Dracula’s Dentist

By the end of December 1971, the Pakistan Army had come to be hated so much that the soldiers and their officers could venture out of their barracks and bungalows only dressed up as civilians. Only a couple of weeks before, these uniformed despised were the holy cows of the people of West Pakistan (today’s Pakistan). It was believed that one Pakistani soldier was worth more than a dozen of Hindu soldiers. Since Pakistan Army’s “victory” over India in the September 1965 war, the people of Pakistan had been convinced through songs, anthems, movies, TV serials, “true stories” of soldiers and civilians, and “eyewitness” accounts of divine interference (green tunic-wearing, flowing bearded men of Allah catching Indian bombs and protecting vital supply lines) that cow-worshipping vegetarian Hindus were no match for Pakistani soldiers. But on 16 December 1971 one hundred thousand officers and soldiers of the Pakistan Army surrendered to the Indians, and the people realized how bogus their men of steel were. “Drunkards” and “Dogs,” replaced “Brave” and “Victors”, and within days of the surrender, the Army generals were forced to quit power that they had usurped in the name of providing security and stability to the people of Pakistan. Now the people were able to see that in the name of eliminating Indian-inspired insurgency in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), the Pakistan Army had destroyed the whole place, which included rape of a quarter of a million of Bengali women and decimation of Bengali intellectuals. It appeared that the Army would never regain prestige and credibility with the people of Pakistan, and the egregious pillage of the national exchequer by the generals would become history.

Enter Zulifqar Ali Bhutto with his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). As prime minister of Pakistan, one of the first significant steps he took was to suppress the Hamoodur Rehman Report [1] that chronicled the infernal deeds of the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan. He refused to try even one general for crimes against humanity in East Pakistan. Bhutto successfully negotiated the release of ninety-six thousand army officers and soldiers out from Indian prisons, a number of whom India wanted to try for war crimes. He declared that Pakistan was to be the citadel of Islam and the Pakistan Army its guardian. Not only would the Army be equipped with the best weaponry in the world, it would soon have the Islamic Bomb. Soon he laid the foundation of Pakistan’s nuclear program. He began appointing retired generals to ambassadorial and high bureaucratic posts. He convinced the people of Pakistan that if not for an international conspiracy, the Pakistan Army would have smashed the Indian Army in days (Why didn’t the promised American Seventh Fleet arrive to help us?). Bhutto made the Armed Forces Day, the National Day, and the Independence Day into celebrations of Pakistan’s present and potential military might. He also threatened India with a “one thousand-year war”.

Bhutto’s success was complete. When in 1974, he presided over the Summit of the Islamic Countries in Lahore, his Pakistan-is-the-citadel-of-Islam was looked real, and the reputation of the Pakistan Army with the people of Pakistan fully restored–and secured once again.

By July 1977, the generals felt strong and reestablished enough to oust and later in 1979 hang Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and imprison and later exile his daughter, Benazir Bhutto. The PPP and Benazir Bhutto came to be known as a “security risk”.

From 1977 to 1988 the Pakistan Army set new world records in corruption, plunder, and destruction of human rights and national institutions. The Army rule was so ruthless that little resistance was possible. The Lahore Fort became a dreaded symbol of torture of political prisoners. It was only in 1983 that it was possible to form the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Hundreds of ordinary people died while struggling to restore democracy. Although the generals were able to put down the MRD movement, their ruthlessness destroyed their reputation with the people of Pakistan.

In April 1986, Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan. The welcome given to her still remains unprecedented in South Asia’s history as countless people from all over Pakistan gathered in Lahore to welcome her. For the first time since July 1977 one could smell the coming of political spring. Once again people began shouting “Dogs,” “Murderers,” “Corrupt,” and “Drug Mafioso” at the generals. In 1988 the Army was forced into conceding democracy after President General Zia died in an air crash. By then the generals–described as “the Richest Generals in the World” everywhere–had sucked the country dry. In the elections that followed General Zia’s death, the people of Pakistan elected Benazir Bhutto as their prime minister. One can imagine the extent of people’s expectations from Benazir Bhutto. One of the first things that she did–and few can believe it–was to give Medal of Democracy to the Army! Yes, that is what she did! Just like her father she did not try even one army man for treason or any other crime. To the horror of the people of Pakistan, she, even before taking over as prime minister, agreed with the generals that her government would have no control over Pakistan’s defense (including the nuclear program) and foreign affairs. Her foreign minister was a retired general who had served General Zia in the same capacity! By this concession she implicitly accepted the Army’s suspicion that she and her PPP were a “security risk”. In order to please the generals she began raising controversial issues with India–the same issues that the Army had not raised in its rule from 1977 to 1988 (e.g., Siachin Glacier and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan). Soon it became a public joke that even the American president must make an appointment to speak to her, but even an ordinary soldier can meet her without notice at any time and in any place.

Soon the generals were basking in glory and the entire country was focused on Benazir’s feud with Nawaz Sharif, her political rival, and allegations of corruption against her husband and other PPP leaders. In two years’ time Benazir’s government was sacked. The Army, in Benazir’s own words, was instrumental in her sacking.

From 1988 to 1999, four elected governments were sacked. From 1999 to this day General Musharraf has ruled as a usurper and dictator. The interference of the Army in the public life of Pakistan has been so counterproductive (to use a mild term) that for the first time in Pakistan’s history even the mainstream politicians and media have been voicing their hatred and opposition to the Army, and they have been so open and vociferous that Chaudhry Shujaat, Musharraf’s super flunkey and the Leader of the House in Parliament, had to declare that anyone who speaks against the Army should be shot dead. Ayesha Siddiqa, despite threats and opposition from the government, too published her book, Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, [2] which records the extent of Army’s pillage. After General Musharraf sacked the Chief Justice of Pakistan, the people came out in the latter’s support chanting anti-Army slogans. The Army’s reputation has never been so low.

This overwhelming and unprecedented hatred of the Army is now suddenly gone, and once again history is repeating itself: Benazir has come to the rescue by making a deal with the Army. She has supported General Musharraf in his reelection recently, and will participate in the forthcoming general elections and support Pakistan’s “transition from Army rule to democracy”. In this “transition” she will become Pakistan’s prime minister once again and General Musharraf will continue to be its president. She will once again do what her father did in the early seventies and she herself did in the late eighties: like a valiant janissary she will protect the interests of the Army by giving moral and legal cover to its misdeeds. For the third time the blood sucker’s teeth will get the scaling and brushing up. Now suddenly all debates about the Army’s corruption and holding the generals accountable are gone. Everyone is criticizing Benazir for striking a deal with the Army. It is unanimously argued that whereas the Benazir-Army deal has benefited the Army’s image enormously, Benazir’s own political future is at risk because people feel she has betrayed them.

The legitimate question is: Why have the PPP leaders been rescuing the Army again and again? The answer is this: although Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the leader of Pakistan, an insignificant country on the international political stage, his ambitiousness was Faustian. He wanted to be the grand ayatollah of the Third World and the Islamic World at the same time. A proud student of Hans Kelsen (of the Doctrine of Necessity fame) he used to compare himself with people like Napoleon, De Gaulle, and Kennedy. But he had one problem: democracy. He knew that an adverse vote in a general election would put an end to his grand dreams. He forgot–and that’s stranger than fiction–that the masses were crazy about him for they considered him a deliverer from the Army rule and also for saying that “the people are source of power” and “every single Pakistani is entitled to food, clothing, and shelter ( roti, kapra aur makan)”. Hence, he lionized the Army and cultivated its generals, not realizing that the Army had directly ruled Pakistan from 1957 to 1971, and would try to bounce back at first opportunity. Thus, when Bhutto won the March 1977 general elections and the opposition parties took to street protest for alleged rigging, the Army moved in setting in motion the beginning of Bhutto’s end.

Benazir sucks up to the Army for another reason. First, she has never known Pakistan society, a fact that is in abundant evidence in the inanities and pathetic clichés that her autobiography, Daughter of the East, [3] teems with. She was raised in the seclusion of the upper class upbringing, and then spent her early adult life in the grooves of Oxford and Radcliff. Her only contact with the masses and ground realities of Pakistan can be said to have occurred in her mid thirties between 1986 and 1988, the period from her return from years of exile to the day she took over as prime minister. How genuine and deep was her contact with people is a matter of speculation, but the fact is that she seems to believe that in order to take the seat of power she must oblige the generals, and not the people. She is so insecure that like a president-for-ever of a banana republic dictator, she forced the PPP to “elect” her the PPP Chairperson for Life! Her politics has been of the drawing room nature despite the fact she commands the majority of votes in the country. Her voters are still spellbound by the amazingly fascinating personality of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (Hundreds of thousands of her voters were too young to remember her father, but they love him all the same.) Unfortunately she has not been able to build upon her father’s magic because her line of thinking is not that of a democrat, but that of one whose extreme pragmatism borders on the fantastic if not the Machiavellian.

Karl Marx once said that when history happens the first time it tends to be dramatic; the second time it’s impressive, but by the third repetition it becomes a mockery. But here in Pakistan, when the PPP served the Army interests for the first time: it was pathetic; the second time: it was shameless, and this time: it is criminal.


[1]. Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report
Publisher: Vanguard
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[2]. Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy
by Ayesha Siddiqa

[3]. Daughter of the East: An Autobiography
by Benazir Bhutto