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Political myths

In Pakistan, the contradictory relationships between the outer form of a movement and its real political intent become more than evident if we observe the course of our chequered political history. Due to these contradictory relationships, an outcome very different from what is either envisaged or proclaimed by the leadership emerges at times.

It is said that truth is the first casualty in a war. Since we are at war of one kind or another, within and without, physically and psychologically, the truth continues to get overshadowed by falsehood and then forgotten by most. Political myths are created and perpetuated. People are made to believe in these myths through multiple means of propaganda, be it curricula developed over years or public messages through mainstream and alternative media.

Let me begin with Quaid-e-Azam’s famous or infamous speech made in 1948 in Dhaka. He declared Urdu the state language by saying that every state needs a lingua franca. He categorically said that every province, including East Bengal, had a right to choose its language to conduct its business. There was no mention of a single ‘national’ language in his speech or replacing other languages with Urdu in their respective habitats.

However, both sides – the West Pakistanis and the East Pakistanis – used the Dhaka speech selectively to further their political agendas. Urdu was promoted as the only national language by the north Indian immigrant elite and their counterparts in Punjab to impose a unity on people while they continued to use English as the language of power.

East Pakistanis blamed Jinnah for the policies pursued by his immediate successors. We also forget that after a language rights movement that the central government cracked down upon resulting in activists losing their lives, Bangla was eventually declared Pakistan’s other national language. That was as early as in 1952.

But East Pakistan did not stay with us because the shabby treatment meted out to it did not end with Bangla becoming the other national language. Therefore, it is not just about the language, it is about equal rights, an equal share in resources, social justice and economic prosperity that make people seek freedom. Language serves as an identity marker for these people who want their rights to be realised or restored. But the popular myth continues that Bangladesh became a country only because of its forfeited right to use its language.

The other myth is about Liaquat Ali Khan, the first prime minister of Pakistan. Though I do not consider myself a fan of the policies he pursued and the decisions he made or chose not to make, the myth espoused about him, like most from the Pakistani left, of being unpopular in terms of electoral politics and having no constituency at the time of his assassination, was exploded a few years back.

My friend Mazhar Zaidi, a broadcast journalist and filmmaker from Lahore, made an investigative film on Liaquat Ali Khan which brought such information forward that makes one think that not only was Khan a popular leader at that time, his assassination helped postpone general elections. Therefore, while we had provincial elections in 1952, the first general elections for parliament could not be held until 1970. I am not sure if the film has been made publicly available by the BBC or not.

A political myth that continues to plague an average mind outside Balochistan even today is about Baloch tribal chieftains, the sardars and the nawabs, who want a bigger share in resources and decision-making, being against the development of Balochistan and its common people. They want these rights only for themselves. Some may well be like that but that is true for tribal heads and feudal lords anywhere else in Pakistan too. It is the state and not the Chaudhrys in Punjab or waderas in Sindh who have steered the process of whatever development we see in these provinces.

Baloch sardars, who were pushed to take up arms against the state, made eight demands to Gen Ayub Khan back in the 1960s when asked for a truce. All were about development in Balochistan, establishing schools and colleges, making roads and hospitals and creating jobs in the province. Readers who are interested may have a look at the very well-respected veteran politician Sherbaz Mazari’s autobiography, ‘A Journey to Disillusionment.’

Another myth most of us were led to believe in by some of our popular politicians – from the likes of Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, on the one hand, to Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and Lateef Afridi on the other – was that we were on our way to the independence of judiciary, rule of law, justice and fair play. It did not take us long to realise that what had been restored was conservatism and egoism. The Arsalan Iftikhar case disillusioned many.

The lower courts, where most of our poor and dispossessed fail to get justice, remain the same after the end of that so-called golden era of judicial independence.

Lastly, let us speak about 1977. While people are debating different aspects of the high-pitched but dreary speech made by Imran Khan the other day – more about Geo/Jang and Mir Shakilur Rehman and less about the issues we face as a nation – what worries me the most was his reference to the general elections held in 1977.

Who wouldn’t agree with making the electoral process truly free and fair? But these reforms have to come through parliament where the PTI has a sizeable representation. In his stride, Khan mentioned that martial law was imposed on Pakistan in 1977 because the elections were rigged. To me, that is another myth. ZA Bhutto wouldn’t have been hanged if it was only about re-election. The movement of the Pakistan National Alliance did come about to challenge the results of the 1977 elections and may have provided an apparent alibi for military intervention.

There were far more significant national and international reasons for deposing Bhutto. The PNA had finally asked for re-polling on 20 out of 206 National Assembly seats. Bhutto would have remained in majority even after that. The army took over just before an agreement was about to be reached between the PNA and the Bhutto government. Late Prof Ghafoor Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who was a member of the PNA negotiating team, confirms that in his book.

However, maybe I am wrong and Imran Khan is right. If he is right, then what is he alluding to? Or does Imran Khan want to become a part of a non-representative government like the Jamaat-e-Islami did after Gen Zia’s takeover? Four years is a long wait for an ageing, ambitious politician who draws all his examples from a game played in less than 20 out of more than 200 countries, its best form played by not more than ten nations. Nevertheless, for the benefit of Khan I quote a few excerpts from Gen Ziaul Haq’s first speech to the nation in 1977. “This action was carried out on my orders. During this period the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and some of his colleagues have been taken into protective custody. Likewise, all the prominent leaders of the Pakistan National Alliance except Begum Nasim Wali Khan have also been taken into custody…”

“The elections were held on 7th March last. The election results, however, were rejected by one of the contending parties. They alleged that the elections had been rigged on a large scale and demanded fresh elections. To press their demands for re-elections, they launched a movement which assumed such dimensions that people even started saying that democracy was not workable in Pakistan… “When the political leaders failed to rescue the country out of a crisis, it is an inexcusable sin for the armed forces to sit as silent spectators.”

Email: harris.khalique@gmail.com, The writer is a poet and author based in Islamabad.

Harris Khalique, "Political myths," The News. 2014-05-14.
Keywords: Social sciences , Political science , Political process , Political history , Social aspects , Post eletions-1977 , Economic aspects , Decision making , Politics , Politicians , Journalists , Democracy , Quaid-e-Azam , Zulfikar Ali Bhutto , Liaquat Ali , Gen Ayub Khan , Mazhar Zaidi , Pakistan , India , Bangladesh , Balochistan , BBC , PTI