In Zia’s defence – by Kunwar Khuldune Shahid


Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

The man who gave Pakistan its only logical identity

All “liberals” from our neck of the woods come together every August 17 in condemnation of a man who enforced Islam in a country that was created in the name of Islam. They also claim that said man not only singlehandedly dragged Pakistan into the multi-pronged predicament that the country finds itself in, his legacy is so overbearing that he continues to live on despite being dead for a quarter of a century now. If it were up to them, the liberals would accuse the man of being guilty of causing every single problem that every man and his dog is facing in this country, but rather generously they choose to earmark one manoeuvre of his as the root of all evil: Islamisation of Pakistan.

Ziaul Haq’s foreign policy was pretty much a continuation of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s diplomatic endeavours. The military intervention under him and the coup d’etat in 1977 was a continuation of the legacy of Iskander Mirza, Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan and the corollary of Pakistan’s status as an “armoured buffer” in a volatile region. His domestic policy and the dictatorial stranglehold over the country which led to political victimisation – courtesy Martial Law Regulation No 53 and Article 58 2(b) of the Constitution – and persecution of journalists and citizens, is a part and parcel of an authoritarian regime. Zia wasn’t the first military nut-head to pulverise democracy in Pakistan, and he wasn’t the last. Most of his schemes had precedents; most of his acts were either continuations from previous legacies or trendsetters for those that followed him and most of his steps bore the quintessence of the brand of government that he put on the table – barring one: Islamisation of Pakistan.

And herein lies the bone of contention.

Zia’s dictatorial manifestations put him among a group of five men, collectively castigated by the “champions of freedom”, but it’s the fact that he imposed Islam in the county that sets him apart for special chastisement as the villain-in-chief of Pakistan’s history. Yup, that’s right, the man who dumped Western democracy; conjured the Hudood Ordinance; enforced punishments for Zina and Qazf; propagated public lashings, amputation of limbs, and stoning to death; introduced Blasphemy laws; made women half in legal terms; forced women to cover their heads; prohibited them from dancing on TV and banned alcohol consumption – all in synchrony with the Quran and the Shariah – has been peddled as Pakistan’s ultimate bad guy.

So it wasn’t Muhammad Ali Jinnah the man who used religion – or the religious identity of a particular community, depending which brand of history you read – for a separatist movement who laid the foundation of a religiously bigoted county. Nor was it Allama Iqbal whose Mard-e-Momin was an Islamist to the core or Liaquat Ali Khan whose Objectives Resolution pretty much was the funeral of religious minorities’ hopes in Pakistan. And of course it couldn’t have been Bhutto, the secular, liberal, socialist under whose premiership the Ahmadis were officially declared non-Muslims in 1974. It is Zia, whose religiosity seems to pinch the liberals the most. Zia, the man who put a full-stop to the ideological cherry picking that is the favourite vocation of our liberals, and helped sort out the contradictory mess that his predecessors had created to give Pakistan its only logical identity – that of a true Islamic state.

Regardless of whether Pakistan’s identity traces its origin in the widely accepted Two-Nation theory or the lesser known secular consociationalism (propagated by the likes of Ayesha Jalal), the undisputable fact was that a separate country was created for the Muslims. Coming to terms with the fact that the founding fathers of Pakistan went through all that hassle to create a separate secular state might challenge the little grey cells of many individuals, considering that anyone with any inkling of political nous at that time would’ve figured out that India was always going to end up being a secular country. Even so, the commonsensical answer to the question of governance in a country created for Muslims would be according to the religion which earmarks them as a separate nation. And so, when the Pakistani nationalism was based on the religious identity of its inhabitants, it’s no rocket science to figure out that implementation of Islam and the Shariah was the natural way to go. Zia filtered the contradictions and put two and two together over 30 years after the creation of Pakistan.

Let’s suppose that Jinnah did actually strive to create a secular state, and the ensuing massacre on both sides of the Indo-Pak divide was owing to the economic insecurities of the Muslims, it’s still Jinnah’s ostensible word against Allah’s unalterable word as Pakistan continues soul searching for its raison d’etre. Allah quite obviously asks for an Islamic state even if Jinnah might have wanted a secular one. And ladies and gentlemen, the man that that gave precedence to Allah’s unambiguous orders over Jinnah’s apparent desires is being dubbed the bad guy here.

Unless you plan on challenging his ideology, there is no way in hell that you can condemn Zia. If you consider yourself a Muslim you shouldn’t frown upon Islamisation or criticise the implementation of political ordinances of Islam. And when you peddle the “Zia still lives on…” cliché, please take a moment to realise that by that logic Zia lived in the 7th century as well. His Islamisation process is strictly according to the legacy of the founding fathers of the ideology and the divine orders of Allah. Condemning Zia means condemning the ideological origins, Islamic law and history and pretty much every Muslim leader considered a million miles above any iota of criticism. Unless you’re willing to take a potshot at all of that, any criticism of Zia is merely pointless rhetoric.

The writer is a financial journalist and a cultural critic. Email:, Twitter: @khuldune

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