Military is supreme

In 1957, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became the youngest member of Pakistan’s delegation to the United Nations. Bhutto became one of the youngest politicians in Pakistan when he entered the government led by President Ayub Khan. In 1958 Bhutto became the youngest cabinet minister when he was given charge of the Energy ministry by Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who had seized power, through a successful coup d’état. In 1960, he was subsequently promoted to minister of the Commerce Ministry, and minister of Water and Power. He aided President Ayub in negotiating the Indus Water Treaty in India in 1960. In 1961, Bhutto negotiated an oil exploration agreement with the Soviet Union, which also agreed to provide economic and technical aid to Pakistan.

In 1963, after his appointment as foreign minister, he opted working for greater independence from Western powers and for closer ties with China. Bhutto was made the foreign minister at the height of reaction to a US decision to give military aid to India following the attack by China on India’s Himalayan border. President Ayub depended heavily, on Bhutto for carrying out new foreign policy initiatives. But Bhutto’s opposition to the peace with India after the 1965 war over Kashmir caused him to resign from the government, and in December 1967 he founded the Pakistan People’s Party, which won a majority of seats from West Pakistan in 1970.

By the time Bhutto was given the control of the government in 1971, Pakistan was torn apart, isolated, demoralized, and emotionally shattered after a bitter defeat at the hands of arch-enemy India. East Pakistan became Bangladesh with the help of India. The trauma was severe in Pakistan, a psychological setback and emotional breakdown for Pakistan; the citizens were stunned at the defeat. They were amazed by the incompetence of their military ruler. The army was unpopular; Bhutto was the only alternative as President Yahya’s successor.

In his address to the nation on December 20, 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said:

“I would not like to see Martial Law remain one day longer than necessary… We have to rebuild democratic institutions…we have to rebuild a situation in which the common man, the poor man in the street, can tell me to go to hell.”

One of the first thing Bhutto did as President was to dismiss General Hamid as Chief of Staff and appoint General Gul Hassan. He announced reforms limiting land ownership and a government take-over of over a million acres to distribute to landless peasants. More than 2,000 civil servants were dismissed on charges of corruption. Bhutto visited India to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and negotiated a formal peace agreement and the release of 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war. Bhutto also promised to hold a future summit for the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute and pledged to recognise Bangladesh. Although he secured the release of Pakistani soldiers, he was criticised by many for allegedly making too many concessions to India.

“The sporadic fighting between the insurgency and the army started in 1973 with the largest confrontation taking place in September 1974. Saddam’s government provided support for Baloch separatists in Pakistan, hoping their conflict would spread to rival Iran. In 1973, Iraq provided the Baloch with conventional arms, and it opened an office for the Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF) in Baghdad. This operation was supposed to be covert, but in 1973, the operation was exposed by M.I. when senior separatist leader Akbar Bugti defected to Bhutto, revealing a series of arms stored in the Iraqi Embassy. On the midnight of 9 February 1973, Bhutto launched an operation to seize control of the Iraqi Embassy, and preparation for siege was hastily prepared. The operation was highly risky and a wrong step could have started a war between the two countries. The operation was carefully analysed and at 0:00hrs (12:00 am), the SSG Division accompanied by Army Rangers stormed the Embassy. Military Police arrested the Iraqi Ambassador, the military attaché, and Iraq’s diplomatic staff.”

Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein’s War against America by Laurie Mylroie

On 30 March, 1973, fourteen Air Force and twenty one army officers were arrested on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. Major General Zia ul Haq headed the subsequent court martial and used the opportunity to inform Bhutto about the proceedings and offer his services to him.

Bhutto made sure that 1973 Constitution authorised the Parliament to pass laws for the punishment of those found guilty of treason, and included an oath to refrain from indulging in political activity, the Constitution explicitly formalised it:

I …do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I will not engage in any political activities whatsoever and that I will honestly and faithfully serve the Pakistan Army/Navy/Airforce as required by and under the law.

Bhutto promoted Zia ul Haq from Brigadier to Major General, after King Hussein of Jordan had put in a word for him appreciating his services in Jordan. Zia was in Jordan at the time of the Black September Operations against Palestinians, was believed to have taken part in the massacre on the orders of King Hussein. In February 1976 Zia ul Haq was appointed as COAS, he stood eighth in the seniority list at that time of promotion. Rest is history.

Reason for giving a brief overview of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s career is because of the recent stance of Mian Nawaz Sharif against the military intervention in politics. Three times prime minister Nawaz Sharif aspires to end Pakistan Army’s control on civilian government. He is openly criticising army generals; he talked about the military and its agencies as the “State above the State”. He was among the few civilian leaders to hold friendly relations with the military establishment. But that did not get him anywhere. He ended up getting deposed General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. He was put on trial for corruption and went in exile. In 2013, he became prime minister for the third time. He is alleged to have told his confidantes that he would curtail the role of army and ascertain the supremacy of civilian governments in Pakistan forever. He is locking horns with military establishment at one time again. 

Can he push back a military that is deep-rooted in power politics, today? Can he sustain the pressure?

Despite being an optimist, I believe NO.

If an intelligent and the most popular first elected Prime Minister like Bhutto, who was the founder of Pakistan’s atomic bomb programme, lost his grounds to military, then Mian Nawaz Sharif has no chance. Looking at Mian Nawaz Sharif’s own history, even in the recent past, he has been compromising with the establishment time to time. Opposition’s alliance may force the sitting government for early elections, but as a matter of fact it wouldn’t change the current status of military establishment.    

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