Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.
General Zia’s Legacy
20 years back this day we lost Gen Zia and many senior officials in a tragic plane crash. For good or bad, General Zia and his 11 years rule has done more to shape the current Pakistan than anyone else. His rule lasted roughly 20% of the life of the country directly and around the same indirectly, touching all aspects of the country and its society. Despite being an unelected ruler frequently displaying ruthlessness of the highest degree he still has a more than substantial following which speaks volumes of his skills and tactfulness although he has many critics too whose numbers are constantly increasing. His emotionally charged and highly attended funeral was spectacular befitting a national hero and not that of an autocrat. Nearly all aspects of his legacy have been enumerated and thoroughly discussed but the most important and everlasting aspect has always been somehow ignored. By overthrowing popular PM Bhutto and hanging him on foreign instigation, he sent a dreadful message to the Pakistani politicians and the civil society at large; this is what happens to those who dare to defy the US.
His admirers credit him for winning the Afghan war and breaking of the Soviet Union. Although time has proven that it was not a Pakistani war but Zia and his coterie succeeded in making Pakistanis fight and pay for an American war and still there are people equating Zia with the great Muslim Generals of history. He is also attributed for encouraging Islamic values and norms which were mostly restricted to rituals conveniently overlooking the human aspects of religion requiring efforts and sacrifices by the rulers. Still at the end of the Zia era the attendance of mosques had improved and the attire of women had certainly gained in modesty.
His critics blame him for most ills we face today. He is held responsible for the advent of drugs, crime, violence, intolerance, extremism and enormous corruption in Pakistan. These vices did exist before him but increased exponentially under his rule, which many relate to his covert patronage. He is also blamed for subverting the constitution and democracy in Pakistan but somehow he has not been openly blamed for promoting foreign interference by making an example out of a popular PM on its tutelage.
Although there are rumblings that US had a role in bringing Bhutto to power but they soon started having problems. This break became embarrassingly evident in the summer of 1974 when much trumpeted trip to US was rudely cancelled by President Nixon while Bhutto was still in Europe on his way to Washington. This breakup was caused by three events US as a world power considered against its interests. First was the revival of the Islamic Conference criticizing Israel and the second was mobilization of the third world against the imperialists and the third was the use of oil as a weapon in international relations; and Bhutto was instrumental in all. Despite enormous stress in the relations the point of no return hadn’t arrived yet.
The final break in Bhutto's relations with the US occurred when his nuclear ambitions were exposed. US just could not allow nuclear weapons in the hands of a Muslim country so labeled it “Islamic Bomb” although the Indian bomb was not branded Hindu and the Israeli not called Jewish. French were forced to break the nuclear deal with Pakistan and Kissinger visited Pakistan in 1976 persuading Bhutto to drop his nuclear ambitions. When he failed to convince Bhutto, Kissinger openly in a curt undiplomatic language threatened him of dire consequences. Despite his strengths Bhutto was certainly not a modest person and he presented the guest with a model resembling a bomb further infuriating him. According to many observers Bhutto’s fate was sealed that day.
Strange things started happening after that; sworn rivals united for elections, easily winnable elections were rigged and caught and then an effective protest with dubious financing was launched. Still Bhutto reached an agreement with the opposition but Zia took over at the last moment with the help of known CIA sympathizers. A strange legal battle occurred which even the perpetuators try to distance from and Bhutto was hanged by Zia fulfilling Kissinger’s prophecy, making him an example. Interestingly all his was done in the name of Islamic government with the help of institutions created to defend the constitution and sovereignty of the country.
This tragic death of Bhutto in the hands of Gen Zia has totally changed the direction of Pakistani politics. The days of romance of David defying the strong Goliath ended. Now no one even imagines disobeying or resisting US even at the expense of Pakistan. Musharraf's acceptance of all American demands on one call is a clear example of it. They weren’t expecting such pliability because probably they don’t adequately comprehend the fear a popular PMs murder has instilled in the Pakistani polity and society. It has effectively caused a race among the politicians and institutions in Pakistan to outdo each other serving the US interests. In today’s political wisdom, defying US is rated stupid and immature and hoping to achieve political offices without acquiring foreign approval naiveté. The complete political horizon is more pliable to foreign interests than any other country in the world; occasionally more than even the occupied ones which sporadically express displeasure upon political compulsions. Nothing of this sort has been witnessed here lately resulting in US interfering in political and other appointments regularly reaching the lowest inconsequential matters. In our current political government at least 4 federal ministers and 2 diplomats are known to be direct appointees of foreign powers.
Unfortunately the story of foreign interference in our matters doesn’t end with major powers as a host of smaller nations routinely and openly meddle in our domestic matters. Our politicians and other political players routinely go abroad to solve local problems with their help without caring to conceal it. This has certainly affected Pakistan’s standing and respect across the world and our eternal wish to be treated equal with the Indians has become a joke. This trend is certainly undesirable but understandable as countries that cant stand for themselves always find themselves rolling.
It must be appreciated that other countries always keep their interests foremost in international relations. Whenever they interfere in our matters it is never out of love for us but for their own interests and by allowing them to meddle in our matters basically we are compromising Pakistan’s interests. Lets accept the hard fact that the ministers appointed by the foreign powers will naturally serve them mostly at the expense of Pakistan. Having ambassadors appointed by others leaves Pakistan absolutely defenseless in today’s callous world where no one is protecting the interests of poor Pakistanis. This sorry state of affairs has left Pakistan in the only condition it can lead to, a very pathetic one. And Gen Zia lives on if not physically at least spiritually.
This most lasting and damaging legacy of Gen Zia must be curtailed. Blaming foreign powers for our problems wont solve the issue so we must avoid it solving our tribulations ourselves. For this we will have to take our reins in our own hands. We must never let any usurper capture our country and its future at any pretext whatsoever and put us in intractable problems. To ensure it, we might have to make an example of a few collaborators like Zia made of Bhutto and bring our institutions back to Pakistani control. We cant bring Bhutto back, or right the wrong done to him, but we can certainly make him more comfortable in his grave by achieving what he strived hard for by making Pakistan a real sovereign country like most of the world by freeing it from the unhealthy and uncontrolled foreign interference. Only then we will be able to free our rulers to serve us and not foreign masters. We must achieve it, as anything else is absolutely unaffordable. Lets finally burry Gen Zia in spirit by becoming our own masters.