General Zia-ul-Haq’s legacy: The axis of evil in Pakistan

Crime in the name of conspiracy —Mehmal Sarfraz

Conspiracy theory is the only industry in Pakistan that runs round the clock and the production quality as well as product variety are absolutely out of this world

Conspiracy theory is the only industry in Pakistan that runs round the clock and the production quality as well as product variety are absolutely out of this world. The whole school of conspiracy theory reflects a certain mindset, which comes up with half-baked stories based on little or no evidence.

Just like former US President George W Bush had his axis of evil, a lot of Pakistanis have their own axis of evil — India, Israel and the US. If anybody so much as sneezes in the land of the pure, any one of these three countries or all of them are behind it. This is exactly what Mr Ijazul Haq did in his two articles, ‘A criminal conspiracy’ and ‘Punish the Bahawalpur conspirators’ published in this newspaper on September 8 and 9, 2009.

He has not only blamed Pakistan’s own ‘axis of evil’ but he has blamed everyone and his uncle for General Ziaul Haq’s death: Russia, Afghanistan, Al-Zulfiqar, the Pakistani military and many others.

First, let us examine why the Russians may not be responsible for this misadventure. The Soviets had signed the Geneva Accords in Spring 1988 and were engaged in pulling out their troops from Afghanistan. That they were earnest in their commitment was borne out by their scrupulous adherence to the pullout schedule. It would have been nothing but an act of petulance on their part if they were involved in the plane crash. If it is ever proved that the Soviets were involved in this conspiracy, it would greatly affect their credibility. Further, what material evidence can Mr Haq or anyone for that matter adduce to substantiate his allegation? Blaming this on the Soviets takes us away from the real truth.

Al-Zulfiqar too had almost abandoned its operations after the murder of Shahnawaz Bhutto in 1985; so to lay the blame at its doorstep is too far-fetched. Al-Zulfiqar did not have any sympathisers in the Pakistani military and therefore it could not have pulled off such an enormous coup, the logistics as well as actual conduct of which would have required an outlay that was definitely beyond the resources of a hounded and battered outfit like Al-Zulfiqar. Again, the question remains what material evidence can Mr Ijazul Haq show to prove the complicity of Al-Zulfiqar in the crash at Bahawalpur? But then, empirical evidence probably is not what Mr Haq is after. It is fine to spout a few trite albeit patently flimsy statements as long as the same sit well with a heavily indoctrinated public.

Israel would not have gained much from Zia’s death either. After the release of the much-touted book ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ by George Crile, it is no secret that Israel helped General Zia in the Afghan war. Had Zia remained alive, things might have improved between Israel and Pakistan, much to the chagrin of the Arabs and most Pakistanis, but since the General had no one to answer to, this could have been achieved. Even in General Musharraf’s time, there were backdoor channels working on improving relations between Israel and Pakistan. It was the Lebanon war in 2006 that placed a few spanners in the wheels of these back-channel negotiations.

As for India, killing Zia and Pakistan’s top military brass would have been an open invitation to war. Had India actually been involved, our military would have done everything to prove this to the world and launched a military offensive with international support. Further, Pak-India relations had been rather smooth under Zia as well as Musharraf. It is the political leadership that fails to deliver vis-à-vis relations with India because their decision-making space is severely limited. India would have relished Zia’s longevity rather than cut the chord that held things in balance.

Mr Ijazul Haq has wagged a finger of suspicion at the Americans too for good measure, again without an iota of proof. Some people are of the view that after the end of the Cold War, the world wanted Pakistan to move forward, which meant getting rid of the military dictatorship and bringing in its place a genuine democratic government. It is also said in some quarters that Zia’s pan-Islamic ambitions were not approved of by the US. Twenty years down the road, we Pakistanis know only too well how robust were the democratic governments in the decade that followed Zia’s death. Further, Charlie and his aunt in Pakistan never get tired of blaming the US for abandoning the region after 1989 and thus allowing Islamic jihad to flourish. Strange that the Americans were so naïve as to kill Zia for the imaginary proliferation of jihad and not stir a finger while jihad descended from the mountains of Afghanistan till a brace of planes struck a pair of towers in New York.

When scrutinising the death of General Zia and the top military brass, with the exception of General Beg, one cannot stop wondering whether there was an internal motivation behind this. Who would benefit the most from the elimination of Zia and his entire coterie of military officers? Without local collaboration at the highest echelons of power, this could not have been pulled off. It has been rumoured that General Beg met with resistance from the Corps Commanders in Rawalpindi after Zia’s death, but we have no evidence of this as General Beg completed his tenure without any problems.

The Shafiur Rahman Commission report on the plane crash has never been made public, like so many such sensitive reports in our history.

One would like to ask Ijazul Haq why he never tried to reopen his father’s case when he was in power during Nawaz Sharif’s time or during Musharraf’s regime. Mr Haq is a former federal minister. He failed as a politician when he tried to follow in his father’s footsteps by supporting jihadi elements. Chaudhry Shujaat is on record as saying that it was because of Ijazul Haq that Maulana Aziz of Lal Masjid was given a safe passage.

People of my generation are often called ‘Zia’s children’ because we were born during General Ziaul Haq’s era — the darkest period in the history of Pakistan. Military dictatorship is inherently bad for a country but General Zia proved to be a particularly rotten specimen of military dictator. In his article titled ‘Punish the Bahawalpur conspirators’ (Daily Times, September 9, 2009), Ijazul Haq writes, “…he [Zia] was a benign dictator. He ruled not only Pakistanis but also their hearts and minds. He worked very hard for the betterment of his people.”

On the contrary, General Ziaul Haq was undoubtedly one of the most hated men in Pakistan. He only ruled the ‘hearts and minds’ of those who wreaked havoc with the country’s polity. When Mr Ijazul Haq wrote that “ever since his [Zia’s] departure, the country has been in a constant state of crisis”, he should have realised that Zia’s legacy is haunting Pakistan and that is why the country has not been able to get out of the quagmire he left behind even though more than two decades have passed since he died. Pakistan is in this whole mess because of General Zia who stoked sectarianism in Pakistan; who persecuted the Ahmadis to the extent that there was a mass exodus of Ahmadis from Pakistan; who introduced the Blasphemy Law, which to date is misused against the religious minorities; who promulgated the Hudood Ordinance, an outright anti-women legislation. His myopic shot at piety led to the death of the political discourse, cultural diversity and economic potential of this country.

Mehmal Sarfraz is a freelance journalist and Joint Secretary South Asian Women in Media (SAWM). She can be reached at



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