July 5 Coup: General Zia, The Constitution, And Black Day For Pakistan

July 5 Coup: General Zia, The Constitution, And Black Day For Pakistan
Gen Ziaul Haq, while talking to an Iranian publication, once asked, "What is the Constitution?"

He then proceeded to answer the question himself: "It's a ten or 12-page booklet. I can tear them up and declare that we will live under a new system starting tomorrow. Is there anyone who can put a stop to this? People now will follow me wherever I go. All of the politicians, including the once-mighty Mr Bhutto, will wag their tails and follow me."

Thus on July 5, 1977, Gen Zia launched the era of 'throwing the constitution into the dustbin' by imposing martial law and dissolving the national and provincial assemblies.

Like those before him, he promised to hold elections within 90 days of the takeover. Those 90 days did not arrive for the next decade.

The rest is history.

Let's go through a few leaves of this history.

Incarceration of PPP

Zia's reign commenced with the incarceration of top Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) figures, including the party's founder.

When Bhutto was released on July 29, 1977, for a brief period, he did not waste time in denouncing the martial law imposed across the country by General Zia.

READ MORE: Looking For A Hangman: Zia’s Desperate Search For ‘Evidence’ To Send Bhutto To The Gallows

Angered by this defiance, General Zia responded by imprisoning Zulfikar Ali Bhutto again on September 3. 1977. This time, General Zia only let Bhutto's lifeless body leave the jail.

"The case against my father hinged entirely on the confession of Masood Mahmood, the Director General of the Federal Security Force," writes Benazir Bhutto, Zulfikar's daughter and his true heir, in her autobiography 'Daughter of the East.'

Who was Masood Mahmood?

"Masood Mahmood was a public servant who was detained shortly after the coup and allegedly tortured into giving false testimony against my father," Benazir further said.

READ MORE: Will Our Politicians Learn From History?

Masood Mahmood had opted to turn 'approver' -- a witness who claims to be an accomplice in a crime and is pardoned on the condition that he will speak the 'truth' about others involved -- after spending nearly two months in military custody.

"There were no eye-witnesses to the attack. The FSF firearms, which the 'confessing accused' claimed to have used in the murder attempt, did not match the empty cartridges found at the scene", Benazir Bhutto wrote.

Expecting a fair trial in the murder case was highly doubtful. The entire nation watched as the country's judicial process was flagrantly violated and impartiality was trampled.

"The acting Chief Justice Maulvi Mushtaq never so much as sought to stifle or mask his personal animus," Stanley Wolpert, American historian wrote. "It never occurred to him to refuse to take part in the trial."

On March 18, 1978, Maulvi Mushtaq and his full bench declared Bhutto guilty and sentenced him to death.

Bhutto was hanged and buried in Larkana in the dead of the night, but he still lives in the hearts of millions of Pakistanis.

READ MORE: Pakistan’s Judiciary Has A Long History Of Undermining Democracy

On the other hand, history remembers General Zia's rule as one of the worst in Pakistan's history, as it pushed an extreme interpretation of Islam, violated women's rights, and sowed the seeds for the terrorist organisation Taliban.

The consequences of Zia's actions still reverberate throughout the country.

Over the decades since General Zia's mid-air assassination over Bahawalpur, the military establishment has distanced itself from General Zia. Today's commanders appear to respect democratic norms.

The democratic process in Pakistan may or may not have been brought to an end by General Zia on July 5, 1977. Still, it did mark the beginning of the end for a democratic and progressive Pakistan.