Black October | Pakistan Today

Black October

Its been a string of them, Octobers filled with darkness. The first such October was witnessed by our nation in 1951 when Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in Rawalpindi. This set in motion a tradition such that Pindi became a monument to the martyrdom of elected Prime Ministers. It was the city of choice for the martyrdom of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir. All three of them belonged to Sindh. This is, ofcourse, only to count the successful attempts, not all the other failed stabs at assassination that the city has seen. The first Black October of 1951 pushed Pakistan into the clutches of bureaucrats, feudals and generals. A grip that East Pakistan had to pay a bloody price to escape. A grip that pushed it into the arms of India, the very India it had fought to get independence from. But we werent lucky enough; we are still in that vice-like grip. If anything, its stranglehold is tighter.

The second Black October our nation witnessed was in 1958. Iskandar Mirza sent democracy, along with the Constitution, packing and martial law was imposed. A few days later, two armed generals accosted the same Iskandar. He was presented with the only option; to sign his resignation letter and depart for London with the clothes on his back and an empty suitcase in hand. From Governor General of a country to the employee of a restaurant; a fate sealed by the events of that October.

This October brought the dawn of Ayub. The same Ayub who squandered the countrys most valuable and irreplaceable assets: the politicians who had trained under the tutelage of the Quaid. They were wiped off Pakistans political map and its political landscape stood altered forever. It was the first severe blow a man-in-uniform had inflicted upon the country, but alas, not the last. The loss could not be remedied. From October 1958 to October 2010, the darkness remains. The events unfolding in this Black October set the wheels in motion for the 1965 Indo-Pak war. The war destroyed any chance of an enduring peace in the subcontinent as envisioned by the Quaid. The Quaid-e-Azam and his colleagues maintained that the Hindus and Muslims could live in harmony only if they had sovereign states of their own. But the events of these successive Black Octobers of 1951 and 1958 turned that vision into an untenable delusion.

A praetorian state did not have the willingness or the ability to negotiate for a long-lasting peace in the region. The dictatorial mindset born in October 1958 is what eventually led to the secession of East Pakistan. Yahyas refusal to give up power to the democratically elected leaders shook national integrity to its very core. This was an open attack by the military on a rightfully elected civilian government. Mujeeb-ur-Rehman was arrested according to a well-laid plan that forced the rest of the Awami League leadership to seek refuge in India. There was no turning back and a united Pakistan saw its last dark days in October 1971.

This October was the very month in which India started its military onslaught on Pakistan. It strengthened its ranks alongside the Pakistani border and started bombing Pakistani territory. In a few weeks time, united Pakistan was history. What was left is Pakistan as we know it now and an entire generation has no inkling of what Pakistan used to be. And the East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh) which we bulldozed with tanks and looked down upon is now a fast-developing economy and a well-respected member of the international community where we are known as an almost failed state. We pushed East Pakistan away and it is better off now.

What was left of Pakistan could have been on the path to stability but the generals wouldnt give it a rest. East Pakistan had only served to whet their appetite: the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq had seemed like it would never end. And it didnt; not until terrorist networks were entrenched, drugs enveloped our society, our cities were home to a scourge of Kalashnikovs and our society was poisoned thoroughly by sectarianism. This is what the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq left us with: a legacy of arms, drugs, violence and a democratic system in tatters.

However flawed it was, democracy was restored after the departure of Zia. But the generals had only enough patience to give each democratic government a mere two and half years before it was changed. This is how the 90s passed: the generals forced the elected governments to play musical chairs. Before a government had time to strengthen its foothold, its reign would come to a premature end.

Nawaz Sharif tried to escalate the pace of development programmes in his last tenure. He had the Motorway completed and the yellow cab scheme launched. Investment started to increase and Pakistan was soon a nuclear power. This gave Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif enough leverage to pressure Vajpayee into negotiations for peace. The two nations were now dreaming of a peaceful future but it was not to be; all thanks to the whims of the generals playing out in Kargil. It was stupid to say the least but what followed was even more so. These generals, in an attempt to escape the consequences of the defeat in Kargil, again toppled an elected government. The date was the 12th, the month, October and the perpetrator, a deposed general.

Whatever happened on 12 October 1999 has superceded the events of past Octobers in terms of devastating consequences. The spectre of October 1971 only left us when the country was dismembered. October 1999s consequences are still felt today; a fragile federation whose fate is inextricably linked to the survival of the elected Parliament. But what can be done? After all, the bedfellows of bad luck have no choice but to embrace the consequences.

We must look for how deep the bad luck goes. The current October is yet to pass and it remains to be seen what does it have in store for us? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Or will we be groping in the dark as our history suggests? I am afraid if we cant afford to have another Black October.

The writer is one of Pakistans most widely read columnists.