Pakistan During 1978-1993 Part I

By | December 18, 2021

In the decade 1978-1988 there were no substantial changes in political life (led continuously by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq), also due to the poor cohesion capacity of the opposition. In August 1983, Zia announced provincial and national elections for 1985, without however succeeding in appeasing the dissent of the MRD (Movement for the Restoration of Democracy), founded in 1981 by several parties. The civil disobedience campaign launched by the MRD had explosive results in Sind, where, thanks also to the support of some large landowners and pīr (highly revered religious), threatened to turn into a mass insurrection. Sedated at the cost of dozens of deaths, it cost the MRD a sharp decline in popularity. The gen. Zia, who had already begun an Islamization process in 1979 with the introduction of criminal laws and economic measures in accordance with Islamic law, at the end of 1984 surprisingly announced a national referendum for December 19 on two issues: the approval of his Islamization policy and his election to the post of president for five years. For Pakistan history, please check

The alliance of 11 opposition parties called for a boycott of the referendum, considering it a farce, but the campaign launched by gen. Zia in the name of Islam had an easy hold on the electorate, especially in rural areas. The ” yes ” were 97.7% out of a voter percentage of 64%. In the national and provincial elections of 25 and 28 February 1985 respectively, conducted on a non-party basis and with the prohibition of rallies and demonstrations, a percentage of voters over 50% participated, despite the appeal of the MRD to a boycott. The gen. Zia, on the eve of his inauguration as president, affirming his intention to abolish martial law and to gradually promote the return to a constitutional system of government, restored the 1973 Constitution,

Taking office on March 25, the gen. Zia appointed M.Kh. Junejo, a politician from the ranks of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) – Pagara Group, which established itself in the recent elections as a majority party. Among his first acts, Junejo announced his intention to repeal martial law and to open dialogue with the opposition, ensuring that all voluntary exiles could return home without any risk. Under persistent pressure from the Provincial Assemblies and the MRD, Junejo had to speed things up, and in August he announced that martial law would be lifted within the year. The task of the National Assembly at this juncture was the new regulation of political life.

The agreement was reached with a last-minute compromise, which introduced the so-called validation clause into the new legislation, i.e. the ratification of all acts of the martial regime in exchange for some limitations to the president’s discretionary powers. Registration was imposed on the parties subject to the possession of certain requisites and the change in alliances between members of groups and parties within the national and provincial Assemblies was prohibited. On December 30, 1985, martial law and the state of emergency, which had lasted continuously since 1969, were finally abolished.

In April 1986, the return to his homeland of B. Bhutto, daughter of President ZA Bhutto, deposed and sentenced to death by the military regime, marked a turning point in the activities of the opposition. Taken over the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), B. Bhutto first tried to renew the ruling class of the party and promoted a campaign to oust Zia and national elections in the fall. Initially unwilling to alliances, he came to a convergence with the MRD, postponing the terms in the request for new elections, and with the support of the MRD organized protests for August 14, Independence Day. Demonstrations were held in major cities despite the government’s ban, which ordered the arrest of B. Bhutto and many other members of the MRD. During 1986 and 1987 the government had to face serious crises, determined by the worsening of ethnic and separatist conflicts, overcome also thanks to the success of economic measures, which had strengthened the government’s credibility. In the local elections of November 1987, the PML, supported by the government, won the majority, while the PPP won 20% of the seats. Following growing conflicts of attributions between Zia and Junejo, in May 1988 Zia dissolved the National Assembly, the Provincial Assemblies and the Cabinet of Ministers, on charges of corruption and inefficiency, and assumed the leadership of an emergency government (with direct control over Sind, where ethnic violence had reached alarming proportions), announcing the expansion of the program of Islamization and elections on a non-party basis for the following November.

On August 17, Zia, the US ambassador and several military leaders perished in Bawalpūr in a plane crash which led to suspicions of sabotage; a state of emergency was imposed and a provisional government was formed under the leadership of the president of the Senate, Gh. Ishaq Khan, who pledged to lead the country to elections within the established deadlines. In September, the judiciary declared Zia’s dissolution of legislative assemblies unconstitutional, and removed the latest restrictions on parties, which had already obtained the abolition of registration in June. Once all the parties were readmitted to the electoral competition, strategies and alliances were quickly redesigned: the PPP abandoned the MRD, declaring that the alliance had never been of an electoral nature, while nine parties of the Islamic right, Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA). In the November elections, the PPP gained a relative majority, managing to form coalition governments in both the National Assembly and the Provincial Assembly of Sind and the Northwest Frontier, while the IDA obtained a majority in Panjab.

Pakistan Gh. Ishaq Khan