Editorial: Military dictatorship vs civilian rule


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In a recent interview, former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf claimed that the country made progress only under military rule and civilian governments mostly “let the nation down.” These of course are self-serving assertions contradicted by facts. He was all praise for General Ayub Khan and laid the entire blame for the 1971 debacle at the door of PPP’s founding leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Although he termed General Ziaul Haq’s rule as controversial “because he promoted religious extremism in the country” he was quite clear, he said, that whatever Zia did against the Soviet Union with the help of the US and Taliban was “absolutely right.”

Indeed, the decade of General Ayub’s rule saw a period of industrial development but many well-respected economists question the oligopolistic structure it was based on. Besides, it is worth noting that the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation was established way before him, in 1952, by a civilian government with a view to helping the private sector set up industries and generate employment. If Zia’s and Musharraf’s own regime brought a phase of relative financial stability that owed largely to the US grants and aid money – rather than real economic growth – in return for the wars that this country was dragged into on US’ behalf with disastrous consequences for this state and society. And Ayub Khan’s policies alienated the majority population province of East Pakistan, sowing the seeds of secession. The ultimate blow to territorial integrity of the country was delivered by his successor General Yahya Khan, when he refused to respect the Bengali people’s mandate they had handed to the Awami League. He was responsible for Pakistan’s breakup, as it was his watch that the country was under and not the then opposition leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Although Bhutto too was no less guilty of post-election events that ultimately led to the dismemberment of Pakistan, the PPP founder later restored the nation’s shattered confidence, secured the release of over 90,000 soldiers taken prisoner by India in the former East Pakistan, and some of the lost territory under the Simla agreement with his Indian counterpart. His nationalisation policy was controversial and proved disastrous but Bhutto remains a respected leader in public memory for giving this country a consensus constitution, introducing several pro-people reforms, and putting the country on the path of progress. His successor and tormentor, General Ziaul Haq, in order to perpetuate his unlawful rule, created ethno-sectarian divisions in this society. As for participation in the US’ war in Afghanistan against the erstwhile Soviet Union, it is a matter of record that glasnost and perestroika policies were in fact among the major measures that had already accelerated the demise of the Soviet Union, and had no intention whatsoever to seek access to warm waters via Pakistan. Nearly two decades on, the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to pay the price of that misadventure and General Musharraf’s own misguided policies with their lives.

Democracy may not be a perfect system of government but it is considered to be the best because it is answerable to the people and hence mindful of their interests and concerns. Dictators, who have ruled this country for nearly half of its existence, as the preceding details amply prove, are good at making delusional economic advancement as well as political stability. In reality, they are adept only at causing long-term damage to national harmony, nationhood and prosperity.