5th July 1977 – The Day Gen. Zia took over!

By Syed Haider Raza Mehdi

Much has been written about Zia’s period, so I will only briefly dwell on a few major factors which caused immense damage to Pakistan.

The first was our entry into the Afghan theater against the Soviets at the behest of the USA.

An act which has led to the devastation of our society and the rampant culture of sectarianism, terrorism, guns, violence and drugs.

I remember the words of the late Air Marshal Asghar Khan who tried to convince our nation of this “myopic thinking” as Gen. Bajwa put it so aptly in his address to the Munich Security Conference in Feb, 2018.

Asghar Khan, said as far back as 1980 that “The fire we are helping ingnite in Afghanistan will also consume Pakistan”.

Many people called him a coward, a traitor and stupid. But, sadly he was right and Gen. Zia plunged us into a fire which continues to burn us.

The second was his advocacy and implementation of his personal brand and version of Islam with Salafi/Wahabi roots.

This destroyed the fragile but still intact culture of reasonably peaceful co-existence between the various muslim sects, especially sunnis and shias.

Pakistan which till now had a benign non violent Barelvi brand of Sunni Islam and living peacefully with Shias saw groups morphing into a violent, obscurantist, non inclusive wahabi brand funded by Saudi dollars.

This set in motion violent sectarian strife all across the country, resulting in thousands of deaths and assassinations, which still bedevil and haunt our society.

It set in motion the intolerance we see today.

It set in motion the burning of mosques, churches, hindu temples.

It set in motion the rise of highly obscurantist an intolerant society.

It set in motion the rise of religious preachers urging the killing of others.

It gave rise to the sectarian killing machines like the Lashkar e Jhangvi and Sipah e Sahaba now renamed the Ahle Sunnath Wal Jamaath (ASWJ).

Such is the impact of his thought that the ASWJ, an openly sectarian outfits, which openly advocates the killing of Shias, was last week, declared a non terrorist outfit, taken out of the 4th schedule and allowed to contest the 2018 elections.

Such were Zia’s gifts to Pakistan.

The third was the use of non state actors as agents of state policy in Kashmir.

This led to the rise of the jihadi militias and nexus berween the State and the aforementioned highly militant sectarian outfits.

These sectarian outfits were in return given a free hand to commit Shia genocide, with the State looking the other way.

While the policy may have given India some temporary grief in Kashmir, its impact on our own society was and still is, devastating and deep.

For decades violence has wrecked our wretched country. Tens of thousands if not more of our finest brains have left the country. Our economy suffered. Our society disintegrated and our people suffered

Our international image also suffered, dramatically. But for his death, a civilian hiatus from 1988 to 1999 and 9/11 and the consequent reprieve, we would have suffered grievous international sanctions and perhaps a pariah Iran like status.

While the Kashmir cause is a highly emotional one for many Pakistanis, the answer lies in a political settlement and not formal or informal military or militant actions.

One of our biggest white elephants today is what to do with the thousands of highly armed jihadi militant, mostly in the Punjab heartland, we nurtured for decades?

Another Zia legacy!

The attempt to mainstream these Jihadis into politics, in my opinion is the only viable practical option. Those who criticise this, must remember, that there are two options. Fight them or tame them.

The former is just not an option because we cannot afford another civil war in the Country’s heartland.

Our only option is to wean them off their diet of Jihadism and militancy and feed them a less toxic one of political activism!

And finally Zia masterfully used an unscrupulous class of politicians to serve his political interests.

Some who were honest and didn’t or wouldn’t toe his line, such as his own hand picked Prime Minister, Mohammed Khan Junejo, perhaps our finest civilian PM, were summarily and humiliatingly dismissed.

PM Junejo, is arguably considered one of our most honest Prime Ministers. He had set in motion major administrative reforms and the country was slowly recovering after the ravages of Bhutto’s so called socialism and Zia’s fascism.

But Zia would have none of it and destroyed the fledgling embers of this brave but unsuccessful attempt at change and recovery.

Another gift to Pakistan was the creation and sponsoship of the MQM to counter the PPP in Sind and Karachi.

Another strategy with very serious consequences for Pakistan, especially, Karachi. The MQM monster went out of control and wreaked havoc in Karachi.

Importantly it also shows how the seeds of ethnic division sowed by Bhutto, eventually gave rise to a violent, militant fascist political group like the MQM.

And that the Urdu speaking community was perfectly happy to follow a half insane megalomaniacal demagogue and accept the violence his party wreaked, in exchange for political participation and access to rights, which the state was progressively unable to provide.

But Zia’s crowning glory and final “gift” to Pakistan was Mian Muhammed Nawaz Sharif.

And along with with Nawaz, came a whole coterie of crooked, corrupt politicians.

Barring the odd exception all subsequently looted and plundered at will, whether in the PPP or PMLN or Gen. Musharraf’s administrations.

I believe, it was Zia’s dark period which has really divided the nation into the pro and anti army camps, quite visible today.

A schism smartly used by Nawaz to muddy the waters and convert his corruption into a battle between “Democracy and Army”

This, in my opinion is sad, because the current Army and its leadership, is very different from that off Zia’s time and even Musharraf’s.

The current Army has partially paid for the acts of commission by its former Chiefs, by its sacrifices in battling extremism and terrorism, and saving the country from near civil war.

But I digress. Insha Allah more on this in a later piece and back to Zia and to my conclusion

Zia, like Musharraf also presented Pakistan’s view internationally, successfully and forcefully. The nuclear program achieved much success during this time. Economic progress was made.

But his lasting legacy will remain of a man who brought sectarianism, terrorism, drugs, violence and fascism to Pakistan and wreaked even greater havoc on our civilian public government institutions!

*Haider Mehdi*

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