Political Manoeuvres of General Zia-ul-Haq to Consolidate Power.

Byline: Muhammad Shamshad and Amjad Abbas Khan


In late 1970s Pakistan was under the menace of political instability that attracted the attention of the then military chief, General ZiaulHaq for imposing Martial Law for the third time in July, 1977. Zia exploited the situation that later proved supportive for him to rule Pakistan for almost 11 years. He began devising various plans to overcome the country for long time. 'Operation Fairplay'was one of the most important plansof Zia to legitimize the authority.Notably, June 1977 experienced a blend of problems which could bring Pakistan into a civil war. General ZiaulHaq met Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on his wish to discuss the deteriorated situation of the country. Lt. General Sawar Khan, Lt. General Chishti, Lt. General Ghulam Hassan, Lt. General Iqbal and Lt. General JahanzebArbab were also the participants of the discussion.

Rigging in the elections was discussed in the meeting. When General Ghulam Hassan presented the evidence of rigging, Bhutto shouted, hammered the table and negated the assessment of the General about the rigging. This act of Bhutto infuriated the military leadership.1

Chaotic situation, created by the PPP leadership,forced General ZiaulHaq to call a meeting at the evening of 4th July, 1977 in the General Headquarters. The agenda of the meeting wasto cope with the unsatisfactory law and order situation in the country. After concluding the meeting Zia compelled the top Brass to act and take some sort of action to avert the damage to the national stability and security. All the famous political leaders, including Bhutto, were arrested under the banner of 'protective custody'. The code name of that military operation was finalised as 'Operation Fairplay' that began at the night of 4th July and ended with the morning of 5th July, 1977. Martial Law had been declared throughout the country and later on ZiaulHaq sworn in as the President of Pakistan on September 16, 1978.

He appointed military officials as provincial governors; General SadiqAbbasi, Governor of Sind, Major General Rafaqat, Governor of NWPF, General Raheem-u-Din, Governor of Baluchistan and Lt. General Sawar Khan, Governor of Punjab.2

When FazulElahiChohadry completed his extended term in September, 1978 as the President, most of the advisors around Zia thought that he should become President just to reject the mercy petition unilaterally, filed by Bhutto (as Bhutto had been arrested under the charge of facilitating the murder of Nawab Muhammad Ahmed KhanQasuri) or on his behalf to the President. They were sure about the fact ifFazulElahiChohadry remained the President he would accept the petition.3Z. A. Bhutto, Mufti Mahmood and some other political leaders were released from 'protective custody' on July 28, 1977. August 1 and 2 were the days when limited political activities were allowed and Bhutto initiated election campaign through his impressive public speeches. These speeches, later on, annoyedMilitary Junta. The military planned to contain him somehow.4

Some statements of the military officials could reflect that Bhutto would continue to divide the nation which was already in a situation of civil war. Therefore, they thought, Bhutto had to go 'and the court proceedings, that found him guilty of murder and sentenced to death, were judged to be the necessary tonic for a nation needing new direction and hence a new leadership'. Bhutto was hanged and buried in Larkana. Now, Zia was fearless to control the reins of power to run a state.5Many Pakistani and foreign authors, critics and politicians condemned the execution and showed disrespect for the governing trends of ZiaulHaq. Even today, the hanging of Bhutto is remembered as the murder of democracy in Pakistan and it is named as 'judicial murder' in the history of Pakistan.6Later on, Zia adopted the following measures to legitimize his authority.

(a) Postponement of Elections

Zia wanted to deny the transfer of powers to the elected representatives of the public.He postponed the elections that enabled Zia to weaken the opposition who had a strong desire to promote democratic norms. Ian Talbot gives a brief account of the causes behind the delay in elections under Zia regime that caused a colossal damage to the political system of Pakistan and could not pave the way for flourishing the true norms of democracy in the days to come. Zia declared that:

"My sole aim is to organize free and fair elections which would be held in October this year. Soon after the polls, power will be transferred to the elected representatives of the people. I give solemn assurance that I will not deviate from this schedule".7

The nation was quite optimistic in this regard but the discussion of the relevance of democracy never...

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