ruling club’s joint conscience to learn from the past blunders and take all micro and macro national steps to avoid recurrence of such devious man-made calamities.

The whole nation is haplessly watching the same old putrid political experiment being repeated; suppression of political dissent by the state oppression, use of force and immoral techniques to silence the people, crippled economy, slaying inflation, treating the constitution as wax nose, lawlessness, unending terrorism, fissures in senior judiciary with questionable dispensation of selective justice, overstaying and highly politicized and biased caretakers governments busy in foreign tours, enjoying undue and controversial media spotlight day in day out, and doing everything way beyond their constitutional obligation that was to be performed in three months and not in years, putting on sale precious national assets and resources without due process and approval by an elected government are only a few example to point out the state of denial and the murky environment in which we are forced to live.

On the foreign policy front, Pakistan seems to have lost stature and credibility to be of any value and our response to ongoing genocide of Palestinian Muslim is as deplorable as has been the case of mere lip service to the seemingly abandoned Kashmir cause. Neverthrless, like always the paid professionals and denial mode elite are prone to jump to denial mode and prove it wrong by untenable flimsy narratives. The powerful rulers' club in Pakistan needs to remember that “Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up.”

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