July 1977 coup: the nightmare lingers on | Lal Khan


Scars of the reactionary military coup forty years ago, on 4th July 1977, are still blighting today’s Pakistan. General Ziaul Haq’s most vicious regime in the country’s history impelled society in the throes of repression, terror, poverty, disease, misery, religious bigotry and sectarian carnage. The country’s elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was deposed, incarcerated and subsequently hanged by the military on 4th April1979. However, the US imperialism was calling the shots behind the scenes and spurred this Islamicist general to perpetrate this heinous act.

An orgy of unprecedented violence and brutality was unleashed against the oppressed classes of Pakistan. Thousands were flogged and lashed publicly; hundreds were strung to the gallows and tortured in the notorious centres of state’s incarceration. The main targets were the left wing and PPP activists, trade unionists, workers, poor peasants, oppressed nationalities, women and religious minorities.

These harrowing atrocities were in fact the revenge of the Pakistan’s ruling classes and the state against the workers, peasants and the youth of the country who had dared to revolt against the existing exploitative order and challenge the relations of property and ownership of wealth, land and the means of production a decade earlier. Bhutto had bruised sections of the ruling elite through nationalisations and radical reforms that were the by-product of the revolutionary upheaval of 1968-69. He was chastened and executed on the gallows in an act of sinister judicial murder.

Art, literature, music, culture, cinema and social life were strangled by the obscurantist repression of the Zia regime and his acquiescent neofascist Islamicist parties. However, most industrialists and landlords were ecstatic. Not only did they get back the industries nationalised by Bhutto with hefty compensations, but also the military dictatorship imposed cruel pro-capitalist policies of crushing the proletarian struggles.

All this was done in the name of Islam. The US and European imperialists endorsed this vicious dictatorship and benefitted from these anti-people policies. Their present day exhortations on democracy, human rights and freedoms reek of hypocracy and deceit. But above all, they began a renewed counter-revolutionary Islamic terrorism under the auspices of the Zia regime to foster their vested interests in the region.

The most ironic position is that of the PPP where several of Zia’s political acolytes, including Rehman Malik and Yusuf Gillani, are the stalwarts of today’s party
Zia had arrayed Islamisation of society as a justification of imposing martial law to gain the support of the petty bourgeoisie and the primitive sections of society, ruthlessly attempting to convert Pakistan into a pre-medieval theocratic state. In December 1981 he had said, “Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state. Take out Judaism form Israel and it will collapse like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state: it will collapse.” The western imperialists cheered this reactionary crusade.

As with the despots of the past, state power and religious frenzy drove Zia into a state of insanity emanating condescension and insolence towards his imperial masters. His megalomania was becoming a grave liability for the Americans.

Four decades later, his malignant legacy dominates the state, society, ethics, morality and politics of Pakistan. His intrusion of the Kalashnikov culture, drug smuggling and addiction, terrorism, reactionary social attitudes, discrimination of women, visceral hatreds of religious sects have metastasised ever since. When Zia came to power about, 5 percent of Pakistan’s economy was ‘parallel’ or black economy. Now the figure stands above 73 percent. The obscene wealth of the drug barons, terrorist clergy, and property tycoons, top brass of state structures, politicians and venture capitalists makes up this black capital that has become a large tumour devouring the physique of Pakistan’s economy and society. It controls the political parties, state institutions, mafia networks and the religious sectarian brigades that provide ruling elites the licences of piety and protection in the name of faith.

Religious sectarian and ethnic outfits like the MQM were promoted to fracture the class unity of the workers, especially in Karachi, the bastion of the Pakistani proletariat. The leaders of all the Muslim leagues were and are his protégés. But the most ironic position is that of the PPP where several of Zia’s political acolytes, including Rehman Malik and Yusuf Gillani, are the stalwarts of today’s party. It is not just a question of the individuals, but also the policies of the tyrant being shamelessly pursued by all dominant parties. The blasphemy law, the Hadood Ordinance and other draconian laws against women and the oppressed are flourishing.

Religious terror fostered by Zia to destroy Afghanistan’s Saur revolution was at the behest and funding of the US imperialists and the reactionary Gulf monarchies. Four decades later, this monstrosity of fundamentalist terror is ravaging Asia, Middle East and far beyond. Zia’s legacy is basically the intertwining of religious fanaticism with accumulation of primitive capital and using this reaction and mayhem to brutalise the working classes, rupture the class unity and violently crush their struggles against capitalist rule.

The rotten Pakistani capitalism has created an obscurantist state and the system is permeated with Zia’s legacy. This harrowing social, economic, cultural and ethical reaction is its by-product. Without its overthrow and transformation, the society cannot be emancipated from oppression. This reactionary nightmare continues to traumatise society. Four decades of this dark night of reaction can only be obliterated by the red dawn of revolution.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at ptudc@hotmail.com