Martial Laws in Pakistan
Jahangir, Asma, Economic Review
THE FIRST MARTIAL LAW
When martial law was imposed for the first time in Pakistan, I was only six years old and too young to realise how it would change and shape my future life. My mother was taken in by the euphoria. She happily believed that it would put an end to smuggling, put away the corrupt forever and turn Pakistan into a stable and prosperous country. My grandfather, Maulana Salahuddin, a scholar and journalist, was aghast at my mother's reaction while my father, a government servant, decided to quit his job and join politics. Subsequently, he was elected to Ayub Khan's Basic Democracies and eventually decided to join the opposition in the parliament. My early memories consist mostly of his long speeches on complicated issues such as fundamental rights and adult franchise.
These ideas were important to him. In response to our irritation with his preoccupation, he would say that playing a part in securing these rights was the best gift and legacy he could leave for us. We were told to be patient since freedom never just dropped from the heavens, unlike charity, it could only be won through perseverance. We waited for our legacy, utterly unaware that decades later, we would still be promising the same to our children.
The movement against Ayub Khan started with Fatima Jinnah's decision to contest the presidential elections against the dictator. I was in primary school when my father was arrested under the Defence of Pakistan Rules. Hundreds of students and political activists were hauled up across the country and sent to different jails. My father was in Bannu jail. He liked Bannu because he felt the political culture in the Frontier was more democratic. We could not meet him till the Lahore High Court ordered his production. The building which houses the LHC, now all too familiar, was daunting at first appearance. But the children of the detainees loved it. After all, we all met our fathers there after months of separation. The press was heavily censored in those days and therefore, the courtroom was bursting with people. All those who had been detained wanted to make long political speeches in the court for the benefit of those present rather than the bench.
Ayub's regime ended with huge rallies demanding his resignation. Shahida Daultana, Sarah Hizami and I organised a female students procession. My first step in activism, it gave me an opportunity to learn how such protests were managed. We went hoarse chanting slogans - girti hui divaron ko aik dhaka aur do (give a final push to crumbling walls). It actually seemed to be happening. We all thought that Ayub would go and democracy would prevail. Little did we know that the last push was being planned at the GHQ, while round-table conferences were being held at the Presidency, ostensibly to transfer power to a civilian leadership. As usual, some of the politicians sold out to the army.
I learnt a few lessons too. Democracy meant the right of every individual to have access to a court of law, which ought to be independent. Laws could not be made by an individual. It was our right to legislate and duty to respect legislation. More importantly, I realised that human dignity demanded that tyranny be resisted with firmness.
THE SECOND MARTIAL LAW
The next martial law promised free and fair elections. They did take place, but the results were unexpected and a civil war ensued. Once again, the people of West Pakistan sided with their establishment and the army. They wanted the army to teach the East Pakistanis a good lesson, once and for all. The Bengalis made the fatal mistake of asking for their right to rule themselves. Once again, my father was arrested for writing an insolent letter to the CMLA, in which he criticised the army operation in East Pakistan and equated it with "waging war" against Pakistan. Many of our close friends genuinely believed that the letter was an act of treason. In fact the entire country went through a phase of believing that raising your voice against a massacre of your own citizens amounted to treachery. A few die-hards struggled to put the record straight and tried to convince the people that it was an evil war. We were threatened and publicly spat on. No one was ready to believe that the war could be lost.
After the surrender in Bangladesh, the same cars which proudly wore stickers of the general as aware hero now carried stickers asking for his head. But our lives remained unchanged. It was a harrowing experience for us. This time, public opinion did not support us. There was no constitution and no law except the command of a general. There was no way we could challenge our father's detention in a court of law. I learnt that we must follow our own instincts in judging right from the wrong despite being unpopular. Fundamental rights assumed a greater importance in my life. Living on the goodwill of a ruler, after all, is very humiliating.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the sole civilian to take over as martial law administrator. On his first day in office, my father was re-arrested under a decree promulgated by his predecessor. He was sent to Multan jail where he shared the prison cell with a condemned prisoner by the name of Dakoo Mohammad Khan. During the first martial law, the government had hired Mohammad Khan to kill Baqi Baloch and my father. Instead, an innocent journalist, Zamir Qureshi, lost his life in the verandah of our house where Baqi Baloch and he were shot at. Quite unnecessarily, as it later transpired, we were terrified at the thought of our father sharing his days with an assassin. The news reached us through a letter my father had managed to sneak through an employee of the jail. In that letter, he had instructed me to contact Manzoor Qadir and ask him to file a writ in the high court.
Thus, I became the petitioner in the case known as Asma Jilani versus Government of the Punjab. After months of arguments, martial law was declared illegal. Under a civilian government, even with no constitution, it was possible to knock at the doors of justice. Attorney General Yahya Bakhtiar argued against us. Later, we worked together in the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
It was a rich experience for me. It taught me to follow principles rather than people. I learnt that electoral politics is only the first tiny step towards the process of democracy. Your enemy of yesteryear can be your friend of today if differences are based on principles and are not allowed to become personal. But they had switched sides. Yahya Bakhtiar had once been an enemy and was now a friend. These experiences confirmed the value of a politics of principles and of an independent judiciary without which democracy remains stunted. It convinced me to continue struggling for the cause of democracy particularly when few consider it worth pursuing.
THE THIRD MARTIAL LAW
I was a married woman when the third martial law was declared. It was no surprise. Bhutto stood greatly discredited. The antiBhutto movement had been cleverly hijacked by the GHQ. A temporary military take-over was announced and civilian authorities were used to hang the former prime minister. Once the deed was done, military courts were set up. We saw the rule of a ruthless dictator. The trail he left behind haunts us to this day. Some humorous incidents also remain with us. Moni Gosh of the YWCA was picked up by the army for organising a cake-baking demonstration. Demonstrations, she was told, were banned. Other jokes were downright cruel. A young man was hanged by a military court in Quetta for the murder of a person who later appeared in public to announce that he was alive. Shahida Jabeen's 15-year-old brother was executed in Kotlakhpat Jail while she was imprisoned in the cell next to the hanging post. This time round, I was arrested twice but mercifully only for a few weeks each. The old training came handy. Benazir Bhutto emerged as a symbol against the military. Jalib wrote: Dartay hain bandukhoo walay aik nihati larki say (they have guns but are scared of an unarmed girl). Little did he know the might of our army and the shortcomings of our leaders.
We learn no lessons from history.
The millennium coup is different. It is 'hip'. The CMLA is the chief executive. Promises are being made to leave behind a healthy democracy and clean government. History tells us differently. Army rule never gives birth to true democracy.
As usual, the blame is laid squarely at the doorstep of the former prime minister. Nawaz Sharif's elderly father complains that his sons suffered because of their disobedience. He had obviously taught them never to pick on someone their own size, only smaller. Few were surprised when no tears were shed at his loss. Nawaz Sharif violated every democratic norm and is now a victim of the same treatment that he meted out to others. We may not sympathise with him, but we must ensure that he is given the justice he denied to others. He, like anyone else, has a right to legal counsel and a fair trial. Nations can survive destructive leaders but not the destruction of civil behaviour. We are the only South Asian country to walk into the 21st century without a constitution, an independent judiciary, a parliament or a vote. In short, we are not masters of our destiny and not likely to be in the near future. The justification for the army to take over is not simply the ills of Nawaz Sharif but the failure of all politi cal forces. It is said that we have no competent civilian in sight to lead us. In short, we are a leaderless nation of 130 million people. If this is true, then we are not likely to give birth to one in the next couple of years. The army, therefore, stays on till they find a suitable leader.
It took them a couple of weeks to put together their idea of a 'dream team' to form the cabinet and the National Security Council. Apart from a few names, the others have been around for as long as one can recall. Their past miracles, or lack thereof, offer little hope of any change for the better. At the same time, the present system stays inept and corrupt civilians are unlikely to change overnight. The new administration's first mission is to weed out the black sheep. Perhaps they would need to include a few from their own stock if a proper cleansing is to take place. It is true that the ills in our system have grown over the years. They are now chronic and must be treated urgently after careful diagnosis and by administering the right medicine. A strategic entry point is to ensure justice for all and a strict curb on carrying arms. It requires reforming the legal and policing systems. More importantly, the judiciary must be able to work without fear or favour. But then, rule of law can hardly be achieved by a military government which is itself a creature of a coup d'etat.
History may forgive the generals but not the politicians who created this mess and then did nothing to control the damage. If we are to go anywhere, the politicians would be well advised to put their heads together while the interim setup goes about its way.
Together, they must forge a consensus on some basic changes to give the citizens some basic rights. The rights to justice, health, food and education. Had Sharif done that, the mass would not have cheered at his unceremonious departure. More tears would have been shed at the reversal of the democratic process. The world would not have seen in horror a people relieved and celebrating the end of legality at gun point.
Military rule can never, by definition, deliver fundamental rights and the rule of law because it is based on a bedrock of illegality. How long will it take for Pakistan to understand this?…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Martial Laws in Pakistan. Contributors: Jahangir, Asma - Author. Magazine title: Economic Review. Volume: 30. Issue: 10 Publication date: October 1999. Page number: 10. © 1998 Economic and Industrial Publications. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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