“If a wound has befallen you, a wound like it has already befallen others. We alternate the days of successes and reverses among peoples.” According to Iqbal, this is one of those verses of the Quran which can help us study history as a sign of God. The following is an example of how we may apply it.
One of the most critical periods in the history of British democracy lasted from 1640 to 1689, witnessing the reigns of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, Charles II, James II, William III and Mary II. We might be able to see that democracy in Pakistan has also been evolving in a somewhat similar manner since 1970.
By looking at these parallels from the perspective of those who created Pakistan, we can make certain predictions about the future, foresee an impending disaster and find solutions ahead of time. So, let’s begin by noticing the most obvious parallels.
Charles I dissolved the Short Parliament (lasting only three weeks in 1640), and entered into a conflict with the Long Parliament (established in 1640 and outliving Charles). This conflict led to two civil wars in England, a long and disastrous one in 1642-1643, and a shorter one in 1648-1649. The second of these led to the execution of Charles I in 1649.
Likewise, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came into conflict with two parliaments, respectively convened after the elections of 1970 and 1977. In the first instance, he famously declared that he would “break the legs” of anybody who dared attend the session of the parliament. In the second instance, he called the parliament although almost the entire opposition had boycotted it. The two conflicts led to two civil wars: the more disastrous one in East Pakistan in 1971, and a much lesser one in West Pakistan in March-April 1977 (usually downplayed by our historians). The second civil war led to the ousting of Bhutto from power and his execution in 1979, just as the second civil war in England had led to the execution of Charles I.
It is impossible to miss the striking similarities between the two men who got Charles and Bhutto executed, respectively, Oliver Cromwell and General Ziaul Haque. Both rose to power at the head of armies, both claimed to be Godly men and tried to introduce religious laws, and both were maligned after their death (much of what a British professor is saying about Cromwell in the video embedded below can be repeated by a Pakistani professor about Zia).
At the end of the eleven-year Interregnum period initiated by Cromwell, the heir of the deceased king returned from exile and was crowned as Charles II. Likewise, after the end of the Zia era (which also lasted eleven years), the daughter of Bhutto assumed power after having returned from exile.
In many ways, the regime of Benazir Bhutto set the precedent for most of the elected rulers in Pakistan since then, such as Nawaz Sharif, Iftikhar Gilani and others. Hence, these rulers can be collectively treated as the Pakistani counterparts of Charles II.
For instance, Charles II asserted his superiority over the parliament and became an absolute monarch in 1681, almost two decades after his return. This situation arose in Pakistan, not during the lifetime of Benazir but rather between 2014 and 2017, when the people began to feel that the families of Sharif and Bhutto-Zardari were becoming dynastic rulers all but in name. Just as Charles II got away with his actions because the parliament was reluctant to take up arms against a king once again and risking another civil war, so the army in Pakistan was reluctant to assume power in 2017, unlike its role in the past.
In Britain, the next ruler was James II (ascending the throne in 1685), and in Pakistan it was Imran Khan. (staring in 2018). The similarities between the two are uncanny. Being a convert to Catholicism, James II was popular among a minority of the population consisting of his co-religionists, who hailed him as an embodiment of liberalism and enlightenment, while the majority loathed him and called him arrogant and high-handed. Unfortunately, this also remained true about Imran Khan, although due to reasons other than religious affiliations.
James II dismissed the parliament almost as soon as he assumed power in 1685, and likewise, Imran Khan started his reign by entering into a conflict with the parliament, and subsequently ran his government almost entirely through extra-parliamentary ordinances instead of legislation approved by the parliament.
In his final act of defiance on 3 April 2022, Imran has dissolved the national assembly after declaring the majority of its members as unfit to hold office (the members opposed to him on that day were at least 195 in a house of 342). In Britain, the country found itself on the verge of a crisis and possibly another civil war within three years of the reign of James II, and the same appears to be the case in Pakistan in April 2022, after less than four years of the rule of Imran Khan.
What happened at that point in the history of Britain, and whether or not it is also happening in Pakistan, is something which we will see in the next episode of this series, “Glorious Revolution and the constitutional monarchy in Pakistan”.