It was only thirteen months before the coup that Zia-ul-Haq was appointed Army Chief of Staff from the junior Corps Commander in Multan. He was the man, who, as a brigadier, had presided over the trial of army officers charged with the attempted coup in 1973 against Bhutto. His appointment over the heads of other more senior officers to replace the faithful General Tikka Khan, in 1976 came as no surprise as people knew Bhutto’s style of functioning. But he himself was misplaced in evaluating Zia’s loyalty and his political ambition for the job. The 1977 coup reflected the resurgence of military power within Pakistan. Anything else, the Pakistani state is stable. Ever since the country became independent, it has witnessed a constant battle to control the State between democratic forces and a military-bureaucratic elite that regards itself as the guardian of the Pakistani nation-state.The event represented a major step forward for the politico-religious forces and a qualitative change from the preceding state of affairs. Zia-ul-Haq, the new ruler, was everything-Judge, jury and executioner, Head of State, Chief of Martial Law Administrator, Commander-in-Chief and honorary mullah.
Perspectives of the coup
When Zia-ul-Haq staged a coup, it was claimed that Pakistan had been on the verge of civil war. He avowed an objective of ending political instability and threat to the country’s survival. On the day of his assumption of power Zia pledged to hold elections within ninety days of that date and transfer of power to democratically elected people’s representatives. But soon it became clear that the tasks undertaken by the Martial Law authorities were by no means easy despite the sincerity of General’s Headquarters. In the post-1971 period the prestige of the armed forces declined so sharply that popular defiance of Martial law was an almost daily occurrence. It was an indication of the growing political consciousness of the people. Political issues raised in the constitution of 1973 were yet to be settled, though the said constitution was not abrogated but had kept in abeyance. The people of Pakistan were conscious about the constitutional terms, such as, a strong centre, Provincial autonomy, joint electorate vs. separate electorates, Presidential vs. Parliamentary government etc. He considered holding of elections and transfer of power to the elected representative as a very difficult task. Although the top political leaders belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party including the Prime Minister Bhutto had been taken into “temporary protective custody”, Zia’s dilemma was that a dead Bhutto may turn out to be more dangerous than the living one. Finally he decided to postpone the elections and the removal of Bhutto from the political scene of the country.
Initial response and reactions
Zia found the political situation which was beyond control, particularly, for a martial law administrator. In the initial period, as the coup took place, everywhere, the Pakistan armed forces reigned supreme. In the early hours of July 5, 1977, the army had subverted the entire mechanism of a civilised and democratic government. It had virtually destroyed the freedom and autonomy of every institution of value : press, parties, judiciary, bar, Parliament, trade unions, universities and even innocuous associations. The painstaking written constitution of 1973 had been subverted, prostituted and finally consigned to the dustbin. However, the belief of the army and Zia that poor-handling of the post-election crisis the PPP had lost ground, proved wrong as it had failed to convince people and their weariness with military rule. At the juncture General Zia began to feel the need to legitimize his rule. He spent a year and a half in neutralising his regime’s political opponents and at the sametime made efforts to isolate the PPP and its supporters from the mainstream of the national politics. Naturally the anti Bhutto elements in society and politics became pro-Zia under the new dispensation.
With a view to legitimize his rule Zia began to talk in terms of holding the 1973 constitution in abeyance rather than abrogating it and claimed to be working towards creating structures for an Islamic state and society within Pakistan. He started with a series of ‘reforms’ designed to bring law in various areas of activity in conformity with the tenets of Islam. The radical Islamisation of Pakistan began under Zia when he drafted the Ulema or mullahs to legitimise and extend his unconstitutional rule. In the process several controversial Islamic provisions were inducted in the constitution, which later proved to be so damaging to the Constitution and the rights of the people. It is widely held that they changed the very complexion of an otherwise non-violent Pakistani society. The shameful Hudood laws curbing the rights of the women, redefining law of evidence, amending the blasphemy law, establishing Federal Shariat Court and revising religious laws to create rifts among various sects were some of the more obscurantist changes. Zia exploited religion to the hilt. Despite a solemn pledge, a defiance of which is strictly prohibited in Islam, he delayed the return of democratic government for eleven long years. He misused religion to prolong his despotic rule. Political workers were awarded harsher punishments including lashes for speaking against the government.
Long term effects of the regime
At political level Zia’s supporters included fundamentalist and reactionary parties of Islamic attitude. Many of the changes had the imprint of the Jamaat-e-Islami, from which members were soon provided for the Zia cabinet. Support for Zia’s ‘Islamic’ package was formidable, especially in the Punjab. It came from the lower middle class in the urban centres, part of the bourgeoisie that had been disenchanted with Bhutto’s style of governance and policies, as well as artisans, petty shopkeepers and workers returning from the middle East and elsewhere. The latter had improved their economic standing but had remained socially and politically conservative. They felt more comfortable with Zia’s Islamic, statusquo, orientation as opposed to Bhutto’s socialist rhetoric. Unfortunately, some sectarian groups, Sipah-i -Sahaba and Tehrik-i-Jafena also surfaced and flourished under Zia’s patronage. Ethnic parties especially MQM and its rival group Haqiqi were also said to be creation of the martial law administration. The reactionaries astonishingly, were so naïve as to expect the army to make over power to them after it had overthrown a functioning democratic order. However, their minds were soon disabused and the Generals decided they deserved to rule themselves. Thus, their hopes soon belied as the Zia’s regime began to beat the Islamic drum louder and louder. Some rightists felt pulled in his direction; others like the JI and Muslim League, despite their resignation from his cabinet, remained in his pocket.Zia’s attempt to Islamise and legitimise his rule for a new lease of life had further polarised country’s social segments. It came to be linked to the precepts of a particular brand of Islam and led to sectarianism, with religion becoming enmeshed within political controversies. He started a calculated move to part between Sindhi and non-Sindhi, Sindhi and Mohajir.
Pakistan PM visited Sri Lanka to further strengthen the existing friendship to new heights
At the formal invitation of the Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, H.E. Imran Khan, paid a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka on 23-24 February 2021.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was accompanied by an elevated-level delegation comprising Federal Ministers and senior Government officials. The first-ever visit by the Prime Minister of Pakistan to Sri Lanka since the formation of the new governments in both countries clearly reflects the warmth and goodwill between the two countries’ governments and peoples. Prime Minister Imran Khan received a warm traditional welcome from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Sri Lanka’s Ministers.
During the visit, Prime Minister Imran Khan held delegation-level discussions with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka. Both sides comprehensively appraised the multifaceted bilateral relationship in various fields of cooperation. The talks were held in a warm and cordial environment, marked by mutual trust and respect. The visit offeredboth sides a timely opportunity to further shape upon their close and regular consultations, particularly in the areas identified during the recently held Foreign Secretary level Bilateral Political Consultations, Joint Economic Commission session, and the Commerce Secretaries-level Talks.
Both sides reached a wide-ranging consensus on ways and means to strengthen cooperation further comprehensively and decided to hold frequent meetings; promote high-level and delegation-level exchanges; and enhance the process of consultations, collaboration, and synchronization between their respective institutions. Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated Pakistan’s support for the socio-economic development of Sri Lanka in line with the vision of a “peaceful neighborhood.”
The two sides reviewed the all-encompassing engagement between the two countries in promoting cultural linkages, human resource development, capacity building in diverse areas, and educational and technical cooperation. The Pakistan side announced 100 scholarships in health sciences and medicines (MBBS and BDS) as part of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Higher Education Cooperation Programme (PSLHECP). The Sri Lankan side appreciated the cooperation being extended by Pakistan in human resource development and capacity building.
While comprehending the existence of boundless potential of religious tourism to Buddhist archeological sites and perceiving the close ancient and cultural ties dating back to Gandhara civilization, the two sides emphasized the importance of augmenting cooperation in the field of tourism and highlighted the benefits of sharing expertise in the hospitality industry, including training and capacity building. The Pakistan side declared its initiative of establishing the Asian Civilization and Culture Centre at the University of Peradeniya, Kandy. Both sides recognized the importance of enhancing air connectivity to promote people-to-people contact, tourism, trade, and culture.
In order to explore new avenues for enhancing bilateral trade and investment between the two countries, a high-level Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference was held on 24 February 2021. The Conference provided an opportunity for effective and meaningful engagement between the business communities of the two countries. At the Conference, both Pakistan and Sri Lanka sides reiterated the importance of strengthening economic relations in critical areas of mutual interest and diversifying trade and investment. The two sides emphasized the importance of realizing the goal of achieving a US$ 1 billion bilateral trade target and also agreed to work towards broadening and deepening of Pakistan Sri Lank Free Trade Agreement.
During the visit, the following MoUs between Pakistan and Sri Lanka were signed:
i. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on Cooperation in Tourism
ii. Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation between the Board of Investment of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Board of Investment of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
iii. Memorandum of Understanding between Industrial Technology Institute (ITI), the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, University of Karachi Islamic Republic of Pakistan
iv Intent Cooperation between Industrial Technology Institute of Sri Lanka and COMSATS University Islamabad
v. Memorandum of Understanding between University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and Lahore School of Economics, Pakistan
Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa together accredited the Sri Lanka-Pakistan Parliamentary Friendship Association reconstitution. Both sides highlighted the need to strengthen parliamentary cooperation between two sides.
Both sides expressed satisfaction at the existing bilateral cooperation in the field of defense. They noted that the elevation of staff-level talks to Defence Dialogue has further provided a prospect to expand security sector relations. Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a new $50 million defense credit line facility. The two sides stressed the need for a strengthened partnership to support and coordinate with each other to deal with matters related to security, terrorism, organized crime, drug and narcotic trafficking, and intelligence-sharing.
In his efforts to strengthen sports diplomacy, Prime Minister Imran Khan participated in a shared session with the sports community of Sri Lanka on 24 February 2021. At this event, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Sports and Youth Namal Rajapaksa, in the Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane, stated the commissioning of the “Imran Khan High-Performance Sports Centre” in Colombo.
The Pakistan side declared its decision to provide PKR 52 million to promote sports in Sri Lanka, including through training and equipment.
Both sides stressed the importance of inter-religious dialogue and harmony as a key to promoting cultural diversity, peaceful co-existence, and mutual empathy.
The two sides observed the close cooperation between the two countries at regional and international fora on mutual interest issues. They agreed to strengthen a coordinated approach on such matters further.
Both sides restated their commitment to the principles and intents of the SAARC Charter. They stressed the need for SAARC Member countries to build on convergences for the region’s people’s greater good. Both sides emphasized the need to convene the Charter Based bodies and agreed to take forward the SAARC process for further strengthening regional cooperation to achieve prosperity in the region.
Discussing the regional and global environment developments, the two sides restated their shared commitment to regional peace, security, and stability. Prime Minister Imran Khan underscored the need for peaceful resolution of unresolved disputes through constructive dialogue in accordance with international legitimacy.
In the context of regional connectivity, Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted the opportunities presented by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project of BRI, for regional economic growth and prosperity.
Discussing the extraordinary challenges postured by Covid – 19, the two sides highlighted the need for combined efforts to deal with the pandemic. Sri Lanka thanked Pakistan for the tremendous assistance extended to the return of stranded Sri Lankans in Pakistan since the Covid pandemic outbreak.
While echoing the new government’s commitment to strengthen the bilateral relations further, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka thanked the government and people of Pakistan for the persistent support extended by Pakistan to defend the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan extended an invitation to the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to visit Pakistan at their earliest convenience and thanked Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa for the warm cordiality extended to him and his delegation.
Huge blast on the Afghanistan-Iran border
On Saturday 13 February the Islam Qala reception center owned by the IOM was demolished at the border between Afghanistan and Iran, leading to a pause to repatriation service for afghans. This led to a devastating burn. At least 40 people were killed because of this huge blast, while 17 were wounded. Tens of thousands of repatriated Afghans obtained humanitarian relief from the center International Organization of Migration, (IOM) in 2020. None were injured in the fire by IOM workers or migrants returning from Iran.Whatever sparked this explosion was not instantly apparent. The provincial governor of Herat, Wahid Qatali, said the Afghan first responders did not have the means to light the enormous fires and required Iran’s assistance by firefighting aircraft.”We can’t even discuss the victims for the time being,” Qatali told The Associated Press. Emergency crews and Afghan security services moved hundreds of fuel and gas tankers from the region, while an appeal for air-firefighting assistance was made available to the International Resolute Support Mission, quoted by Reuters as quoted by Katali.
Mohammad Rafiq shirzy, spokesperson for the district hospitals of Herat’s Provincial capital and also called Herat, said that more than 500 trucks were carrying natural gas and diesel that have been destroyed by the severity of the fire, and he said that it was impossible for ambulances to reach the injured or to reach the explosion site. Hossein Akhundzadeh, a regional Iranian trade official, told Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) about the explosion of more than 300 coal, diesel, and petrol cars. The flash has not yet been contained, and precise evidence was not provided,”It’s not known whether the drivers were able to escape or not. The blaze has not been contained yet and exact information is not available,”We don’t know whether the driver might escape or not.The Power Supply Ministry Spokesman, Wahidullah Tawhidi, said the fire was continuing after nightfall and that Afghanistan was pressuring Iran to close down its electricity supply. It has been said that the burning of two pylons has disconnected 100 tons of electricity imported into the Herat Province by Iran. He said 60% of Herat, one of Afghanistan’s leading provinces, was powerless.A dangerous route Afghan people often pursue overnight because of fear of gangs of violence, attacks between Herat City and Islam Qalah. Taliban gunmen, on the other hand, travel freely across the area.Afghan government troops assembled defensive positions and aided emergency ambulances and cars from and to the border. According to Iranian State TV, the fire spread to the Irish customs facilities Dogharoon, and first responders, including the fire departments, the Iranian army, and the border guards, managed to extinguish the fire. The natural gas and diesel trucks were sent away from the scene.As part of a national concession exempting Kabul from US sanctions against Iran, the United States permits Afghanistan to import fuel and oil from Iran.
According to a statement from the Aghan organization, on Monday, “IOM anticipates a substantial decline in rates of return through the Islam Qala in the days to come as migrants are now re-routed from Iran into the main border crossing of Milak province of Nimroz, which lies over 1,000 km south-west.They have shown that in 2020, there returned a high number of Afghans.Nick Bishop, program manager of IOM reported in a cross-border return reply that “the initial inspection of reception centers for the return showed significant damage to the roof and walls.”The staff of the Afghan Ministry for Refugees and Returns (MoRR) are relocating people in need here to the IOM transit center in Herat before IOM staff are back, awaiting a full assessment and inspection of the safety situation before IOM staff can resume their work from here. “The organization takes exceptional steps to secure the continuing humanitarian assistance can take place.
Unfortunately, as the fire began all the returning residents, who had already moved to their next location at our reception center, that day.There was a drastic rise in return rates last year, as COVID-19 caused many Afghans residing in neighboring Iran to lose jobs and livelihoods. By 2020, the largest year of return was almost 860,000 illegal Afghan immigrants back from Iran.Approximately 15,000 people cross the Islam Qala border point daily, while nearly 1,500 per day need humanitarian assistance. Approximately 60% of Herat province was helpless as a result of flames, said DABS, an Afghan power supplier.Islam Qala is one of the main ports of Afghanistan that traffic most officially with Iran. Afghanistan has earned concessions from Washington to buy oil and gas from Iran amid the sanctions of the United States.A risky stretch of highway between Herat and Islam Qala, where Afghans barely ride by night for fear of criminal gang attacks. In the area, the Taliban are still free to work.Hope to rapidly repair all damage to the reception facility as soon as possible and continue vital humanitarian services to Afghans returning through this major transit route, but we will require increased support to do so.
‘External forces’ won’t decide the actions of New Delhi
India’s farmer’s protest is in the news for a while for the obvious reasons. In a democracy there should be protests, it keeps the power balanced. However, in India, the protestors and the government are both facing a common challenge, that is the external influence. To which, Indian External Affairs Minister and other government wings already made public statements. Before understanding the external factors, one needs to look into the farmer’s protest.
What are the farm laws?
Last year Government of India passed three laws in order to bring a reform in the agriculture sector in India, which are:
- The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act – provides for setting up a mechanism allowing the farmers to sell their farm produces outside the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs). Any licence-holder trader can buy the produce from the farmers at mutually agreed prices. This trade of farm produces will be free of mandi (marketplace) tax imposed by the state governments.
- The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance – Allows farmers to do contract farming and market their produces freely.
- Farm Services Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act – amendment to the existing Essential Commodities Act. This law now frees items such as foodgrains, pulses, edible oils and onion for trade except in extraordinary (read crisis) situations.
According to the government – the new laws will help to strengthen basic farm sector infrastructure through greater private investments. Successive governments have found financial constraints in investing in farm and rural infrastructure. It is argued that with food markets growing exponentially in India, private players would make agriculture profitable for the farmers.
Why farmers are protesting?
It’s been around 3 months since the Farmers are protesting in North India, on the highways en-route Delhi. Despite having rounds of talks between the government and the farmers, they’re yet to find a common understanding.
Farmers are worried as they feel this may impact the existing structure and lead to the corporatization of the agriculture sector in which the big corporations will exploit the farmers. Moreover, the new farm bill talks about the establishment of the private Agriculture Produce Market Committee, which in turn will end the role of middleman involved in the market, However, the middleman is seen by farmers, not as one exploiting them but one who provides services to them. Their number in two states – Punjab & Haryana could cross 100,000. So, farmers and middleman fear that this will ultimately result in huge job loss and impact the structure.
Another point farmers fears that from individual-to-individual relation, these bills will change the market into the individual to corporate relations. With a changed dispute settlement mechanism the farmers also are worried that their pleas could not get the desired settlement.
MSP – Minimum Support Price is another demand forwarded by the farmers, which they apprehend that allowing outside-APMC trade of farm produces would lead to lesser buying by the government agencies in the approved Mandis (marketplace). The protesting farmers say the new laws would thus make the MSP system irrelevant and they would not have any assured income from their farming. Right now, the government announces fixed MSP for around two dozen crops.
The working of the MSP system has been such over the years that it benefits only a handful of farmers at the all-India level. The Shanta Kumar committee set up by the Modi government in 2015 says that only six percent of farmers benefit from the MSP regime.
The catch here is that for farmers of some states such as Punjab and Haryana, the MSP system has worked well. In these two states procurement of paddy and wheat range around 75-80 per cent.
So, the fear that the MSP system may crumble and get dismantled after the new farm laws are implement has become a very emotive issue for the farmers of Punjab and Haryana. And, that is why they are the ones who are most vocal in their protest against the farm laws and demanding that the MSP should be made mandatory for both APMC and private Mandis (marketplace).
The government, however, is constantly in touch with the farmers and trying to resolve the issues through dialogue and till then the laws have been kept on hold while talks are held.
External group’s interference
Many external elements are interfering in the protests and challenging the government, including a few fringes and notorious separatist organisations which are based and nurtured by the West during the days of the cold war days for the obvious reasons. In the garb of human rights and democracy, they know it very well that how to destabilise a nation. There are many examples in front of us, the Russian protests being one of them.
The world has seen how after the new U.S. government’s arrival in the United States set the narrative for the socialist lobby around the world. President Trump very well assessed the threats of such groups and kept them in check but the new administration seems to propagate their ideology as the state policy.
When President Biden said, “We must meet the ‘new moment’ accelerating global challenges” it indicates toward continuing the policies of Obama administration with new added ‘Biden’ characteristics.
The tweets by American celebrities and people with clear political leaning are not about the protests, they in fact, do not know much about the protest, and their idea is to attack the ideology which doesn’t meet theirs. India is a land of protests, revolution, ideas and ideologies and both the Government of India and Indians respect the thoughts across the spectrum.
One of the American Congresswomen said that she will continue to monitor this situation closely and another expressed the solidarity but their thoughts are not driven by the plights of farmers, rather a particular ideology.
Recently, the State Department welcomed the reforms by the Indian government and also advocates for the protests. Which is contradicting in itself. India as a bearer of an Independent Foreign Policy should avoid any validation by any foreign government and let not the tweets by a particular mindset decide the course of protest or government actions.
India as a democracy respect different ideas but can’t allow any ‘vested interest’ groups influence any actions by New Delhi.
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