PolEcReMo. My Take

The Analysis of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1988

Posted in Military, Politics by Ali Athar on April 2, 2008

There isn’t much to discuss about the legacy of General Zia-ul-Haq’s brutal regime. The menace of sectarian violence, sacrilege of democracy, curtailing of political freedom, and embarking of Army into every spheres of life, are all attributed to eleven years of direct military rule. But such a scathing review didn’t come when the general died in a plane crash (or sabotage) on August 17, 1988.

Shahid Javed Burki, the former VP of World Bank and finance minister of Pakistan, had a softer opinion about Zia, when he wrote “Pakistan Under Zia 1977-1988” in the Asian Survey of October 1988. The Economist on August 20, 1988 also shared his constructive approach; “Zia the soldier has a decent place in the momentous recent history of the region.”

Burki’s analysis focuses on Zia’s economic achievement, his alliance with America to defend Pakistan from the scourge of communism, and his popularity amongst the “shurafaa” or the middle class, who were being sidelined by Bhutto’s socialism, and to whom Zia’s policies were directed. Burki doesn’t even criticize the regime’s Islamization policies and accredits them to Zia’s religious background and his true belief in Islamic reformation (these policies were later on debunked by General K.M. Arif, the deputy of Zia, as mere policy ploy by Zia to keep him in power). The author believes that if Zia started a political party, he would have surely won.

Being born in a poor Arain family that were historically farmers and not characterized as martial races by the British, Zia’s rise through the Sandhurst-educated Army echelons was characterized by the author as remarkable. His adherence to Islam throughout this ordeal and his avoidance of all worldly evils shows Zia’s aversion to not only the moral corruption but also the political corruption that plagued the nation from its birth. Thus, Zia worked or intended to work in the best interests of the country.

Burki contends that Zia’s political longetivity was not only the result of West’s support, as it is believed now, but due to his statesmanship and vision. Zia’s siding with the Americans in the heat of Cold War was his political genius and earned him respect from all over the world, with massive aid flowing in the country. Zia’s brilliant handling of the Army’s senior command did not lead to a single instance of coup within the Army, his main source of power. Unlike Ayub Khan, who made Yahya the military chief and was later overthrown by him, Zia made it a policy to keep the Army leadership in rotation, thus minimizing their chances of officers to create a following of their own. Even Bhutto’s hanging was a momentous decision; there was no political backlash, in fact none whatsoever during the eleven years of power, as long as middle class interests were protected.

It is ironic that the policies one leader sets into motion do not bear effect even during a decade-long government. Zia’s overt support of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to be the leader of Afghanistan after the communists was supplanted by Zia’s successors to support the Taliban, once Hetmatyar was out of the picture. The destruction it brought to Pakistan in terms of influx of millions of Afghan refugees and infiltration of drugs and weapons cannot be denied. The acceleration of Pakistani nuclear program by the Zia’s regime did bring us the bomb, but only at the cost of slapping Pakistan with economic and military sanctions, once the Afghan operation was over. These policies nearly declared our country to be a rogue state.