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A history of civil-military interventions in Pakistan

The first civil-military intervention was in October 1958 when Iskander Mirza, Pakistan’s first civilian president, abrogated the constitution, declared martial law, and appointed Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator and Prime Minister, Some two weeks later, Ayub Khan dismissed Iskander Mirza and became the President.

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Pakistan is in the throes of yet another political imbroglio. What is the Pakistan Army’s role in the present crisis? I have written earlier that Pakistan’s Army’s involvement in national affairs started soon after independence when it had to play a critical role in the planning and execution of the First Kashmir War (October 1947 – April 1949). However, the response to the situation in Jammu & Kashmir was determined by a civil government that found itself incapable of launching an overt military invasion of the disputed state and was thus constrained to seek help from non-state actors.

Pakistan Army’s role in this conflict remained confined to seconding two of its officers to a ghost headquarters covertly set up with the blessings of Pakistan’s Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan for planning, preparation, and execution of the secret war in J&K. It also sent some of its officers on leave to provide leadership to the infiltrators. Pakistan Army was fully involved in the conflict in the spring of 1948 when the Indian Army was threatening to advance beyond Line Uri-Poonch- Naushera.

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This was how the Indo-Pakistan hostility paradigm was framed

Integration of J&KState with Pakistan was not possible without taking the risk of employing the Pakistan Army in a covert military operation. However, the use of non-state actors created problems for the future. Brigadier Akbar Khan, the officer who master-minded the covert operations in J&K, got disillusioned by the political leadership, the way war was dragged and the politicians made Kashmir a political stunt. As a result, he joined the communists like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, editor of the Pakistan Times, and tried to topple the government in the famous Rawalpindi Conspiracy. This was the beginning of Bonapartism in Pakistan.

I am an Army brat. As I grew up and my comprehension of the world started increasing, we would frequently hear about military takeovers in the Third World, particularly in the Arab countries. I clearly remember that, in 1963, when I was in class 7, there was a Coup d’état in Iraq. In the Coup, Brigadier Abd al Karim Qasim, who had come to power in 1958 by overthrowing the Iraqi monarchy, was himself toppled in 1963 by Lt Col Abdus Salam Arif. Qasim was summarily court-martialed and sentenced to death. His execution was shown live on TV while his daughter was forced to announce her father’s execution. Some people they were!

I would often hear my elders discuss the frequent coups in the Arab world, and say that such military interventions were not possible in Pakistan where the Army is apolitical. It took me many years to comprehend this word. However, Arabs are Arabs, and Pakistanis are Pakistanis. We have our style when it comes to the quests for power. The major characteristic of Pakistan’s power struggles is its hybrid nature where the praetorians and the civilians always appear hand- in glove.

The first civil-military intervention was in October 1958 when Iskander Mirza, Pakistan’s first civilian president, abrogated the constitution, declared martial law, and appointed Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator and Prime Minister, Some two weeks later, Ayub Khan dismissed Iskander Mirza and became the President. In 1962, Ayub Khan lifted the martial law, gave the country a presidential constitution, and became a civilian president. Ayub’s ascent to power was the culmination of more than a decade of musical chairs. Between August 1947 and October 1958, there were seven prime ministers in Pakistan. The US had played a major role in Iskander Mirza’s martial law. Horace Augustus Hildreth, the US ambassador, was considered America’s viceroy in Pakistan.

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Hildreth’s daughter was married to Iskander Mirza’s son

The second military intervention was choreographed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Ayub’s Foreign Minister, Aziz Ahmed, the Foreign Secretary, and Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, GOC 12 Division, These three convinced Ayub Khan that sending infiltrators into the Indian Held Kashmir would not result in India attacking Pakistan across the Cease Fire Line in J&K. Thus started the 1965 War which ended in a stalemate. Uncle Sam was jilted because Ayub Khan had, wittingly or unwittingly, tried to throw a spanner in the US scheme of things in South Asia.

Ayub Khan was ousted in March 1969 as a result of a countrywide agitation against his eleven years of rule. People say that the agitation was sponsored by the US because Ayub Khan, besides waging the 1965 war, had started steering Pakistan on the path of self-reliance, free from the US influence. Ayub Khan was succeeded by Yahya Khan, another military ruler, who presided over the demise of united Pakistan.

The 1965 War served as the corollary to the 1971 War. It had all started in Beijing around mid-November 1971 when Yahya Khan sent Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Lieutenant General Gul Hasan, GGS Army, and Air MarshallRahim Khan, the Air Chief, to Beijing. The situation in East Pakistan had begun to crumble and considering that Bhutto had a personal equation with the Chinese leadership, Yahya had chosen Bhutto to lead the delegation on the recommendation of Gul Hassan.

The mandate of the mission was to ascertain the extent to which China would be willing to support Pakistan in case of war with India, which was looming with the deterioration of our position in East Pakistan by the day. However, in Beijing, the three of them had decided that the Pakistan Army and PAF would not launch any meaningful operation during the war with India over East Pakistan.

Read more: A Monroe Doctrine for South Asia

Bhutto came to power as a result of Pakistan’s defeat in the 1971 War

He was Pakistan’s first civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator till he lifted the martial law on 21 April 1972. Before that, he had dismissed, on 3 March 1972, GeneralGul Hasan and Air Marshall Rahim Khan after Gul Hasan refused his orders to suppress a major police strike in Punjab. Thereafter, he appointed General Tikka Khan as the new Chief of the Army Staff.

Zia seized power in July 1977 as a result of, again, a countrywide agitation against Bhutto’s rule.  On 4 April 1979, he executed Bhutto on charges of masterminding the murder of a political opponent. Zia’s coup had the backing of almost all the political leaders, including Wali Khan, Pir of Pagara, Mufti Mehmood, and Maulana Tufail Muhammad. During the agitation against his regime, Bhutto, while addressing the National Assembly, had accused the US of funding Pakistan’s opposition.

The third major civil-military intervention was in 1998 when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif relieved General Jahangir Karamat from the command of the Army after General Karamat delivered a lecture at the Naval War College. In this lecture, General Karamat called for establishing a National Security Council (NSC) which would be backed by a “team of civil-military experts” for devising policies to seek resolution of ongoing problems relating to the civil-military issues. He also recommended a “neutral but competent bureaucracy and administration” at the federal level and the establishment of local governments in all the four provinces.

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General Karamat was summoned by Nawaz Sharif to Murree where he was asked to resign. While this was happening in Murree, General Pervez Musharraf, the Mangla Corps Commander, was on his way to meet Nawaz Sharif. In a way, Musharraf, who later on toppled Nawaz, was in cahoots with the latter. This is how Frankenstein’s monsters pay back their creators and vice versa.

Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.