Pakistan: The curse of July ’77

This year July 5 marked the 35th anniversary of the military coup in Pakistan that toppled the democratic government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the pitch darkness of the night. This coup was led by General Ziaul Haq who deposed the first PPP government and imposed the most vicious and tyrannous military dictatorship in the country’s history.

During the 11 nightmarish years of martial law, the masses of Pakistan suffered the torments and brutalities inflicted in the name of Islam. Thousands were publically lashed and incarcerated in prisons and notorious torture cells. Hundreds were hung on the gallows and innumerable perished in several massacres.

In Sindh, the army killed thousands to crush the movement of 1983. In the Colony Textile Mills, in Multan, 133 workers were gruesomely slaughtered by direct firing. Zia was enjoying a wedding feast of the owner’s daughter in a plush villa nearby. Women were specially targeted with draconian Islamic laws like the Hadood Ordinance in which the rape victims were to be flogged for adultery.

This barbaric dictatorship was imposed in connivance with US imperialism and was supported by them throughout its vindictive rule. Domestically, the religious parties and the conservative right wing supported it. Jamaat-e-Islami was part of the regime and shared power with Ziaul Haq.

Pakistan in this period was transformed into a frightful society where relentless state repression and ruthless obscurantism crushed the masses. The state and the religious vigilantes monstrously intruded into the private lives of citizens. Hypocrisy, deceit, selfishness, treachery and malice became social norms. Islamic fundamentalism was propped up by the state and supported by the US to crush the resistance against the dictatorship.

However, there were heroic and determined struggles launched against this despotic dictatorship by the workers and youth. Enormous sacrifices were made. But since its fall not much has changed for the masses. Instead, the social and economic conditions have worsened in many ways. There are important lessons to be learnt from this traumatic experience the oppressed classes had to endure for more than a decade of suffering and gloom.

The late 1960s witnessed one revolutionary movement after another. The revolutionary movement of 1968-69 in Pakistan had not only challenged Ayub’s military dictatorship but also the system and state it was protecting. The masses wanted jobs, food, education, healthcare, housing – in other words, an end to their misery and exploitation. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the PPP provided an answer in the form of a programme of revolutionary socialism as opposed to “national or people’s democratic revolution” offered by our brothers and sisters of the left. This programme was synonymous with the fundamental aspirations of the masses in revolt. The intensity of the upheaval was so severe that it threatened the existence of capitalism itself.

The region’s ruling classes initially tried to diffuse it through the elections of December 1970 and then even had to instigate a war and the breakup of Pakistan to quell the revolution. The pressure of the uprising and the fear of the revolution were still there and the military had to hand power to Bhutto at the end of 1971 who immediately initiated a rapid programme of the most radical reforms in the history of the country.

Unfortunately, the PPP was not a Bolshevik party and hence, it lacked the cadre network and structures to replace the institutions of the bourgeoisie state. In spite of widespread nationalizations, the foreign corporate sector and several other sections of the commanding heights of the economy were left in private hands. The left within the party was slowly purged, land reforms were jeopardised by the bureaucracy of the bourgeois state and, instead, landlords penetrated the party.

The old state apparatus remained intact and began to revive its despotic role. This was seen in the aggression of the army in Baluchistan in1974 under the PPP government. In the last analysis, capitalism was not abolished and its burgeoning crisis exploded in hyper-inflation that destabilised and ultimately led to the demise of the PPP government. It culminated in the assassination of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on the gallows in April 1979. The ruling classes who had been bruised by Bhutto’s reforms struck back with a bloody vengeance.

In his last book, written in his death cell, If I am assassinated, which has acquired the status of his last testament, Bhutto wrote, “I am suffering this ordeal because I sought an honourable and equitable via media [middle road] of conflicting interests... the lesson of this coup d’état is that a via media, a modus vivendi, a compromise is a utopian dream. The coup d’état demonstrates the class struggle is irreconcilable and it must result in the victory of one class over the other. Obviously, whatever the temporary setbacks, the struggle can lead only to the victory of one class.”

Paradoxically, the PPP leaders that emerged in the aftermath of Z A Bhutto’s assassination rebuked the founding chairperson’s last testament and the lessons he had drawn in life and death. The regimes of bourgeoisie democracy that followed after Zia’s demise did not change the fundamental policies and the capitalist/feudal system.

To preserve and protect this system the ruling classes had imposed the Zia dictatorship that inflicted horrendous atrocities upon the toiling masses. It is not just his odious legacy that prevails in today’s Pakistan but the majority of politicians are former protégés of Ziaul Haq. The irony is that the PPP’s former prime minister, foreign minister and numerous other turncoats imposed in the hierarchy of today’s PPP are products of the nefarious Zia regime. This has resulted in the crushing of society.

While the rich accumulate obscene quantities of wealth, thousands of working people fall below the poverty line every day. Corruption, nepotism and crime dominate the political spectrum. The military that became a mercenary force in waging imperialist wars during the Zia era is now indulged in the process of primitive accumulation. Zia initiated religious bigotry and terrorism has become a festering wound on the body politic of Pakistan. This bestial frenzy is being financed by the black capital generated by the narcotics trade that had an income of $30 billion this year, according to UNICEF. Hence, even after his physical elimination, the basic characteristics of Zia’s policies are very much intact. This reflects the real nature of Pakistani capitalism.

In these excruciating times, the ruling class through the media is trying to restrict mass consciousness in the conflicts between different sections of the elite and various forms of bourgeois political superstructures. The most destructive feature of a military dictatorship is that it pushes mass consciousness backwards and illusions in a democratic setup of the elite develop in society that undermine the class struggle. Exploitation and agony persists. The harrowing conditions that are tormenting society can only be eradicated when this appalling system is abolished by the redemption of the 1968-69 revolution through a socialist victory, otherwise these revolutions cannot be victorious.

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

[This article was originally published in the Pakistani Daily Times]