EducationPakistan Studies

Reasons for Zia ul Haq’s Coming to Power in Pakistan

This post discusses the reasons behind Zia ul Haq coming to power and the reforms he introduced during his rule.   

Agitation of opposition in the wake of the 1977 elections and subsequent imposition of emergency by Bhutto encouraged Zia to take over the power. 

Agitation of opposition

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had won a landslide victory in the General Elections of 1977. It had won 154 seats out of a total of 200 at the center against 38 seats of the opposition.  The election results were rejected by the opposition parties which had allied against the PPP with the name of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA).  PNA accused the government of rigging – thereby starting fierce agitation and demanding fresh elections. 

Initially, Bhutto refused to hold fresh elections in any single constituency terming allegations PNA baseless.  Bhutto was confident bring the situation to normalcy. To his disappointment, the agitation spread throughout the country fueled with religious slogans against Bhutto’s land reforms and nationalization as anti-Islamic acts.

Mass protests followed by rioting in the towns and cities made it difficult for Bhutto to govern. His federal Security Force seemed to have failed in maintaining law and order in the country. As a last resort, Bhutto called in the army by imposing a state of emergency in the country. 

The imposition of the state of emergency

The widespread agitation compelled Bhutto to negotiate with the opposition. He offered re-elections in the disputed constituencies. In a bid to appease the religious parties, he banned gambling, restricted the sale of alcohol, and declared Friday as the Weekly holiday. Despite the strictest security steps taken and efforts to appease the opposition, Bhutto failed to reach any reconciliation with PNA.

In a bid to calm down the deteriorating law and order situation in the country,  Bhutto declared a state of emergency by placing the country under Martial Law. A state of emergency meant that the army would work under the orders of the prime minister and would go back to barracks once things law and order situation was normalized. 

Contrary to the expectation of Bhutto, the military took the concessions made to the opposition as a symbol of the weakness of Bhutto. For the military, Bhutto’s demonstration of weakness would lead to further unrest in the country and it was the time to act in the greater interest of the nation.

Consequently, the army staged a coup named ‘Operation Fairplay’, arrested Bhutto and all prominent political figures.  With the overthrow of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, Zia ul Haq, the army chief assumed the role of Chief Martial Administrator and reigned the country for 11 eleven years. 

Noor Akber

I am a social activist and educationist. I write on politics, culture, education and economy.

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