General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq [ محمد ضیاءالحق‎] ( 12 August 1924 – 17 August 1988) was a four-star General who served as the 6th President of Pakistan from 1978 (after declaring martial law in 1977) until his death in 1988. He was Pakistan’s longest-serving head of state. Educated at Delhi University, Zia saw action in World War II as a British Indian Army officer before opting for Pakistan in 1947. He fought in the war against India in 1965 and in 1970 led Pakistan’s military training mission in Jordan which was instrumental in putting down the Black September insurgency against King Hussein. In recognition, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto approved his four-star appointment as general in the Pakistan Army, and appointed him as its chief in 1976.  During civil disorder, Zia deposed Bhutto in a military coup and on 5 July 1977 declared martial law. Bhutto was tried by the Supreme Court and executed less than two years later for authorizing the murder of a political opponent.

Assuming the presidency in 1978, Zia played a major role in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Assisted by the United States and Saudi Arabia, Zia coordinated the Afghan mujahideen against Soviet occupation throughout the 1980s.  The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989; millions of Afghan refugees came to the NWFP province in Pakistan with associated drugs and weaponry problems.

Zia increased ties with China, the European Economic Community, the United States, and emphasized Pakistan’s role in the Islamic world. Relations with India worsened with the Siachen conflict and accusations of aid to the Khalistan movement.

At home, Zia passed broad-ranging legislation as part of Pakistan’s Islamisation which were criticized for promoting religious intolerance. He escalated the atomic bomb project, and increased industrialization and deregulation, helping the economy to become one of the fastest-growing in South Asia. On average, the GDP growth was the highest in the country’s history in his tenure.

After lifting martial law and holding non-partisan elections in 1985, Zia appointed Muhammad Khan Junejo as the Prime Minister. He acquired greater powers as president via the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Junejo signed the Geneva Accords in 1988 against Zia’s wishes, and called for an inquiry into the Ojhri Camp disaster.

Zia dismissed the Junejo government and announced fresh elections in November 1988. He was killed along with several of his top military officials and two American diplomats in a mysterious plane crash near Bahawalpur on 17 August 1988.

Zia remains a polarizing figure in Pakistan’s history, credited for preventing wider Soviet incursions into the region as well as economic prosperity, but decried for weakening democratic institutions and passing laws encouraging religious intolerance.

Early life: he was born in a Punjabi Arain family in Jullunder, Punjab, India, on 12 August 1924,  being the second child of Muhammad Akbar who worked as a staff clerk in the Indian Army GHQ of British Armed Forces in Delhi prior to independence in 1947.

Zia completed his initial education in Simla and attended St. Stephen’s College, Delhi,  for his graduation in History in 1943. He joined the British Indian Army the same year. He married Shafiq Jahan in 1950 who died on 6 January 1996. Zia is survived by his sons and daughters:

  • Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq, (born 1953): who went into politics and became a cabinet minister in the government of Nawaz Sharif
  • Anwar-ul-Haq (born 1960)
  • Daughter Zain (born 1972), a special needs child
  • Daughter Rubina Saleem married to a Pakistani banker and lives in the United States since 1980
  • Daughter Quratulain Zia who currently lives in London, and is married to Pakistani doctor, Adnan Majid.

Military service



General Zia-ul-Haq (centre-left, second row) marching with Chairman Joint Chiefs General Muhammad Sharif at PMA, 1977

Zia was commissioned in the British Indian Army with the 25th Cavalry on 12 May 1943 after graduating from the Officer Training School Mhow, and fought against Japanese forces in Burma in World War II. After Pakistan gained its independence in 1947, Zia joined the newly formed Pakistan Army as a Major in the Guides Cavalry,  Frontier Force Regiment. He trained in the United States during 1962–1964 at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He returned to take over as Directing Staff (DS) at Command and Staff College, Quetta. During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Zia was a tank commander.

He was stationed in Jordan from 1967 to 1970 as a Brigadier, helping in the training of Jordanian soldiers, as well as leading the training mission into battle during the Black September operations against the Palestine Liberation Organization as commander of Jordanian 2nd Division. This proved crucial to King Hussein’s remaining in power. By 1973, as Major General Zia was commanding the 1st Armoured Division at Multan.

On promotion as Lieutenant General, he was appointed commander of the II Strike Corps at Multan in 1975. It was during this time that Zia invited Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the Colonel-in-Chief of the Armoured Corps at Multan, using his tailor to stitch the army blue patrol uniform for him. The next day, Bhutto climbed into a tank and engaged a target which he obviously did not miss. After the function, Zia expressed his loyalty to Bhutto. On 1 March 1976, Bhutto approved Lieutenant-General Zia as Chief of Army Staff and elevated to four-star general rank.

This promotion was ahead of a number of more senior officers and was politically motivated by Bhutto, who saw Zia as firmly religious and an apolitical military figure. This was the motive of future Prime minister Nawaz Sharif when he promoted Pervez Musharraf as Chief of Army Staff in 1998.

At the time of nomination of the successor to outgoing Chief of Army Staff General Tikka Khan, the Lieutenant Generals in order of seniority were:

  1. Muhammad Shariff
  2. Akbar Khan
  3. Aftab Ahmed
  4. Azmat Baksh Awan
  5. Ibrahim Akram
  6. Abdul Majeed Malik
  7. Ghulam Jilani Khan
  8. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

Bhutto chose the junior most, superseding seven senior lieutenant-generals. However, the senior most at the time, Lieutenant-General Mohammad Shariff was promoted to General, and made the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, a constitutional post. Zia never called Bhutto “Mr. Prime Minister” but called him “sir” when speaking to him.

Planning of coup: Bhutto began facing considerable criticism and increasing unpopularity as his term progressed; the democratic socialists alliance which had previously allied with Bhutto began to ease off as time progressed, initially targeting leader of the opposition Wali Khan and the opposition National Awami Party (NAP). Despite the ideological similarity of the two parties, the clash of egos both inside and outside the National Assembly became increasingly fierce, starting with the Federal government’s decision to oust the NAP provincial government in Balochistan Province for alleged secessionist activities and culminating in the banning of the party and arrest of much of its leadership after the death of a close lieutenant of Bhutto, Hayat Sherpao, in a bomb blast in Peshawar.

Civil disorder against Bhutto: Dissidence increased within the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and the murder of Ahmed Raza Kasuri’s father led to public outrage and intra-party hostility as Bhutto was accused of masterminding the crime. PPP leaders such as Ghulam Mustafa Khar openly condemned Bhutto and called for protests against his regime. The political crisis in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan intensified as civil liberties remained suspended, and an estimated 100,000 troops were deployed there who were accused of abusing human rights and killing large numbers of civilians.

1977 Parliamentary elections: On 8 January 1977 a large number of opposition political parties grouped to form the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). Bhutto called fresh elections, and PNA participated fully in those elections. They managed to contest the elections jointly even though there were grave splits in views within the party. The PNA faced defeat but did not accept the results, alleging that the election had been rigged. They proceeded to boycott the provincial elections which were held amidst low voter turnout. Amidst an opposition boycott, the PNA declared the newly elected Bhutto government as illegitimate.

Coup d’état (Operation Fair Play): Soon, all the opposition leaders called for the overthrow of Bhutto’s regime. Political and civil disorder intensified, which led to more unrest. On 21 April 1977, Bhutto imposed martial law in the major cities of Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad. However, a compromise agreement between Bhutto and opposition was ultimately reported. Zia planned the coup d’état carefully, as he knew Bhutto had inside intelligence in the Pakistan Armed Forces, and many officers, including Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan and Major-General Tajammul Hussain Malik, GOC of 23rd Mountain Division, Major-General Naseerullah Babar, DG of Directorate-General for the Military Intelligence (DGMO) and Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan, were loyal to Bhutto.

The coup, (Operation Fair Play) occurred in the small hours of 5 July 1977. Before the announcement of any agreement, Bhutto and members of his cabinet were arrested by the military police under the order of Zia. Bhutto tried to call Zia but all telephone lines were disconnected. When Zia spoke to him later, he reportedly told Bhutto that he was sorry that he had been forced to perform such an “unpleasant task”. Zia and his military government portrayed the coup as a “spontaneous response to a difficult situation“, but his response was a complete contradiction. Soon after the coup, Zia told the British journalist Edward Behr of Newsweek:

I [Zia] am the only man who took this decision [Fair Play] and I did so on 1700 Hrs on 4[th] July after hearing the press statement which indicated that the talks between Mr. Bhutto and the opposition had broken down. Had an agreement been reached between them, I would certainly never had done what I did.— General Zia-ul-Haq, statement given to Newsweek.

However, Zia’s Chief of Army Staff General Khalid Mahmud Arif contradicted Zia’s statement when Arif noted that the coup had already been planned, and the senior leadership of Pakistan Armed Forces had solid information. Arif met with Bhutto on an emergency basis, stressing and urging Bhutto to “rush negotiations with the opposition“. By all independent experts, the talks had not broken down even though the coup was very much in the offing. Zia further argued that Fair Play against Bhutto had been necessitated by the prospect of a civil war that Bhutto had been planning, by distributing weapons to his supporters. However, Arif strongly rejected Zia’s remarks  and stated that no evidence of weapons was found or recovered at any of the party’s election offices. The military junta did not prosecute Bhutto on the charge of planning civil war.

Immediately, the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Mohammad Shariff announced his and the navy’s strong support for Zia and his military government. But the Chief of Air Staff Air Marshall Zulfikar Ali Khan remained unsupportive while the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Muhammad Shariff remained neutral, but he silently expressed his support to Prime minister Zulfikar Bhutto.In 1978, Zia pressured President Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry to appoint General Anwar Shamim as Chief of Air Staff, and Admiral Karamat Rahman Niazi as Chief of Naval Staff in 1979, making the Admiral the highest ranking officer and principal military adviser overlooking all of the inter-services, including the Chiefs of Staff of the respected forces.  In 1979, the Chiefs of Army, Navy, and the Air Force, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff validated the coup as constitutional and legal under the circumstances, pledging their support to Zia as well.

United States sponsorship


President Ronald Reagan and Bill Clark meeting with President Zia-ul-Haq, 1982.

The United States, notably the Reagan Administration, was an ardent supporter of Zia’s military regime and a close ally of Pakistan’s conservative-leaning ruling military establishment. The Reagan administration declared Zia’s regime as the “front line” ally of the United States in the fight against the threat of Communism. American legislators and senior officials most notably were:

  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Henry Kissinger
  • Charlie Wilson
  • Joanne Herring

the civilian intelligence officers:

  • Michael Pillsbury
  • Gust Avrakotos

and senior US military officials:

  • General John William Vessey
  • General Herbert M. Wassom

had been long associated with the Zia military regime and  had made frequent trips to Pakistan. The American conservatism of Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party influenced Zia to adopt the idea of Islamic conservatism as the primary focus of his military government, enforcing the Islamic religious practice in the country.

The socialist orientation had greatly alarmed the capitalist forces in Pakistan as well as alarm in United States which feared the loss of Pakistan as a cold war ally. Many of Pakistan’s political scientists and historians widely suspected that the riots and coup against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was orchestrated with help of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States Government because of the United States growing fear of Bhutto’s socialist policies which were seen as sympathetic towards the Soviet Union and had built a bridge allowing Soviet Union to be involved in Pakistan; access through Pakistan’s warm water port.

The United States was unable to gain this access since Pakistan’s establishment in 1947. Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark widely suspected United States’ involvement in bringing down the Bhutto’s government, and  accused the United States’ Government after attending the trial. On the other hand, the United States denied any role in Bhutto’s fall, and argued that it was Bhutto who had alienated himself with them for five years. Witnessing the fall of Bhutto, one US diplomat in American Embassy in Islamabad wrote that:

During Bhutto’s five years in Pakistan’s helm, Bhutto had retained an emotional hold on the poor masses who had voted him overwhelmingly in 1970s general elections. At the same time, however, Bhutto had many enemies. The socialist economics and nationalization of major private industries during his first two years on office had badly upsets the Business circles … An ill-considered decision to take over the wheat-milling, rice-husking, sugar mills, and cotton-gaining, industries in July of 1976 had angered the small business owners and traders. Both leftists – socialists and communists, intellectuals, students, and trade unionists— felt betrayed by Bhutto’s shift to centre-right wing conservative economics policies and by his growing collaboration with powerful feudal lords, Pakistan’s traditional power brokers. After 1976, Bhutto’s aggressive authoritarian personal style and often high-handed way of dealing with political rivals, dissidents, and opponents had also alienated many…

Postponement of elections and call for accountability: After assuming power as Chief Martial Law Administrator, Zia shortly appeared on national television promising to hold new and neutral parliamentary elections within the next 90 days.

My sole aim is to organize free and fair elections which would be held in October this year. Soon after the polls, power will be transferred to the elected representatives of the people. I give a solemn assurance that I will not deviate from this schedule.

He also stated that the Constitution of Pakistan had not been abrogated, but temporarily suspended. Zia did not trust the civilian institutions and legislators to ensure the country’s integrity and sovereignty therefore, in October 1977; he announced the postponement of the electoral plan and decided to start an accountability process for the politicians. On television, Zia strongly defended his decision for postponing the elections and demanded that “scrutiny of political leaders who had engaged in malpractice in the past“. Thus, the PNA adopted its policy of “retribution first, elections later“. Zia’s policy severely tainted his credibility as many saw the broken promise as malicious.

Another motive was,  Zia widely suspected that once out of power, the size of the Pakistan Peoples Party rallies would swell and better performance in elections was possible. This led to a request for postponement of elections by the right-wing Islamists as well as left-wing socialists, formerly allied with Bhutto, who displaced Bhutto in the first place.

Zia dispatched an intelligence unit, known as ISI’s Political Wing, sending Brigadier Taffazul Hussain Siddiqiui, to Bhutto’s province of Sindh, to assess whether people would accept martial law. The political wing (ISI) also contacted several right-wing Islamists and conservatives, promising an election with PNA power sharing the government with Zia. Zia successfully divided and separated the secular forces from right-wing Islamists and conservatives, and later purged each member of the secular front.

A Disqualification Tribunal was formed, and several individuals who had been members of parliament were charged with malpractice and disqualified from participating in politics at any level for the next seven years. A white paper document was issued, incriminating the deposed Bhutto government on several counts. It is reported by senior officers that when Zia met federal secretaries for the first time as leader of the country after martial law, who  said “he does not possess the charisma of Bhutto, personality of Ayub Khan or the legitimacy of Liaquat Ali Khan” thereby implying how can he be marketed.

Reign as Chief Martial Law Administrator: After deposing Prime Minister Bhutto on 5 July 1977, Zia-ul-Haq declared martial law, and appointed himself Chief Martial Law Administrator, which he remained until becoming president on 16 September 1978.

The Doctrine of Necessity: Nusrat Bhutto, the wife of the deposed Prime Minister, filed a suit against Zia’s military regime, challenging the validity of the July 1977 military coup. The Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled, in what would later be known as the Doctrine of Necessity (not to be confused with the 1954 Doctrine of Necessity) that, given the dangerously unstable political situation of the time, Zia’s overthrowing of the Bhutto government was legal on the grounds of necessity. The judgement tightened the general’s hold on the government. When Bhutto appeared personally to argue his appeal in the supreme court, he almost affirmed his concurrence with the judges present for not letting off a judgement without imposing some conditions on ruling military government.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Trial: Former elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arrested during the coup but released shortly afterwards. Upon his release, Bhutto travelled the country amid adulatory crowds of PPP supporters. On 3 September 1977, he was arrested again by the Army on charges of authorizing the murder of a political opponent in March 1974. The trial proceedings began 24 October 1977 and lasted five months. On 18 March 1978, Bhutto was declared guilty of murder and was sentenced to death. In the words of Aftab Kazi and Roedad Khan, Zia hated Bhutto and had used inappropriate language and insults to describe him and his colleagues. The Supreme Court ruled four to three in favour of execution. The High Court had given him the death sentence on charges of the murder of the father of Ahmed Raza Kasuri, a dissident PPP politician. Despite many clemency appeals from foreign leaders requesting Zia to commute Bhutto’s death sentence, Zia dismissed the appeals and upheld the death sentence. On 4 April 1979, Bhutto was hanged, after the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence as passed by the Lahore High Court.

The hanging of an elected prime minister by a military was condemned by the international community and by lawyers and jurists across Pakistan. Bhutto’s trial was controversial.

Bhutto’s last personal appearance and statements in the Supreme Court were not a long defence of his conduct; he also made some matters clear. He mentioned:

  • the words of “heir” for his son “Mir Murtaza Bhutto”.
  • He remarked that he has views similar to a Sunni, though he was Shia albeit a non-practicing one.
  • He effectively cast doubt on the reliability of the “star” witness against him i.e. Masood Mahmood who was a UK-trained lawyer and not merely a police officer and FSF chief.
  • He mentioned repeatedly the Lahore Ahmedi connection of Masood Mahmood in his testimony.
  • He repeatedly brought the subject of his maltreatment in the death cell.
  • Bhutto made it abundantly clear, even though indirectly that he wanted either freedom or death, and appreciated Khar and his lawyer Yahya Bakhtiar.

Appointment of Martial Law Administrators: The adhoc appointments of senior justices at the Supreme Court of Pakistan were one of the earliest and major steps taken by the military government under General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia recognized that since, Bhutto had good equations with the governments of Soviet Union, China, and all important western countries, excluding the United States. It was a formidable array of sovereigns, presidents and prime ministers and the PPP can be forgiven for making a political miscalculation.

After calling for martial law, Zia pressured President Fazal Illahi to appoint Justice Sheikh Anwar-ul Haq as Chief Justice of Pakistan on 23 September 1977.  Chief Justice Yaqub Ali was removed from the office after the latter agreed to re-hear the petition filed at the Supreme Court by the Peoples Party’s Chairwoman Nusrat Bhutto on 20 September 1977. After Justice Yaqub Ali’s removal, Bhutto objected to the inclusion of the new Chief Justice, Sheikh Anwar-ul-Haq, as chief justice of the Bench on the grounds that by accepting the office of acting president during the absence of Zia-ul-Haq from the country, he had compromised his impartial status. Bhutto also stated that the Chief Justice in his public statements had been critical of his government in the recent past.

The objection was over-ruled by the Chief Justice Anwar-ul Haq himself, and Bhutto’s case was again heard by him as the Bench’s lead judge, and who presided over the whole case. Shortly, after Zia’s return, another judge Mushtaq Ahmad gained Zia and Anwar-ul-Haq’s support, and was elevated as the adhoc Chief Justice of Lahore High Court; he was  part of the bench which retained the death sentence  given to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto even though he was not declared guilty of the murder of the political opponent. In 1979, when Zia departed for Saudi Arabia, Justice Haq served as interim president of Pakistan.

Martial law governors:


Zia presenting the Hilal-i-Imtiaz to Shamim Alam Khan.

Martial Law Administrator of Baluchistan: The Zia regime largely made use of installing high-profile military generals to carte blanche provincial administration under martial law. Zia’s Guides Cavalry comrade and foul-mouth Lieutenant-General Fazle Haque was appointed Martial Law Administrator of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (NWFP). Lieutenant-General Fazle Haque was considered vocal and a strong.

  • General Haque, commander of the XI Corps, and commanding general responsible for fighting a secret war against Soviet Union.
  • Lieutenant-General S.M. Abbasi appointed Martial Law Administrator of Sindh Province; his tenure too saw civil disorder amid student riots.
  • Lieutenant-General Ghulam Jilani Khan Martial Law Administrator Punjab province made headway in beautifying Lahore extending infrastructure, and muting political opposition. The ascent of Nawaz Sharif to Chief Minister of Punjab was largely due to General Jilani’s sponsorship.
  • Lieutenant-General Rahimuddin Khan was appointed Martial Law Administrator of Balochistan Province; saw the disbanding of the Baloch insurgency, the containment of Afghan Mujahideen, as well as the construction of nuclear test sites in the Chagai District.

Zia’s tenure saw the influx of heroin, sophisticated weaponry and countless refugees in from neighbouring Afghanistan. Law and order deterioration worsened after he appointed Mr. Junejo as Prime minister in 1985. The government did not find any evidence of Zia having a relationship in the heroin trade, but it has been considered.

Zia benefited from the extremely capable martial law administrators who previously had worked with the military governments of former president Yahya Khan and Ayub Khan in the 1960s. Of the notable officers was General Khalid Mahmood Arif, Chief of Army Staff, and Admiral Mohammad Shariff, Chairman Joint Chiefs. Both were noted by Western governments as highly capable and had wide experience from the military government of the East-Pakistan and remained General Zia’ confidential members.

Both Admiral Sharif and General Arif handled the matters efficiently if the matters were out of control by Zia. In 1979, Zia influenced the Navy’s Promotion Board several times after he succeeded first in the appointment of Admiral Karamat Nazi as Chief of Naval Staff in 1979, and Admiral Tarik Kamal Khan, also as  chief of naval staff, in 1983.  On his request, President Fazal Illahi approved the appointment of General Anwar Shamim as Chief of Air Staff and following President Fazal Illahi’s resignation, Zia appointed Shamim as the Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator. In matters of  national security, General Zia took chief of air staff and chief of naval staff in confidence. Zia’s appointment in inter-services was crucial for his military government and measures to ensure the loyalty of Navy and Air Force to himself and his new military government.

Assumption of the post of President of Pakistan


General Zia-ul-Haq during a meeting with United States dignitaries

Despite the dismissal of most of the Bhutto government, President Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry was persuaded to continue in office as a figurehead.After completing his term, and despite Zia’s insistence to accept an extension as President, Chaudhry resigned, and Zia took the office of President of Pakistan on 16 September 1978. Thus his position was cemented as the undisputed ruler of the country. Over the next six years, Zia issued several decrees which amended the constitution and greatly expanded his power. Most significantly, the Revival of Constitution of 1973 Order granted Zia the power to dissolve the National Assembly virtually at will.

The Military Government of General Zia-ul-Haq

Presidential cabinet Officer holder  Term
President General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq 1978–1988
Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo 1985–1988
Foreign Affairs Agha Shahi 1977–1982
Lt.General Yaqub Khan 1982–1992
Treasury Ghulam Ishaq Khan 1977-1985
DrMahbub-ul-Haq 1985-1988
Law, Justice Sharifuddin Pirzada 1977–1988
Interior Air Marshal Inamul Haq Khan 1977-1978
Mahmoud Haroon 1978-1984
Lt.General Farooq Lodhi 1984-1985
Aslam Khan 1985-1987
Wasim Sajjad 1987-1988
Defence Lt.General Ghulam Jilani Khan 1977–1980
Maj.General Rahim Khan 1980-1988
Science Advisor  Zahid Ali Akbar 1977-1983
Munir Ahmad Khan 1983-1988
Health  Lt.General Lt.General Vajid Ali Khan 1977–1988
Media broadcasting Brig.General Siddique Salik 1977–1988
Internal Security Roedad Khan 1977–1988
Public Service Admiral Mohammad Sharif 1980–1988
Communications Admiral Tariq Kamal Khan 1986–1988
Economic Admiral Karamat Rahman Niazi 1983–1988
Intelligence Maj.General Rao Farman Ali 1983–1988

Political structural changes

Although ostensibly only holding office until free elections could be held, General Zia, like the previous military governments, disproved of the lack of discipline and orderliness that often accompanies multiparty “parliamentary democracy.” He preferred a “presidential” form of government and a system of decision making by technical experts, or “technocracy”. His first replacement for the parliament or National Assembly was a Majlis-e-Shoora, or “consultative council.” After banning all political parties in 1979 he disbanded Parliament and at the end of 1981 set up the majlis, which was to act as a sort of board of advisers to the President and assist with the process of Islamisation. The 350 members of the Shoora were to be nominated by the President and possessed only the power to consult with him, and in reality served only to endorse decisions already taken by the government. Most members of the Shoora were intellectuals, scholars, ulema, journalists, economists, and professionals in different fields.

Zia’s parliament and his military government reflect the idea of “military-bureaucratic technocracy” (MBT) where professionals, engineers, and high-profile military officers were initially part of his military government. His antipathy for the politicians led the promotion of bureaucratic-technocracy which was seen a strong weapon of countering the politicians and their political strongholds. Senior statesman and technocrats were included,

  • Physicist-turned diplomat Agha Shahi
  • Jurist Sharifuddin Peerzada
  • Corporate leader Nawaz Sharif
  • Economist Mahbub ul Haq
  • Senior statesman Aftab Kazi, Roedad Khan
  • Chemist-turned diplomat Ghulam Ishaq Khan were a few of the leading technocratic figures in his military government.

Referendum of 1984: After Bhutto’s execution, momentum to hold elections began to mount both internationally and within Pakistan. But before handing over power to elected representatives, Zia-ul-Haq attempted to secure his position as the head of state. A referendum was held on 19 December 1984 with the option being to elect or reject the General as the future President, the wording of the referendum making a vote against Zia appear to be a vote against Islam. According to official figures 95% of votes were cast in favour of Zia, however only 10% of the electorate participated in the referendum.

1985 elections and constitutional amendments: After holding the 1984 referendum, Zia succumbed to international pressure and gave permission to election commission to hold national wide general elections but without political parties in February 1985. Most of the major opposing political parties decided to boycott the elections but election results showed that many victors belonged to one party or the other. Critics complained that ethnic and sectarian mobilization filled the void left by banning political parties (or making elections “non-partisan”), to the detriment of national integration.

The General worked to give himself the power to dismiss the Prime Minister dissolve the National Assembly, appoint provincial governors and the chief of the armed forces. His Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo was known as unassuming and soft spoken but was a Sindhi.

Before handing over the power to the new government and lifting the martial law, Zia got the new legislature to retroactively accept all of Zia’s actions of the past eight years, including his coup of 1977. He also managed to get several amendments passed, most notably the Eighth Amendment, which granted “reserve powers” to the president to dissolve the Parliament. However, this amendment considerably reduced the power he’d previously granted himself to dissolve the legislature, at least on paper.The text of the amendment permitted Zia to dissolve the Parliament only if the government had been toppled by a vote of no confidence and it was obvious that no one could form a government or the government could not function in a constitutional manner.

Economic policy: In general Zia gave economic development and policy a fairly low priority (aside from Islamisation) and delegated its management to technocrats such as Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Aftab Qazi and Vaseem Jaffrey.

However, between 1977 and 1986, the country experienced an average annual growth in the GNP of 6.8%—the highest in the world at that time—thanks in large part to remittances from the overseas workers, rather than government policy. The first year of Zia’s government coincided with a dramatic rise in remittances, which totalled $3.2 billion/year for most of the 1980s:

  • this accounted for 10 percent of Pakistan’s GDP
  • 45 percent of its current account receipts
  • 40 percent of total foreign exchange earnings

By the time General Zia had initiated the coup against Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto, the economic cycle process of nationalization program was completed. The socialist orientation and nationalization program was slowly reversed; the idea of corporatisation was heavily favoured by President Zia-ul-Haq to direct the authoritarianism in the nationalized industries. One of his well-known and earliest initiatives were aimed to Islamize the national economy which featured the interest-free economic cycle. No actions towards privatizing the industries were ordered by President Zia; only three steel mill industries were returned to its previous owners. By the end of 1987, the finance ministry had begun studying the process of engaging the gradual privatization and economic liberalization.

Soviet-Afghan War and Strategic initiatives: On 25 December 1979, the Soviet Union (USSR) ‘intervened’ in Afghanistan. Following this invasion, Zia chaired a meeting and was asked by several cabinet members to refrain from interfering in the war, owing to the vastly superior military power of the USSR. Zia, however, was ideologically opposed to the idea of communism taking over a neighbouring country, supported by the fear of Soviet advancement into Pakistan, particularly Balochistan, in search of warm waters, and made no secret about his intentions of monetarily and militarily aiding the Afghan resistance (the Mujahideen) with major assistance from the United States.

During this meeting, the Director-General of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) then-Lieutenant-General Akhtar Abdur Rahman advocated for a covert operation in Afghanistan by arming Islamic extremists. During this meeting, General Rahman was heard saying: “Kabul must burn! Kabul must burn!”, and mastered the idea of a proxy war in Afghanistan. After this meeting, Zia authorised this operation under General Rahman, and it was later merged with Operation Cyclone, a programme funded by the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA.

In November 1982, Zia travelled to Moscow to attend the funeral of Leonid Brezhnev, the late General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and new Secretary General Yuri Andropov met with Zia there. Andropov expressed indignation over Pakistan’s support of the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union and her satellite state, Soviet Afghanistan. Zia took his hand and assured him, “General Secretary, believe me, Pakistan wants nothing but very good relations with the Soviet Union”. According to Gromyko, Zia’s sincerity convinced them, but Zia’s actions didn’t live up to his words.

Zia reversed many of Bhutto’s foreign policy initiatives by first establishing stronger links with the United States, Japan, and the Western world. Zia broken off relations with the Socialist state and State capitalism became his major economic policy. US politician Charlie Wilson claims that Zia directly dealt with the Israelis, working to build covert relations with them, allowing the country to actively participate in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Helped by ISI, the Mossad channeled Soviet reversed engineered weapons to Afghanistan. In Wilson’s own word, Zia is reported to have remarked to the Israeli intelligence service: “Just don’t put any stars of David on the boxes”.

Consolidation of atomic bomb programme: One of the earliest initiatives taken by Zia in 1977, was to militarise the integrated atomic energy programme which was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972. During the first stages, the programme was under the control of Bhutto and the Directorate for Science, under Science Advisor Dr. Mubashir Hassan,who was heading the civilian committee that supervised the construction of the facilities and laboratories. This atomic bomb project had no boundaries with Munir Ahmad Khan and Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan leading their efforts separately and reported to Bhutto and his science adviser Dr. Hassan who had little interest in the atomic bomb project. Major-General Zahid Ali Akbar, an engineering officer, had little role in the atomic project; Zia responded by taking over the programme under military control and disbanded the civilian directorate when he ordered the arrest of Hassan. This whole giant nuclear energy project was transferred into the administrative hands of Major-General Akbar who was soon made the Lieutenant-General and Engineer-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army Corps of Engineers to deal with the authorities whose co-operation was required. Akbar consolidated the entire project by placing the scientific research under military control, setting boundaries and goals. Akbar proved to be an extremely capable officer in the matters of science and technology when he aggressively led the development of nuclear weapons under Munir Ahmad Khan and Abdul Qadeer Khan in a matter of five years

By the time, Zia assumed control, the research facilities became fully functional and 90% of the work on atom bomb project was completed. Both the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) had built the extensive research infrastructure started by Bhutto. Akbar’s office was shifted to Army Combatant General Headquarters (GHQ) and Akbar guided Zia on key matters of nuclear science and atomic bomb production. He became the first engineering officer to have acknowledged Zia about the success of this energy project into a fully matured programme. On the recommendation of Akbar, Zia approved the appointment of Munir Ahmad Khan as the scientific director of the atomic bomb project, as Zia was convinced by Akbar that civilian scientists under Munir Khan’s directorship were at their best to counter international pressure. This was proved when the PAEC conducted the cold-fission test of a fission device, codename Kirana-I on 11 March 1983 at the Weapon-Testing Laboratories-I, under the leadership of weapon-testing laboratory’s director Dr. Ishfaq Ahmad. Lieutenant-General Zahid Akbar went to GHQ and notified Zia about the success of this test. The PAEC responded by conducting several cold-tests throughout the 1980s, a policy also continued by Benazir Bhutto in the 1990s. According to the reference in the book, “Eating Grass”, Zia was so deeply convinced of the infiltration of Western and American moles and spies into the project, that he extended his role in the atomic bomb, which reflected extreme “paranoia”, in both his personal and professional life. He virtually had PAEC and KRL separated from each other and made critical administrative decisions rather than putting scientists in charge of the aspects of the atomic programmes. His actions spurred innovation in the atomic bomb project and an intense secrecy and security culture permeated PAEC and KRL.

Nuclear diplomacy: Unlike Bhutto, who faced rogue criticism and a heated diplomatic war with the United States throughout the 1970s, Zia took different diplomatic approaches to counter the international pressure. From 1979 to 1983, the country was made a subject of attack by international organisation for not signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); Zia deftly neutralised international pressure by tagging Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme to the nuclear designs of the neighbouring Indian nuclear programme. Zia, with the help of Munir Ahmad Khan and Agha Shahi, Foreign Minister, drew a five-point proposal as a practical rejoinder to world pressure on Pakistan to sign the NPT; the points including the renouncing of the use of nuclear weapons:

“(sic)…Either General Zia did not know the facts about country’s atomic bomb project… Or General Zia was the “most superb and patriotic liar I have ever met….”— Vernon Walters, 1981

Following the success of Operation Opera— in which an Israeli Air Force strike took place to destroy the Iraqi nuclear programme in 1981— suspicion grew in Pakistan that the Indian Air Force had similar plans for Pakistan. In a private meeting with General Anwar Shamim, then-Chief of Air Staff, Zia had notified General Shamim that the Indian Air Force had plans to infiltrate Pakistan’s nuclear energy project, citing solid evidence. Shamim felt that the Air Force was unable to divert such attacks, therefore, he advised Zia to use diplomacy through Munir Ahmad Khan to divert the attacks. At Vienna, Munir Ahmad Khan met with Indian physicist Raja Ramanna and notified him that such an attack would provoke a nuclear war between the two countries. In the meantime, Shamim decided to start the programme to acquire the F-16 Falcons and A-5 Fanton jets for the Pakistan Air Force. Shamim launched Operation Sentinel- a counter operation that thwarted the Israeli Air Force attempt to sabotage Pakistan’s nuclear energy project— forced Indian Premier Indira Gandhi to held talks with Pakistan on nuclear issues and directed a high delegation to Pakistan where both countries pledged not to assist or attack each other’s facilities. In 1985, following the induction of the F-16 Falcons and A-5 Fantons, Shamim commissioned the Air Force Strategic Command to protect and battle the weapons of mass destruction.

In 1977, Zia ultimately adopted the policy of “Nuclear opacity” to deliberately deny the atomic bomb programmes. This policy of nuclear ambiguity was adopted after witnessing the success of Israel’s nuclear programme and on multiple occasions Zia broke his words and promises concerning the nature of the country’s atomic bomb project. On nuclear policy issues, Zia deliberately misguided the United States and concealed classified information from the outside world. The United States trusted Zia’s sincerity and his promises made to the United States; Zia gave assurances to the United States not to produce weapons-grade plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) above a 5% level.  However, the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vernon Walter, confronted Zia on his secret trip to Pakistan in October 1981. Confronted with the evidence, Zia acknowledged that the information “must be true,” but then denied everything, leading Walters to conclude that: “either Zia “did not know the facts” or was the “most superb and patriotic liar I have ever met...”

Nuclear proliferation: Soon after the coup, the clandestine nuclear energy project was no longer a secret to the outside world. Part of his strategy was the promotion of nuclear proliferation in anti-western states (such as North Korea, Iran, and China) to aid their own nuclear ambitions, to divert international attention which was difficult.

In 1981, Zia contracted with China when he sent weapon-grade uranium there and built the centrifuge laboratory which increasingly enhanced the Chinese nuclear programme. This act encouraged Abdul Qadeer Khan, who allegedly tried to aid the Libyan nuclear programme but because Libya–Pakistan relations were strained, Khan was warned of serious consequences.  This policy envisaged the deflection of  international pressure onto these countries, and Pakistan would be spared the international community’s wrath.

After Zia’s death, his successor General Mirza Aslam Beg, as Chief of Army Staff, encouraged Abdul Qadeer Khan and gave him a free hand to work with some like-minded nations such as North Korea, Iran and Libya which also wanted to pursue their nuclear ambitions for a variety of reasons. In 2004, Abdul Qadeer Khan’s dismissal from the nuclear weapons programme was considered a face saving exercise by the Pakistan Armed Forces and political establishment under Chief of Army Staff and President General Pervez Musharraf.

Zia’s nuclear proliferation policy added an impetus to the anti-western states, North Korea and Iran. In the 2000s (decade), North Korea was targeted by the international community for its on-going nuclear programme.  DRNK attempted to aid the Syrian and Iranian nuclear programmes in the 1990s. The North Korean connection to the Syrian nuclear programme was exposed in 2007 by Israel in its successful strategic operation, Orchard, which resulted in the sabotage of the Syrian nuclear programme as well as deaths of 10 senior North-Korean scientists who were aiding the nuclear program.

Expansion: While Zia had removed the Bhutto element in the nuclear energy project, he did not completely disband Bhutto’s policy on nuclear weapons. After the retirement of Zahid Ali Akbar, Zia transferred control of the nuclear weapons programme to Bhutto’s close aide Munir Ahmad Khan, Chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Soon, Zia promoted Khan as the technical director of the entire programme as well as appointing him the science adviser. With support of handpicked  Prime Minister Muhammad Juneijo, Zia sanctioned the launch of the 50 Megawatt (MW) heavy water plutonium production reactor, known as Khushab-I, at Khushab in 1985.

He took initiatives to launched the space projects as spin-off to nuclear project. Zia appointed nuclear engineer Salim Mehmud as the Administrator of the Space Research Commission. Zia also launched the work on the country’s first satellite, Badr-1, a military satellite. In 1987, In 1985, Zia launched a clandestine aerospace project, the Integrated Missile Research Programme under General Anwar Shamim, and later under Lieutenant-General Talat Masood in 1987.

International standing enhancement and resumption of aid: Zia’s international standing greatly rose after his declaration to fight the Soviet invaders. Pakistan–United States relations took a much more positive turn. US President Jimmy Carter and his Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance cut off US aid to Pakistan on grounds that Pakistan had not made sufficient progress on the nuclear issue. On 25 December 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and Carter offered Pakistan $325 million in aid over three years. Zia rejected this as “peanuts.” Carter also signed the funding in 1980 that allowed less than $50 million a year to go to the Mujahideen.

After Ronald Reagan came to office in 1980, all this changed, due to the President’s new priorities and remarkably effective effort by Congressman Charles Wilson, Joanne Herring, and CIA Afghan Desk Chief Gust Avrakotos to increase the funding for Operation Cyclone. Aid to the Afghan resistance, and to Pakistan, increased substantially, finally reaching $1 billion. The United States faced a rival superpower looking to create another Communist bloc, now engaged Zia to fight a US-aided war by proxy in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

Fighting the war by proxy: Zia now found himself in a position to demand billions of dollars in aid for the Mujahideen from the Western states, famously dismissing a United States proposed $325 million aid package as “peanuts“. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and Special Service Group now became actively involved in the conflict, and in co-operation with the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Army Special Forces supported the armed struggle against the Soviets.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter as President of the United States. Reagan was completely against the Soviet Union and its communist satellites, dubbing it “the evil empire“. Reagan now increased financial aid heading for Pakistan. In 1981, the Reagan Administration sent the first of 40 F-16 jet fighters to the Pakistanis. But the Soviets kept control of the Afghan skies until the Mujahideen received Stinger missiles in 1986. From that moment on, the mujahedeen’s strategic position steadily improved.

The Soviets declared a policy of national reconciliation. In January they announced that a Soviet withdrawal was no longer linked to the makeup of the Afghan government remaining behind. Pakistan, with the massive extra-governmental and covert backing from the largest operation ever mounted by the CIA and financial support of Saudi Arabia, therefore, played a large part in the eventual withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988.

The war legacy: The rise of the illicit drug trade and its spread through Pakistan to the rest of the world increased tremendously during the Soviet-Afghan war. Afghanistan’s drug industry began to take off after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Desperate for cash with which to buy weapons, various elements in the anti-Communist resistance turned to the drug trade. This was tolerated if not condoned by their American sponsors such as the CIA.

Sharia‘ in Pakistan: In 1977, prior to the coup, the drinking and selling of wine by Muslims, along with nightclubs, and horse racing was banned by Prime Minister Bhutto in an effort to stem the tide of street Islamisation.

Zia went much further, committing himself to enforce Nizam-e-Mustafa (“Rule of the prophet” or Islamic System, i.e. establishing an Islamic state and sharia law), a significant turn from Pakistan’s predominantly secular law, inherited from the British.

In his first televised speech to the country as head of state Zia declared that

Pakistan which was created in the name of Islam will continue to 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.

In the past he complained, “Many a ruler did what they pleased in the name of Islam.”

Zia established “Sharia Benches” in each High Court (later the Federal Sharia Court) to judge legal cases using the teachings of the Quran and the Sunna, and to bring Pakistan’s legal statutes into alignment with Islamic doctrine.[Zia bolstered the influence of the ulama (Islamic clergy) and the Islamic parties. 10,000s of activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami party were appointed to government posts to ensure the continuation of his agenda after his passing. Conservative ulama (Islamic scholars) were added to the Council of Islamic Ideology. Islamisation was a sharp change from Bhutto’s original philosophical rationale captured in the slogan, “Food, clothing, and shelter”.In Zia’s view, socialist economics and a secular-socialist orientation served only to upset Pakistan’s natural order and weaken its moral fibre. General Zia defended his policies in an interview in 1979 given to British journalist Ian Stephens:

The basis of Pakistan was Islam. … Muslims of the subcontinent are a separate culture. It was on the Two-Nation Theory that this part was carved out of the Subcontinent as Pakistan…. Mr. Bhutto’s way of flourishing in this Society was by eroding its moral fiber. … by pitching students against teachers, children against their parents, landlord against tenants, workers against mill owners. [Pakistan has economic difficulties] because Pakistanis have been made to believe that one can earn without working. … We are going back to Islam not by choice but by the force of circumstances. It is not I or my government that is imposing Islam. It was what 99 percent of people wanted; the street violence against Bhutto reflected the people’s desire …— General Zia-ul-Haq

How much of Zia’s motivation came from piety and how much from political calculation is disputed. One author points out that Zia 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. According to Nusrat Bhutto, former First Lady of Pakistan:

The … horrors of 1971 war … are (still) alive and vivid in the hearts and the minds of people of [Pakistan]…Therefore, General Zia insanely … used Islam … to ensure the survival of his own regime….— Nusrat Bhutto

How much 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
  • Differences in fiqh jurisprudence also arose in marriage and divorce, inheritance and wills, and imposition of hadd punishments.
  • Sunni Muslims; Deobandis and Barelvis also had disputes.. Zia favoured Deobandi doctrine and the Sufi pirs of Sindh (who were Barelvi) joined the anti-Zia Movement for the Restoration of Democracy.

Hudood Ordinance: In 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.” (Hudood meaning limits or restrictions, as in limits of acceptable behaviour in Islamic law.) The Ordinance added new criminal offences of adultery and fornication to Pakistani law, and new punishments of whipping, amputation, and stoning to death.

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 were dependent on proof required for hadd being met. In practice the Hudd requirement—four Muslim men of good repute testifying as witness to the crime—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 rested 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. Despite this the ordinance remained in force until the Women’s Protection Bill was passed in 2006.

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

Other sharia laws: Under Zia, 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, according to critics. 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% 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 of salat five times a day.

Blasphemy ordinances: To outlaw blasphemy, the Pakistan Penal Code (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 the Islamic prophet Muhammad, 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.

Madrassa Expansion: Traditional religious madrassass in Pakistan received state sponsorship for the first time, under the General Zia-ul-Haq’s administration; their number grew from 893 to 2,801. Most were Deobandi in doctrinal orientation, while one quarter of them were Barelvi. They received funding from Zakat councils and provided free religious training, room and board to impoverished Pakistanis. The schools, which banned television and radio, have been criticised by authors for stoking sectarian hatred between Muslim sects and against non-Muslims.

Cultural policies: In a 1979 address to the nation, Zia decried the Western culture and music in the country. Soon afterwards the national television network ceased playing music videos and only patriotic songs were broadcast. New taxes were levied on the film industry and most of the cinemas in Lahore were shut down. This was despite strong support from the United States, and cordial meetings between Zia and President Ronald Reagan. It was under Zia and the economic prosperity of the era, that the country’s urban middle and lower-middle-classes expanded. Western 1980s fashion wear and hairstyle spread in popularity, and rock music bands gained momentum, according to leftist cultural critic Nadeem F. Paracha.

Welfare of the people with disabilities: During his tenure, he oversaw passing of an ordinance for the welfare of people with disabilities. The ordinance is called “The Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981” and it was passed into law on 29 December 1981. It provides the measures for the employment, rehabilitation and welfare of the people with disabilities.

Dismissal of the Junejo government and call for new elections: As time passed, the legislature wanted to have more freedom and power and by the beginning of 1988, rumours about the differences between Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo and Zia were rife. It is said by some that Zia-Junejo rift was encouraged by late Mahboob-ul-Haq and Junejo’s insistence on signing Geneva pact without deciding the composition of next government of Afghanistan before Soviet withdrawal. Junejo also gave Benazir a seat next to him in parleys before that. Junejo did not strengthen the Islamisation drive and rather weakened it. His era led to serious disturbances in Karachi and ultimately Karachi went into the secular control of MQM from the clutches of Sunni Jamaat-e-Islami.

Ojhri Camp blast had irreversibly weakened Zia: On 29 May 1988, Zia dissolved the National Assembly and removed the Prime Minister under article 58(2)b of the amended Constitution. Apart from many other reasons, Prime Minister Junejo’s decision to sign the Geneva Accord against the wishes of Zia, and his open declarations of removing any military personnel found responsible for an explosion at a munitions dump at Ojhri Camp, on the outskirts of army headquarters in Rawalpindi, earlier in the year, proved to be some of the major factors responsible for his removal.

Zia promised to hold elections in 1988 after the dismissal of Junejo government. He said that this would be done within the next 90 days. The late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter Benazir Bhutto had returned from exile earlier in 1986, and had announced that she would be contesting the elections. With Bhutto’s popularity somewhat growing, and a decrease in international aid following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Zia was in an increasingly difficult political situation.

Death: Zia died in a plane crash on 17 August 1988.After witnessing a US M1 Abrams tank demonstration in Bahawalpur, Zia had left the small town in the Punjab province by C-130B Hercules aircraft. The aircraft departed the Bahawalpur airport but the control tower lost contact with the aircraft shortly after. Witnesses  who saw the plane in the air, claimed afterwards that it was flying erratically, and then nosedi ved and exploded on impact. Besides Zia, 31 others also died in the plane crash, including Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, aclose associate of Zia, Brigadier Siddique Salik, the American Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Lewis Raphel and General Herbert M. Wassom, the head of the US Military aid mission to Pakistan.

Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the Senate chairman announced Zia’s death on radio and TV. Conditions surrounding his death have given rise to many conspiracy theories. There is speculation that the United States, India, the Soviet Union (in retaliation for Pakistani support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan) or an alliance of them and internal groups within Zia’s military were behind the incident. A board of inquiry was set up to investigate the crash. It concluded ‘the most probable cause of the crash was a criminal act of sabotage perpetrated in the aircraft’. It also suggested that poisonous gases were released which incapacitated the passengers and crew, which would explain why no Mayday signal was given. There was also speculation into other facts involving the details of the investigation. A flight recorder (black box) was not located after the crash and previous C-130 aircraft did have them installed.

Maj. Gen. (retd) Mahmud Ali Durrani claimed later that reports of Israeli and Indian involvement in Zia’s plane-crash were only speculations and he rejected the statement that was given by former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan that the presidential plane was blown up in the air. Durrani stated that Zia’s plane was destroyed while landing.



Zia’s Tomb

“Well, he was a great loss…

He is a martyr,

and was a great man.”— George P. Shultz, 1988,

His funeral was held on 19 August 1988 in Islamabad. A 21-gun salute of light artillery resounded off the lush Margalla Hills; nearly 1 million mourners joined in chants of “Zia ul-Haq, you will live as long as the sun and moon remain above.” His remains were laid to rest in a 4-by-10-foot dirt grave in front of the Faisal Mosque that Zia had built as a symbol of Pakistani-Saudi friendship. Also in attendance were his successor President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, chiefs of staff of armed forces, chairman joint chiefs, and other high military and civil officials. Former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz also laid a floral wreath at Zia’s grave.

Public image: Even after his death, Zia-ul-Haq remained a highly polarizing and widely discussed figure in the country’s intellectual and political circles. In the country’s short history, Zia-ul-Haq’s legacy remains toxic, enduring, and tamper-proof  according to an editorial written in Dawn. Historians and political scientists discussed and studied his policy making skills, some noting him as “The Ringmaster”, “Master of Illusion” and “Master Tactician”. However, his most remembered and enduring legacy was his indirect involvement and military strategy; supporting by proxy the Mujahideen, against the USSR’s war in Afghanistan. His reign also helped the conservatives to rise in national politics against Benazir Bhutto. He is noted as one of the successful general in making the armed forces a key planner in country’s affairs. During his regime, western styles in hair, clothing, and music flooded the country. The 1980s gave birth to Pakistani rock music, which expressed nationalism in the country.

Removal of name from the Constitution of Pakistan: With the passing of Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, General Zia’s name was permanently deleted from the Constitution of Pakista

Honours: Knight of the Order of the Rajamitrabhorn (Thailand).

Books about Haq’s time period

  • The Leopard and the Fox by Tariq Ali (2007)
  • Breaking the Curfew by Emma Duncan (1989) ISBN 0-7181-2989-X
  • Working with Zia by General Khalid Mahmud Arif
  • Khaki Shadows by General Khalid Mahmud Arif
  • Desperately Seeking Paradise by Ziauddin Sardar
  • Waiting for Allah by Christina Lamb
  • Ayub, Bhutto, and Zia by Hassan Iftikhar
  • Journey to Disillusionment by Sherbaz Khan Mazari
  • Ghost Wars by Steven Coll
  • General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq Shaheed: A Compilation by various authors
  • Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile III
  • The Bear Trap: Afghanistan’s Untold Story by Mohammed Yousaf, Mark Adkin (1992) ISBN 0-85052-267-6
  • A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
  • Pakistan’s Politics The Zia Years by Mushahid Hussain Syed
  • Pakistan Under Martial Law 1977-1985 by Muhammad Waseem
  • Songs of Blood and Sword by Fatima Bhutto
  • Ayub, Muhammad (2005). An army, Its Role and Rule: A History of the Pakistan Army from Independence to Kargil, 1947–1999. RoseDog Books. ISBN 9780805995947.

Portrayals in popular culture

Zia has been portrayed in English language popular culture a number of times including:

  • In the comic Shattered Visage, it is implied that Zia’s death was orchestrated by the same intelligence agency that ran The Village from the show The Prisoner.
  • Zia was portrayed by Indian actor Om Puri in the 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War.
  • Zia is caricatured as one of the main protagonists in Mohammed Hanif’s 2008 satirical novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes which is loosely based around the events of his death.
  •  Zia is the basis for the character General Hyder in Salman Rushdie’s novel Shame (1983), which describes Zia’s long-lasting relationship with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (here known as Iskander Harrapa), the president whom he would later overthrow and “put to death”.
  • Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s takeover of Pakistan and circumstances of his death were referenced in the Star Trek novel The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volume One. In a prelude to the fictional Eugenics Wars, it is implied that genetically engineered “superman” Khan Noonien Singh arranged the crash.
  • The oppressive regime of Zia-ul-Haq and the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was referenced in the book “Songs of Blood and Sword”, a non-fiction memoir by Murtaza Bhutto’s daughter Fatima Bhutto with chilling intensity

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq


  • 6th President of Pakistan                                         
  • In office 16 September 1978 – 17 August 1988
  • Chief of Army Staff 1 March 1976 – 17 August 1988

Personal details

  • Born: 12 August 1924 Jalandhar, Punjab, British India (now in Punjab, India)
  • Died: 17 August 1988 (aged 64) Bahawalpur, Punjab, Pakistan
  • Resting place: Faisal Mosque
  • Nationality: Indian (1924–1947) Pakistani (1947–1988)
  • Political party: None
  • Spouse: Begum Shafiq Zia (1950–1996)


  1. Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq
  2. Anwar-ul-Haq
  3. Zain Zia
  4. Rubina Saleem
  5. Quratulain Zia

Alma mater

  • St. Stephen’s College, Delhi
  • United States Army Command and General Staff College


  • Mard-i-Momin


  • British India
  • Pakistan


  • British Indian Army
  • Pakistan Army

Years of service: 1943–1988


  • OF-9 Pakistan Army.svg
  • US-O10 insignia.svg General


22 Cavalry, Army Armoured Corps (PA – 1810)


  • 2nd Independent Armoured Brigade
  • 1st Armoured Division
  • II Strike Corps
  • Chief of Army Staff


  • World War II
  • Indo-Pakistani War of 1965
  • Black September in Jordan
  • Soviet war in Afghanistan

By courtesy of

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