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Sat. December 07, 2019
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International Affairs Forum

Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

Of Coups, Justice and Democracy!

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By Sartaj Chaudhary

Having concluded an official visit, General Pervez Musharraf was returning to Karachi from Colombo on a commercial flight. With 198 passengers on board, flight PK-805 was to land at the Karachi International airport just shy of 7 p.m. When the Captain contacted Air Traffic Control, he was denied landing clearance. Not just in Karachi, but anywhere in Pakistan! Musharraf was called to the flight-deck and briefed about the events unfolding.

Little did Musharraf know that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had sacked him as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) a little over an hour ago. The situation on the ground was tense as well. Musharraf’s motorcade was waiting for him. His chauffeur was seen getting out of his armoured Mercedes Benz and taking off the flag of the COAS and covering the four stars. Within minutes, the army stormed the airport and took control. Tables turned and the mood changed. The plane was allowed to land and Corps Commander Lieutenant General Usmani and Division Commander Iftikhar received Musharraf on the tarmac. Musharraf’s chauffeur was seen once again. This time, he walked proudly with his shoulders pulled back. He took off the cover from the four stars and put the flag back in its original position. The people at the airport understood immediately, Gen. Musharraf was back in business!

Nawaz Sharif was arrested, Musharraf established himself as the “Chief Executive” of Pakistan and two days later, suspended the writ of the Constitution of Pakistan seizing the control of the federal Government. As simple as that!

Since Independence, Pakistan has seen many democratically elected governments being suspended. The inauguration was done by Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad. In 1953, he dismissed the government of P.M. Khwaja Nazimuddin in spite of the fact that his government enjoyed the support of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

Then, in October ’58, President Iskander Mirza abrogated the Constitution and declared martial law. Only 20 days later, Mirza was deposed by General Ayub Khan. Khan declared martial law owing to the “rising tensions between India and Pakistan regarding the canal water dispute.”

Amuse you it might, the coup d'état by General Zia-ul-Haq was codenamed “Operation Fair Play.” On the 4th of July 1977, Zia ordered the arrest of a democratically elected PM - Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and all his ministers. Zia appeared on national television and announced that the National Assembly of Pakistan (equivalent of Lok Sabha) and all provincial assemblies (equivalent of our Vidhan Sabhas) were dissolved and the Constitution of Pakistan was suspended.

Bhutto was released on bail only 10 days after his arrest. Justice KMA Samdani released Bhutto stating that the evidence was "contradictory and incomplete." He was at once removed from the bench and sent to the law ministry. Bhutto was arrested 72 hours later, on the same charges, but this time under martial law.

Bhutto was arraigned straight before the High Court of Lahore instead of a lower court -depriving him of one level of appeal. The “trial” was headed by Chief Justice Maulvi Mushtaq Hussain. Not only did Hussain have an overt contempt for Bhutto, he was a Zia appointee and he hailed from Zia’s home district of Jullundur. Bhutto was declared not guilty of murder, but was sentenced to death.

Bhutto (of the Lincoln’s Inn, Barrister) managed to secure the right to defend himself in the Supreme Court. He argued for four days. The SC upheld the HC’s verdict. Aged 51, Bhutto was hanged at four minutes past 2 on the morning of the 4th of April ’79.

The most recent coup d'état (until the time of writing this) remains the one of 1999. In November of 2007, in a bid to hold on to power, Musharraf imposed a State of Emergency, suspended the constitution and fired the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Troops entered the Supreme Court, and all the judges were kept under detention. The army took control of the state run TV and radio and suspended all independent press.

Musharraf had to call a general election amidst a hubbub in the army and mounting international pressure. In February 2008, (less than two months after Benazir Bhutto’s ghastly assassination) the PPP headed by Benazir’s husband Zardari formed the government. Musharraf claimed that an "era of democracy" had begun in Pakistan and that he had put the country "on the track of development and progress".

Democracy has flourished in Pakistan like never before since then. Three consecutive terms! Too good to be true! Could an external force by the guiding source? The democratically elected Imran Khan government is indeed an elaborate façade, but for Pakistan to remain “democratic” for such a long time – rather perplexing. The reins of power have always been held by the ISI - which, of late, seems to be under some kind of a foreign control.

An open secret indeed, under CIA tutelage, the “mujahideen” were aided and trained by the Pak army to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. PM Khan’s recent admission of guilt in New York might not have been his best shot at rapprochement, although, this “explosive disclosure” at a global platform was startling! Pakistan has since faced backlash from the international community and has been pushed to diplomatic isolation. A furious China (Pakistan’s closest ally in the fast changing global order) has warned that she cannot “indefinitely exercise its veto at the UNSC to block moves to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism.”

The “azadi march” has all the makings of a brush that will paint the future picture of the fall of Khan’s government. General Zia-ul-Haq used religion and religious leaders to hold on to power. Its Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman (leader of Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam) this time. The establishment wants Imran and General Bajwa gone. The simmering coup seems to have entered its final stage. “We are standing up for what's right. Retreat would be a cardinal sin and there's no going back.” The Maulana has spoken!

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

Omar Khayyam

 

Sartaj Chaudhary is Master of Laws from the prestigious Kent University. His areas of interest are terrorism, regional conflict and international relations. An expert in International Law, he has written extensively about the changing global order and numerous other contemporary issues. 

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