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Special Report: Democracy in Disarray 1974-1977

The fact that Zia’s legacy far outlives Bhutto’s also explains how much Pakistan has changed since 1977.
Updated Oct 16, 2017 10:58pm

The crowds waved when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto addressed them. The crowds waved when he was removed.

From ecstasy to angst, Bhutto’s equation with the masses experienced a complete spectrum of emotions that, arguably, remains unparalleled in national political history. | Photo: Arif Ali

Authoritarianism and the downfall

By S. Akbar Zaidi


SOME historians have made the suggestion that there are two phases to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s five-and-a-half years in power. In the first phase, one sees a pro-poor, populist Bhutto, supported by many urban leftists in his party, who undertakes a number of far-reaching structural economic and social reforms – from land reforms to nationalisation and social-sector interventions. He is also given credit for having seen Pakistan’s first democratically agreed to Constitution approved and passed by a parliament based on universal franchise. His stature as a crafty negotiator helped him deal with Pakistani nationalists, as it did with Indira Gandhi in Simla in 1972.

Even though Karachi was never a PPP stronghold, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was just as impassioned in his election campaign here as anywhere across the country. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad.
Even though Karachi was never a PPP stronghold, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was just as impassioned in his election campaign here as anywhere across the country. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad.

This first phase lasted perhaps three years, somewhere into 1974, but soon after, one begins to see a different Bhutto; one who discards his radical allies and moves towards his landed and feudal base, making him authoritarian and dictatorial, abandoning the social groups that had been responsible for his phenomenal rise.

Bhutto was many things to many people and constituencies, playing different roles as circumstances demanded. He could be a democrat but also mercilessly authoritarian; a benevolent feudal with modernist tendencies; a nationalist with regional aspirations; and a secularist courting Islamists. Perhaps it was for these multiple and often contradictory reasons that no political leader in Pakistan has been as reviled or cherished as is Bhutto even four decades after his death.

A YEAR OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

At least four events in 1974 had a major bearing on what was to happen to Bhutto and to Pakistan, with long-term consequences that have had an impact even to this day.

In February 1974, Bhutto was able to organise and host the Second Islamic Summit Conference in Lahore, with as many as 35 heads of state and government present.

From Shah Faisal of Saudi Arabia to the popular Muammar Qadhafi of Libya to the revolutionary Yasser Arafat, Bhutto was able to make a political statement about Pakistan’s position in the Muslim world. He also used this opportunity to recognise Bangladesh by inviting Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The chemistry between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (left) and his one-time nemesis Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was worth watching during the proceedings of the Islamic Summit. Even a semblance of it just three years earlier might have led to a history different from what it actually turned out to be. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives
The chemistry between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (left) and his one-time nemesis Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was worth watching during the proceedings of the Islamic Summit. Even a semblance of it just three years earlier might have led to a history different from what it actually turned out to be. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives

With the first OPEC oil price rise in 1973, which led to the westernisation and modernisation of the oil-rich states, Bhutto opened the doors to the Gulf states and to the Middle East for Pakistan’s migrant labour and its remittance economy; still a key pillar of Pakistan’s economy with numerous unintended consequences. Ironically, it was Gen Ziaul Haq who benefitted the most from these ties, and, in many ways, one can make the argument that the close ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states changed the social, religious and political composition of Pakistan in ways which would have made Bhutto most uncomfortable.

That he was able to garner a seriously impressive procession in a city hostile to his politics and persona was nothing but Bhutto’s charisma at work. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad.
That he was able to garner a seriously impressive procession in a city hostile to his politics and persona was nothing but Bhutto’s charisma at work. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad.

Ayesha Jalal makes the assertion, though unfortunately provides no evidence for this, that during the Islamic Summit, “King Faisal indicated to Bhutto that Saudi aid [to Pakistan] would be contingent on Pakistan declaring Ahmadis a non-Muslim minority”. Other scholars have given far more domestically-oriented reasons and arguments for why the community was declared a minority by the National Assembly unanimously in September 1974. The consequences of this move, in which Bhutto participated, continue unabated to this day, again in ways that Bhutto would not have recognised. Today, it indicates why and how the idea of a just and inclusive notion of Pakistani citizenship failed.

The third major development in 1974 was India’s nuclear test in May. While Bhutto had the ambitions to build nuclear weapons some years prior to India going nuclear, Pakistan’s ‘Islamic Bomb’ was to be acquired even if we had “to eat grass”.

One further development in November 1974 was to cost Bhutto his life. The murder of Nawab Mohammad Ahmad Khan Kasuri, the father of dissident PPP leader Ahmed Raza Kasuri, who, many believe, was the intended target, was blamed on Bhutto, and the case was opened against him once he had been deposed by Zia in 1977, leading to Bhutto’s execution on April 4, 1979.

All these events in 1974 were to have far-reaching implications, years and decades from when they took place, beyond Bhutto’s life. In July 1974, one of the old guards of the original PPP, J.A. Rahim, the first secretary-general of the party, was beaten up brutally by Bhutto’s personal henchmen, the Federal Security Force, supposedly on Bhutto’s orders. This was just one indication of the growing authoritarianism of Pakistan’s first elected leader.

Other incidents occurred during the course of Bhutto’s reign, where editors and publishers of newspapers critical of his policies were often roughed up and threatened. Both the editors of Dawn and Jasarat were arrested under Bhutto’s increasingly draconian regime. Also not spared were nationalist leaders like Khan Abdul Wali Khan, as the National Awami Party (NAP) was banned in February 1975 after the murder of Hayat Khan Sherpao, a senior PPP leader who some saw as a contender to Bhutto, in Peshawar. Wali Khan and others were incarcerated in the Hyderabad Conspiracy case, and were later released only when the walls around Bhutto started to close in.

CREATING AN OPPOSITION

Elegantly dressed almost always, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was at ease in his interactions with media.  | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad.
Elegantly dressed almost always, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was at ease in his interactions with media. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad.

While Bhutto certainly gave the awam, the working people, political consciousness for the very first time through his reforms and rhetoric, he also alienated this very constituency by moving away from many of his earlier promises. Moreover, given his reforms, he was bound to accumulate many enemies along the way. From landlords to business groups, from religious parties to groups that saw Bhutto’s ways as ‘un-Pakistani’ and ‘un-Islamic’, and from the US, which didn’t approve of Bhutto’s independence or his desire to go nuclear, to even the military officers who had been dismissed by him because they had expressed disagreement. Bhutto’s conceit and authoritarianism was central both to his achievements as well as to his downfall.

In July 1976, Bhutto made a key error by nationalising flour and rice husking mills, and cotton ginning factories. Not only had he gone back on his word of no more nationalisation, but this decision hit a core constituency of the middle and petit bourgeois classes that could have been allies of the PPP in the Punjab. This one single decision by Bhutto alienated them from his populist and progressive economic policies. These groups may have voted for Bhutto in 1970, but with their key economic interests threatened, they turned their back on him. That many of these individuals and groups belonged to the more socially conservative segments, only made them become a powerful tool in the hands of a strong political and social opposition that was largely Islamist and was looking for revenge.

The opportunity came in January 1977 when Bhutto announced early elections. There was little doubt that Bhutto would be re-elected, for there was little organised political opposition in place. No single party would have been able to oust Bhutto. However, a coalition of nine parties, many of which were Islamic parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan, formed a conservative and right-wing coalition titled the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). The fact that the National Democratic Party led by Sherbaz Mazari and Begum Nasim Wali was also part of the PNA demands far greater analysis than simply labelling PNA as being an Islamist conspiracy. The PNA was a broad spectrum of left-leaning, centrist and rightist parties with their main focus on opposing Bhutto.

The PNA fought a campaign on the basis of an anti-Bhutto agenda, citing his ‘un-Islamic’ ways, and was helped by the newly alienated middle and petit bourgeois classes, especially in the Punjab. The results after the March 7 elections left the PPP with 155 seats and the PNA with 36. The equation surprised not only the opposition parties, but also the PPP, and, indeed, Bhutto himself. While the PPP would probably have retained government in the 200-strong National Assembly, such a massive victory margin suggested foul play. The PNA boycotted elections to the provincial assemblies and organised extensive street protests against the Bhutto government.

The PNA movement, as it is called, was clearly Pakistan’s most successful right-wing political movement, just as Bhutto’s 1968-69 movement was Pakistan’s most successful popular movement. Some scholars have made claims that the PNA was being funded through dollars coming from abroad; a claim which Bhutto indirectly referred to in his address to the National Assembly at the time.

The strong anti-Bhutto movement had acquired an Islamist hue from very early on, and, despite Bhutto making numerous symbolic concessions – such as banning alcohol, declaring Friday, instead of Sunday, as the weekly holiday – the PNA leaders were not going to ease their pressure on Bhutto.

Following sustained street protests, negotiations continued between March and July, and while there is now evidence that an agreement between the PNA and Bhutto had been reached around midnight July 3-4, Gen Zia, Bhutto’s hand-picked Chief of the Army Staff, in a military operation ironically called Fairplay, declared Martial Law on July 5, 1977, and deposed and imprisoned Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

When Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto spoke, his hand-picked Army chief, General Ziaul Haq, listened ... rather submissively. Little did Bhutto know of the machinations behind the meek visage. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives
When Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto spoke, his hand-picked Army chief, General Ziaul Haq, listened ... rather submissively. Little did Bhutto know of the machinations behind the meek visage. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives

One cannot but emphasise the fact that General Zia’s coup and Martial Law was also encouraged by the practices and whims of some political leaders of the opposition. Retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan had written an open letter to the three services chiefs, including Zia, to rise up against Bhutto. The practice by opposition politicians inviting the military to remove an elected leader was to continue well into the 1990s, with some overtones as recently as 2014 during the famous dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad.

Moreover, as Shuja Nawaz has argued, evidence also emerged that some senior generals had established close links with the opposition parties. There seemed to be a clear common interest of those who financially backed the PNA movement, the generals who wanted a return to order and stability, and Islamist groups who felt that, with Bhutto out of the way, they would be closer to imposing some form of Islamic order in Pakistan.

Not just was Pakistan’s first democratically elected leader later executed in a trial which many believed was fixed from the start, in 1979, but Pakistan changed forever after July 5, 1977. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Pakistan and his vision died not so much on December 16, 1971, as they did on July 5, 1977.

LEGACY

Though he imposed curbs on freedom of expression and dealt with newspapers with a rather heavy hand, Bhutto never shied away from media interactions. If anything, he gained some sort of energy dealing with journalists. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad.
Though he imposed curbs on freedom of expression and dealt with newspapers with a rather heavy hand, Bhutto never shied away from media interactions. If anything, he gained some sort of energy dealing with journalists. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad.

The slogan which one hears now only infrequently, Zinda hai Bhutto, zinda hai, is as irrelevant to today’s Pakistan as is the attempt by some liberals to find and secure the Pakistan originally conceived and founded by the Quaid. Both ideals have been brushed aside by history’s changing tides in Pakistan.

Bhutto’s policies of social democracy, nationalisation, asserting working peoples’ consciousness and rights, his brand of ‘third worldism’, were all manifestations of a particular historical age. Now, neoliberalism and social conservatism tainted through a Saudi brush are the dominant cultural, social and economic forms of practice in today’s Pakistan, and, to some extent, globally.

Yet, in many ways, the issues of social justice, equality and sovereignty – themes that formulated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s ideals for Pakistan – still remain relevant to our age where growing inequality, intolerance and militancy define where we have come since July 5, 1977. The fact that no politician today raises these issues is a sad reflection of how Bhutto’s ideals have been forgotten. Moreover, the fact that Zia’s legacy far outlives Bhutto’s also explains how much Pakistan has changed since 1977.

The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and teaches at Columbia University in New York and at the IBA in Karachi.


This story is the seventh part of a series of 16 special reports under the banner of '70 years of Pakistan and Dawn.' Visit the archive to read the previous six reports.


HBL has been an indelible part of the nation’s fabric since independence, enabling the dreams of millions of Pakistanis. At HBL, we salute the dreamers and dedicate the nation’s 70th anniversary to you. Jahan Khwab, Wahan HBL.


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SHIPPING, OIL MARKETING ALSO TAKEN OVER

DAWN January 2, 1974 (Editorial)

Nationalisation of Banks

THE first day of the new year has brought to the country a package of three radical economic measures which are capable, cumulatively and in conjunction with some earlier steps, of exerting a profound influence on the national economy. Of all the reform moves made by the present Government, the one involving the nationalisation of banks is clearly among the most significant in shaping the character of the economy and its postulates of ownership. The other change relates to the ending of the private ownership and management of companies engaged in the marketing of petroleum products. The third measure seeks to bring private shipping companies under public management and ownership.

The idea of the nationalisation of heavy industries and private monetary institutions which place the people’s savings into the hands of a few persons is now universally accepted among the newly developed countries. If the present Government’s social objectives and economic policies appear to some people to be too revolutionary, the reason lies in the fact that for about a quarter century this country pursued a strategy of promoting capital formation through the accumulation of high profits in private hands and of relying almost wholly on private enterprise for industrial and commercial development. This, as we can see, has resulted in magnifying the social imbalances and increasing the difference between the highest and the lowest incomes. The ability of the ruling People’s Party to break out of a traditional policy has opened up new possibilities of furthering the process of economic growth and achieving a greater measure of social equity through a juster distribution of the resources commanded by the banking system. However, it goes without saying that the realisation of these possibilities will depend not only on the new social orientation of banking enterprise but on a more efficient management of these institutions. The Government will now bear direct responsibility for their management and operation, and it is only proper that the working of the banks should be so reorganised as to ensure a full measure of social accountability. This objective cannot be achieved if by accountability is meant only that the new executives will be responsible to the State Bank and the Federal Finance Ministry. Under nationalisation, the people acquire the right to know about the inner arguments that determine banking policies and the ways in which and the considerations under which bank lending is carried on.

***


TIES WITH CHINA DEEPER THAN THE OCEAN: BHUTTO

DAWN January 13, 1974 (News Report)

Sino-Pakistan ties to promote peace

PRIME Minister Z.A. Bhutto declared in Karachi last night [January 12] that the whole world saw that the friendship between Pakistan and China had stood the test of time. “It is higher than Karakoram and deeper than the Ocean,” he said while proposing a toast at a dinner he hosted in honour of the Chinese military delegation at the Sind Governor’s House.

Mr Bhutto emphasised in his speech that Pakistan would not allow any factors to impede the growing friendship with China. This relationship, he added, was not directed against anybody, and sought only to establish peaceful relations with all countries, “including our neighbours”. Mr Bhutto said relations between the armed forces of the two countries “will further strengthen, and we consider them indispensable for peace in this region”.

Referring to the greetings of Chairman Mao Tse-tung conveyed by the delegation, Mr Bhutto said he deeply appreciated the Chairman’s greeting and good wishes. He requested the delegation’s leader to convey “good wishes” to Chairman Mao on behalf of the people and the Government of Pakistan and on his own behalf. 

***


ARMED PALESTINIANS DEMAND RELEASE OF COMRADES

DAWN February 3, 1974 (News Report)

Commandos seize ship at Karachi

THREE armed Palestinian guerillas seized a Greek ship ‘Vori’, berthed at Karachi’s West Wharf, at 4pm yesterday [February 2] and threatened to blow up the vessel within 24 hours unless two Arab commandos sentenced to death in Greece were released. The guerillas locked up the Chief Officer and the Chief Engineer of the ship in the captain’s cabin as hostages. They had also at first made the aged captain of the ship, Mr Kostas Bliziotis, as their hostage, but later released him after he had fainted.

The ship had entered Karachi Harbour recently, bringing sugar for Pakistan from Brazil. The seized ship has a crew of 33, out of which 10 are Arabs from Sudan, Syria and Egypt. Pakistan Government authorities have already established contact with the Palestinian commandos and negotiations for the release of the ship and the two hostages were under way. The guerillas are believed to be armed with automatic weapons and grenades. The Arab crew of the seized ship seemed jubilant and waved to the newsmen from the ship, making the ‘V’ sign with their fingers.  

***


TURKEY AND IRAN FOLLOW SUIT

DAWN February 23, 1974 (News Report)

BD recognised by Pakistan

PRIME Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto announced Pakistan’s recognition of Bangladesh today [February 22], a little while before the opening of the Islamic Summit Conference. Soon afterwards, Iran and Turkey announced in Teheran and Ankara their decision to establish full diplomatic relations with Bangladesh. The recognition followed the visit to Dacca by a goodwill mission sent by the Muslim countries’ Foreign Ministers’ Conference [a day earlier] to bring about reconciliation between Pakistan and Bangladesh. Mr Bhutto announced the recognition in a televised address to a specially-convened gathering of Provincial Governors, Federal and Provincial Ministers and Members of the Parliament and Punjab legislature [in Lahore]. Mr Bhutto’s announcement brought to an end the suspense and excitement which had persisted in Lahore for the last three days. The meeting that was addressed by him had originally been convened three days ago. Since then it was called and cancelled almost every day

***


MUSLIM LEADERS CALL FOR THIRD WORLD UNITY

DAWN February 25, 1974 (Editorial)

The Summit’s resolve

The Islamic Summit Conference in February 1974 was arguably the peak of popularity attained by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The Friday prayers at the Badshahi Mosque, as the Dawn Editorial put it, was a vast concourse unique in composition consisting of leaders of almost every Muslim country on earth. It was a soul-stirring experience even for those who watched it on their television screens. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives
The Islamic Summit Conference in February 1974 was arguably the peak of popularity attained by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The Friday prayers at the Badshahi Mosque, as the Dawn Editorial put it, was a vast concourse unique in composition consisting of leaders of almost every Muslim country on earth. It was a soul-stirring experience even for those who watched it on their television screens. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives

THE manner in which the Islamic Summit Conference has summed up its political position in two resolutions, one on the Middle East and the Palestinian cause, and the other on Jerusalem, will be universally greeted with approval and enthusiasm throughout the world of Islam. The resolutions represent the quintessence of the thoughts and sentiments of the Muslim masses everywhere on the principal issue of putting an end to Israeli aggression, annexation and colonisation and establishing a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. But granting that this is so and accepting the fact that the resolutions are well-worded as a declaration of intent, how seriously are they meant and what good will they do? The non-Muslim world may well be asking this question after reading the texts. Before they were passed, The Times, London, giving expression to its doubts about the proposition of Islamic unity, wrote: “It may be doubted whether the Lahore conference will make any more mark in the Islamic world than the Rabat one did.”

There are some valid reasons why the Lahore summit is destined to make a greater mark in the Islamic world than its predecessor did. The first reason was appropriately summed up by President Hafez al-Assad of Syria in his address to the Conference. “We meet today,” he declared, “as makers of events, whereas we had met in the past in reaction to events”. This brings out tersely and sharply the difference in the contexts in which the Rabat and Lahore conferences were held. The second reason was given in his speech by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt who pointed out that at the last Summit in 1969 the Muslims were divided even though they were preparing for the battle of destiny. How the sentiment in favour of Islamic solidarity has grown on the quantitative side is shown by the fact that whereas the participating States at the last Summit numbered 24, they came to number 38 at the Lahore summit, which means practically every State with a Muslim majority. In point of representative character the Lahore Conference has indeed succeeded beyond the fondest hopes of its promoters. Which brings one to the third reason. In the phenomena of society as well as of nature quantity often gets transformed into quality. Anyone who has followed the tone and tenor of the speeches at the last summit and the one held at Lahore and has tried to feel the atmosphere prevailing then and now will not fail to discern clear signs of a deepening of the sentiment in favour of Islamic unity over the past four and a half years.

The responsibility now assumed is not too difficult to discharge if one considers that the Islamic leaders have made their pledge on behalf of over 600 million people who are represented at the Conference and if one remembers the enormous resources the member-States have at their disposal. Given the will, the participating countries are fully capable of discharging what is an internationalist duty as well as an Islamic obligation.

***


REPATRIATION PROCESS OVER

DAWN May 1, 1974 (News Report)

Gen Niazi among last of POWs to return

THE curtain was drawn on the repatriation issue when all the remaining Pakistani personnel of the Armed Forces and the civilian internees held by India as POWs after the 1971 war returned home today [April 30]. The last Pakistani to return through the Wagah checkpost was Lt-Gen Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, the last General Officer Commanding of the Eastern Command.

Happiness and joy returned to millions of families as the POWs rejoined their families in all parts of the country. The returnees were garlanded by those present to receive them. Flowers were also showered on them. Punjab’s Education Minister Dr. Abdul Khaliq and Corps Commander Lt-Gen Abdul Hamid received the POWs. The repatriates reciprocated the warm feelings by those present there by waving back.

The following are the details in respect of repatriation of defence personnel and the civil internees completed today: Officers – 1,818 (they include 1,633 from Army, 76 from PAF, 75 from Navy and two from Civilian Armed Forces), JCOs – 2,138, other ranks – 51,897, Navy personnel – 1,319, Airmen – 772, Rangers, police etc – 20,766, civilians paid out of defence – 882, civilians – 10,389 (grand total – 89,981).

Lt-Gen Abdul Hameed Khan, the Corps Commander, paid rich tributes to the POWs, and said they had borne long detentions with great fortitude and patience. He was talking to newsmen at the Wagah checkpost after the last soldier had entered Pakistan upon his repatriation from India.

***


BILL UNANIMOUSLY PASSED

DAWN September 8, 1974 (News Report)

Qadianis declared minority

BOTH houses of parliament, reflecting the sentiments and aspirations of the people of Pakistan, tonight [September 7] gave on the complex Ahmadi question their unanimous verdict that puts an end to this 90-year-old religious problem. The National Assembly and the Senate passed the Constitution Second Amendment Bill declaring that non-believers in the “absolute and unqualified finality” of the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) will not be Muslims. The bill was first passed by the National Assembly by 130 votes – all the members present, in the 146-member house. Shortly after its passage in the National Assembly, the Bill was taken up by the Senate where all the 31 Members present, out of a total of 45, voted for it.

The three-clause Bill, called the Constitution (Second Amendment) Act, 1974, was presented before the House by the Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Abdul Hafiz Pirzada, with a brief history of the Special Committee’s deliberations and the difficulties that it had to encounter while trying to evolve a permanent solution of this century old and chronic problem.

Earlier, the House passed a resolution, also moved by Mr Pirzada, recommending necessary amendments in the Constitution, and adding a new section in the Pakistan Penal Code – providing for punishment for Muslims who professed, practised or propagated against the concept of the finality of the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The resolution was also passed unanimously.

***


MOHAMMAD AHMED QASURI SHOT DEAD

DAWN November 14, 1974 (Editorial)

Cult of violence

THE firing incident in Lahore in which the father of Mr Ahmad Raza Kasuri, MNA, lost his life has evoked strong condemnation from Prime Minister Bhutto and many leading political personalities in the Government and in the Opposition. The tragedy has shocked many people and once again drawn attention to the need for combating the cult of violence not unoften resorted to for settling personal or political scores. The doubt has been openly expressed that the intended victim of the attack on the car was Mr Ahmad Raza Kasuri, who was driving it, and not his father and that the firing was politically motivated. On the other hand the Punjab Chief Minister has emphatically repudiated this view and said that Mr Kasuri and his family were involved in personal quarrels with several persons. It is obvious that conjectures are not going to help the process of the detection of the crime. Now that the Government has promptly instituted an inquiry and appointed a High Court Judge to conduct it, all speculation should cease.

The nature of the incident will inevitably revive the popular memory of the killing of a number of political personages and remind the people of the fact that these crimes have hitherto gone undetected and unpunished. That the culprits should have succeeded in eluding the arms of the law scarcely redounds to the credit of those responsible for the detection of crimes of violence.

It invariably happens that delays in investigation and detection preclude the possibility of success by giving the perpetrators of a crime the time they need to erase the traces of their guilt. One hopes therefore that the agency of investigation will be on the track of the culprit or culprits without losing a minute. Meanwhile, the hope the DIG Police, Lahore Range, has expressed about the police being ready to proceed as soon as they get a clue to the murder is reassuring.

***


SHERPAO KILLED IN PESHAWAR BOMB BLAST

DAWN February 10, 1975 (Editorial)

A tragedy—and a challenge

MR HAYAT MOHAMMAD KHAN SHERPAO’S death in a bomb blast at the Peshawar University is a national tragedy. The violent end of a young and dedicated political leader who was blossoming out and who was far from having exhausted his possibilities is a terrible loss not only to his province and his party but also to the country and the political profession. We mourn this loss together with the rest of the nation. But equally do we lament the perversity which underlies the cult of the bomb and the bullet. The bomb blast at the Peshawar University that claimed the life of Mr Sherpao, Senior Minister of the NWFP Cabinent, a former Federal Minister, a founder-member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and a trusted lieutenant of Prime Minister Bhutto, and caused grave injuries to at least a score of teachers and students of the University, was indeed a blow to democracy. The nature of the blast and the circumstances in which it occurred reveal careful planning. It was known that Mr Sherpao would be addressing the meeting scheduled to be held on the occasion of the installation of the office-bearers of the University’s History Department union. The planners, it appears from available reports, were also aware of Mr Sherpao’s busy programme which usually delayed his arrival at such functions. For, although the meeting was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m., the explosive device, it seems, was set to go off half an hour later. It is, however, for the law enforcing agencies to investigate the tragic episode, unravel the ramifications of the plot and expose and bring to book its perpetrators. But while on the subject one cannot fail to recall here that these agencies have failed in a number of cases of political violence to press their investigations to a successful issue. When several crimes of politically motivated violence go undetected in a row, the phenomenon can begin to impair popular faith in the administration. This can also prove a source of encouragement to the perpetrators who evidently aim not only at liquidating their political adversaries but also at creating an atmosphere of panic and insecurity to weaken the morale of the people. The series of explosions that have occurred during the last few months could not have been isolated incidents.

***


NATIONAL AWAMI PARTY BANNED

DAWN February 10, 1975 (News Reports)

Wali, Sikandar, Gardezi, other NAP men held

During a visit to Dera Bugti, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his host, Baluchistan Governor Nawab Akbar Bugti, had to stave off trouble when a tent collapsed during a public meeting. As subsequent events showed, political turbulence, however, could not be warded off that easily. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives
During a visit to Dera Bugti, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his host, Baluchistan Governor Nawab Akbar Bugti, had to stave off trouble when a tent collapsed during a public meeting. As subsequent events showed, political turbulence, however, could not be warded off that easily. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives

THE government of Pakistan today [February 9] dissolved the National Awami Party and forfeited all the properties and funds of the party. The action, according to gazette of Pakistan notifications, has been taken under Sub-section 1 of Section VI of the Political Parties Act of 1962. The notifications said that the Government was satisfied that the NAP was operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan and it had, therefore, formally declared the NAP to be operating in such a manner. Following the Government order banning the NAP, all the offices of the party throughout the country have been sealed. In NWFP all the NAP offices were sealed by police.

In Quetta, two Baluchistan MPAs belonging to the now defunct National Awami Party were learnt to have been placed under house arrest. Those whose movements have been restricted on the orders of the Provincial Government were Agha Abdul Karim Khan and Nawabzada Sherali Nausherwani. Another four persons namely, Mr Mohammad Usman Kansi, Mr Abdul Ali, Mr Ghulam Dastagir and Mr Ghulam Sarwar Yasinzai were also arrested under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance. Meanwhile, offices of NAP were sealed throughout Baluchistan after it was outlawed. Twelve leaders of NAP were arrested in Hyderabad under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance.

DAWN November 5, 1975

VERDICT ON THE REFERENCE: In its declaratory judgment on the Government’s reference the Supreme Court has unanimously found that the National Awami Party was operating in a manner prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan and that the Party therefore rendered itself liable to be dissolved under the Political Parties Act.

DAWN November 5, 1975

MAZARI TO FORM NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Dark-haired, reticent Sherbaz Mazari, an independent member of the National Assembly, stepped into the front lobby today [November 4], tight lipped and preoccupied. But generally reliable sources confirmed that the Sardar from Dera Ghazi Khan was going to announce the formation of a new political party to be called the National Democratic Party. Sardar Mazari, it is said, would be making a formal announcement at a press conference. 

***


OPPOSITION HOLDS CONVENTION IN LAHORE

DAWN December 11, 1975 (Editorial)

The political scene

THE course political developments have been taking since the mid-November episode in the National Assembly has engendered widespread concern in the country. More and more people are wondering what the soured relationship between the Government and the Opposition holds in store for us. Some people are asking whether at the present rate the country will not land itself in a morass it may not easily scramble out of without harm to its vital interests. The outcome of the recent Lahore convention of Opposition legislators, the resulting orchestration of recriminations and counter-recriminations and the UDF [United Democratic Front] plan to stage protest rallies on December 19 do not augur well for the cause of democracy.

There is not much evidence of important political issues having been examined at Lahore with the high seriousness they obviously deserved. Still less can one say that the outcome speaks of any unity of outlook or coherence in thought on the part of the diverse elements that took part in the Lahore parleys.

There was no decision on the question of staying in or going out of the legislatures, which was supposed to be the pivotal issue with which the Opposition was concerned right now. No political and economic aims for the realization of which the people are supposed to rally behind the Opposition leaders were spelled out. It was decided that “a constitutional struggle” would be launched, but no light was thrown on what its strategy and tactics will be. Only two things made known could be said to have been unambiguous. First, the Convention said ‘No’ to Prime Minister Bhutto’s offer to hold a dialogue with the Opposition. Secondly, the Convention demanded that the Prime Minister should resign forthwith and a national Government should be installed in order to supervise general elections.

First, let us look into the suggestion that there should be a national government. The practice usually followed everywhere under a parliamentary system is that a national coalition government often takes over in the event of war or the imminent threat of war. What happens in such a contingency is that the ruling majority party agrees to share political power and responsibility with the Opposition, the two agreeing to sink their differences and to concentrate on the mobilisation of national energies and resources. Since no such contingency exists, one would like to know on what basis the suggested national government would be formed.

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GINNING, RICE, FLOUR UNITS TAKEN OVER

DAWN July 21, 1976 (Editorial)

Momentous decision

THE nationalisation of cotton ginning, rice husking and flour milling units is a momentous decision, which will bring under government ownership, control and management of over 2,000 units scattered all over the country and having an annual turnover of Rs. 1400 crore. The measure is aimed at eliminating the exploitative role of the middleman in agriculture and putting an end to price manipulation and adulteration, which were quite freely indulged in by the owners of the agricultural processing units.

There is no denying the fact that because of the lack of effective social control over his operations the middle man’s role in agricultural processing was harming the interests of both peasants in the rural areas and consumers in the urban areas. These middlemen not only frustrated the Government’s efforts to ensure the payment of reasonably good prices to the producers of wheat and paddy but also prevented the full benefit of the subsidy on wheat from reaching the urban consumer, who also was heard complaining frequently about low quality and adulteration of atta. Similarly, the admixture of different qualities of lint cotton often did considerable harm to our exports.

While announcing the measure, Prime Minister Bhutto has reiterated his resolve “to reduce and eventually to eliminate, the operation of all these forces which stunt our society’s growth, cripple its energies and condemn the vast majority of our population to utter helplessness.” This makes it clear that in the Government’s view malpractices in agricultural processing necessitated revolutionary institutional reform rather than a process of correction through the enforcement of legal remedies against exploitation and malpractices. The nationalisation of the agricultural processing units is seen as an important step in the direction of evolving an egalitarian society.

The announcement that the government will pay compensation to the owners of the nationalised units, preferably within six months, is in keeping with the promise that no unit would be nationalised without compensation. It is to be hoped that this promise will be redeemed expeditiously. 

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THE NATION SET TO GO TO THE POLLS IN MARCH

DAWN January 9, 1977 (Editorial)

Elections: a tryst with destiny

PRIME Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s announcement in the National Assembly that general elections will be held in barely two months’ time fills the air with eager anticipation and excitement. It reassures us, and the others, about our sense of direction as a democracy. We have truly no alternative to democracy and, hence, to elections after given intervals. But judging from the course of events in those developing countries, general elections in Pakistan in March, just a short while earlier than the completion of the Assembly’s term, will have a deeper significance. No other country in South Asia is holding elections. There was some apprehension that the conditions prevailing in the region would have some repercussions on Pakistan’s decision to hold elections. But the Prime Minister had promised to take “our own decisions” and his announcement came within a few days of the release of the final list of constituencies of the National and Provincial Assemblies and the green signal given by the Chief Election Commissioner. It is obviously a big challenge for Pakistan. It needed courage on the part of the Government to go ahead with the elections in spite of the circumstances prevailing in neighbouring countries. After all, ours is, geo-politically, a very sensitive region where power rivalries exist in a serious way. But just as the challenge is big, so are the rewards. If we go through this process successfully, we may become a new historical reference as one of the models of democracy in Asia. Pakistan’s stock in the community of world nations is bound to rise.

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PPP WINS WITH OVERWHELMING MAJORITY

DAWN March 10, 1977 (Editorial)

The verdict

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto deep in discussion with Mumtaz Bhutto, the ‘talented cousin’ who ruled the province of Sindh till 1973, but remained a close aide of the Prime Minister till the very last. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto deep in discussion with Mumtaz Bhutto, the ‘talented cousin’ who ruled the province of Sindh till 1973, but remained a close aide of the Prime Minister till the very last. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives

THE Pakistan People’s Party has scored a decisive victory in elections to the National Assembly. It has plainly been a landslide in the Punjab. We offer our felicitations and good wishes to the People’s Party and its Chairman, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, on winning a new mandate from the people. We wish them the best of luck in the Party’s second term in office. The elections came after several weeks of hectic, impulsioned campaigning in which people were fully and deeply involved. Public meetings and political rallies attracted large, even mamoth crowds. All this proved that people realised the importance of the elections and were keen to exercise their democratic right of choosing their representatives. A vigorous popular participation in the rallies of both the sides also indicated positive interest in various questions at issue.

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OPPOSITION KEEPS OUT OF PROVINCIAL POLLS

DAWN March 15, 1977 (Editorial)

PNA’s options

ONE lesson we have learnt from history is that some doors must always remain open in the midst of a political crisis. Inflexibility is seldom a virtue in politics. Confronted with the present situation in which the Pakistan National Alliance has rejected the results of March 7 elections to the National Assembly, boycotted the March 10 elections to the Provincial Assemblies and decided to take to the streets to force Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the members of the Election Commission to resign forthwith, both the sides could do well to bear this lesson in mind. A commitment by the Chief Election Commissioner to remedy the situation caused by numerous complaints of irregularities and lawlessness in the March 7 elections through a proper judicial process and the offer for a dialogue by the Prime Minister are viable options for the Opposition. We find it eminently advisable that the PNA leaders should defer their further moves until they have exhausted the possibilities offered by the Prime Minister’s and the Chief Election Commissoner’s statements.

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PNA AGITATION CREATES CHAOS

DAWN April 23, 1977 (News Report)

Martial Law in Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad

THE Federal Government yesterday [April 22] imposed Martial Law in Karachi Division, Hyderabad District and Lahore District with immediate effect. A Press note issued by the Federal Government said: “The country is facing grave danger due to internal disturbances. These disturbances have assumed such proportions that they are beyond the resources of the Provincial Governments to control. During the last several weeks, unlawful and violent agitation has disrupted the public life. This has caused incalculable damage. There has been tragic and heavy toll of human life. Public and private property worth millions of rupees have been wantonly destroyed. Trade, industry and communications have been seriously affected. A crippling blow has been dealt to the nation's economy. The citizens’ normal pursuits have been gravely affected. All efforts to resolve the political problems through peaceful and legal means have been thwarted by those who appear bent upon subverting the Constitution and the processes envisaged by it. The evident object is to create a void in lawfully constituted authority and institutions so that anarchy is let loose and the future of organised national life is irreparably destroyed.

“The Federal Government cannot permit this situation to continue. It has to discharge its constitutional obligation to protect the provinces against the internal disturbances. The Constitution imposes the duty on the Government to protect the life, honour and property of law-abiding citizens.

“For these reasons, the Federal Government, exercising its constitutional powers, has directed the Armed Forces of Pakistan to act in aid of civil power. Consequently Martial Law has been imposed in the first instance in Karachi Division, Hyderabad District and Lahore District with immediate effect The Provincial Governments of Sind and Punjab have placed these areas under the control of the Armed Forces of Pakistan who will exercise exclusive Jurisdiction and authority m these areas for enforcement of law and maintenance of public order. The Pakistan Army Act has been amended accordingly. The Armed Forces are now empowered to set up courts for the expeditious trial and punishment of offenders in these areas and they have also been delegated powers by the Federal Government to act under the Defence of Pakistan Ordinance and Rules.

"The President has Issued a proclamation declaring that a grave emergency exists and the security of Pakistan is threatened by internal disturbances. Consequently he has varied the existing proclamation of emergency.

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GOVERNMENT AND OPPOSITION BEGIN TALKS

DAWN June 5, 1977 (Editorial)

Well begun!

JUST as a journey of a thousand miles begins by taking one step, so the talks just begun between the Government and the Pakistan National Alliance can, hopefully, be said to signify the commencement of the undertaking to restore the body politic to political health. And what an auspicious and happy beginning it was! Against the ominous background of three months of bloody upheavals and a complete loss of trust between the two main political forces, the essential task was to create a proper, congenial atmosphere for the talks. The negotiators, thus, took first things first when they devoted Friday’s [June 3] inaugural session to the preliminary task of introducing tranquillity in a persistently volatile situation. That two sides sitting round a table of brotherhood can so easily achieve this initial purpose which recent experience had made awkwardly formidable demonstrates the validity of a dialogue as a means of overcoming their differences. It is good to see both sides making positive contributions towards improving the political climate. The Government has agreed to release the three remaining top leaders of the PNA who were still in jail and all those arrested for the violation of Section 144 since elections. No new cases are to be registered in this regard. It was also decided that Press censorship be removed forthwith and instructions be issued to the official publicity media, including Radio and TV, to refrain from comments that might affect the talks.

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MARATHON TALKS TURN OUT TO BE FRUITFUL

DAWN July 3, 1977 (News Report)

Govt, PNA reach accord

A view of the talks that all but saved the system. Seen here on the left are Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto flanked by Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Maulana Kausar Niazi representing the ruling party, while on the right are members of the opposition team led by Maulana Mufti Mahmud who is flanked by Nawabzadah Nasrullah Khan and Professor Ghafoor Ahmed. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives
A view of the talks that all but saved the system. Seen here on the left are Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto flanked by Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Maulana Kausar Niazi representing the ruling party, while on the right are members of the opposition team led by Maulana Mufti Mahmud who is flanked by Nawabzadah Nasrullah Khan and Professor Ghafoor Ahmed. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives

THE government and PNA negotiating teams after a marathon 10 and a half hour session, which ended at 6-25 this morning [July 2], announced agreement on the draft of their accord of June 15. Maulana Kausar Niazi and Prof. Ghafoor Ahmed, spokesmen for the Government and PNA respectively, told newsmen after the night-long meeting that points of differences had been sorted out and the draft agreement evolved on the basis of PNA’s revised draft was expected to be finally signed in a day or two after approval by the PNA Central Council. The meeting between Mr Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Prof. Ghafoor Ahmad started at the State Bank building at 6 pm and ended at 7.30 p.m. Retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan approached by newsmen late in the evening, meanwhile, struck a discordant note and said the draft accord hammered out last night contained many changes, several of them of a fundamental nature, in PNA’s revised draft, which was approved by the PNA Central Council as a final draft. He felt that the PNA negotiating team overreached itself by accepting these changes, because it was authorised only to submit the final draft to the Government and offer clarifications the latter sought.

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GENERAL ZIAUL HAQ TAKES OVER AS CMLA

DAWN July 6, 1977 (News Report)

Martial law is proclaimed

IN a lightning operation by Army Chief General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, the armed forces of Pakistan have taken over the country’s administration. Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, former Prime Minister, his Cabinet colleagues and top PNA leaders, except Begum Nasim Wali Khan, have been placed under protective custody temporarily. The National and Provincial Assemblies have been dissolved and the provincial Governments have been removed. All political activities have been banned till further orders.

The Army operations, conducted with swiftness late last night, followed an unending political crisis which began in March when the Opposition resorted to country-wide agitation alleging that the March elections were massively rigged. Over 300 persons were killed and Martial Law was imposed in four cities of Pakistan before the two sides were persuaded through the good offices of King Khalid to resolve the crisis through negotiations.

The talks began on June 3 after the top PNA leaders were released from two months’ detention and an agreement was reached on June 15 to hold fresh elections in October. But they failed in subsequent talks to agree on details and this ended in a deadlock yesterday.

In a broadcast to the nation this evening Gen. Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq promised to hold fair and free elections after which he said he will hand over power to the elected representatives of the people. A timetable for the elections will be announced by him shortly, and political activity will be restored before the elections. For the interim period he has formed a caretaker Government with himself as Chief Martial Law Administrator. President Fazal Elahi Chaudhry will continue in office. He will be assisted by a four-member Military Council comprising the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Shariff, Air Chief Martial Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Navy chief Admiral Shariff and Gen. Zia himself. The Chief Justices of the four provincial High Courts have been appointed Governors of their respective provinces. The provincial administration will be headed by provincial Martial Law Administrators. The Constitution has not been abrogated, but some of its parts have been put in abeyance. Civil courts will function as before, but Martial Law Regulations and Orders will not be challengeable in any court.

The Army action began at midnight and ended in the early hours of the morning, less than three hours after Mr Bhutto addressed a Press conference at his residence offering to reopen the dialogue with the Opposition but showing a great deal of reluctance to grant the concessions that the Opposition was asking for fair elections. According to informed sources, Mr Bhutto heard the Army command conveyed to him at about 2 a.m. with complete calm and readily accepted the choice to spend the rest of the night at the Prime Minister’s House. In the morning he was shifted to some undisclosed place, perhaps outside Rawalpindi. The Federal Ministers, including retired Gen. Tikka Khan, and others of the PPP were rounded up from their respective residences and lodged at an Army establishment in Rawalpindi.


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Small screen, big scream

By Javed Jabbar

A YOUNG Benazir Bhutto (extreme right) hosting a talk show on Pakistan Television. Sitting next to her on the panel is her brother Murtaza Bhutto. | Photo: The Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi Archives.
A YOUNG Benazir Bhutto (extreme right) hosting a talk show on Pakistan Television. Sitting next to her on the panel is her brother Murtaza Bhutto. | Photo: The Dr Ghulam Nabi Kazi Archives.

WITH round-the-clock, rush-to-screen images and sounds that invigorate the public sphere but also often mesh information and entertainment into discordance, television in Pakistan has completed half-a-century with some stellar accomplishments and abject failures.

In an era when socio-economic fissures intensify and technologies make rapid advances, new media economics hint that the next half century will bring radical changes to how the medium will distribute its message.

Viewing on smart-phones has already leapt up. Television intrusively determines content because news TV has become the big gallery to which the aggrieved public, politicians, lawyers, judiciary, armed forces and the private sector play and posture. Social media frequently overtakes TV, but not always. While the medium of television – and the media at large – has virtually become the message, the media itself accepts no responsibility for framing the message(s).

By inane, prolonged repetition of images and words, news television devalues its inherent capacity to enrich public knowledge. It magnifies and promotes the trivial to a scale undeserved. Fortunately, the non-news channels – global, national and local, state and private – periodically offer material that richly educates and entertains.

The evolution of television in Pakistan over a 50-year period can be divided into two parts. Part I: 1967-2002 when Pakistan Television Corporation was the principal state monopoly (Prior to Part I, there was a five-year period when pre-PTV Corporation entities provided limited signals even though PTV itself was officially inaugurated in 1964). Part II: 2002-17, when privately-owned channels came into operation under licences issued by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Currently, there are 88 channels, including about 40 news channels.

The last 15 years have seen a surge in the number of television channels and radio stations in the country. Seen here is a typical newsroom at a leading television channel, keeping track of multiple rivals to ensure being on the top of the competition.
The last 15 years have seen a surge in the number of television channels and radio stations in the country. Seen here is a typical newsroom at a leading television channel, keeping track of multiple rivals to ensure being on the top of the competition.

Within Part I, there was a sub-division. The first 10 years were so distinctive that even PTV could not match them in the next 40. With dynamic mobilisation of a wide range of talent, imparting training and skill development to hundreds, introducing innovative programmes, presenting for the first time a vivid daily portrait of the country’s varied and vibrant people, PTV’s first decade is aptly deemed the golden decade. From 1990 to 2002, the original monopoly was partly diluted. Shalimar Recording and Broadcasting Company, in which the federal government had, and still has, 56 per cent shares, was permitted to install terrestrial transmitters and re-telecast CNN to Pakistani audiences. Shalimar Television Network (STN) was also allowed to sell its non-news/current affairs time to a private party, Network Television Marketing (NTM), ignoring conflict-of-interest dimensions as NTM was aligned with an advertising agency. The STN system is now leased out to the ATV network.

MONOPOLY TO CACOPHONY

The 2002-17 phase represents a dramatic shift from one extreme of pure state monopoly to another extreme of private excess. The past 15 years have seen a phenomenal growth of private investment in TV and FM radio channels. This includes creation of thousands of new job opportunities; training of manpower (with some noticeable exceptions!); provision of multiple choices to audiences; increased range of language options; expansion of political and public discourse to become far more inclusive of diverse partisan viewpoints than it had generally been during PTV’s news monopoly; exposes of bad governance; improved presentation; occasionally well-written, directed and acted teleplays and serials; and, indeed, audacious caricature and satire.

Yet, the breadth of choice is not mostly accompanied by a proportionate depth in substance. There is proliferation without purpose, abundance without nuance, articulation without introspection. If the state channel has a pro-government bias, many private channels, subtly or crudely, manipulate their content, project their own biases and imbalances.

An obsession with events and incidents prevents examination of themes and trajectories, and legitimises sheer laziness behind the mask of chasing the ‘news’. Perhaps worst of all is the wilful neglect of aspects of culture, such as literature, classical music, painting, sculpture and theatre, while fashion shows, pop music and cricket become more ‘sponsorable’ content.

Based on a flawed revenue model of total reliance on income from advertising, private channels are infested by the virus of commercialism and cutthroat competition for ratings. This has led to a climb-down in the standards of debate and decorum in most talk-shows.

The valuable content-form of the carefully-researched, thoughtfully reflective film or documentary has almost disappeared. To be replaced by snappy ‘sorts’, ‘sound-bites’ or ‘capsules’ which are mostly superficial or sensationalist. Audiences are being brainwashed and conditioned with a surplus of conjecture, invective, mid-breaks, breaking news and futile frenzy. Attention Deficit Disorder is now a new media ailment, compounded by channels, and by smart phones.

PIONEERISM AND ACRIMONY

Thus, overall, evolution has proved to be a mixture of trailblazing pioneerism – by both PTV and private channels at different times – as also merely imitative ‘me-tooism’. There was a purposeful state role both at the outset in the 1960s and in creating a turning point in early 2000s when the state voluntarily ended its monopoly.

There is also a bitter acrimony between some private channels. This conflict further falsifies the myth of self-regulation which is actually a mask for self-interest.

For a sector that speaks the loudest about transparency and accountability, there is little or nothing of either about the financial aspects of television channels, about actual revenue, sources of advertising incomes and rates. While, as private limited companies, all are obliged to file annual data with the regulators and relevant authorities, the public at large remains completely uninformed about possible conflicts of interest, questionable practices et al.

Official regulation of private channels through PEMRA is marked by some creditable work in difficult conditions, including indiscriminate issuance of licenses with financial elements of eligibility receiving far more weightage than professional credentials of the applicants; using license and renewal fees to unduly accumulate income; attempts at strict enforcement of codes and rules often paralysed by legal stay orders that stay in place for years, instead of weeks; anarchy in the sub-sector of religious channels that commenced without licenses and have become untouchable for the wrong reasons; an inordinately large number of channels created by the blunder of permitting each of the 3,500 or so cable distributors to operate five of their own content channels, resulting in about 16,500 channels based on piracy of foreign content, and fragmentation of audiences; and lack of true independence as a regulatory body from the pressures of the state and the government.

DOWN MEMORY LANE

Right from ‘Alif Noon’ in its early days, PTV for long had a heavy dose of social satire that was much appreciated by the audiences. Seen here is a screen grab of the popular show Kaliyan which used puppets to amazing effect for more than a decade.
Right from ‘Alif Noon’ in its early days, PTV for long had a heavy dose of social satire that was much appreciated by the audiences. Seen here is a screen grab of the popular show Kaliyan which used puppets to amazing effect for more than a decade.

But when the present is too much with us, we owe the past a visit. And in PTV’s case, the past is still present. PTV’s first 50 years are a panorama of progressive change and regressive stagnation, of some promises fulfilled and enormous potential still unrealised. As the electronic visual gazette of the Pakistani state, PTV is a significant part of the country’s media history. From official documentarist to formal witness of public events to the promoter of an aspirational national singularity, PTV is a day-to-day recordist as well as an unrivalled decade-to-decade archivist of the country’s evolution over half-a-century.

While it is only natural that several individuals made outstanding contributions to the evolution of television in Pakistan, the list was surely headed by Aslam Azhar whose exceptional gift for leadership this writer calls ‘createlevity’. This includes several others who rarely appeared on-screen but were – and are – well-known. They all highly deserve being named here but for space limitations.

Aslam Azhar was in many ways the grand master of television in Pakistan. His association with PTV lasted intermittently from 1964 to 1989.
Aslam Azhar was in many ways the grand master of television in Pakistan. His association with PTV lasted intermittently from 1964 to 1989.

In 2017, PTV still remains a sober, tonally-balanced broadcaster compared to the hysterical, screeching approach of private news channels. Succumbing to the ‘breaking news’ option only when state and government events so require, but that too in a comparatively staid fashion, the country’s first channel is, to this day, its most well-behaved one.

The pre-dominance of governmental intrusion into internal management is evident in the fact that, of about 30 tenures of managing directors in about 50 years, only six individuals from within the specialised cadre of TV professionals were appointed as the head. Chairmen, with only a few exceptions, have almost always been secretaries of the Information Ministry.

This facet keeps PTV in the strait-jacket of a state entity. In its effort to ensure balance and fairness in news content and analysis, state ownership and governmental control are lethal. PTV is prevented from being seen as credible, to the extent that when it does attempt a balancing act, a strong predetermined perception obstructs a fair evaluation of its unconventional content.

In terms of finances, PTV continues to enjoy the unfair monopoly of being the sole recipient of television license fees. Automatically added to electricity bills, the license fees subsidy contributes 65-70 per cent of its total revenue. It also receives annual allocations under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), which is not always fully utilised. But it likes to have its cake and eat it too. Benefiting exclusively from the license fees, PTV also competes with private channels for commercial advertising revenue – unlike BBC within the UK which is the sole recipient of license fees but does not accept advertising.

JUSTIFIED SCEPTICISM

This writer began his relationship with television as a sceptic who soon converted willingly into a freelance contributor. The context of association for over 50 years has changed with time: as viewer, independent content-provider, advertising practitioner, public-interest litigator, legislative monitor, cabinet minister-cum-media policymaker in three governments and drafter of the EMRA (1997), RAMBO (2000, which became PEMRA in 2002 ) ordinances, media commentator, Supreme Court-appointed mediator on intra-television sector conflicts, and member of the SC-appointed Media Commission. That being so, one has had the privilege of a close, continuous nexus with this mass medium from several perspectives.

Four conclusions emerge.

One: That in the swelling crowd of channels there is still not a single authentic public service broadcaster independent of the government and un-dependent on advertising.

Two: That substantial, long overdue reforms for PEMRA, PTV, private channels and advertising should be conducted by parliament, judiciary, government, advertisers, civil society and media/TV channels themselves. Many such proposed reforms await action through the Media Commission’s Recommendations pending with the Supreme Court since 2013.

Three: That the basic policy changes one introduced as a cabinet minister in 1988-89, 1996-97, 2000 became as transient as personal tenures or governments because most could not be made structural and institutional, often due to reluctance at the highest level. The only exception was the eventual enforcement of PEMRA in 2002, but, alas, even that was riddled with mis-steps, such as permitting unchecked cross-media ownership, etc.

Four: The more one studies the ambivalent role of television, the more one returns to the scepticism about this medium which one began with. In other words – when the more things change, do they remain even more the same?


Details about the writer’s work are at www.javedjabbar.com


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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's speech at the Second Islamic Summit Conference in February 1974

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's statement on the nuclear policy of Pakistan

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's address in Dera Bugti

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General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq declares Martial Law on July 5, 1977

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In conversation with Aslam Azhar

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