Mirza Aslam Beg
THE three week Dharna by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TL) at Faizabad, on Islamabad Expressway has ended peacefully, but leaves behind many questions to be answered, particularly the role of the State Institutions – the Government, Judiciary and the Army. Tehreek-e-Insaaf Dharna and the agitation lasted almost four years, but could not achieve its purpose, whereas TL, could achieve its purpose in a matter of three weeks only, which is puzzling and leaves the state institutions blaming each other for having been left in the cold. Honorable Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui and Mr. Nawaz Sharif are wondering “who is behind TL Dharna and who settled terms of accord?” “It is Army which pulled the country out of crisis.” Replies Honorable Justice Qazi Amin Ahmad of Lahore High Court.
Army intervened because it respects the civil order, unlike General Zia, who in 1976, sent ACM Asghar Khan, to the conference room where the government and the opposition had reached consensus. He shouted “forget about this dialogue. I have the commitment from the Army high command that they are ready to take-over, hold elections in 90 days, and we will be in power (myself as the Prime Minister).” Gen Zia took over and hanged Bhutto. The fact of the matter is, that Faizabad episode itself is a landmark happening, likely to create new contours of future socio-political order, shaping into a more harmonious system of governance, providing ultimate security to our National Purpose: Pakistan will be a democracy, based on principles of Quran and Sunnah.
The government made amendments to the Constitution, reflecting on the finality of Prophet-hood, which were rejected by the religious right. Accepting the fault, government corrected the mistake, but TL demanded action against the Law Minister and his team, alleged to have made these amendments. The government showed hesitation, which led to the Dharna by TL, causing shut-down between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The Islamabad High Court intervened and ordered the government to remove the agitators, using police and the Rangers. Threatened by Contempt of Court, government came into action but failed and called the Army “in aid to civil power”. The Army did not use force, but conducted successful negotiations with the agitators, which caused much concern to Honorable Chief Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court. He remarked:
“Prima facie, the role assumed by the top leadership of Army is besides the Constitution and law of land. Armed forces, being part of the Executive of the country, cannot travel beyond its mandate bestowed upon it by the organic law of the country, i.e. Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The Army Chief, instead of following the orders of the Chief Executive, became a mediator. If he is passionate about politics, he should retire and then play politics.”
These remarks are rather strange coming from the Honorable Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who only a few weeks back gave the landmark judgment on this very issue, and now quite unmindful of the consequence, he was coaxing the Interior Minister and the Army to use force to throw-out the agitators, whereas the government and the Army, favoured a negotiated settlement, on justifiable reasons. The Police and the Rangers have many of their personnel, belonging to Bralevy school of thought of Maulana Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and there was every possibility of disobedience and revolt, if they were asked to use force against the mob. Same is the case with the Army, who have had the sad experience of the year 1976.
In 1976, there was agitation against Bhutto’s government led by the religious right and the opposition. Army was called in aid to civil power at Lahore and decided to use force but faced strong reaction from the mob. Killings caused adverse reaction, and the troops refused to fire at the mob, which turned out to be the turning point for the government, leading to take over by General Ziaul Haq. Similarly Army was now called in aid to civil power in Islamabad and the Honorable Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, ordered that arms will not be used and instead blows and kicks will be used to throw-out the agitators. This was ridiculous because “it is the “power of the gun which helps the Army to bring the situation under control.” For example since 1958, Army has launched more than a dozen operations in Balochistan, Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Waziristan and FATA, bringing these areas under control, which comes to over 40% of Pakistan territory, but the irony is, that, civil authority – the writ of the government has never been established over these areas, which is mockery of political and social justice.
Surprisingly no honorable court in Pakistan, ever tried to correct this anomaly. Army administers these areas and also indulges in politics. In 1979, when Gen Zia was all set to carry out the orders of the Supreme Court, he directed his formation commanders to find out the likely reaction of troops and the consequences of Bhutto’s hanging. A conference was called. Disagreeing with others, I said, “It would be a political sin to hang Bhutto, because it would cause such political aberrations that will be difficult to correct and create lasting distrust between Punjab and Sindh. The best option would be to send him into exile because very soon we may need him. As regards the reaction of troops, I reminded them of the recent incident in Lahore, when three brigadiers had refused to use force. I can not give any guarantee of troops reaction.” My Corps commander got so angry that he called off the conference and telephoned Gen Zia to remove me from command, which he did after a few months later. I was playing politics and so were the three Services Chiefs playing politics on 17th August 1988, when power was handed over to the people, to whom it belonged.
As regards the TL and other religious parties, a new thinking amongst them is gaining ground of bringing about the much needed change in the existing political order. They are now working for the mainstreaming of the religious parties into the political system. In the past, they worked for others. The 1953 movement facilitated Gen Ayub’s take over. The 1976 movement helped Gen Zia. Now they have decided to help themselves, by joining the mainstream political parties. Maulana Samiul Haq has already joined Tehreek-e-Insaaf. Jamat-e-Islami will soon decide their alliance with PTI or PML(N). Very soon Tehreek-e-Labbaik and other religious parties will also decide to join mainstream political parties, causing a major shift in the existing balance of political power. Imran Khan, now is all praise for TL and the Army, in support of the mainstreaming of the religious right.
The TL Dharna is a positive development against the internal threat of ideological conflict, as warned by the Turkish President on his visit to Pakistan. He also warned about the conspiracy of turning Afghanistan into Daeshtan. Insha Allah, this threat will also be taken-care-of, by the emerging alliance of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. And in dealing with these threats we must be mindful of the fact that the Army doesn’t sit in ivory towers, nor it works on generalities. Army faces the reality with a sense of duty and sacrifice to the national cause, and pays with its blood. Through negotiations Army helped political transformation that would be difficult to achieve, because political Islam is not palatable to some internal and external forces. Great caution and care would be needed to protect the movement. “There is nothing more difficult to carry-out than to initiate a new order.” Machiavelli.
— The writer, a retired 4-star General, is former COAS, Pakistan Army.