The Pakistan supporters were divided into two camps; one may be loosely defined as the group that swore by democracy while the other was vaguely attached to the concept of a religious state. The roots of Zia’s Pakistan lay in this division.

Dawn [July 2nd, 2017]

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was a Pakistani military officer and politician. He served as the sixth president of Pakistan from 1978 till his death in 1988. He also served as the second chief of army staff from 1976 until his death. 

But Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq is considered to be a highly controversial figure in the country’s history.  

Here’s why-

In July 1977, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq organized the Operation Fair Play, which lead to the overthrow of the government of prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His policies directed the Islamization in Pakistan, escalated the country’s atomic bomb project and instituted industrialization and de-regulation, which significantly improved Pakistan’s economy. While his supporters hail him as a “hero” who prevented a wider Soviet incursion in the South Asian region, the rest of Pakistan views him as the man who was responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and militancy in the country. 

Zia-ul-Haq Family Background and Early Education

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was born on August 12, 1924, in Jalandhar, Punjab Province, British India. His father served in the Army General Headquarters in Delhi. He received his education in Shimla and graduated with distinction in History from St. Stephens College, Delhi. He then joined the Indian Military Academy and was commissioned as an officer in May 1945. 

On August 10, 1950, he married his cousin Shafiq Jahan in Lahore, who later became the First Lady of Pakistan. Begum Shafiq Jahan focused on domestic initiatives for the welfare of disabled individuals and combating drug addiction among youth. The couple had five children, including Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq, Anwar-ul-Haq, Zain, Rubina Saleem, and Quratulain Zia.

Glimpse of Zia-ul-Haq Military Career 

  • After graduating from the Mhow Officer Training School, Zia was commissioned into the British Indian Army on the 12th of May 1943. He was posted to the 13th Lancers which was a cavalry unit equipped with tanks. He also participated in the Burma and the Malayan campaign of the Pacific War during the Second World War, in May 1945, against the Imperial Japanese Army.
  • During the partition of India in 1947, Zia served as the escort officer for the last train of refugees leaving Babina, an armored corps training center in Uttar Pradesh. The journey was challenging and dangerous due to the communal violence that erupted during the partition.  
  • In September 1950, Zia joined the Guides Cavalry Unit, an armored regiment of the Pakistan Army that originated in 1846 as The Corps of Guides. The Corps of Guides was initially established as part of the British Indian Army, composed of British officers and Indian enlisted soldiers, to serve on the North West Frontier. 
  • He was trained in the United States during 1962-1964 at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 
  • During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Zia is believed to have served as the Assistant Quartermaster of the 101st  Infantry Brigade. 

Role in Black September  

Black September, also known as the Jordanian Civil War, was a conflict fought in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan between the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  Brigadier Zia was placed as the head of a Pakistan training mission to Jordan from 1967 to 1970. He was involved on the Jordanian side of the military conflict against Palestinian insurgents. 

Rising through the Ranks of the Army 

After the significant role he played in Black September, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Governor. He was appointed as the commander of the II Strikes Corp in Multan in 1975. It was Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who later elevated the then three star rank Lieutenant-General Zia as the Chief of Army Staff on the 1st of March 1976, which made him a four-star rank officer. 

Events That Lead To The Coup

Phase 1 – The Unrest

As the term of Prime Minister Bhutto progressed, he came under a lot of criticism and unpopularity throughout the country. The government of Bhutto was condemned for its inefficiency leading to issues like inflation, corruption, and a deteriorating law and order situation. These issues led to widespread public dissatisfaction. 

Phase 2 – The Protest

On January 8th 1977, a large number of opposition parties came together and formed the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) and participated in the fresh elections called by Bhutto. The PNA lost the elections but alleged that the results were rigged. On March 11th, the alliance called for a nationwide strike and this led to demonstrations across the country and the demand for fresh elections. Around 200 people were killed in the encounters between the protestors and security forces. They proceeded to boycott the provincial elections, despite which there was a high voter turnout for the national elections.

Phase 3 – The Compromise

The turnout for provincial elections was quite low and Bhutto’s government was viewed as illegitimate. Soon, all the opposition party leaders conspired to overthrow Bhutto’s regime because of which political and civil disorder intensified in the country which led to more unrest. In this political climate, Bhutto imposed a martial law in the major cities of Karachi, Lahore, and Hyderabad. However, Bhutto and the opposition leaders reached a compromise. Zia now started planning the Coup very cautiously as he knew that Bhutto had strong loyalists within the Pakistan Armed Forces.

The Military Coup of 1977 – Operation Fair Play

The coup d’etat which was codenamed ‘Operation Fair Play’ came to light in the small hours of 5th July 1977. 

Before the announcement of any agreement, Bhutto and the members of his cabinet were arrested by the troops of the military police by the orders of Zia. When Prime Minister Bhutto tried to call Zia, all the telephone lines were disconnected and it was reported later that Zia told Bhutto that he was sorry that he had to perform such an “unpleasant task”. Zia initially tried to justify that coup stating that the talks between Mr. Bhutto and the opposition had broken down and if at all they had reached at a common consensus he would not have gone ahead with the decision. Zia also argued that Bhutto had planned a civil war by distributing weapons to his supporters which also necessitated the prospect of the operation. But since there was no evidence to support this claim, Bhutto was not prosecuted on this ground. 

After deposing Prime Minister Bhutto, Zia declared martial law and appointed himself as the Chief Martial Law Administrator, which remained till he became the President on 16th September 1978. 

General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq Becomes The  President of Pakistan 

Even after the dismissal of Bhutto’s government, President Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry was persuaded to remain in office as a figurehead. After he completed his tenure Chaudhry resigned despite Zia insisting him to accept an extension. After Chaudhry’s resignation, Zia took to the office of President of Pakistan on the 16th of September 1978.  

General Zia ul Haq knew that Bhutto was a man of strong nerves and therefore he hanged Bhutto to save his neck. Today, there is a consensus in Pakistan that Bhutto’s death was a judicial murder and that General Zia-ul-Haq was a usurper. After Bhutto’s execution, the pressure to hold elections began to mount because of both international and domestic pressure. But before handing out power to the elected representatives, he attempted to secure his position as the head of state.  On 19th December 1984 a referendum was passed with the option to elect or reject the General as the future President. But it was also declared thaf making a vote against Zia was held to be a vote against Islam. 

Finally the votes were cast – According to official figures 97.8% of votes were casted in favor of Zia, however only 20% of the electorate participated in the referendum. 

Islamization Policies of General Zia-ul-Haq’s Regime

Like the previous military governments, General Zia preferred a presidential form of government as opposed to a parliamentary democracy. 

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq established a consultative council called the Majlis-e-Shoora, which consisted of 350 members nominated by the President. However, their role was limited to endorsing decisions already taken by the government.

Zia’s primary policy was the Islamization of Pakistan. He enforced the Nizam-e-Mustafa (Rule of the Prophet) and introduced Sharia benches in High Courts. He appointed activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami party to government posts and added conservative ulama to the Council of Islamic Ideology. 

Jamaat-e-Islami or Jamaat as it is simply known, is an Islamist political party based in Pakistan and founded by Abul Ala Maududi. It is the Pakistani successor to Jamaat-e-Islami which was founded in colonial India in 1941. Its objective is the transformation of Pakistan into an Islamic state, governed by Sharia law, through a gradual legal, and political process.

Restrictions Imposed by Zia’s Regime in Pakistan –

WomenUnder Zia’s regime, women faced restrictions, such as the requirement to cover their heads in public schools and limited participation in sports and performing arts. Women’s legal testimony was given half the weight of a man’s. 

The Hudood Ordinances- The Hudood Ordinance, which introduced punishments like whipping, amputation, and stoning to death for adultery and fornication, was implemented.

Denouncing Western culture and music- Zia denounced Western culture and music, and national television stopped playing music videos. Taxes were imposed on the film industry, resulting in the closure of many cinemas. 

Profit and loss accounts- The interest payments were replaced by “profit and loss” accounts and un-Islamic material was removed from the textbooks. 

Increase in religious madrassas- The government-sponsored traditional religious madrassas, and the number of madrassas grew significantly. 

Zia’s Legacy

Though Zia’s tenure is considered to be quite controversial he still remains a polarizing figure in Pakistan’s history. He has been given various names by authors such as “The Ringmaster”, “Master of Illusion” and “Master Tactician”. 

Jamaat-e-Islami party is remembered for his indirect involvement and military strategies by proxy supporting the Mujahideen, against the USSR’s war in Afghanistan. He also escalated Pakistan’s atomic bomb project and instituted industrialization and deregulation which made Pakistan’s economy to become the fastest growing in South east Asia, overseeing the highest GDP growth in the country’s history. He is also credited for boosting the early career of Nawaz Sharif, who would later be appointed to the post of Prime Minister thrice. He also offered a political position to the then cricketer Imran Khan who later became the Prime Minister of Pakistan on 18th August 2018. He also passed “The Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance 1981” which provided measures for employment, rehabilitation and welfare of people with disabilities. The 1980s also gave birth to Pakistan rock music, which expressed Pakistani nationalism in the country. 

I believe that though Haq is physically dead, his pernicious ideology is very much alive in Pakistan

Majid Siddiqui, Journalist