Martial laws in Pakistan

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1958 coup: and martial law in general

Not a recipe for stability

By Tasneem Noorani


2/25/2008 THERE is euphoria in the air thanks to the election results. This has also been manifest through the stock exchange index going through the roof. Pakistanis are relieved that their fast fall into a precipice has been halted.

Sweets were distributed by even those, who were not activists of any political party: such seems to be the unpopularity of the government. People feel they can hold their head high again, as the country seems to have done something civilised for a change and is in the news for the right reasons.

But are these elections and their results really a guarantee for a stable Pakistan? We have seen that euphoria of a popularly elected government in 1970 was cut short in 1977, followed by a prolonged authoritarian rule. Again four popularly elected governments in eleven years were sent packing prematurely, followed by another prolonged authoritarian rule, which lasts to date.

One of the major reasons is the ease with which elected governments in this country can be overthrown. The standard operating procedure (SOP) for taking over Pakistan was laid down as far back as 1958.

In his book, Glimpses into the Corridors of Power, Gohar Ayub writes about the 1958 take-over. “While he was away, President Iskandar Mirza contacted Air Commodore Maqbool Rab and Brig Qayyum Sher, asking them to arrest Father (General Ayub) when he returns from Dhaka.” The author suggests that since General Ayub was sure he was going to be dismissed from the post of C-in-C, so he had no option but to take over. We heard similar reasons for the take-over in 1999.

About the methodology of the take-over after the decision to throw out Iskandar Mirza was taken, Gohar Ayub writes that “the letter of resignation for the President to sign was dictated by Maj.Gen.Yayha Khan and Maj.Gen.Abdul Hamid. It was typed by Major Abdul Majid Malik (now a democrat). It had been decided that Lt. Gen. Azam Khan, Lt.Gen.Burki and Lt.Gen. K.M. Sheikh would arrive at the house at midnight and tell the president to resign.

“The telephone lines of the President House and its entire staff were then cut. The police guard was disarmed, a few minutes before the arrival of the generals. The president was woken up and summoned to the drawing room, where Lt. Gen. Azam produced a pen and asked him to sign his resignation letter.

When the president hesitated a little, Lt. Gen. Azam put his finger on the paper and simply said, “Sign here.” Realising he had no choice, he signed on the dotted line. The three generals returned to General Ayub where tea and coffee was served.” As simple as that. Under very similar circumstances, the last elected leader of Pakistan was also bundled out of the PM House forty one years later, in 1999, with the same SOP being employed. For SOP, all you need is one loyal Brigade Commander (111 Brigade), one loyal Corp Commander (10 Corp) and a few like minded generals amongst the Principal Staff Officers.

Martial laws etc

Living in an endless state of emergency


By Ilhan Niaz


DURING the past year, 700 Pakistanis have been killed and 14,000 injured after falling prey to suicide bombings and blasts. This summer, the capital city was administered its first dose of organised Islamic militancy and counter-insurgency operations.

Large swathes of the NWFP are racked by militancy motivated by values which are as hostile to the traditional culture of the Pashtun tribes as are they inimical to any hope for a better tomorrow. A thousand Pakistani armed forces and paramilitary personnel have died fighting these militants and some one hundred thousand are deployed.

It is an irony that while the “liberals” and “moderates” talk about resisting the West even as they line up for visas, scholarships, tours, “capacity building workshops” and compete with each other for crumbs from the imperial table, it is the militants who are actually making the West pay for its predatory onslaught against the Muslim world. One cannot but be amazed at the sheer intellectual and moral delinquency of the westernised Muslim elite that measures its own competence in terms of its ability to parrot the irrationalities of its American mentors.

By raising the costs of hubris and demonstrating the ineptitude and weakness of the United States and its Muslim acolytes, the militants have almost attained strategic victory, i.e. they are now poised to expand the zone of conflict at a time when the US-led coalition is faltering. So long as the militants do not lose, they will win by exhausting the American will to resist.

While General Musharraf has imposed a state of emergency now, the emergency situation had already existed in the tribal areas for nearly a year. What has happened now is that the upsurge in religious militancy has coincided with a crisis in relations between the executive and the judiciary. This crisis has served to alienate the regime from the liberal elite and the urban upper middle class which have benefited the most from Musharraf’s government and would stand to lose the most from its downfall. It has also had the effect of discrediting the political parties which collectively failed to mobilise the masses.

The problem with the agitation launched by the civil society organisations and the lawyers is that without the political parties throwing their cadres into the struggle they cannot, did not, and probably will not attain the size and scope of a mass movement. This development has also drawn attention away from the common threat of religious extremism and divided those segments of society who would suffer the most from a Taliban-style takeover.

Pakistan has spent most of its history under some variant of emergency rule ranging from the most extreme option of martial law, to the intermediate severity of suspension of certain articles of the Constitution, to the imposition of governor’s rule or section 144 in certain provinces or areas. One might therefore conclude that a state of emergency is the historical norm in Pakistan. The precedent for using extraordinary powers was set during the initial years with the Muslim League using governor’s rule and the Public Safety Act as weapons against its rivals. Once the precedent was set it was applied ever more frequently and without regard to propriety.

Ghulam Mohammad’s dismissal of the first Constituent Assembly in 1954 and the declaration of emergency was perhaps the most important event for Pakistan’s subsequent development. On the one had the dismissal of the assembly was upheld by the Supreme Court led by the then chief justice Muhammad Munir. On the other hand the mixed public response emboldened the executive to carry out restructuring of the provinces of West Pakistan by amalgamating them into One Unit and imposing representative inter-wing parity at the national level.

Iskander Mirza, Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan carried on in a similar fashion imposing martial laws and violating constitutional norms at will. The 1962 Constitution, for instance, did not even contain fundamental rights provisions and concentrated power in the hands of the president. In leaving power Ayub Khan violated his own constitution by handing over power to the army chief, rather than the speaker of the National Assembly.

Sadly, the restoration of civilian rule in 1972 did not lead to a reduction in the level of arbitrariness. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s attitude towards the dispensation of justice was proprietorial. In addition to legislation by executive ordinances, a total of 219 of which were passed with 24 between January and July 1977, the continuation of the emergency meant that fundamental rights remained suspended. Bhutto’s “revolutionary” regime wanted to do justice with the poor masses by raining vengeance on their exploiters in the business sector, in the bureaucracy, especially its CSP component, in particular.

The Federal Security Force (FSF), 18,000 strong, was formed to mete out justice to the enemies of the regime. Special courts and tribunals were created to circumvent the regular judiciary. The rules pertaining to the appointment of the superior judiciary were altered to grant the executive greater powers. The Sixth Amendment allowed the prime minister to grant extensions to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court beyond the retirement age of sixty-five.

Evidence of Bhutto’s respect for the judicial system included the withdrawal on April 24, 1974 of the legal protection afforded to citizens against malafide arrest on criminal charges. On September 13, 1976, under the Fifth Amendment Act, the high courts lost their powers to grant bail. In April 1972 the district judge of Sanghar in Sindh was arrested for granting bail to a politician.

Supreme Court’s intervention secured the release of the judge but the attempt to prosecute a judge for doing his duty had a negative impact on the judiciary. The continued use of Defence of Pakistan Rules (DPR) and special tribunals, the Suppression of Terrorist Activities law of 1975 and the special courts at Karachi, Peshawar, and Lahore under one high court judge apiece, meant summary trials, the presumption of guilt, the effective repeal of Habeas Corpus, bail, and in a number of cases, appeal. The accused did not even have to be produced in court before a magistrate. Bhutto also promised to consider “sympathetically” the demand that “plots of land” should be “allocated to lawyers for the construction of houses.”

The pliant lawyers became legal advisers to nationalised banks on the basis of loyalty to the PPP. In May 1976, the PPP estimated that one hundred members of the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) were loyal to Bhutto but the situation in the districts was not encouraging. As Bhutto became more desperate to hang on to power the distinction between sin and crime was sacrificed with the introduction of prohibition and bans on gambling and horseracing. The ban on alcohol and gambling were imposed on the advice of the army chief Zia-ul Haq.

Gen Zia kept Pakistan under martial law in its worst form from 1977 to 1985. Brutal punishments such as public floggings graced Pakistan’s tortured landscape and the state poured its energies and resources into moulding society in a just and assertively Islamic frame of mind. The lawyers’ associations were prohibited and had to suffer 25 lashes for inviting anyone to address them. On March 25, 1981, the judges of the supreme and high courts were invited to swear an oath of loyalty to the CMLA under the PCO or stand dismissed.

Zia abstained from making permanent appointments to the supreme and high courts and kept the judges as insecure as possible. By setting up separate shariat benches, appointing qazis, constituting a Federal Shariat Court (FSC), rendering the Objectives Resolution an operative part of the constitution, and introducing blasphemy and adultery laws, Zia revived the “monarch-mullah” alliance that had existed prior to the advent of British rule.

The clerical establishment, now patronised by zakat funds, bestowed upon Zia in the tradition of the medieval rulers the divine right to rule as he saw fit in exchange for continued patronage.

He set a personal standard for piety by giving funds and support to mosques, such as the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, inserting a column for religious observance in the evaluation reports of state employees, providing for prayer breaks in offices, and sticking to a religious routine.

Islamisation would produce good people and that would allow justice to reign supreme without the artificial, alien, godless, and heretical, innovations of the post-Enlightenment State of Laws. The impact upon the country of such thinking was that between 1981 and 1990 the total number of crimes registered per year rose from 173,000 to 310,000. The office of Ombudsman introduced in 1983 to hear complaints against the administration was in the same breath deprived of powers to act upon the results of its inquiries. Complaints, however, poured in by the tens of thousands every year.

Although Zia’s regime enjoyed stability, society at large was rendered increasingly ungovernable as resources from home and abroad were poured into arming, training, and launching legions of Islamic militants into Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.

The eleven years of electoral democracy that followed Zia’s death in a mysterious air crash also culminated in an attempt by the executive to concentrate all power in its own hands.

The attack on the Supreme Court building in Islamabad on November 28, 1997, and the subsequent intimidation and manhandling of the judiciary crossed a line that even Pakistan’s military rulers had not dared to do.

The repeated resort to extraordinary measures, such as in Sindh in the mid-1990s, the setting up of special anti-terrorism courts, and the declaration of emergency following the May 1998 nuclear tests were simply the best known of the arbitrary measures resorted to by successive elected governments. Had Musharraf not taken over in October 1999, let it not be forgotten, the Shariat Bill would have been passed by the Senate in March 2000 enabling the prime minister to become the Amirul-Momineen or the supreme theocrat.

Musharraf inherited a state of emergency but did not declare martial law. Given three years by the Supreme Court to hold elections Musharraf kept his end of the bargain. Where his regime went terribly wrong was in devolution of power to local governments and the resultant politicisation of all functions of the state, including law and order. With local governments raising a mere eight per cent of their own finances and caste and kinship pressures running amok, the state is itself in danger of becoming extinct.

The growing anarchy has begun affecting the areas thus far exempted from the devolution plan, such as Islamabad and the cantonments in the NWFP and Balochistan. The softening of the state in the hinterlands at a time when extremism and religious militancy are at their peaks has given rise to a crisis that is beyond the capacity of the law enforcement personnel to overcome. The reality of an ungovernable country with a non-functional and isolated executive capable of establishing its writ only through the direct application of military force stares at our face.

Musharraf’s government does, however, have one major advantage that its predecessors lacked. There is no meaningful alternative to his government. For a mass movement to take roots, people need a symbol of hope. The current political leadership does not have that, it has already been tried and found utterly unfit.

It wasn’t too long ago that politicians were tripping over each other to claim “credit” for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Their statements in support of an independent judiciary apart, it is difficult to say that the PPP or other parties would really wish the old judges back in the Supreme Court, given the probability that they would strike down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) as unconstitutional.

The witer is the author of “An Inquiry into the Culture of Power of the Subcontinent” (Islamabad: Alhamra, 2006). E-mail:

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