General Mirza Aslam Beg, Former Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan
March 1979, General Ziaul Haque directed his Corps Commanders to ascertain the likely reaction of the officers and the troops, if Bhutto was hanged, as per Supreme Court’s verdict. I was commanding 14 Division at Okara and was called for the meeting at Multan. Giving my views on the subject, I said:
“Hanging of Bhutto would be an unwise act, which could cause very serious “political aberrations”, difficult to correct. He better be sent into exile, to buy his time. As regards the reaction of my troops, I am not sure, because facing the violent mob would be my company and battalion commanders, and it would be difficult for them to shoot at their own kith and kin, as it had happened in 1977, at Lahore. My troops are trained to fight the enemy and not their own people.”
The Corps Commander lost his cool, called-off the meeting, and directed his Chief of Staff, Brigadier (now General) Hamid Gul: “I do not want this officer in my formation. Connect me to the Chief and I will have him removed from command,” Brigadier Hamid Gul pleaded: “Sir, you asked for General Beg’s opinion and he gave his candid views. Removing him from command, may not be appropriate at this moment. You may like to apprise the Chief and let him decide.” The Corps Commander paused for a while and said “OK put up the report.”
I had been wondering why General Zia did not opt for the better choice, i.e., send Bhutto into Exile, to honour the demand of our people and many of the world leaders. Was it due to lack of courage, expediency or some compulsion, was beyond my comprehension. Bhutto was hanged and there followed a trail of political turmoil, muddying the very face of democracy. Had Bhutto not been killed, Benazir Bhutto would have lived the day and the Pakistani nation would not have been suffering the aberrated legacy, as of now. However, my anxiety deepened further, when I read the column by the veteran diplomat, Dr. S.M. Koreshi, in 2009. He wrote “about two years after Bhutto’s hanging, General Zia sent me to Mr. Yasser Arafat, to pacify him because he was very angry on Bhutto’s hanging. I met Mr. Arafat, who told me that, General Zia, while inside Khan-e-Ka’ba, had promised King Khalid and me that he would not hang Bhutto, but he went back on his words and committed an unpardonable sin.”
No doubt General Zia defied God, to earn the curse.
As a result of your evil deeds, “Allah designates leaders on you, your wicked men, to plot (and burrow) there-in, but they only plot against their own souls and they perceive it not”. (Surah Al-Annam 123)
Yet after more than three decades, from the very depth of this very debased political order, is emerging, ‘the corrective process of democracy.’ The two main parties – PPP and PML(N) now are trying to revive the spirit of Charter of Democracy and have succeeded in appointing a non-controversial person as the head of the Election Commission. And the next best step would be to form a care-taker government, as required under the 18th Constitutional amendment. The dividends of the emerging consensus are simply encouraging.
The general elections will be held in time if not earlier. Hopefully the next lot of the elected representatives would prove better in managing the affairs of the state. Thus the system would get a new lease of life and continuity, which are the essential elements of emergence of a robust democratic order, which has put the Evil Nexus, on the back foot, which for the last fifty years, has done much harm to the cause of democracy, depleting our political traditions and values. This Evil Nexus comprising America, Army, Judiciary and the Political Opportunists, now is on the retreat. The Army has affirmed full faith in democracy on 18th February 2008, by saying NO to General Musharraf’s plan and “upholds the Constitution, which embodies the will of the people”. The Judiciary gave the verdict on 31st July 2009, “never again to support a military rule” and stands firm, safeguarding its independence against the onslaught of the aberrators. The Americans find themselves helpless, to play the old game of ‘regime-change.’ Thus the “harmony between the institutions” is the guarantee to uphold the constitution as the “best revenge democracy could offer”.
Out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice, a new order is emerging to sustain democracy and its ‘self-correcting process.’ That is the revenge of democracy, and the silver-lining on the horizon for the oppressed in Pakistan.
General Aslam Beg is one of the most authoritative analysts in Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org