In the early 1980 General Ziaul Haq was under pressure from his Western supporters to deal with human rights violation issues, including the cases of political activists.

The pressure had mounted since first Nusrat Bhutto in 1982 and then Benazir Bhutto in 1984 were released from detention and allowed to go abroad. Visiting London and the United States, Benazir talked to the media, human rights activists and politicians there about human rights violations by the military regime and stated that Gen Zia was not prepared to restore democracy in the country.

As she travelled through Western capitals, Gen Zia discussed with his team and some legal experts about the future political set-up of the country. After holding local bodies elections on non-party basis he thought that a similar experiment in the national politics would also bring change in the country.

Time proved him wrong.

The MRD movement had created in him a latent fear about his future. Though the movement had been crushed brutally, its force left Gen Zia with the feeling that one day this passion could outclass his wits and as Ayub Khan could not withstand the people’s wrath, he could also become its victim. This was another reason for him to think about restoring democracy in some weak and dubious form. The referendum had assured him of his rule for five years; now he could share some power with politicians and landed aristocrats.

He had indirectly agreed, in August 1983, to hold the elections on non-party basis, with an approximate date of March 1985. Perhaps he wanted to buy time to think of some ways to clamp restrictions on taking part in elections so that only new and inexperienced people could come to the parliament who would act as his yes men; he wanted a house which would need his leadership.


Such amendments to the Political Parties Act, 1962 are introduced that are obviously meant to keep the PPP and liberals away from polls


The PNA parties except Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and the PPP had refused to contest the polls, while the Muslim league faction led by Pir Sahib Pagara had decided to take part. The JI leadership had decided to participate in elections as its leader Tufail Ahmad was closely associated with the general. There was also a chance that Pir Pagara’s Muslim League would win sufficient number of seats to form a government. Gen Zia had a special regard for Pir Pagara, as in 1980 he had offered the general the platform of his faction of the Muslim League. But the general was not ready to make any compromises in a party set up.

On Jan 8, 1985, the Chief Martial Law Administer (CMLA) promulgated a Martial Law Order No 65 by which it was notified that the government could disqualify any person from taking part in politics; this was meant as a warning that the government was prepared to restrain any person whom it thought undesirable.

Two lawyers in his team, A.K. Brohi and Sharifuddin Pirzada, had been assigned the task of ensuring Zia’s continuation in power. They drew a long list of amendments which would disqualify almost all candidates belonging to the PPP and other liberal groups, who would like to contest despite their party’s decision to boycott.


The elections were held on Feb 25, 1985 on non-party basis, though some political parties allowed their members to contest the elections as independent candidates.


Such amendments in the Political Parties Act, 1962 were introduced that PPP leaders and activists, including former members or ministers, stood disqualified. For instance, the amended Political Parties Act implied that any person who had at any time after Dec 1, 1971, been an office-bearer or a member of the executive committee at the national or provincial setup of a party which had not been registered nor declared eligible to participate in elections by the Election Commission by Oct 11, 1979 stood disqualified for seven years to be elected as member of the National Assembly or a Provincial assembly.

Further, any person who had been a federal minister, minister of state, an adviser or provincial minister between Dec 1, 1971 and July 5, 1977 stood disqualified for seven years from participating in the elections. The very amendments provided guarantees to Gen Zia that no PPP supporter would reach any assembly.

The elections were held on Feb 25, 1985 on non-party basis, though some political parties allowed their members to contest the elections as independent candidates; after the elections some parties claimed winning a number of seats as the candidate had won due to their support. The election brought new faces belonging to the landed aristocracy and business tycoons.

There were different claims about the turnout of voters: official figures claimed a voter turnout at 53.71 per cent, while the political parties said it was not more than15pc. Four days later, elections to the provincial assemblies were also held. The elections brought hope that a house of politically elected members could also be hoped in future, and that the House could be tamed democratically.

With a separate electorate system, Gen Zia presumed that perhaps the minorities, especially the Hindus, supported the PPP and might have helped in bringing a few PPP supporters in the National Assembly. This would create a serious issue for Gen Zia.

shaikhaziz38@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 9th, 2015

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