July 5 Is A Black Day In Pakistan's History

The origins of Pakistan's malaise can be traced to the overthrow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's government by General Zia-ul-Haq. In a military dictatorship that lasted 11 years, Zia managed to bequeath Pakistan with intolerance and extremism.

July 5 Is A Black Day In Pakistan's History

On July 5, 1977, then army chief General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's and dissolved the democratically elected national and provincial assemblies by imposing martial law. He derailed the nascent democratic system and pushed the country into the darkest period for 11 years. The country has still not recovered from the catastrophic effects which Zia left on the institutions of our society, as he dehumanized and radicalized the basic foundations of Pakistan.

On the dreadful night of 4-5 July 1977, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto calmly followed his routine of reading files. One black file he didn’t read at all but just signed ... and turning to Benazir Bhutto, he said, "My first act as Prime Minister was to commute the death sentences of the condemned. My last act will be the same.” (Dr. Habbibulah Siddiqui’s book Son of the Desert)

General Zia’s utter disregard for peoples elected prime minister, representatives and the constitution was so disgusting that he notoriously said "the constitution is 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 follow me." 

The judges of the superior courts took a new oath after the proclamation of martial law. Dictator Zia declared that “Martial Law Orders will be issued under my orders. I met Mr. Justice Yaqub Ali, Chief Justice of Pakistan this morning. I am grateful to him for the advice and guidance on legal matters.” 

After the imposition of martial law on July 5, 1977, military courts were setup and a reign of terror and human rights abuses was let loose on Bhutto's family, party leaders, workers and supporters; hundreds of thousands of party workers, and supporters were arrested. Zia imposed complete censorship on electronic and print media.

In response to dictator Zia’s "free and fair elections,” set to be held within 90 days after the coup, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in a conversation with Benazir Bhutto said “armies do not take over power to relinquish it. Nor do Generals commit high treason in order to hold elections and restore democratic constitutions.”

Professor Ghafoor of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) admitted in a PTV interview in 1994 that General Zia moved to overthrow the government after an agreement had been reached over the ‘contentious’ (as alleged by Pakistan National alliance PNA) 1977 elections between ZAB’s PPP and PNA on the evening of July 4. So it was an excuse used by Zia to overthrow Bhutto’s democratically elected government. 

Later on, Shaheed Bhutto was implicated in a murder conspiracy case, and arrested on September 3, 1977. Begum Nusrat Bhutto filed the constitutional petition under Article 184 (3) against the chief martial law administrator challenging the validity of the chief of army staff to promulgate martial law. She also challenged the detention of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and party leaders who were arrested on September 17, 1977. 

Begum Bhutto’s petition contended that the army chief had no right to overthrow the elected government and the COAS had no authority under the 1973 Constitution to impose martial law in the country. Begum Bhutto argued that these acts were not illegal and unconstitutional but also an act of treason as stipulated by Article 6 of the 1973 Constitution. 

A nine-member bench was constituted to hear the petition including the Chief Justice Anwarul Haq.  But the Supreme Court dismissed Begum Bhutto’s petition by justifying Zia’s Martial Law under the doctrine of necessity. 

Dictator Zia overthrew Shaheed Zulfikar Bhutto government when Bhutto had successfully started the process of building a new Pakistan from scratch under the Pakistan People's Party's manifesto: improving the economy, building infrastructure, road networks, school, colleges, universities, land reforms within short span of 5 years. Bhutto gave the people of Pakistan the first Constitution of their state, which was acceptable to all political based on democratic principles. Moreover, Bhutto gave the voice to masses who remained voiceless, invisible and disenfranchised in political process.    

Between 1978 and 1985, Dictator Zia made every possible effort to turn Pakistan into a theocracy with medieval approach. Amnesty International charged Zia’s regime with torture, imprisonment, and human rights abuses. 

The educational curricula were revised with his fabricated ideology of Pakistan and sect-based Islam was introduced and everything was Islamised with the support of Jamaat-i-Islami. 

During the rule of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq from 1977 to 1988, the blasphemy laws were further made severely tough. In 1980, 1982, and 1986, amendments were brought through ordinances into the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) criminalizing anything causing dishonor to the Holy Prophet, family and Sahaba of the Prophet. The Penal Code was amended to provide for punishment for desecration of the Holy Quran and for punishing blasphemy with death or life imprisonment (later on the Shariat Court made death for blasphemy mandatory).

Militant Sunni sectarian groups were patronised and financed, and were used in attacks on Shia community and religious minorities.

Due to Zia’s involvement and support to the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, supply of weapons, drugs, influx of Afghan refugees, Pakistan is still facing the consequences of  his policies. 

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government had given top priority to women’s rights, empowerment and equality, these initiatives were not only halted, but women were tried to confine inside four walls of their houses ‘chaddar and char deewari’ under Zia’s Islamisation policies. He introduces and strengthened anti women discriminatory laws such as Hudood Ordinances. Under Hudood Ordinance, cases of rape were turned against the victims and women were further persecuted and victimized.  

Zia banned student unions in 1984 because he feared most students’ ideological resistance to dictatorship and fundamentalism. He suppresses diversity, pluralism, progressive discourse on politics and religion matters. He banned promotion of language, literature, music, culture and art.

Zia's regressive and medieval ideology of intolerance, militant extremism, sectarianism, drugs and the Kalashnikov still runs deep into the many sections of society and state institutions; whereas Bhutto’s legacy of pluralism, constitutional and civilian supremacy, democracy, people’s power, peace and social harmony, women rights will always continue to combat Zia’s draconian legacy.