824Published on July 3, 2020
Syed Badrul Ahsan:
Some rather interesting things have been happening in Pakistan. The country’s omnipresent and omniscient army has for the past couple of years been doing all it can to have the 18th amendment to Pakistan’s constitution repealed. There is a simple reason why General Qamar Pervez Bajwa, the current army chief, is uncomfortable with the amendment. The amendment, adopted by parliament in 2010 when Asif Ali Zardari was president, brought about two significant changes to Pakistan’s body politic. In the first place, it devolved powers to the four provinces of the federation. In the second, it made it difficult for the military to seize power through a coup d’etat and so put a civilian elected government out to pasture.
Knowing Pakistan’s history as we do, indeed as the world does, its soldiers would certainly like to have another go at commandeering the country. Pakistan has had four military regimes, each leaving a bad taste in the mouth, to say nothing of leaving a terrible legacy for its people. And yet that is little reason for anyone to suppose that the generals are not wielding power in Islamabad even now from behind the moving curtains. There is little question that Imran Khan and his associates were manoeuvred into power by the military, which is why they are now leaning on the prime minister to scrap the 18th amendment. That has the provinces worried, for all the right reasons.
But while Pakistanis grapple with this new threat to their politics, it is for us in Bangladesh to go into a bit of the thinking that still exercises the military mind in Islamabad insofar as Bengali history is concerned. General Bajwa, in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation with some Pakistani journalists a couple of years ago, argued that the amendment in question had to go because, as he put it, it was ‘more dangerous than Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Six Points.’ He clearly has persisted in his assessment in these past two years, as recent developments in Pakistan show.
And that explains it, this old mindset of the Pakistan army. What is missing in Bajwa’s statement is the sense of history, it seems deliberate. He does not seem to recall that Pakistan was not sundered by the Six Points but because its ruling military-civilian bureaucracy would not allow the implementation of the Six Points after the general elections of December 1970. The generation which witnessed the careful, almost calculated steps the Yahya Khan military junta, in cahoots with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, took to push Pakistan into disintegration in 1971 is yet around. Bajwa remembers it all, of course. And what men like him should also not forget is the shock with which the establishment in Rawalpindi received news of the Awami League’s electoral victory. The clear assumption had been, once campaigning began in January 1970, that a coalition of right-wing parties --- the factions of the Muslim League, the Jamaat-e-Islami and others --- would together win enough seats in the national assembly to prevent Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from claiming outright electoral victory.
That did not happen, of course. And what ought to be remembered too by the current generation of soldiers in Pakistan is that the elections, conducted under a Legal Framework Order, were gone through by the Awami League on the principle of its Six Points being a referendum for the people of Bangladesh. The Six Points won out in the end, but fears that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, once he formed the government in Islamabad, would put them into implementation mode were to be the catalyst in the making of the intrigue that was to destroy Pakistan. The Six Points would have made for a better, freer, democratic and secular Pakistan. They would have accorded a remarkable degree of autonomy to the four provinces in the western segment of the country, while in East Pakistan proper constitutional measures would have guaranteed its equal participation in the state. A significant contribution the Six Points would have made within the Pakistan state structure would be a drastic reduction in the influence of the military, to a point where it would be sent back to the barracks, to serve under elected civilian governments.
But, of course, the Pakistan army knew it all. That Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would not indulge the military, that he would preside over a government not dominated by the soldiers or the bureaucracy, was a thought the army was not willing to contemplate. Bajwa and the likes of him know only too well that the Six Points were not a dangerous proposition and that they certainly did not ruin Pakistan. It was the military’s horror of the so long deprived Bengali majority ascending to power at the centre that engineered its calculated moves to frustrate the election results. A senior military officer, obviously from West Pakistan, reassured the junior officers under his command in Dhaka only days after the elections, ‘We will never let these black bastards rule over us.’ And as events turned out, they did not. Here was a country which, having gone through its first general elections in twenty-three years, remained hostage in the hands of its army. It remains a travesty of Pakistan’s history that the party elected to form the country’s central government and the political leader is chosen by the electorate to be prime minister in December 1970 were pounced upon by its soldiers a mere three months later in March 1971.
General Bajwa, who certainly persists in his belief that the 18th amendment to his country’s constitution and the Six Points are synonymous in danger quotient, needs to be imparted some lessons in history. The 1970 elections gave Pakistan a fresh opportunity to reinvent itself through the Six Points. The perfidy of the military, its initiation of genocide on the night of 25 March 1971 was what left Pakistan badly wounded. It died a painful death nine months later, for all the right reasons.
The Pakistan army remains a dangerous institution. Ayub Khan’s coup in 1958 put paid to expected general elections in early February 1959. Yahya Khan presided over the murder of three million Bengalis. Ziaul Haq turned the country into a hotspot of Islamist militancy. Pervez Musharraf felt little compunction in coming down from the skies, literally, to overthrow an elected government.
There is another truth Pakistan watchers should not forget. Its army raised Z.A. Bhutto to power and then destroyed him; the soldiers made Nawaz Sharif prominent before going after him. The military has now placed Imran Khan in office without giving him power. One may not have to wait too long to see the former cricketer bowled out by his uniformed friends.