No dictator in history has ever known when exactly the bells begin to toll for him. In June and July, Pakistan’s third military dictator. General Zia-ul-Haq was masquerading at home and abroad as one the timber of whose six-year-old regime was as durable as mortal minds could fathom. Came the,No dictator in history has ever known when exactly the bells begin to toll for him. In June and July, Pakistan’s third military dictator. General Zia-ul-Haq was masquerading at home and abroad as one the timber of whose six-year-old regime was as durable as mortal minds could fathom. Came the ides of August, and a political storm burst over Pakistan taking everyone by surprise.In less than a week the entire province of Sind was aflame, and there was hardly any major city in all Pakistan where large knots of people did not march protesting military rule and demanding that democracy be restored. Outside Sind, rural Pakistan was quiescent until the last days of August, but no one knew if it would be so in September. Exceptionally largely attended protest meetings in Lahore enabled leaders of the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) to decide that September be the month of reckoning for the Zia regime in Punjab. Punjab dominates Pakistan with 59 per cent of the country’s population, the cradle of its army and its bureaucracy.In the second week of the MRD agitation, there were signals of a larger storm brewing. The main Baluch parties had stayed away from the civil disobedience movement, still licking the wounds that Bhutto had inflicted on Baluchistan in the ’70s.But on August 18, one of the major Baluch organisations, the Pakistan National Party, banned and defunct like all other parties in Pakistan but all still mysteriously functioning, decided to joint the movement and called for a general strike in Quetta on August 23.The call was heeded by a surprisingly large number of people. Much of the city downed its shutters. In Peshawar, the aged Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, had asked his followers to keep their distance from the MRD movement.advertisement His son Wali Khan was holidaying in London and had been recently joined by his wife. Begum Wali Khan flew back to Pakistan on August 17, went immediately into a huddle with her father-in-law, from which two events followed: she took over leadership of MRD, and was at once taken into custody by the police, while Ghaffar Khan reversed his previous stand and asked his supporters to join the movement. He was put under house arrest, but the anti-military regime movement quickly spread to the college and university campuses.Protest Toll: In the first 10 days of the unrest, Zia’s police carried away well over 1,500 political leaders and workers. More than 30 Pakistanis were killed in “police” firings, all in Sind; at least 300 were wounded, some of them identified in the Pakistani press as students.Only once before during Zia’s rule were mass arrests made in Pakistan – in 1981-82 in the wake of the hijacking of a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane to Afghanistan.In those fearful months, by arresting 20,000 Pakistanis (or 2,000, according to the regime), Zia was able to pre-empt a political challenge from the newly-constituted MRD. In the next 15 months, most Pakistanis resigned themselves to a long spell of military rule. The regime remained alienated from the people. But there was no air of confrontation in Pakistan.There was, instead, a vapid air of cynicism amongst the Pakistani elite. And a sharp loss of credibility in MRD as a viable vehicle of political change in Pakistan – from arbitrary and corrupt military rule to representative government. For the cynicism and loss of credibility, leaders of the MRD were themselves to blame.A coalition of nine “defunct” political parties, MRD is a khichri of left, right, centrist and moderately Islamic elements. Its leaders belong to the same social class and the same age-group – sporting famous Punjabi or Sindhi surnames that carry a feudal odour.Politics for most of them is, or has long been, business and pleasure by other means. They live in richly furnished houses, ride imported cars, fly out of Pakistan every now and then, disagree on most issues when they huddle “secretly” in Karachi or Lahore.Most of the smaller parties nurse old scars inflicted by Bhutto; they are more afraid of than in love with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) presided over by the “Bhutto women”, Bhutto’s wife Nusrat (now under medical treatment in Europe), and his daughter, Benazir, long under house arrest.Above all, the PPP leaders are afraid of the political workers of their own parties, younger men of militant orientation, chafing to go into action against military rule which they passionately hate. While the PPP leaders remain unreconciled to Zia, leaders of other groups occasionally meet him privately, even counsel him on how to run the country.advertisementThus, when MRD decided to launch a civil disobedience movement to coincide with Zia’s much-flaunted “new political structure” to be launched on August 14, Pakistan’s 36th anniversary, few people expected anything big to happen, least of all Zia himself.All dictators make one fatal mistake from which history takes its own course and there’s no turning back. Zia is a nimble politician. Perhaps his fatal mistake was to allow a certain constitutional process to be revived in Pakistan.Opposition leaders demonstrating on the streets of KarachiIf he had kept to himself the task of handing down to the people a “new political structure”, king-like, he would not have faced the confrontation that suddenly erupted in mid-August. Anxious to carry some kind of a popular sanction with him, Zia appointed three special committees, one of the hand-picked Majlis-e-Shoora, one of the Council of Islamic Ideology which backs him the whole hog, and a third, of the Cabinet.The 30-member special committee of the Shoora presented its recommendations to the Shoora itself and there was a debate for more than a week in which a large number of members took part and which was reported in the mass media.The result was an animation in Pakistan on what the “new” political structure should be. a public debate the like of which never took place since Zia pushed Bhutto out of power and seized the reins of government in the summer of 1977.The highlights of the Shoora recommendations that caught the imagination of broad sections of the Pakistani people were: In the first 10 days of the unrest, Zia’s police carried away well over 1,500 political leaders and workers. More than 30 Pakistanis were killed in “police” firings, all in Sind; at least 300 were wounded, some of them identified in the Pakistani press as students.that the 1973 Constitution be restored in its basic essenials, including the fundamental rights and a totally independent judiciary;and that there be a balance between the powers of the President and the prime minister, which ruled out a presidential system of government.The Shoora also approved certain amendments to the 1973 Constitution to allow for freer play of Islamic values. During the debate in the Shoora, a majority of some 70 participants asked for the “full restoration” of the 1973 Constitution. Extract from a typical day’s report of the debate in an Islamabad newspaper: “A majority of the members taking part in the debate on the report of the special committee on the system of government on the fourth day in the Majlis-e-Shoora strongly pleaded for the restoration of the 1973 Constitution and the parliamentary system as well as holding of general elections in the country,”In fact, in a matter of mere two weeks, a national consensus emerged in Pakistan around two demands: restoration of the 1973 Constitution with minor modifications to suit Zia’s Islamic preferences, and a cabinet system of government through parliamentary elections contested freely by the political parties. This was more than Zia had bargained for.High Expectations: Pakistanis were agog with expectations and fears as they waited impatiently for Zia-ul-Haq’s “new political structure”. Wrote the Muslim of Islamabad, “Never in recent memory have people looked towards August 14 with such anticipation and apprehension as this year.” Echoed Dawn of Karachi,advertisementPolice arrest Jamiat-i-Ulama-e-Islam leader Qari Sher Afzal in Karachi”From the foreign diplomat to the civil servant, down to the average citizen, almost everybody appears to be looking forward to the August 14 pronouncement.” Apprehending a groundswell of popular feelings, Zia made known through his Information Minister, Raja Zafarul Haq, that the Delphic voice would be heard two days in advance, on August 12.The newspapers went on feeding the great white hope of the masses. Dawn reported that the President was about to offer “something concrete” if only to defuse a possible popular protest under the auspices of MRD. Dawn also warned the regime that “anything halfhearted or lukewarm, any scheme short of total restoration of democracy” might turn out to be “counter-productive”.The Muslim tuned in. “A hopeful factor, insofar as political parties of different leanings and persuasions are concerned, is that there is a clear consensus on 1973 Constitution as providing an agreed framework for the country’s governance. The Government, too, appears to be basically in agreement with this position.”Whether the newspapers were playing the game by their own rules or were ignorant of Zia’s intentions, when the presidential commandments were handed down, a pall of gloom descended on Pakistan and soon it turned into a red film of anger.Taking refuge behind the fig-leaf of “differences” among the three special committees on what kind of political system would suit Pakistan best, Zia gave his countrymen a post-dated cheque on a nearly insolvent bank. His great design envisaged a presidential form of government in which the prime minister would be chosen by the President, enjoy limited powers and rule at the President’s pleasure.The President would be indirectly elected by an electoral college which remained undefined; he would be commander in-chief of the armed forces as well as head of the Government with power to veto legislation passed by Parliament.Zia promised step-by-step election to a national Parliament, beginning with party-less election to the local bodies in September, followed by provincial elections in March 1984, and then, in March 1985, parliamentary election. Since there was a lot of time between now and the two later polls, he remained mum on the role of political parties, thereby giving an impression that the parties would be kept outside the political process. Candidates would be screened for their Islamic credentials by bodies that remained undefined. Zia made only two concessions to public opinion: the 1973 Constitution would be restored in a symbolic form, and there would be no integral role in the political process for the armed forces.Subtle Machinations: At a press conference on August 15, Zia was asked if he would run for President. With characteristic modesty, Zia replied that he had no “political design”, but hastened to add that his only goal was to take the “process of Islamisation to its logical conclusion from where there will be no turning back”. Then, with characteristic ambiguity, he remarked that it was a “lifetime process” though he had not decided to invest “my whole life” in it. He had only announced a 500-day programme in which he would try to “complete the process”.”How long has Zia got?” Pakistan’s own chequered political history offers no clue except that when a military dictator totters, his fall cannot be far away.In the elliptical language of Pakistani politics under military rule, what Zia said was immediately interpreted to mean that if election were held under the scheme pronounced by General Zia-ul-Haq, the first President to rule Pakistan ‘constitutionallv” would be Zia-ul-Haq. For how long, nobody knew, for the August 12 announcement did not define a presidential term.The Guardian read a sombre meaning in the presidential design: “Zia is not sure of himself.” Why else should he, after six years of military rule, set a date in 1985? Why else should he “hug a quaking Constitution to his chest”? MRD had called for civil disobedience for a week; its leaders did not expect anything more than small knots of political persons courting arrest in most cities of Pakistan thereby registering a symbolic mass protest against Ziaulhaqisation of Pakistani politics.In the lazy morning of August 14, the military Government went ahead with officially sponsored celebrations of Pakistan’s 36th Independence Day. The military-bureaucratic-landlord-industrial complex that rules Pakistan did not even notice the deep anguish written on the faces of the people who gathered in surprisingly large numbers in Karachi and Lahore, chanting anti-military regime slogans and demanding return of democracy.What newspapers merely described as a “big gathering” assembled at the Mazar-e-Quaide-Azam in Karachi and listened for 90 minutes to MRD leaders denounce the military rule and tear apart Zia’s “political structure”. The leaders and an indefinite number of political workers were whisked away by policemen dressed in civilian clothes. After the meeting the protesters marched towards Islamia College. The police burst teargas shells and made a lathi-charge. Thus began the great confrontation between the regime and the people in Karachi and Sind.Police Action: The police succeeded in preventing a protest rally from taking place in Rawalpindi. But in Lahore, despite a police cordon thrown from Iqbal Park to Kila Lachman Singh and the presence of a contingent of mounted police, a “large number of political workers” entered the Minar-e-Pakistan. Reported a major Pakistani daily, “The presence of such a large number of political workers at the Minar was beyond the expectation of political circles.” Protest demonstrations were held in Peshawar also, where a former speaker of the North West Frontier Province Assembly, Mohammad Hanif Khan, and two former ministers, Abdul Razik Khan and Abdul Mastan Khan, were among the leaders picked up by the police.More significant was the participation in the movement of two leaders of the Jammat-ul-Islami (JIU), Maulana Binouri and Maulana Abdul Bari Jan, because only a day before JIU had announced that it would not join the MRD protest.The first clash between the people and the police occurred in Karachi on August 16. Undaunted by the presence of a large police force, a big crowd gathered near the Regal bus stop in the hot and humid early afternoon. Exactly at 3.15 p.m. a public bus halted at the stand and from it alighted two MRD leaders, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Meiraj Mohammad Khan.As soon as the crowd spied them, they rushed to greet them shouting slogans against martial law. Policemen, again wearing civilian clothes, grabbed them by the collar and pushed them towards a waiting van. The van was chased by the crowd for a distance, and then the crowd was chased away by the police.Among the protesters were seen four women who were quickly taken away by the police. Shops and hotels in the busy area of the port city closed down. The “people and the police stood face to face.” The police began to pick up people at random. The crowd became angry. They set a government bus on fire on M.A. Jinnah Road.On the third day, the agitation spread all over Sind, and the first police firing occurred at Dadu, a town north of Karachi, where frenzied masses stormed a jail and released 100 prisoners, ripped away several metres of rail track, burnt buses and damaged a passenger car at the railway station.In the police firing one man was killed, while a DSP and three policemen were injured by missiles hurled by protesters. Protest meetings were held in Lahore, Rawalpindi. Quetta and Peshawar. At Dera Ismail Khan, in the Frontier Province, among those arrested were a former president of the Peshawar University, Azam Afidi, and a former principal of the degree college at Mardan, Said Kamal.MRD circles in London claimed that the police had arrested 5,000 Pakistanis and that Pakistan was “in complete turmoil”. A BBC newscast in the evening of August 18 said, “On the fourth day of the civil disobedience campaign, thousands of supporters of MRD again defied martial law to hold protest meetings and marches. MRD supporters were reported out in force in many of the towns and cities along the Indus Valley and the disturbances appear to be intensifying in certain areas.”The BBC correspondent in Pakistan said the agitation had had a profound impact on Sind. Troops were moved into Dadu. There was a “confrontation” between the Sind police and “paramilitary forces” in which one policeman was killed. In the next three days some 15 towns in Sind were placed under army control. The Voice of America (VOA) reported on August 20 that troops “are remaining in alert all over Pakistan. The movement had left at least 10 dead and more than 1,000 people arrested.” Judges were handing in “strict sentences”, including hard labour, heavy fines and lashes.The MRD limit of July 22 passed, by which date most of the MRD leaders were in jail. But the agitation appeared to be spreading rather than tapering- off. A remarkable feature of the campaign was the huge masses that turned out for protest meetings and demonstrations.What Pakistani newspapers described as “large numbers” was quantified in BBC and VOA broadcasts as 20,000, 40,000 and in Western wire services as even 50,000! The police fired several times at different unruly crowds in Sind.What do the disturbances of March portend for Pakistan? Soon after the disturbances started, The Guardian of London asked the question that was gnawing at the minds of foreign offices the world over: “How long has Zia got?” Pakistan’s own chequered political history offers no clue except that when a military dictator totters, his fall cannot be far away.When a scuffle between students and policemen broke out in Rawalpindi Poly-technique in 1968, few saw it as a great mishap; yet by March the same year, Ayub was out. A helplessly cornered Yahya Khan ordered the first one-man-one-vote election in Pakistan in December 1970 as a possible way out for himself and his regime ; one year later he was a non-person and Pakistan lay dismembered.Diplomatic circles in New Delhi saw three possible scenarios developing in Pakistan in the coming weeks and months. If the movement snowballs to Punjab, Zia will have no alternative to talking with MRD leaders and setting a timetable for orderly election and transfer of power.Nusrat Bhutto (left) and daughter Benazir in happier timesScenario two would be the ouster of Zia by another general if the agitation goes on gathering momentum and if it threatens to break up the unity of the military-bureaucratic biradari (community). The third possibility is that Zia, with united support from the generals and the top brass of the bureaucracy, suppresses the movement with severe use of ruthless coercive force.The crucial factor in all these scenarios is the momentum of the anti-Martial Law agitation. If the movement spreads to Punjab, the Frontier and Baluchistan, and draws in larger sections of students, industrial workers and the peasantry, Zia will probably have to step down, either in favour of another general or after an early election.If another general replaces Zia, he would like to continue Pakistan’s foreign policy, but will have to work out with the political leaders an agreed transition to civilian rule. The army in Pakistan is not like the army in Turkey, a country that Zia-ul-Haq apparently holds in high esteem. The Pakistani armed forces are too stretched and too much a part of the people. In a sustained political struggle between the people and military rule, the sympathies of the jawan will be with the people.Possible Repercussions: Whether MRD will be able to offer a viable, stable representative government to Pakistan is a question that must disturb a lot of people within and outside the country.Whether the Opposition will be able to offer a viable, stable representative government to Pakistan is a question that must disturb a lot of people within and outside the country. Its lack of a charismatic leader may turn out to be its greatest advantage.Its lack of a charismatic leader may turn out to be its greatest advantage. If the PPP has learnt the correct lessons from the excesses and follies of Bhutto, it will respect the other opposition parties, try genuinely and honestly to work with them, and keep the army strictly confined to its legitimate role: defending the frontiers of Pakistan.Only one one issue would PPP leaders insist on having their way: the fate of a fallen Zia-ul-Haq.What would be the regional and world repercussions of a regime change in Pakistan? The West, especially the US, placed high stakes in the stability of the Zia regime. If it crumbles, the disaster for America in the Persian Gulf-South Asian region will be completely comparable to the fall of the late Shah of Iran. The US will have to overhaul its strategies for the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. The great American “loss” will be a significant Soviet gain.Even if Zia does not fall in the near future, any perceived weakness of his regime, wobbling of his political grip of Pakistan will affect at least two major diplomatic processes ongoing for some time. The USSR will not be over-anxious to negotiate and conclude a political settlement of the Afghan issue with a Pakistani regime that may not last next year. It would rather wait for the political parties to get back to power because most of the MRD constituents are committed to pursue friendly relations with Afghanistan and the USSR.Wali Khan (left) and Khan Abdul Ghaffar KhanThere is a hubris in most human affairs, but none as menacing as it is for a dictator. He is the monarch of all he surveys as long as the going is good. Something snaps some where and an entire edifice, built with so much glitter on crushed hopes and aspirations of millions, comes down like a house of cards.The remarkable thing of the hubris of dictators is that they never learn from the hubris of one another. Zia-ul-Haq only learnt two wrong lessons from his two predecessors: not to hold election to a sovereign parliament and not to allow the political parties to come back to Pakistan’s political life. Even if he survives, neither he nor his regime will be the same again. The days of both now seem to be numbered. Whether the date is 1984 or 1985 the coming months will tell.INDIA: DOUBLE-EDGED DECLARATIONRao: shrewd statementAfter the Indian Government’s admirable restraint on the Sri Lankan issue, most observers – and foreign diplomats in New Delhi-were taken by suprise by the statement made on behalf of the Government in both Houses of Parliament on August 25 with regard to the mass movement in Pakistan against military rule and for restoration of democracy.The decision to make the statement was evidently taken at the highest level. Identically worded statements were read by the Minister for External Affairs, P.V. Narasimha Rao, in the Lok Sabha, and by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in the Rajya Sabha.It was a shrewdly worded statement. Starting by expressing the Government’s concern over the arrest and detention of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, it landed on the sensitive terrain of the domestic upheaval in Pakistan.”We have been watching with uneasiness and distress the recent happenings in Pakistan and the sufferings of people who have been demanding restoration of democracy in the country,” it said, and finished “As a nation we are committed to democracy.”Talking to India Today, Rao tried to blunt the edge of his statement: “I do not want to say anything which might be construed as interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan.” But he could not expect the Government of Pakistan and other governments not to read in the statement an attempt to extend India’s sympathies and moral support to the agitators.Jeopardising Relations; If the military government in Pakistan survives the present crisis, it is more than likely to react negatively to India’s act. More important, it will almost certainly jeopardise the on-going negotiations for a treaty relationship between India and Pakistan, apart from the impact it will have on the newly-born regional cooperation in South Asia.In domestic terms, observers viewed the statement as another attempt on the part of the prime minister to embellish the image of her government in preparation for a mid-term poll about six months from now. Undoubtedly, the Government’s statement struck a responsive chord among broad sections of Indian people.In political and diplomatic circles, Rao’s statement has, however, been viewed in a longer-term perspective. Even if the MRD in Pakistan emerges finally victorious in the current confrontation with the military regime and a popular government is set up after elections, large sections of people in Pakistan will undoubtedly remember with extreme discomfort, if not open resentment, that the Indian Government did come out with a pronouncement which was seen by almost everyone as a moral and benign intervention in Pakistan internal affairs.If any confirmation was required that Rao’s cue had come from the highest levels, it was not long in the coming. The day after Rao’s statement in Parliament, Mrs Gandhi, addressing the general body meeting of the Congress(I) parliamentary party, came out in implicit support of the MRD.”The people of Pakistan have been struggling for democracy of which they had known only a brief spell,” she declared, adding “We have to fight injustice everywhere. We want that there should be democracy everywhere.”Though qualified by the remark that “India had never interfered in the internal affairs of other countries” a major portion of the speech was given to the turmoil in Pakistan.Apart from her support for the movement for democracy, she came out strongly against the arrest of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. “It is incomprehensible how he could lead a movement or agitation or be a threat to any regime.He is being unnecessarily harassed. He is so ill and so old, it is beyond our imagination to believe that a person of over 92 can prove a threat to any regime. He is a symbol of freedom and democracy.”Earlier, the prime minister took a subtle sideswipe at Zia when she stated that “We have to oppose injustice. India has always condemned political killings”, and went on to refer to the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She also said that some time back she had written to Zia expressing concern about the “torture of Nusrat Bhutto”.Mrs Gandhi’s unexpected outburst left no one in any doubt that the Government had decided to take a definite stand on the crisis in Pakistan. The fact that she had chosen a purely local party platform to make her feelings known meant that it was deliberately designed. But for what purpose only the last act of the unfolding drama in Pakistan will reveal.