In praise of Zia

The Quaid-e-Azam and Ziaul Haq were two leaders who knew what Muslims wanted and gave it to them.

Aakar Patel August 18, 2012
In praise of Zia

This past week marked two anniversaries, that of Pakistan's birth and that of President Ziaul Haq's death.

Zia is a strange figure. Reading about him in Pakistan's English press one would think that he is hated by most Pakistanis. Daily Times, in its editorial of August 15 said: "So-called Islamisation, starting from Zia's era, has reduced the state and society to being entrapped by religious intolerance and lack of direction."

This is typical and Zia tends to pick up the blame for conditions in Pakistan's society.

But the fact is that the Hudood laws remain on the books. Pakistan Studies and Islamiat also remain in textbooks.

Why? The answer is that Ziaul Haq gave Pakistan what it wanted.

Liaquat Ali Khan and the Muslim League gifted Pakistan the Objectives Resolution, committing to align law with Sharia. Ayub Khan wrote the law restricting non-Muslims from becoming president. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stopped non-Muslims from becoming prime minister. His law on Ahmadis need not be referred to other than to remind readers that it was both democratic and unanimous. All elected and unelected Pakistani leaders have generally moved in the direction that Zia also did. But he did it less hypocritically than others.

After his death, a hagiography (“Shaheed-ul-Islam Muhammad Ziaul Haq”) was published by Zia's friends. The contribution from Nawaz Sharif, which I suspect was written by Husain Haqqani, praises Zia for being like Allama Iqbal. Zia believed in the reconstruction of religious thought, writes Sharif, though I think that's doubtful. In the same book, Zahid Malik writes that though seen as a nuclear hawk, Zia was willing to sign the non-proliferation treaty (NPT). His conditions were: 1) South Asia be declared a nuclear-free zone, 2) India and Pakistan sign simultaneously, 3) The two also sign a bilateral non-proliferation treaty, 4) The two allow international inspectors to check each facility and 5) The two renounce the use of nuclear weapons.

I think this was a wise proposal, even if Zia was saying this to escape the United States’ pressure on signing the NPT. If India had accepted, we would have a less unstable subcontinent today.

The other thing that occurs to me is that the problems India faced in Kashmir with the rise of the mujahideen, came in the first reign of Benazir Bhutto. Zia did not indulge in that sort of mischief and Indians exaggerate the support of Pakistan to the Sikh separatist movement of the 1980s. Zia was friendly towards India and surprised the world by announcing he was coming to Indira Gandhi’s funeral. He is the man who invented cricket diplomacy, springing it on Rajiv Gandhi.

Zia may be disliked by English editorial writers but 10 lakh people came to Zia's funeral, wrote his deputy, General Khalid Mahmud Arif, showing his popularity.

Zia reminds me of Aurangzeb. Zia had his rival Bhutto executed judicially for the murder of a complainant's father, exactly like Aurangzeb did away with Murad Baksh.

The slogan for the emperor was "Alamgir, zinda pir". Zia was "mard-e-momin, mard-e-haq".

Both men had a false modesty, made much of being reluctant to wield power (see Aurangzeb's letters to Shah Jahan), and had a general dislike of Shias. Newsweek in its obituary said Zia was “incorruptible”. Another similarity.

His court chronicler Saqi Must’ad Khan said Aurangzeb's bedtime reading was Imam Ghazali. Zia read Maudoodi and not much else. General Arif says Zia "could not get down to reading bureaucratic situation reports and files".

The big similarity is of course the laws they introduced. Jaziya, the penalty for being born Hindu, went after Aurangzeb died because the Syed brothers of Barha were not bigots. The laws of Zia will remain longer.

Fundamentalists have their softer side. Aurangzeb liked quality chinaware. He liked woodwind instruments played with the pakhavaj more than vocal music. But because the former was haram, he gave up listening to all music entirely.

Zia was fond of Bollywood movies and Hindi music, and played squash, tennis and billiards.

The words ‘silent majority’ are often used when Pakistanis writing in English refer to Zia's laws or their fallout, such as the shooting of Salmaan Taseer.

The truth is that the laws that remain on the book unchanged through dictatorial and democratic governments are there because they are popular.

There is no silent majority in Pakistan, only a minority that doesn’t grasp reality.

The Quaid-e-Azam and Ziaul Haq were two leaders who knew what Muslims wanted and gave it to them.

Eid mubarak to all readers of The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2012.


Pakistani | 11 years ago | Reply I am no PPP supporter as its Pakistan's most corrupt party but during Zias time many PPP supporters were beaten nobody can deny this
danish zuberi | 11 years ago | Reply

I grew up in Zia era. Saw the exit and execution of Bhutto. Two important points about Zia, he released all nationalist political leaders and denationalised the indistry and got the wheel of privatisation moving. I wanted to share my thoughts about Zia, but thought it would be blasphemous to praise Zia and criticise Bhutto. You have given me the courage and I would take a suplement next year - Would the Real Zia Stand Up. We would go through the objective ground realities of the region during that time- Iran revoloution, marxists gaining power in Afghanistan - cold War at its hieght - KGB and CIA - international alignments.

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