Islam changes everything

The coup of 5 July 1977 ushered in the longest period of military rule in Pakistan’s history. Even when it was withdrawn on 30 December 1985, Zia unlike Ayub retained his post as Chief of Army Staff* and continued to exert power over the civilian Government through the office of the President.** Indeed on 29 May 1988 he dismissed his hand-picked Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo.

* This followed an amendment to Article 47 of the 1973 Constitution which ruled that the President could not hold any other office of profit.

** He assumed this office following the December 1984 referendum

Pakistan during the period 1977-88 was not only authoritarian in political structure; it also aspired to be an ideological state. The official discourse swept to one side the ambiguities of the freedom struggle,  because of the goal of an Islamic state was deemed to be its main basis. Jinnah, the secularist became Jinnah the upholder of Islam in such writings as Karam Hydri’s Millat Ka Pasban (The Nation’s Sentinel- Karachi, 1981), while the ‘ulama’ whose influence had been marginal in the creation of Pakistan were elevated to a vanguard role. By making a hegemonic Islamic ideology the pillar of the state, Zia sought to solve at a stroke the identity problems which had beset it since 1947. The enterprise failed, partly because of the persistence of regional counter narratives based on plural, linguistic and ethnic loyalties and histories. In 1985 the Sindh-Baluchistan-Pashtun Front under the leadership of Mumtaz Bhutto came together to advocate a confederation of Pakistan.*

Sindhi nationalists went a step further than confederalism and demanded total independence. Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, the Baluch leader of the Pakistan National Party (PNP), argued less radically for a ‘loose’ federation reflecting the existence of the four nationalities in Pakistan. Zia’s attempt at nation-building was also doomed because the state-sponsored Islamization opened up sectarian fissures within a far from monolithic Pakistani Islam.

* the four confederating states of Sindh, Baluchistan, Punjab and the Frontier would enter into a treaty to establish the Republic of Pakistan to which would be assigned the five subjects of defence, foreign affairs, currency, communications and interstate transportation.

Zia’s longevity in power thus rested ultimately not on a hegemonic Islamic discourse but on the skill with which he both wrong-footed opponents and managed senior military officers through rotation and fixed appointments. Their career opportunities were greatly expanded both within Pakistan and overseas through postings in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya, Oman and the UAE. The main welfare associations for ex-servicemen, the Fauji Foundation (Army), the Shaheen Foundation (Air Force) and the Bharia Foundation (Navy) all greatly expanded their operations during this era. Furthermore, the period of rapid economic growth during the 1980s also dampened threats to Zia’s power, although it was based more on the bounty of remittances from overseas workers than on economic policies. Significantly Pakistan’s long term problems of poor infrastructural development and weak domestic resource mobilization remained unsolved.

Finally and most important, Zia profited from the redrawing of the geopolitical map in West Asia in the wake of the overthrow of the pro-American Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran (1941-1979) and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan on 28 December 1979. This later dramatic development which ushered in the Second Cold War followed the violent internecine conflict between the Parchami and Khalqi factions of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Aghanistan which had originally seized power in a coup in April 1978. Zia was transformed overnight from an international pariah to America’s front-line ally in the fight against communism.

Zia was in many ways Bhutto’s antithesis as well as his nemesis. While his predecessor was flamboyant, excitable and sophisticated, Zia was homespun, cautious and down-to-earth. Bhutto’s brilliance and charisma had been both his strength and undoing; Zia compensated for their absence through his meticulousness and most notably his native cunning. His other overriding characteristic was his cold and calculating ruthlessness. This streak was demonstrated most clearly in his dealings with the deposed Prime Minister before his execution.

Zia remains as controversial a figure in Pakistan politics as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Admirers such as Shahid Javed Burki have stressed his personal traits of humility, courtesy and piety. In the realm of public affairs, conservative Western scholars and their Pakistani counterparts have praised his bold Afghan policy* which contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Empire, his halting of the country’s moral decay and the economic progress which occurred during his decade of power. Between 1977-78 and 1985-86 for example Pakistan’s GNP increased by 76% and per capita income by 34%, but the economy also benefited in this period from overseas remittances of $25 billion.

* The US Secretary of State George Shultz praised Zia at the time of his funeral as ‘a defender of Pakistan’s freedom and independence and a steadfast champion of the Afghan cause’.

To his detractors Zia will always appear an intolerant and vindictive ruler who illegally hanged the country’s Prime Minister, cynically manipulated Islam and during the eleven and a half-years of his repressive rule opened the floodgates to drug trafficking* and the widespread ethnic and sectarian violence which are the hallmarks of the so-called ‘Kalashnikov culture’. Indeed by the time his protege Nawaz Sharif designated 1993 a year of jihad against drug addiction, one in every sixteen Pakistani males was an addict. In some jails the figure rose to one in ever five inmates. On one occasion in March 1986, Government attempts to halt poppy planting met with armed resistance led by a National Assembly member.

*According to the United Nations Drug Control Program report there were 1.5 million heroin addicts in Pakistan by the mid-1990s, over three- quarters of whom were under thirty; if unchecked this figure would rise to 2.5 million by the year 2000-The News (Islamabad), 3 rd December 1995.

There are a number of striking contrasts between Zia and Ayub. Pakistan’s first military ruler encouraged modernizing impulses and attached great importance to economic development. Zia eschewed Ayub’s Islamic modernism for his Deobandi personal piety and scriptural-ism. He had no interest in economics or development and was happy to delegate the management of the economy to such technocrats as Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Aftab Qazj and Vaseem Jaffsry. Despite his initial purge, Ayub’s regime remained highly dependent on the bureaucracy and never acquired political legitimacy. In contrast Zia inducted army officers into many civilian bureaucratic posts by means of the introduction of a military preference in the federal quota system, as well as in giving them lucrative assignments in the autonomous corporations*.   General Fazle Raziq for example became Chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), in the period 1980-85, no less than 96 Army officers entered the Central Superior Services on a permanent basis, while another 115 were on contracts. Until Muhammad Khan Junejo was sworn in as Prime Minister on 23 March 1985, all the powerful provincial governors had been military men.

* General Zahid Ali Akbar for example was head of the Water and Power Development Authority(WAPDA).

Zia unlike Ayub, bent both the politicians and the bureaucrats to his will. He retained much greater authority than his predecessor when he made the transition from military to civilian ruler. The Army remained the pillar of his regime* and while Ayub was hounded from office, Zia was firmly in the saddle at the time of hi death. His popularity with certain sections of the population was demonstrated by the huge crowd of mourners at his burial on 20 August 1988 at the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad.

* There were only isolated signs of disaffection most notably at the time of an alleged plot to overthrow the government in 1985. Seven officers, all junior ranks were convicted in July after their trial in camera before military courts.

Despite Zia’s desire for a break with the past-symbolized by his unavailing wish to change the celebration of independence from 14 August to 27 Ramadan* in the Islamic calendar- it is important, as with the preceding Bhutto era not to lose sight of the historical continuities. One of these was Punjab’s continued importance in national political life. If the province had been disturbed during the 1983 Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) agitation, the regime would have been severely threatened**. Large sections of the population profited both from military rule and the expansion of employment opportunities in the oil-rich Middle East. During the 1970s and ’80s half of all Pakistan’s migrants to the Gulf Region came from Punjab. In 1979 skilled workers sent remittances home of around Rs. 30,000 yearly. Thus while the Punjab’s Western-educated elite chafed under the social and political restrictions of the Zia regime, the lower middle class and the emerging industrial class provided a solid backbone of support. Many members of these classes came from Zia’s native East Punjab and were especially receptive to his Islamic and anti-Indian discourse. In addition there was all-round support for the regime’s receptivity to Punjabi interests, as seen for example in the 1983 Haleem Commission recommendations on the apportionment of Indus water shares on the basis of 37% each for Punjab and Sindh and 12% each for the Frontier and Baluchistan. Such patronage of Punjabi interests increased the antipathy of the smaller provinces to what the saw as the long-term ‘Punjabisation’ of Pakistan.

* in 1947 Independence Day coincided with 27 Ramadan in the Islamic lunar calendar, i.e. the day following laylatal-qadr, the night during which Muhammad received the first revelation. At the beginning of the month of fasting in 1978, Zia suggested a change in the future celebration of Independence Day.

* * Another reason why the Punjabis did not heed Nusrat Bhutto’s appeals to join the campaign was their traditional animosity towards India. Mrs. Gandhi’s statement supporting all the democratio movements in Pakistan created a bad impression.

An even more striking continuity was the interplay between domestic and international politics. Whether or not one agrees with the contention that a foreign hand wrenched power from Bhutto, it is undeniable that the longevity of Zia’s regime was linked with the entry of Soviet forces into neighboring Afghanistan. At this juncture, Pakistan’s relations with the United States were at a low ebb. The Carter Administration was strongly wedded to both human rights and nuclear non-proliferation, and on both counts Pakistan seemed unworthy of assistance. Under the terms of the Symington Agreement (Section 669 of the Foreign Assistance Act)*, economic and military aid was suspended in April 1979. Relations reached their nadir on 21 November 1980 when the American Embassy in Islamabad was attacked following rumours of the US involvement in an assault on the Holy Kabaa in Mecca. The rumours were personally inflamed by Zia during his bizarre cycling tour of neighboring Rawalpindi on the same day.

* this barred military aid to non-nuclear states which imported enrichment technology or equipment and whose nuclear installations were not subject to international safeguards.

Within weeks of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Carter despatched his National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski to Pakistan. This was prelude to an offer of a $ 400 million economic and military aid package. Zia disdainfully rejected this as ‘peanuts’ but eagerly accepted the incoming Reagen Administration’s offer of $ 3.2 billion which was to be spread over a six- year period*. As during the 1950s the resulting American military and economic largesse bolstered the unelected institutions of state power to the detriment of democratic forces.

* this was followed up by a $4.02 billion program which was negotiated in 1987.

Reagen’s preoccupation with Pakistan’s status as a front-line state in the struggle against the ‘evil empire’ ensured that his administration did not raise too many embarrassing questions either on the nuclear front or on the human rights issue. Robert Wirsing among others has chronicled the mounting ‘scorecard’ of Pakistan’s violations of non-proliferation policy during this period, which included some spectacular smuggling of nuclear components vital for its nuclear enrichment capability*. On 17 December 1987 Arshad Parvez, a Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin was found guilty by a Philadelphia jury of seeking to supply Pakistan with sensitive materials for uranium enrichment. According to the Carnegie Task Force report on non-proliferation and South Asian security of July 1986, Pakistan had stockpiled sufficient material to make from one to four nuclear bombs annually. India at the same time was estimated to have sufficient plutonium-producing capacity to make from fifteen to thirty weapons annually.

* Under Zia the enrichment route was favored over reprocessing in the race to achieve a. Unclear weapon capability.

Early in January 1982, Amnesty International charged the Pakistan authorities with torture, imprisonment and other human right abuses. The public flogging of political prisoners being carried out by bare-chested wrestlers remains one of the starkest images of the martial law era*. The Pakistan Human Rights Society in August 1983 registered its protest against the flogging of women as an Islamic punishment. In one reported case, Lal Mai was lashed by a man in front of a 5,000-strong crowd at Liaqatpur, Bahawalpur, as a punishment for zina (adultery). Despite Congressional opposition, the Reagen White House turned a blind eye to both human rights and non-proliferation violations on the grounds of the Soviet threat. However, once this had lifted at the beginning of the 1990s, Congress was to strike back with a vengeance.

* Martial Law Regulation #48 of October 1979 invoked a maximum penalty of twenty- five lashes for taking part in political activities, all of which had been banned.

Zia faced the same problems of reconciling regional political and cultural aspirations with imperatives of nation-building as had all his predecessors. In his first televised speech he declared that ‘Pakistan which was created in the name of Islam, will continue survive only if it sticks to Islam. That is why I consider the introduction of an Islamic system as an essential prerequisite for the country.

Islam was however less effective in providing a national cohesive force than Zia anticipated. The state sponsored process of Islamization dramatically increased sectarian divisions not only between Sunnis and Shias over the issue of the 1979 zakat Ordinance but also between Deobandis and Barelvis. Sunni-Shia clashes in Karachi were no  longer confined to the traditional tension-filled month of Muharram and also intensified in violence. Riots between 22 February and 19 March 1983 claimed twelve lives. There were further serious clashes in October 1984. Disputes over the department of Auqaf’s management of mosques and shrines led to major confrontation between the Deobandia and Barelvis at the Badshahi Mosque in Labore on 2 May 1984. The greatest tension of all was between the state’s legalistic imposition of Islam and the humanist traditions of Sufism. This was particularly explosive in Sindh where Sufism had always been an integral component of regional cultural identity. Significantly the pirs of Sindh played a leading role in the MRD agitation of August and September 1983, 50,000 disciples of the Makhdum of Hala successfully blocked the national highway on one occasion.

Less serious but nevertheless highly suggestive of the different conceptions of Islam was the legal challenge by the sajjada nashin (custodian) of Baba Farid’s famous Chishti shrine in Pakpattan to the ban of pigeon-flying in Lahore early in 1981. This practice along with kite-flying, had been banned in the district under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code on the grounds that they violated the sanctity and privacy of women. Not only were these favorite Pakistani pastimes, but keeping the pigeons was associated with many great Sufi saints and was a familiar feature of the leading shrines. Following the challenge the authorities withdrew their ban.

The need for stability in the strategic region of Baluchistan during the Afghan war led Zia to distance himself from the sectarian conflict between the heterodox Zikri community and the ‘ulama.’ The Zikris who form a large proportion of the population of Makran, are the followers of Syed Muhammad  (b. 1443) whom they consider to be a Mahdi. They regard themselves as Muslims although their doctrines are heterodox*

*The Zikris possess no mosques or prescribed prayers. Their place of worship are known as Zikrana where they recite the remembrance of the various names of Allah. Their greatest affronts to the orthodox are the belief that Syed Muhammad Mahdi was the interpreter of the Quran, and the practice of haj at the Koh-e-Murad in the city of Turbat in Makran.

In their drive to implement the Shariat law the ‘ulama’ founded the Tehrik Khatm-e-Nabuat (Movement for the Finality of Prophethood) in Baluchistan in 1978. Their intention was to demand that the state should declare Zikris to be non-Muslims, like the Ahmadis earlier. Significantly standing aside from the issue, Zia lent credence to critics’ claims that his call for Islamization was just a cover for his undemocratic regime rather than a genuine desire.

Baluch and Pashtun political opposition to the centre was muted during the Zia era. The Chief Martial Law Administrator began a process of co-opting Baluch nationalists by releasing as many as 9,000 prisoners who had been incarcerated during the Bhutto period. As in Sindh, energies were increasingly turned inwards in growing ethnic clashes. Quetta for example saw escalating Baluch-Pashtun violence in October 1986. The immediate catalyst was a transportation dispute, but the longer term causes reflected the relative economic predominance of the Pashtuns. They prospered not only in Baluchistan but also in their native Frontier which experienced considerable economic development. The co-option of the Pashtun elite through the Army into national power was also a marked feature of this period. Along with the government’s support for the Afghan jihad It played a major part in damping down the Pushtunistan movement.

However, Sindh could not be reconciled. The province missed out on the prosperity brought by both government-sponsored development programs and the export of labour to the Gulf. Army rule increased the traditional hostility towards Punjabi domination. The sense of alienation was completed by Zia’s hanging of Pakistan’s first Sindhi Prime Minister. The strong sense of Sindhi identity which fueled the opposition’s struggle in 1983 can be glimpsed in such poems as Naz Hamayooni’s ‘Love for Homeland.’ Massive repression was required to crush the MRD agitations in Sukkur, Larkana, Jacobabad and Khairpur districts. The Sindh Governor was forced to admit that in the opening three weeks of th struggle, 1,999 people had been arrested, 189 killed and 126 injured.

Resistance took cultural and literary forms. Writers and poets like Rahmatullah Manjothi, Naseer Mirza, Tariq Alan and Adal Soomro challenged Zia’s ideological state. Attiya Dawood opposed the oppression of women in her writings. The words of the poet Manzoor Solangi were frequently chanted at MRD rallies: ‘Manban, chhapran, ghar ghar mein golioon, fouji police chaway dharial paya goliyun’ (There are bullets over homes and huts but the Army and th police say they are searching for dacoits).

Unlike the mass movement against Ayub in 1968-69 or against Bhutto in 1977, the 1983 agitation in Sindh was not just an affair of the urban middle class and workers. The rural population of such districts as Thatta, Dadu, Larkana and Sanghar were heavily involved. Leadership was provided by the PPP and the ‘peasant’ based Sindhi Awami Tehrik of Rasul. Bus Palejo. The rural insurrection was finally quelled following the deployment of three army divisions backed up with helicopter gunships.

The later 1980s saw the emergence within Sindh of a mohajir ethnic identity. It reflected in part the general ethnicisation of Pakistani politics in the wake of banning of party organizations. However, it also reflected the alienation of mohajirs from power at the centre by the Punjabi-Pashtun combine. It’s economic consequences were felt as Chiniotis, Arians and other Punjabi industrialists gained a march on their Memon and Khoja rivals through access to generous loans from government-controlled financial institutions.

By courtesy: Pakistan,  A Modern History by Ian Talbot, St. Martin’s Press New York, 1998


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