Darkest regimes in country were those with no democracy, says Hamid Mir

Yousuf Katpar
Sunday, Dec 04, 2022

Karachi: If the 1971 war a political defeat, why Gen AK Niazi, instead of any politician, surrendered in Dhaka, asked journalist Hamid Mir as he spoke at a session on the third day of the 15th Annual Urdu Conference at the Arts Council of Pakistan on Saturday evening.

“If Gen Bajwa is interested in Pakistan’s history and wants to study it, he needs to read former DG ISPR Brigadier (retd) AR Siddiqi’s about Gen Yahya Khan as he was his press secretary,” Mir said as he contended a recent remark of former army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa who in a speech days before his retirement ignited a debate parking the blame for the separation of East Pakistan at the door of political leadership.

The session titled ‘Pakistan Aaj Aur Kal’ was held at the Arts Council’s John Elia lawn and moderated by anchorperson Absa Komal.

“When the results were trickling in after the 1970 general elections, AR Siddiqi received a phone call from Gen Yaha who asked him what’s happening as Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was winning in the East Pakistan and Bhutto in West. He then talked to Gen Umer and questioned why the parties that refused to receive money were winning and those which received money were losing the polls and the latter had no answer,” Mir quoted from the book, adding that Gen Yahya then asked Gen Umer to turn the table in the next provincial assembly elections.

He said a cell was set up under the supervision of Gen Umer that dished out money to various parties and tried to rig the elections. “We can say it was a political defeat but it was the result of a series of Gen Ayub’s policies. There must be evidence if the politicians are held responsible for the debacle,” he added.

Mir said Gen Bajwa had announced at the National Defence University in February last year that the army would stay apolitical. However, he added, PML-Q leader Chaudhry Moonis Elahis in a statement said that Gen Bajwa asked his party to support former prime minister Imran Khan.

He said if Elahi’s statement was true, it created a paradox that an institution had become apolitical but its head had not. Mir asked Gen Bajwa to give his version on the recent statement of Elahi.

The senior journalist said that although every regime, be they democratic or military, in the country had been dark, but “the darkest regimes in Pakistan were those when there was no democracy.”

Mir rejected the praises showered by some quarters on the era of Ayub Khan. “A lot of people praise Ayub Khan’s regime saying Pakistan saw great development in his stint in power. But in fact whenever there was dictatorship in Pakistan, injustice and human rights violations peaked. It was in Ayub Khan’s regime that seeds of hate were sown and Madar-e-Millat Fatima Jinnah was defeated through rigging and the chaos that started as a result of that is still continuing.”

The journalist said that in the presidential elections of January 1965, all the oppressed communities supported the Madar-e-Millat and all the oppressors were with Ayub. “Ayub Khan won and Pakistan lost. It was the darkest period of our history that bred hatred which later resulted in the East Pakistan debacle.”

Mir said Feroz Khan Noon was a weak prime minister but in his tenure, Gwadar became Pakistan’s part in September 1958. In October, Noon was toppled on corruption charges, he added.

He was of the view that “a corrupt and weak democratic” dispensation expanded the country’s territory and a strong army ruler, Yahya Khan, caused the loss of the eastern wing of the country.

He added that during another military regime of Ziaul Haq, Siachen was snatched from the country and later Kargil.

He said the rule of every dictator was a darker period while democratic systems, even if they were corrupt and weak, offered a glimmer of hope. Mir said that instead of looking forward to dictatorships, we should criticise the weaknesses of our democratic system to make it better.

Presidential system

The journalist said the people talking about the presidential system of governance in the country had not learned any lesson from Ayub’s presidential system, which led to the separation of East Pakistan.

He added that the regimes of Musharraf Yahya and Zia were also presidential.

“When a president becomes the fountainhead of powers, it brings bad luck to the oppressed people. The people who desire a presidential system in the country want a single province’s rule in Pakistan and no representative of small provinces because the president will be from the largest province,” he said.

“The presidential system cannot save Pakistan but the 1973 constitution does.”

Missing persons

Pointing to a girl, Hamid said her father, a government doctor, went missing from Balochistan in 2009 when the PPP-led democratic government was in place, and she and her sister had been running from pillar to post to secure their father’s release.

“Citizens are picked up in violation of the constitution and law while their mothers and sisters struggle on the roads for justice but they don’t get justice,” he said, lamenting that the incumbent and previous governments made promises to address the issue of missing persons but they couldn’t because they were powerless.

Press freedom

The journalist maintained that there was an unannounced censorship on media in the country. Sadly, if the journalists told the truth they were dubbed traitors and if they did not, they were patriots, he said.

“If the press were free, Arshad Sharif would not have to leave the country to be eventually murdered in Kenya.”

He said a decline was visible in every stratum of society, not just journalism.