Bhutto’s blunder

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By Dr Farid A Malik

Our history shows bad appointments cause trouble

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto himself confessed that selection of the worst possible candidate for the coveted position of Chief of Army Staff was his biggest blunder. Bhutto used to call Gen Ziaul Haq a bandar (monkey). In one of his ACRs Lt Gen Gul Hassan had remarked about Zia, ‘Not fit to be an officer’. Ghulam Mustafa Khar had also advised Bhutto against this faulty selection. By going against merit Bhutto did great disservice to himself and the country. Till today 5 July 1977 remains one of the darkest days in our history. After the passage of over four decades, Pakistan has not recovered from this bandar bant (distribution by a monkey for his gains).

Every April 4 invokes sad memories of the state-sponsored murder of an elected leader. On that day in 1979 I was a young trainee engineer at PITAC (Pakistan Industrial Technical Assistance Centre) located on Ferozepur Road Canal bridge. Around 8:30 am we heard the news that Bhutto had been hanged early in the morning in the Chaklala Jail and quietly buried in his ancestral graveyard at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. His first wife received his dead body, while both Nusrat and Benazir were in prison. Forty years have passed but the turmoil continues. Recently (April 5) Imran Khan, the 22nd Prime Minister, talked about the tragic events of 1977, while addressing a public rally at Jamrud near the Afghan border. He reminded the Afghans to learn from our mistakes arising out of disputed elections.

Going by the historical record, the benefactors are the ones who suffer the most by going against merit

A few years before his death I had the chance of meeting General Muhammad Sharif, the senior most and ablest officer of his times who was bypassed to hand over the command to the lowest standing individual, the pygmy amongst the giants. Instead, General Sharif was appointed Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee. According to General Sharif, who was a professional soldier, called General Zia on July 1977 and urged him to go back to the barracks. As Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), General Zia promised to hold elections within 90 days and then return to his professional duties. He requested General Sharif to continue in office till that time. When the Bandar did not keep his promise, General Sharif stepped down and did not show up at the office on the 91st day. The rest is history, but our sufferings as a nation continue till today.

Compromising merit is a cardinal sin as it has widespread implications. Nations must learn from their mistakes to prevent them, as corrective mechanisms only provide short term correction. Maulana Kausar Niazi, who was very close to Bhutto, wrote a book in praise of his leader, Deedawar (The Visionary). Later on, he abandoned the PM. In a TV interview he was asked about his change of heart. He gave an interesting answer, ‘Bhutto was indeed a deedawar, but big people commit big mistakes as well, for which they have to suffer’. At times the entire nation has to pay a price for the sins of their leaders.

Unfortunately, in most developing countries merit is compromised for loyalty. Dissent is not tolerated. Power should be used as a trust, in the best national interests. The Indian Constitution allows the President to dissolve the elected parliament, but no head of state has ever exercised this power. By contrast in Pakistan the Eighth Amendment was thrust into the Constitution. General Zia dismissed the government of Muhammad Khan Junejo when he decided to investigate the Ojhri Camp disaster. Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed two governments, and even Farooq Leghari sent the government of his own party home.

Again, the appointment of Iftikhar Chaudhry was against merit. While the principled and upright judges refused to take oath under the PCO (Provisional Constitution Order) and preferred to go home, others did so. Chief Justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui and the senior most judge, Mr Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, retired gracefully. It was the second time around that Chaudhry Sahib stung back as General Zia did in 1977 by toppling his benefactor. The lawyers’ movement of 2007 finally toppled the regime of the fourth usurper, and Chaudhry Sahib was restored as the Chief Justice and had the longest stint as head of judiciary. He proved to be a great disappointment. Finally when he sought extension in his term to compensate for the period that he was deposed, civil society sent a clear message for him to go home, and there was a sigh of relief when he relinquished his charge.

Out-of-merit promotion of a third-rate Army officer proved to be disastrous for the country. His extended misrule (July 1977 to August 1988) tore the very fabric of the nation. It did not end here, the corrupt-to-core inept political leadership that he created continues to haunt us till today. Mr Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s innings as Chief Justice of Pakistan (June 2005 to December 2013) has left the entire judiciary in disarray. Pakistan would have been better off without these two villains who rose to positions of authority not because of their performance rather by pleasing their bosses. Waited for their turn to strike at their benefactors at the opportune time. They were great opportunists who worked only for self-projection and personal interests.

Pakistan would have been different today under judges of the calibre of Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui and Wajihuddin Ahmed and generals like Muhammad Sharif, who were denied their rightful positions. Out of the four military usurpers only Gen Yahya Khan had a good professional career while the others made it against merit. Each one of them proved to be deadly for the country and its fledgling democracy. General Musharraf is being tried for treason under Article 6 and is now absconding. The Supreme Court has already declared the Ayub and Yahya martial laws illegal. Only Zia has escaped justice, so his negative legacy has been stretched.

Going by the historical record, the benefactors are the ones who suffer the most by going against merit. Bhutto was vocal about it and so is the once all-powerful Musharraf when he finds himself alone being tried for treason while his handpicked PM and ministers continue to enjoy perks. It should be a lesson for all rulers, managers, judges, head of states, decision makers to never go against merit, for in doing so they will be digging their own graves.

The writer is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be contacted at: