Return to the barracks

Pakistan has had a long history of military rule, which must end

Men in uniform stay in the barracks and operate at the borders. Unfortunately, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has repeatedly come under siege from the ‘Barrackwalas’.

My late father Nazir Ahmed Malik actively participated in the freedom movement. He had unflinching faith in Pakistan. As the first-born free generation, we have seen it all. Bhutto in his book Myth of Freedom talks at length about our so-called independence from the colonial yoke on 14 August 1947.  There is a famous Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” indeed our journey in the land of the pure has been very eventful.

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A lot of events unfolded on the seven or eight kilometre strip called the Mall Road where I was born and raised. It starts at the historic Town Hall and ends at the Mianmir Bridge from where the Cantonment limits start. Religiously, on March 23 every year my old man drove the family to watch the Pakistan Day Parade at the Fortress Stadium located across the bridge.

The small two-lane bridge was the only link between the functional city and the barracks. There were two different worlds, one under civilian authority while the other was run by men in uniform. While corruption was well contained in those days, the Cantonment Boards were not free of this menace. Departments like CMA (Controller Military Accounts) and MES (Maintenance Engineering Services) were always dominated by unscrupulous, out-of-control civilians working under men in uniform.

At the age of five, in the year 1958, holding my father’s finger, I stood on the Mall Road near the Kim’s Gun waiting to receive the Long March of Khan Qayyum Khan, the most popular leader of his times. It was a long wait; Khan Sahib never made it. He was captured at the Ravi Bridge and taken to the dreaded dungeons of Lahore Fort.

Finally, the zamima (newspaper supplement) came out from Paisa Akbar informing the world that the Barrackwalas had taken over. Instead of holding elections for a new political leadership, Martial Law had been clamped together with abrogation of the 1956 constitution.

The republic can only grow under civilian leadership elected through a credible ballot as was conducted in the year 1970. The Constitution must reign supreme, and those who defy it must face the consequences. The current struggle is not for power, but for civilian supremacy without which no country can survive nor prosper.

After a few days an agreement was reached between the Martial Law authorities and Khan Sahib. To gain his freedom, Khan Sahib agreed to retire from politics and go back to his legal practice in Peshawar. With my old man we went to meet Khan Sahib who was badly shaken by his experience under Martial Law captivity. He had lost the will to fight back.

It did not end here. In the year 1959, my Maternal uncle, D Salim Wahid Salim, a progressive writer and poet, decided to go on hunger strike outside the gate of the Civil Secretariat. He had three demands: Army to go back to the barracks, investigation into the murder of the first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali khan, withdrawal of surveillance of progressive writers.

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After 12 days of hunger, Doctor Sahib was sinking and close to death. The government was in no mood to negotiate with him, and despite family pressure he refused to call off his strike. My mother pleaded with my father to save his life. On her insistence my old man arranged mock negotiations. A retired bureaucrat friend was presented as the Secretary Interior to negotiate with Doctor Sahib, and upon his assurances to seriously consider his demands the strike was called off, a life was saved but the movement for civilian rule badly suffered. Nothing much has changed since then. Doctor Sahib survived but he was not spared, finally his life fell apart. His wife with his two sons went back to live with her parents in Aligarh. He had to pay a heavy price for his resistance.

My father, the hard core Muslim Leaguer, got disillusioned with politics and focused on his business. The military regime then decided to go after the independent businesses. A fast-track loan-based economic model was adopted. Loans and permits were doled out to the favourites.

Empires and emerged, the entire wealth of the nation got concentrated into a few families, the reported number was 22. A corruption-laden scheme replaced the Import Licenses regime. Over- and under-invoicing became the order of the day to steal the much needed foreign exchange.

Finally after ten years of his misrule the dictator decided to celebrate his decade of progress in October 1968. Student protests started in Karachi but soon spread all over the country. Ayub was forced to step down in March 1969 but the military rule continued. General Yayha Khan promised to hold free and fair elections which were held in December 1970 on the basis of one man one vote.

When the session in Decca of the newly elected legislature was cancelled, civil war broke out in the Eastern Wing. Jinnah’s Pakistan was dismembered. Even after this debacle the usurper refused to step down. Finally after extreme internal pressure, Yayha Khan was forced out of power. The establishment was made to retreat, civilian authority was restored. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came prepared with his Comrades to introduce major changes. Martial Law was lifted in 1972 with the enactment of the interim constitution followed by a permanent version in August 1973. Pakistan emerged as a constitutional democracy while the ‘Barrackwalas’ were licking their wounds, civilian authority prevailed.

Like Yayha Khan, the outgoing Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has brought disrepute to his institution. There is no justification left for them to operate outside the barracks, their return is inevitable. After 13 manipulated elections the establishment has no facesaving left. It is curtain time for them.  Transitions are never easy and must be carefully planned.

Free and fair elections followed by well thought out plans by party Thinktanks are the best way forward. ZAB had promised ‘Roti, Kapra, Makan’ under a framework of Islamic Socialism. He called his regime ‘Awami Hukamat‘ which it was. Relief was provided to the common man together with good governance. ‘Barrackwalas’ have to return to their barracks where they rightfully belong.

The republic can only grow under civilian leadership elected through a credible ballot as was conducted in the year 1970. The Constitution must reign supreme, and those who defy it must face the consequences. The current struggle is not for power, but for civilian supremacy without which no country can survive nor prosper.

Dr Farid A Malik
Dr Farid A Malik
The writer is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be contacted at: [email protected].


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