Agitational Politics in Pakistan: Refocusing on the Movement for Restoration of Democracy 1981.

Byline: Ahmad Hassan and Muhammad Iqbal Chawla


Since the creation of Pakistan, the political scenario here has been stained with four military rules; first from 1958 to 1969 of Gen. Ayub Khan, second from 1969 to 1971 of Gen. Yahya Khan, third from 1977 to 1988 of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and fourth from 1999 to 2008 of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. This unstable political set-up has played very important role in under-developed or less-developed political conscious of the Pakistani masses. Politics of non-issues is still prevalent here in Pakistan like the pre-modern Europe, because people are not politically well conscious to understand the real issues. Pakistani masses have not gone through the evolutionary process of democracy. That is why politics of agitation is very common here in Pakistan. It is very easy for the leadership whether political or religious to create hype around sometimes even a non issue and get the masses infuriated.

Agitational politics is usually the result of some significant grievances of a politically active group of society which have not b en cured by the establishment or authority. These unattended grievances leave no space for the group but to challenge the social order by using whatever sources available or necessary. Leland M. Griffin elaborated on that statement by proposing that 'agitation occurs when a group or faction of society is dissatisfied and desires to change the very environment of the society which is causing dissatisfaction through social, economic, political or religious change and resulting in some efforts which may end as a success or failure.'1

Our history is also full of such events where some movement aroused on a genuine issue but due to the strict control of state on media or other propaganda organs, got sabotaged and ended up just as nothing. The first anti-martial law movement was launched against Gen. Ayub Khan in 1968 which resulted in another military rule under Gen. Yahya Khan in 1969. This second martial law concluded itself in the segregation of East Pakistan as Bangladesh in 1971. Then a movement was launched under the flag of PNA (Pakistan National Alliance) against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977 resulting in the overthrow of the PPP government and imposing another military rule. The third military rule was promulgated by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq is the most important and the most controversial military regime till date because of its Islamization policy.

This policy on one hand supported American interference in Afghanistan's political turbulence through Jihad strategy and on the other hand it brought drastic changes through Islamizing the laws like Hudood Ordinance or blasphemy laws and other changes like in educational texts and other policies.

The movement for restoration of democracy (MRD) is also one of the momentous events of Gen. Zia regime because of the two reasons; firstly this movement was a bold enough step taken by the political parties specially Pakistan Peoples Party under the strict state control over all the media organs and political parties; secondly it was comparatively a non-violent movement of the history of Pakistan. Stephen Zunes has observed that since the time of Gandhi it was one of the strongest non-violent movements in South Asia. MRD consisted of civic action and resistance, civil disobedience and non-cooperation. The active engagement of democratic forces like civil society at large, and political parties, all helped to keep alive a democratic culture in the face of attempts to forge an absolutist dictatorship.2 So this research is an effort to analyze the movement for restoration of democracy as an essential study in the history of agitational politics in Pakistan.

To understand the entire movement as a historical phenomenon, its causes and consequences the theoretical framework of agitational politics will be applied.

Theoretical Framework

This study is an analysis of MRD (1981) under the theoretical framework of agitation. Bowers and Ochs define agitation as a movement that initiates when 'the people who are not the part of decision making authority require some integral social or political change and in response face a strong level of resistance within the decision making establishment which persuades them to acquire more discursive means of agitation.'3

In the context of this definition of agitation MRD could better be understood. Because it was launched by the political parties outside the establishment to advocate genuine democratic system instead of the military rule and was encountered by open and severe resistance by the establishment resulting in the usage of other means of persuasion like public protests, processions, volunteer arrests and so on. Agitation takes place as a movement when efforts to bring a significant political, social, economic or religious change meets strong resistance from the establishment and motivates the agitators to use more discursive means to gather attention towards their complaints and accomplish their desired objectives.

Agitation could be of two types. 1). When the agitators agree to the structural system of the decision making establishment but wants to change the division of...

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