Political Role Angered Pakistan's Army

By Lewis M. Simons
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 6, 1977

BANGKOK, Thailand, July 5, 1977 -- Army resentment at being used to quell opposition to Prime Minister Zulfigar Ali Bhutto ignited this morning's military coup in Pakistan.

The army, which has been the dominant force in Pakistani politics almost from the founding of the Islamic state 30 years ago, was under constant public pressure since being drawn into the bloody aftermath of the general elections in March.

When police in Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad and other major cities proved incapable of containing demonstrations against Bhutto, the army was sent in and martial law declared. Since then, growing numbers of military men have concluded that the army was being misused for political ends.

The nine-party opposition Pakistan National Alliance quickly sensed the explosiveness of confrontation between military forces and unarmed civilian demonstrators and played its dangerous hand to the utmost, forcing troops to kill unarmed civilians in street demonstrations.

The result was the military takeover an the end of the latest of Pakistan's erratic experiments with democracy.

Both Alliance and Bhutto must share the blame for this failure.

The opposition, particularly its most rigid anti-Bhutto member, retired Air Marshal Ashgar Khan, believed it could put pressure on the army and still retain civilian rule.

Bhutto, who was desperate to keep the power he has held since the loss of East Pakistan in 1971, tried to make the army stand by him against its instincts.

Ultimately, the army decided to seize control rather than see its ranks shattered by internal dissent. Only the army and the bond of Islam hold Pakistan together and if the handful of recent resignations by senior officers had begun to spread, civil war would have been probable.

In this context, the army and its chief of staff, Gen. Mohammed Ziaul Huq. apparently must be credited with a last-ditch attempt to rescue the nation, rather than accused of a self-serving grab for power.

Three weeks ago, when the Alliance and Bhutto appeared to have reached agreement on scheduling fresh elections in October, a military source in Islamabad, the capital, said the army was prepared "to do everything in its power to keep from going back into the streets." This was a reference to the army's role in killing civilians demonstrating against Bhutto.

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© 1977 The Washington Post Company