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ZIA LEGACY: Why Pakistan is fighting others wars?

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General Zia-ul-Haq

That credit goes to General Ziaul Haq, the military dictator who ruled Pakistan for 11 years. He became the biggest ‘importer’ of “others’ war”, being that of the US and the Western world, in Afghanistan. In the process, he made Pakistan the biggest ‘exporter’ of terrorism. October 17 marks three decades to Zia’s mysterious and controversial death in an air crash. Since his death, the subsequent generations till date, at least the educated and liberal classes, have blamed Zia for everything that has gone wrong with Pakistan, for pushing the society back by many decades and making it one of the principal hubs of terrorism….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

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General Zia-ul-Haq

The new leadership promising its people “Naya Pakistan” has said that the country would no longer fight “others’ wars.” Pakistan’s past record, however, has been that it has done only that since it came into being seven decades back.

It launched the invasion in Kashmir because its British mentors inimical to India wanted it. It joined the military blocs, SEATO and CENTO, to play the Western cats-paw against communist Russia and China. In 1960, American pilot Gary Powers flew a U-2 reconnaissance plane out of a secret base at Bradaber near Peshawar and was shot down by the Soviet missile.

Pakistan has sent forces to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other places to perform its self-styled role of the leader of the Muslim Ummah.

After touching on the past, let’s talk of the present. There is talk of Saudi Arabia asking it to deploy troops to Yemen, something that the Nawaz Sharif Government had thwarted. Sharif was close to Saudi royalty, while Imran Khan and his country are close to bankruptcy and will perhaps succumb to Saudi pressures.

The talk of not fighting ‘others’ wars” is at once an attempt to garner patriotic sentiment at home and an angry signal to the United States, their bilateral relationship in serious trouble after President Donald Trump called Pakistanis ‘liars.’

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS) by .
Nawaz Sharif  (File Photo: Xinhua/PID/IANS)

But US-Pak relations are already on the mend.  Pakistan is set to seek the largest-ever loan of up to eight billion dollars from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The US had blocked IMF loan to Pakistan warning the IMF that the funds would be used to service Pakistan’s huge debts to China.

The change could not have come without a green signal from Washington and from Beijing, the latter being unwilling to finance beyond a point Pakistan’s debt-ridden economy.   So, the “others’ wars” is no more than a temporary charade, which is the way Pakistan has befooled the world.

But this is not about Pakistan, its economy, China and the US. This is about Mohammed Ziaul Haq, the military dictator who ruled Pakistan for 11 years. He became the biggest ‘importer’ of “others’ war”, being that of the US and the Western world, in Afghanistan. In the process, he made Pakistan the biggest ‘exporter’ of terrorism.

October 17 marks three decades to Zia’s mysterious and controversial death in an air crash, the same day in 1988. Since his death, the subsequent generations till date, at least the educated and liberal classes, have blamed Zia for everything that has gone wrong with Pakistan, for pushing the society back by many decades and making it one of the principal hubs of terrorism.

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General Zia-ul-Haq death coverage

Zia was killed as a result of suspected sabotage of his plane that was returning from Bahawalpur after witnessing demonstration of American Abrams tanks. Along with him the US ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphael and top Pakistani army officers died. America, India, Russia and many more were speculated of hatching a conspiracy. But the sabotage could more likely have been internal in the form of baskets of Bahawalpuri mangoes that were actually explosives.

Raphael’s wife Robin retained soft corner for Pakistan and was recently accused of compromising American interests by a US Congressional investigation. The matter was closed so as not to invite more embarrassment.

It is clear Zia could not have prevented two world events that happened next door to Pakistan in 1979: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Iranian revolution that ended the monarchy and ushered in the rule of the Ayatollahs. But many think he and his country, while profiting from it, chewed more than they could digest and invited misery and trouble, among them half a million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan even today.

Zia’s ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul worked as much for the US as for Pakistan. Maulana Fazlur Rahman trained thousands of soldiers, not in piety but in wielding arms as the Mujahideen fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. After the Afghan war, these fighters of different nationalities went back home to start ‘jihad’ in their countries. HUJI and JMB in Bangladesh are major examples of this. The biggest example, undoubtedly, was Osama bin Laden who opposed Saudi Arabian regime, triggered 9/11 and eventually returned to hide in Pakistan, to be killed by the Americans in 2011.

 Chief of Jamaat-e-Islami Siraj-ul-Haq (C) waves to supporters during a protest rally against Israeli offensive on Gaza Strip in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan on Aug. 10, 2014. . (Xinhua/Ahmad Kamal) (zjy)

Internally, Zia pushed Pakistan on the one-way road to religious extremism, militancy and terrorism. He strengthened the military hold over Pakistan’s polity many times more than what it had before it caused the break-up and birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

Being a Sunni, Zia favoured them over Shias and other groups. Being of Deobandi order, he pitted them against Barelvi. The rivalry has continuously re-surfaced. The latest is the Tehreek-Labbaik-Pakistan of Khadim Husain Rizvi that marked its presence in the last general elections.

Sectarian violence multiplied under Zia when Sunni extremists targeted Shias and religious minorities like Ahmedis (declared non-Muslim earlier), Christians and Hindus.

His biggest contribution to polity has been Islamization – multiple measures to establish Nizam-e-Mustapha. He kept saying that Islam was “in trouble” and the joke within and outside of Pakistan was that Islam was not in trouble — till Zia began to serve it.

How much of Zia’s motivation came from piety and how much from political calculation is arguable. For instance, he was conspicuously silent on the dispute between the heterodox Zikri and the ‘Ulama in Balochistan where he needed stability. Secular and leftist forces accused Zia of manipulating Islam for political ends.

The success Zia had using state-sponsored Islamisation to strengthen national cohesion is also disputed. Religious riots broke out in 1983 and 1984. Sectarian divisions between Sunnis and Shia worsened over the issue of the 1979 Zakat ordinance, but differences also arose in marriage and divorce, inheritance and wills and imposition of Hudood punishments. (Hudood means limits or restrictions, as in limits of acceptable behaviour in Islamic law.)

One of his first and most controversial measures to Islamize Pakistani society was the replacement of parts of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) with the 1979 “Hudood Ordinance.” The Ordinance added new criminal offences of adultery and fornication to Pakistani law, and new punishments of whipping, amputation, and stoning to death.

Jalaluddin Haqqani

For theft or robbery, the PPC punishments of imprisonment or fine, or both, were replaced by amputation of the right hand of the offender for theft, and amputation of the right hand and left foot for robbery. For Zina (extramarital sex) the provisions relating to adultery were replaced by the Ordinance with punishments of flogged 100 lashes for those unmarried offenders, and stoning to death for married offenders.

All these punishments required four Muslim men “of good repute” testifying as witness to the crime. This was seldom met. As of 2014, no offender has been stoned or had limbs amputated by the Pakistani judicial system. To be found guilty of theft, zina, or drinking alcohol by less strict tazir standards—where the punishment was flogging and/or imprisonment—was common, and there have been many floggings.

More worrisome for human rights and women’s rights advocates, lawyers and politicians was the incarceration of thousands of rape victims on charges of zina. The onus of providing proof in a rape case rests with the woman herself. Uncorroborated testimony by women was inadmissible in Hudood crimes. If the victim/accuser was unable to prove her allegation, bringing the case to court was considered equivalent to a confession of sexual intercourse outside of lawful marriage.

The ordinance remained in force until the Women’s Protection Bill was passed in 2006. Another military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, had it removed in the face of opposition from his ministers, including Religious Affairs Minister Ijzul Haq, son of Zia. He had to preside over the cabinet meetings to ensure that, and only watered-down legislations were passed.

Although the Sharia punishments were imposed, the due process, witnesses, law of evidence, and prosecution system remained Anglo-Saxon. This hybridisation of Pakistan penal code with Islamic laws was difficult because of the difference in the underlying logic of the two legal systems. PPC is kingly law, Hadood is a religious and community-based law.

He played havoc with the society. The order for women to cover their heads while in public was implemented in public schools, colleges and state television. Women’s participation in sports and the performing arts was severely restricted. Following Sharia law, women’s legal testimony was given half the weight of a man’s. Unlike men, women entering into legal contracts were required to have their signature witness by another person.

In 1980 the “Zakat and Ushr Ordinance, 1980” was implemented. The measure called for a 2.5 percent annual deduction from personal bank accounts on the first day of Ramadan, with Zia stating that the revenues would be used for poverty relief. Zakat committees were established to oversee distribution of the funds.

In 1981 interest payments were replaced by “profit and loss” accounts (though profit was thought to be simply interest by another name). Textbooks were overhauled to remove “un-Islamic” material, and un-Islamic books were removed from libraries. Eating and drinking during Ramadan was outlawed, attempts were made to enforce praying five times a day.

 by . More controversial have been the Blasphemy ordinances. To outlaw blasphemy, the PPC and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) were amended through ordinances in 1980, 1982 and 1986. The 1980 law prohibited derogatory remarks against Islamic personages, and carried a three-year prison sentence. In 1982 the small Ahmadiyya religious minority were prohibited from saying or implying they were Muslims. In 1986 declaring anything implying disrespect to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Ahl al-Bayt (family members of Muhammad), Sahabah (companions of Muhammad) or Sha’ar-i-Islam (Islamic symbols) was made a cognisable offence, punishable with imprisonment or fine, or both.

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard for criticizing blasphemy laws. The Supreme Court has reserved ruling on punishment to Asia Bibi, a Christian accused of blasphemy.

Zia leaned heavily on Islam and ulema due to lack of popular support. Some of his concessions to ulema still haunt to this day.

By 1984, he was feeling so confident about the strength of his constituents – comprising ulema, spiritual leaders, business community and the military – that he decided to hold a referendum that asked if people wanted Islamic laws in the country and if their answer was to be yes then that automatically meant that they wanted Zia as the president of Pakistan for the next five years. Nobody came out to vote.

Another gift of Zia’s era was the radicalisation of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. Its prayer leader, Muhammad Abdullah, was close to the general before he became close to the Afghan Taliban’s chief Mullah Omar and senior al-Qaeda leaders. It took another military dictator, Musharraf  two decades later to uproot the extremist influence from Lal Masjid in a bloody operation in 2007.  But a direct fall-out of the operation that killed a hundred people was the birth of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Beyond his religious hypocrisy, his actual enduring legacy is his systematic decimation of parliamentary democracy. He introduced the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan in 1985 to protect his martial law from judicial review and acquire the power to sack an elected government and legislature on a whim. He exercised that power to dismiss the government of Prime Minister Muhammed Khan Junejo in 1988. The same amendment was subsequently used three times in the 1990s to remove democratic governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif midway through their tenures.

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General Zia-ul-Haq

Zia’s crackdown on political dissidents and journalists resulted in the arrest of thousands of people. Many of them were incarcerated and tortured in the basements of Lahore Fort because the jails were all spilling over. Public floggings of criminals and political opponents were a routine affair and hangings were often projected widely in the media to scare people into submission.

Zia also banned student unions in 1984, virtually ending youth engagement with politics in general and political challenge against fascist forms of conservatism in particular. The effects of this repression were felt throughout the next two decades as political engagement among the urban, educated middle and upper-middle classes started going down and violent groups organised on non-political grounds of religion, sect and linguistic prejudice assumed massive firepower to deadly consequences.

Guns and drugs proliferated in his era. It was the age of Kalashnikovs and heroin. Automatic weapons, originally meant for Afghan mujahideen, were either smuggled into Pakistan or their replicas were produced in factories in tribal areas. Drugs produced in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan were a major source of funding for the anti-Soviet warriors in Afghanistan. Illegal manufacturing and smuggling of both guns and drugs continue to this day in Pakistan.

There is no way Zia can be absolved of his tyranny and the havoc he wreaked on the Constitution, democracy and political parties.  Pakistan lives down his legacy, now that it has become part of its DNA.