Pakistan was created out of the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, which led to mass migration and terrible massacres of both Muslims and Hindus. Pakistan suffered a further partition when East Pakistan broke away in 1971 and claimed independence. The secession met with harsh repression by the Pakistan army, thousands of refugees fled to India, and the Indian army invaded Pakistan, ensuring recognition of an independent Bangladesh. Pakistani politics have also been marked by long period of military rule.
There have nevertheless been campaigns of predominantly nonviolent resistance to the military, using strikes, boycotts, demonstrations and hunger strikes,, although protests often turned into riots, and there was also fighting between factions, often in the universities. (Factional strife became more bloody in the 1980s when guns were widely available, as Pakistan became enmeshed in guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan.)
The first campaign of popular resistance took place in 1968-69, when workers and students, supported by peasants, women and school children, brought to an end the government of General Ayub Khan in March 1969. Although he handed over rule to the commander-in-chief General Yahya Khan, who immediately imposed martial law, this was a significant example of people power. The resistance, in which Zulfikar Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, played a prominent role, involved remarkable solidarity between West and East Pakistan, and continued after the imposition of martial law.
Bhutto headed a civilian government from the end of 1971 to 1977, when he was ousted by General Zia and executed, after a sham trial, in 1979. The second campaign of national resistance to military rule began in April 1981, the anniversary of Bhutto’s execution, with a pilgrimage to his grave. In 1981 the opposition parties came together to form the Movement to Restore Democracy – the Bhutto family, held under arrest, were a focal point for much of the opposition. Students took the initiative in demonstrating, supported openly by academics, doctors and lawyers, and less openly by many others. When the regime arrested leaders of the Movement to Restore Democracy, the Movement called for mass strikes and political non-cooperation across Pakistan.
In 1983 the Movement again launched mass protests, courting arrest. Popular protests in Sindh spread to other provinces, with the Bar Association demanding immediate elections. This campaign was not quelled until October 1983, after hundreds had been killed by the army, crops burned and villages destroyed. However, the Movement called on supporters to boycott Zia’s referendum to impose Islamic law and subsequent sham elections to the National Assembly.
Martial law was formally lifted at the end of 1985, and political campaigning by political parties, especially the PPP, increased, but genuine elections were not granted until after the death of Zia in an air crash in August 1988. Although Benazir Bhutto (daughter of Zulfikar) was elected as prime minister in December 1988, and held office from 1988-90 and 1993-96, the military has continued to intervene in Pakistani politics. General Musharraf seized power in a coup in 1999 and did not stand down as President until 2008. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007, when she returned from exile to contest elections. The impact of the crises in Afghanistan has also made Pakistani politics and society more violent and open to extremism.
In such adverse conditions there has been little space for further civil resistance. Yet the ‘Lawyers Movement’, launched in March 2007 to contest the unconstitutional ousting of the Chief Justice, gained his reinstatement after a campaign of protest lawyers and lawyers across Pakistan boycotting courts. The lawyers have continued to campaign for respect for the rule of law, the constitution, and civil rights. For example in January 2009 the Lahore High Court Bar Association launched a campaign for 20 million signatures and in March called for a ‘Long March’ in which many political groups participated. This movement has been covered in the daily press and other media, but is not yet very well documented – two references are included here with the literature on earlier protests.
The earlier campaigns against military rule in 1968-69 and the 1980s have also received little attention in the west; books on Pakistan tend to focus entirely on government actions and political leaders, but a few relevant sources are listed below.