General Mirza Aslam Beg, Former Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan
The other day I saw on the television , Tahirul Qadri’s hysteric declaration of his agenda to reform “the rotten lot of politicians” within three weeks, otherwise, he would lead a four million march to Islamabad, to demolish ‘Zardari’s citadel’, and like Mohammad Morsi of Egypt, will rise to capture reigns of the government and establish “his rule of law”. He hopes, that the Pakistan Army would be too wiling to offer support to his movement as it did, when Nawaz Sharif threatened to march towards Islamabad and the game was over before the ‘Long marchers’ could cross the Ravi Bridge. Tahirul Qadri is mistaken as he has lived long enough outside Pakistan than to correctly fathom the deep desire of the people of Pakistan, for change through the democratic process. The change is in the offing, as the care-taker government takes its place, in two months time. People have no stomach for any kind of undemocratic intervention as Tahirul Qadri, so vividly suggests – postponement of elections for the reforms to be carried out and to hold elections at an appropriate time. In fact, he is suggesting a Bangladesh model, and no doubt some of our political parties are ready to buy into the charade, he is conducting.
Having heard Tahirul Qadri’s agenda, I was reminded of Asghar Khan’s role in 1977, which paved the way for the military take-over. It is very interesting to read the contents of Asghar Khan’s letter to Ziaul Haq and the reasons put forward by him, which sound so very similar, though not so scholarly as the ‘Sheikhul Islam Tahirul Qadri has put forward. Asghar Khan’s letter reads:
Air Marshal (Retd) Asghar Khan’s
TO THE OFFICERS OF THE DEFENCE SERVICES OF PAKISTAN
I am addressing this message to the Chiefs of Staff and the Officers of the Defence Services of Pakistan.
It is your duty to defend the territorial integrity of Pakistan and to obey all lawful commands of superior officers placed over you. To differentiate between ‘lawful’ and an ‘unlawful’ command is the duty of every officer. Every one of you must ask yourself whether what the army is doing today is ‘lawful’ activity and if your conscience tells you that it is not and you still carry it out, you would appear to lack moral fibre and would be guilty of a grave crime against your country and your people.
You should by now have realized that military action in East Pakistan was a conspiracy in which the present Prime Minister played a Machiavellian role. You know the circumstances in which military action in Baluchistan was engineered and how completely unnecessary this action has been. You are also probably aware of the utterly unnecessary military action taken last year in DIR in the North West Frontier Province. If you have any interest in national affairs, you must also be aware that during the election campaign the nation expressed its powerful disapproval of the present regime. Following the people’s rejection of the Government, you should have been surprised at the election results in which the ‘Pakistan National Alliance’ which could muster such overwhelming popular support, could only get 8 out of 116 seats in the Punjab. You must surely know that many people were not even allowed to file their nomination papers. Was it not too much of a co-incidence that no papers could be filed against the Prime Minister and all the Chief Ministers of the four provinces? That those who dared to try, ended up in spending a few nights in Police custody? One of them has still not been traced.
Those of you who were even remotely connected with duties in connection with 7th March election would also know of the blatant manner in which rigging took place; Of the hundreds of thousands of ballot papers of PNA candidates that had been taken out of ballot boxes and were found in the streets and fields of Pakistan following the election on 7th March. You would also have seen the deserted polling stations on 10th March, the day of the Provincial polls, following the call for boycott of Provincial elections by the PNA. Nevertheless Government media announced that an unprecedented number of votes had also been polled at the provincial election and the percentage was said to be more than sixty. Then surely you must have followed the movement which called for Bhutto’s resignation and re-elections in the country.
The coming out of women in thousands on the streets in every city and town with babies in their arms was a scene that no one will forget. These were the women who Bhutto claimed had voted for him. The movement proved within a few days that he and his government had been completely rejected by the people. The death of hundreds of our youth and the beating of our mothers and sisters was a scene that may well have stirred you to shame and sorrow. Have you ever thought why the people put themselves to so much trouble?
Why must mothers come out to face bullets with babies in their arms? Why do parents allow their children to face police lathis and bullets? Surely it is only because they feel that they have been wronged – that they have been cheated. That their basic right to ‘HIRE and FIRE’ their rulers has been denied them. They understood, when we told them the truth that the Constitution which you as officers of the Defence Services are sworn to defend had been violated. Article 218(3) of the Constitution of the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ says: “It shall be the duty of the Election Commission constituted in relation to an election to organize and conduct the election and to make such arrangements as are necessary to ensure that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against”.
This, my friend, was not a just and fair election. Bhutto has violated the Constitution and is guilty of a grave crime against the people. It is not your duty to support his illegal regime nor can you be called upon to kill your own people so that he can continue a little longer in office. Let it not be said that the Pakistan armed forces are a degenerate Police Force fit only for killing unarmed civilians. How else can you explain the shooting of a spirited lad whose only fault was to show the ‘V’ sign to the army in Lahore the other day. The spirit of adventure; of defiance rather than servility needs to be encouraged in our youth and this unfortunate incident is a blot on the name of the army which would be difficult to wipe out. Similarly, shooting by the army in Karachi on an unarmed crowd is unpardonable. Didn’t you realize that the poor and hungry people of Pakistan, throughout the 30 troubled years of our history, had shown only love and affection for our armed forces? That they wept when you laid down arms in East Pakistan; that they have always prayed for your glory and have literally starved themselves and their children so that you all well fed and our Generals and Senior Officers can live a life that even their British and American counter-parts would not dream of. It pains me to say that, that love is now gone. Pray do not let it turn to hate. For should that happen, a tragedy would have occurred in the history of this nation which we in our life-time may not be able to undo.
As men of honour it is your responsibility to do your duty and the call of duty in these trying circumstances is not the blind obedience of unlawful commands. There comes a time in the lives of nations when each man has to ask himself whether he is doing the right thing. For you that time has come. Answer his call honestly and save Pakistan. God be with you.
M. ASGHAR KHAN
Asghar Khan rejoiced, when Bhutto was hanged, and made a “horrible example for others.” Whose head Tahirul Qadri is now demanding? Make a guess.
Tahirul Qadri seems to be at the wrong end of history, in his demand to “save the country and not politics”. Pakistan came into being as a result of the political movement launched by Quaid-e-Azam. In 1971, Pakistan used the military power of the state to correct the political split, but failed. Now there is no other option, than to follow the path, the nation has set for itself i.e., fair and free elections, on schedule, so that the new democratic order takes its corrective course to remove the scars of the present order.
General Aslam Beg is one of the most authoritative analysts in Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org