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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK

World: South Asia

Echoes of General Zia

No curfew under this coup or under the previous one

By South Asia analyst Alastair Lawson

The similarities between the two most recent military takeovers in Pakistan are startling.

Twenty-three years General Zia ul-Haq took power in a bloodless coup.

He remained in power for 11 years until his death in an explosion aboard his aeroplane.

[ image: General Zia: Was in power for 11 years]
General Zia: Was in power for 11 years
Opposition leaders in 1977 were placed under house arrest in what was called temporary protective custody: exactly the same phrase used by today's military leaders.

When General Zia took over he said his government would limit itself to organising an election and making arrangements for an orderly return to civilian government.

General Musharraf's aides have hinted that they have similar objectives.

BBC reports immediately after General Zia seized power indicated that martial law in Pakistan was more restrained than harsh.

Then as now there was no curfew, no overt military presence on the streets and no rigid censorship of the press.

The military's reasons for intervening in 1977 also bear an uncanny resemblance to the reasons provided by the army for launching Tuesday's takeover: General Zia said that the government of the deposed prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had destabilised Pakistan.

Mr Bhutto was hanged in 1979.

General Zia said the army was forced to intervene because of the grave predicament of Pakistan: last week General Pervez Musharraf said that the deposed prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has undermined Pakistan's key institutions to such an extent that the army was left with no choice but to step in.

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