Why Blame Zia?


On the eve of Ziaul Haq’s 27th death anniversary, his name still generates an animated response from Pakistanis. Browse around social media or the English press, and one gets the impression that there is no leader more disliked than him. He was brutal. He was un-democratic. He was authoritative. He destroyed Pakistan’s moderate socio-political fabric and turned the country into the fragile fundamentalist haven it is today.

Or did he?

Zia was an apolitical figure, or so Zulfikar Ali Bhutto thought, when he was appointed Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in 1976.  He ended up taking control of the country in the political chaos that ensued following the 1977 elections, and stayed on till the end of the Soviet-Afghan war in 1988 when he died in a plane crash.

With his span of influence beginning in 1976 as COAS, why does it appear that he is the poster boy of blame games around every ill in Pakistani society today?

Let’s go over some facts.

Presented by Liaquat Ali Khan, the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan passed the Objectives Resolution in 1949. It created the union between religion and state, proclaiming that the future Constitution of the country will be drafted according to Islam, and effectively serving as the prime building block towards religion becoming a public matter across the country.  Every single non-Muslim member of the Constituent Assembly opposed this resolution, but to no avail.

Zia did not initiate this.

The Doctrine of Necessity was adduced by Chief Justice Muhammad Munir in 1954, to validate the dissolution of the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. It set the precedent for numerous extra-judicial actions by state actors in order to justify politically motivated steps.

Zia did not initiate this.

The One-Unit program was introduced in 1954, merging the four provinces of West Pakistan into a single province, just like East Pakistan. It fuelled ethnic tensions which were already running high in East Pakistan, marking the start of the erroneous narrative that promoted ‘One Pakistan’ over the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity in the country.

Zia did not initiate this.

The Constitution of 1956, active only till 1958, officially made Pakistan an Islamic Republic. Furthermore, it stated that the president of the country must be a Muslim, and no law in the country can be passed that goes against the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah. The Constitution also gave the president the right to declare emergency, effectively laying out the red carpet for military intervention into politics.

Zia did not initiate this.

The first of Pakistan’s three coups took place in 1958, setting a precedent for military interventions in the future. President Iskander Mirza declared martial law following political turmoil in the country that saw four different prime ministers in the span of two years. He approved the appointment of General Ayub Khan as Chief Martial Law Administrator, but then attempted to dismiss him within a matter of weeks, only to subsequently be dismissed as Ayub Khan became president himself.

Zia did not initiate this.

The Constitution of 1962 established the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) back then as the Advisory CII. This is the same council that states that child marriages are not un-Islamic, speaks out against the domestic violence bill and does not support seeking consent from the first wife when it comes to a second marriage.

Zia did not initiate this.

During 1965-70, Bengali nationalism was further fuelled by the economic disparity between East and West Pakistan. Despite having over 60 per cent of the country’s total population, East Pakistan received only 30 per cent of the total spending. The notion that Bengalis were not “martially inclined” unlike Pakhtuns and Punjabis was still common in West Pakistan, and the India-Pakistani War of 1965 only added to these problems, as Pakistan’s military presence in the Eastern Wing was extremely weak with only one infantry division and a limited number of combat aircrafts without tank support.

Zia did not initiate this.

The West Pakistani civilian and military leadership refused to acknowledge the legitimate right of the East Pakistan based Awami League to form the government following its victory in the 1970 elections. The Bangladesh Liberation War followed, and witnessed war crimes by West Pakistan on its Eastern counterpart, ranging from ethnic cleansing, rape and mass murder, all culminating in one of the bloodiest genocides in modern history.

Zia did not initiate this.

Following the bloody 1974 Ahmadi riots, the second amendment to the 1973 Constitution took place and declared the Ahmadi community non-Muslim, making Pakistan the first, and to date the only country in the world to do so and in the process giving constitutional cover to the persecution of the community across the country.

Zia did not initiate this.

The charismatic Bhutto, left-leaning originally, but sadly opportunistic towards the end, was found guilty of Mohammad Ahmad Kasuri’s murder in a shambolic trial and hanged in 1979, two years after Pakistan’s second military takeover in 1977.

Zia orchestrated every part of this.

Zia deserves a lot of blame for policies undertaken during his time, and rightfully so. But let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that all was honky dory before he came along, or that things would have been better if he had not taken over. If it was not him, it would have been someone else. Our history started sowing the seeds for a Zia from the very beginning. He was just there to take advantage of an already messed up state of affairs.

Using Zia as a scapegoat for our problems is easy, and extremely convenient. But the fact is that our country’s demons go much deeper into history than we might like to admit.

This post originally appeared on The Express Tribune Blog on August 17, 2015.

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