Sunday, 11 August 2013

Interview with history: Professor Ghafoor Ahmed

The Jamaat-e-Islami and the 1977 elections
by Hussain Askari

[Professor Ghafoor Ahmed born 26 June 1927 – died 26 December 2012, was a former MNA , author and Naib Amir of the JI]

Q: Do you agree that the PNA movement rehabilitated the military as a political force after 1971?

A. This is true to a certain extent. But I personally think that Bhutto Sahib rehabilitated the Army himself after coming to power. He involved the army in politics when he ordered military action in Balochistan. Initially the PNA movement was not aimed at Bhutto Sahib or his government but at forcing fresh elections. A machinery had to be created for holding fair elections. That did not happen and martial law was imposed on July 5.
The army got a chance to come into national politics once again. But there is something more that I want to point out. I do not wish to criticise anyone but the fact remains that some parties did not want an accord. These parties felt that martial law was desirable as it would guarantee free elections.

Q: Can you name these parties?
A: First of all was Air Marshal Asghar Khan. I do not question his intentions but he agreed with the idea that Bhutto Sahib would not fulfil his promise and if martial law were imposed, the military would hold elections within 90 days. The other was the National Awami Party (ed note the party at that time was known as the National Democratic Party as the NAP was banned in 1975 and leadership was in prison)Wali Khan was in jail at that time. I cannot claim this definitively but I think the army maintained contacts with the parties even during that period. The NAP supported martial law as it hoped to resolve the Hyderabad conspiracy case lodged against them. Again this is my personal opinion and I do not have any conclusive information regarding the matter. But a consensus emerged that an accord should be reached and negotiations should continue. However a crack appeared in the alliance.

Q: The 70's were an era of mass mobilisation and issue-based politics. Why don't we see that today?
A: This is a question that plagues many minds. I feel there are two main reasons behind the apathy seen in people today. One is that in 1977, the common man made great sacrifices. People thought their sacrifices would help Pakistan's progress. But all they got was martial law. Political party's had also betrayed the peoples trust. Second, Pakistanis have seen nothing but trouble under martial law. Besides, the civilian governments from 1988 onwards have done little to alleviate the people's miseries. This has led to their dissociation from politics.

Q: To what extent was the 1977 movement backed by the business community?
A: It is true that the business community generously funded the PNA movement and greatly contributed to its success. Most of the PNA leadership and workers were jailed at that time. Many of them were not capable of supporting their own households, let alone the struggle. Their families were taken care of by the business community. A mass movement such as that of 1977 needs massive financing and in this regard the business community helped a great deal.

Bhutto Sahib passed the nationalisation policy in his capacity as chief martial law administrator. A session of the assembly had not even been called by then. The business community realised the consequences of providing Bhutto Sahib with more opportunities. The 1977 elections were rigged so that he could win a two-thirds majority in the parliament and amend the constitution to his wishes. The business community feared that its rights would be trampled by these amendments and thus co-operated with the PNA movement.

Q: What about the PNA's linkages with the international community? Were you used by foreign powers?
A: If anyone was used, it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. On June 14 (1977), an accord was reached. Had Bhutto signed it, a date for elections would have been set and the army would not have had an opportunity to cease power. I was part of the negotiating team along with Mufti Mehmood and Nawabzada Nasrullah. After we reached an agreement, we asked Bhutto Sahib to ratify the accord but he said that he was tired and wanted to go to Larkana. We urged him not to delay the signing as there was a movement going on which had been temporarily suspended. If people thought that negotiations had failed, the movement could start again and spin out of control. But he did not concede and went abroad instead of going to Larkana.

When the movement started once again and Bhutto sahib was forced to resume negotiations, all issues were eventually settled by July 2 and an accord was reached again. Then Bhutto Sahib demanded some minor changes to the accord. We told him that the accord had already been agreed upon by the PNA council and even the smallest change would need to be approved by them. This would take sometime and martial law might e imposed in the interim. Bhutto Sahib stated that he was aware of the possibility of martial law. His answer left us speechless. If Bhutto Sahib had agreed with the accord as it stood, Mufti Sahib (Mufti Mahmud, Maulana Fazl's father -ed note) would have been able to sign it on behalf of the PNA.

Q: You were part of the team negotiating with Bhutto. What were your impressions of him as a person and what was the atmosphere in these meetings?
A: I admired Bhutto Sahibs's intelligence and the extent of his knowledge. But I do not think he had the depth and ability to understand the ground reality. Initially, Bhutto sahib had presented us with a preliminary agreement which was not in accordance with our demands. We then presented our version and succeeded in reaching an agreement on the basic issues. When we arrived for negotiations, Bhutto sahib told us that the services chiefs were present and wanted to talk to us. We told him that the military did not have a part to play in political negotiations. Whatever the military had to say should be addressed to him as he was the head of the state and he could convey their message to us. The next day Bhutto Sahib said that the service chiefs were present again and wanted to talk to us. We agreed to hear them out but refused to enter into negotiations with the,.
Then General Ziaul Haq conducted a long briefing where he emphasises two main points. One that we should give up our demand for the release of the jailed NAP leaders. The other was that we should give up our demand of ending military action in Balochistan. We relented on these points because we thought they might be resolved later.

Q: Why was martial law imposed if everything had been resolved? Do you think the army had already decided to take over?
A: I cannot give a definitive answer since I do not have all the information. I think Bhutto sahib was fully aware of the situation but the army urged him not to give in. They might have told him that he had their full support. This he did not need to negotiate with us or hold new elections as they could lead to further anarchy in the country. Bhutto sahib must have agreed with the military thinking that soon the movement would subside and he would remain prime minister for the next five years. Again I do not know this for sure but it is unlikely that a smart man like Bhutto sahib would delay ratification without any reason.

-interview reproduced for informational purposes solely. Originally published by the DAWN group October 2002