The elected civilian leaders from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto (two terms), Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif (three terms) and Asif Ali Zardari ruled Pakistan for slightly over 27 years as against the military rule of some 34 years including the one-year or so of Bhutto’s Martial Law Administrator-ship. Their rule has been subjected to more criticism than objective assessment, sometimes unjustifiably, disregarding glaring facts. The civilian rule did not have continuity given the extra unconstitutional interventions and the frequent interference by the powerful Presidents. Therefore, they too could not leave lasting legacy of democracy, rule of law and meritocracy, with a few exceptions, of course.
Among the elected civilian rulers, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the most powerful ruler. He took over in chaotic conditions when the country was truncated and the nation demoralized. The sky was overcast with political uncertainty. The people were seething with anger. The young military officers were in a state of revolt against their seniors. The economic and financial institutions were at the verge of bankruptcy owing to loss of liquidity and assets to the new state of Bangladesh. The post-war issues with India including the prisoners of war, the retrieval of the enemy-held land, ceasefire and the demarcation of the Line of Control in Azad Kashmir were to be resolved on urgency basis and above all, the confidence of the nation was to be restored giving it a Constitution and a system of governance and making it a viable member of the comity of nations.
Bhutto confronted all these monumental challenges with the political acumen and sophistication of a leader and statesman. He virtually picked up the pieces of the broken ship to rebuild it. He moved persistently and constantly like a whirlwind visible everywhere, exercising his power, eloquence, skill and charm to finish with these stupendous tasks. By April 1973, he put his‘defeated, truncated and humiliated Pakistan’ back on solid foundations economically and politically as an important country of the Muslim world with all the trappings of constitutional rule and democratic institutions. No historian would deny him the credit of making a new and vibrant Pakistan out of the debris of defeat. He strengthened the Armed Forces, initiated a clandestine nuclear program to make the defense of the country impregnable, brought its bilateral relations with the US, Soviet Union and the Muslim world at an even keel, carried out land reforms though cosmetic, nationalized industry and economic and financial institutions to avoid their bankruptcy,set up a number of corporations to increase jobs and took measures to ameliorate the condition of industrial and agricultural labour or peasantry.
As against his great achievements, he too made monumental mistakes. Though elected and riding on a tide of popularity, he resorted to strong arm politics and coercive tactics to subdue the weak opposition implicating his opponents including Chaudhry Zahoor Illahi and Mian Tufail Muhammad in ridiculous criminal cases and imprisoning them. The Sindhi intellectuals and nationalists suffered at his hands more than his detractors from other provinces. Though unproved, his opponents held him or his Federal Security Force responsible for the assassination of political activists including Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai, Dr. Nazir Ahmed of Jamaat Islami, Khwaja Rafiq Ahmed of Muslim League, Asadullah Mengal – elder brother of Sardar Akhtar Mengal- and Nawab Ahmed Khan.
His main blunder was to dismiss the elected coalition government of JUI and NAP in Balochistan headed by Sardar Attaullah Mengal compelling the government of KPK under Mufti Mahmood to resign in protest. This unjustified move opened a plethora of political problems for him. He had to cobble one coalition administration after the other in the province and face the hostility of the combined opposition all over the country. He arrested all the senior NAP leaders and imprisoned them in Hyderabad to be tried on treason charges by a special tribunal. This political quarrel with progressive and liberal political forces weakened his political standing. In his last years in power particularly after the abortive coup involving some young military officers, he had started depending on the retired police officers, Federal Security Force and the traditional feudal chiefs and landlords within his party, drifting away from his real and original political base – the general masses – which was still intact.
He held the general elections in March 1977 in a tense political atmosphere. Though no analyst doubted a simple majority for his PPP, the election results giving Bhutto two third majority and leaving the Pakistan National Alliance with 36 seats was stunning for many observers. The political unrest ignited by the doubtful election results reflecting the grievous failure of the politicians to settle their political differences culminated into a dreaded Martial Law and the arrest, trial and execution of Bhutto on the trumped-up charges of the murder of Nawab Ahmed Khan. Mr. Bhutto and the leaders of Pakistan National Alliance had to blame themselves for being outwitted by an apparently diffident, humble, courteous but a wily and cunning General.
The PNA leaders, in their dearth of political foresight, welcomed the Martial Law and accepted crumbs of political power doled out by General Zia ul Haq. Bhutto resisted the unconstitutional rule disregarding the lurking harm to his person though many stalwarts of his PPP were in clandestine contact with the Martial Law authorities to keep themselves out of the harm’s way. His brave resistance to the usurpers of power struck resonance with the masses washing away all his sins, if any, and making him a legend. The PPP has since been exploiting this legend to seek votes from the electorate particularly in Sindh.
Benazir Bhutto led the PPP into its second government winning the general elections of November 1988 by a thin majority. The Acting President Ghulam Ishaq Khan prevaricated for a month or so to invite her to form the government as the majority leader. He weighed all his options to deny her power. She was offered power on onerous conditions of electing Ghulam Ishaq Khan as President, appointing General Yakoob Khan as Foreign Minister, keeping away from the nuclear programme of the country and the appointment and promotions of senior Generals. To the dismay of her followers, she accepted all these conditions to take over as the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan.
The PPP did not have a majority in the Punjab Assembly. It could have comfortably forged an alliance with the independent members to bring its leader of the House in that populous and influential province of the Federation. Mian Nawaz Sharif, wily and astute as he is, thwarted the PPP’s effort to form the provincial government with the support of the independents. Mian Sahib herded the members of Islamic Jamhoori Itehad and independents to Chhanga Manga and brought them to Lahore on the day when the leader of the House was elected. Benazir had to content herself with the provincial administration in Sindh and KPK and the weak federal government.
The elderly President GIK adopted a didactic attitude towards her and Mian Nawaz Sharif mocked her writ in his province dealing directly with the President. As an inexperienced leader, she encountered formidable challenges in ruling the country. The federal bureaucracy tended to look to the President in critical matters. The Foreign policy remained securely in the hands of General Yakoob. The President was irked by her assertive exercise of powers without consulting him or encroaching upon his powers. The case of the appointment of the Judges of the superior courts created a lot of bad blood between her and the President.
The cauldron of Afghanistan problem was still boiling. The Generals were in charge of matters relating to Afghanistan. She tried to assert her right as the Chief Executive but remained at the periphery in the issues concerning Afghanistan and India. She changed the DG, ISI with the reluctant consent of the Army Generals. Her appointee, General Shamas Kallu proved ineffective. President Ishaq Khan overruled her in the appointment of General Ahmed Kamal as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and reappointed Admiral Iftikhar Sirohi for a new term of office. She also angered the military hierarchy by interfering in the transfers of a few Corps Commanders particularly in the case of General Alam Jan Mahsud, Corps Commander of Lahore.
While Benazir Bhutto was trying to assert her powers as the Chief Executive disregarding the 8th Constitutional Amendment passed by the 1985 National Assembly at the behest of General Zia which had transferred all the executive powers to the President, his spouse, Asif Zardari was constantly and relentless attacked by the strong opposition leveling serious charges of corruption, malfeasance and extortion against him. The gentleman earned the sobriquet of ‘Mr. ten percent’ within the first year of the regime. To the dismay of her admirers she could not deliver on her election promises being at loggerheads with the powerful President and the security establishment or safeguarding the reputation of her father for financial propriety by keeping her spouse away from the state’s economic and financial matters. President Ishaq Khan, exercising his executive powers dismissed her government along with Legislative Assemblies in August 1990 on the charges of incompetence and corruption.
Though stung by GIK, Benazir Bhutto sided with him in his quarrel with her successor Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. All the charges of corruption against her spouse were dropped. In the elections that followed the dismissal of the Sharif Government in April 1992 (restored by the Supreme Court briefly and again sent packing home along with GIK with the intervention of General Waheed Kakar), the PPP was elected for the third term in October 1993.
This time, the party had favourable political conditions being able to form the central government with Benazir Bhutto as the Prime Minister, and the provincial administrations in Sindh, KPK and a coalition one in Punjab with the support of the splinter group of Muslim League of Hamid Nasir Chatha with Manzoor Wattoo, the former Speaker of Punjab, as the leader of the House and the PPP’s wily Chaudhry Altaf Hussain as the Governor. Benazir Bhutto ignoring her promises to GIK for a second term brought her party’s Secretary General, Sardar Farooq Leghari whom she always addressed as Farooq Bhai, as the President. She had apparently strengthened all her flanks to rule the country with confidence.
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