Zia ul Haq

Zia ul Haq: The Controversial Pakistan's Military Dictator

General Muhammad Zia ul Haq, a name that continues to evoke strong emotions and opinions in Pakistan and beyond. Serving as the sixth President of Pakistan (through coup), he held power for almost 11 years, from 1977 to 1988. Zia’s rule was marked by numerous significant developments, from his military coup against Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, assassination of the elected prime minister, Islamization of policies, brutal suppression of democratic forces, and involvement in the radicalized Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union. This article by Academic Block, aims to delve into the life, times, and cruel legacy of General Zia ul Haq, providing a comprehensive understanding of this unfeeling figure.

Early Life and Military Career

Muhammad Zia ul Haq was born on August 12, 1924, in Jalandhar, British India, which is now part of modern-day Pakistan. He belonged to a modest family of Punjabi origin and was the second of four siblings. After completing his initial education in Simla and Delhi, he joined the Royal Indian Military Academy in 1943.

Zia’s military career began when he was commissioned into the British Indian Army during the final years of World War II. After the partition of India in 1947, being a supporter of the islamic ideology, he opted for Pakistan and was welcomed into the newly formed Pakistan Army. Over the years, he attended various military training programs, including those in the United States and the United Kingdom, which helped shape his leadership skills.

Despite his humble beginnings, Zia quickly rose through the ranks, thanks to his overtly islamic viewpoint, and, importantly, his good relation with his superiors.

Coup Against Bhutto

In July 1977, Pakistan found itself at a crossroads. The government of democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was grappling with mounting political opposition and allegations of election rigging. The situation took a dramatic turn when pakistan’s army orchestrated widespread protests and allegations of electoral fraud, ultimately leading to a coup on July 5, 1977, carefully planned by General Zia ul Haq.

Zia’s coup was quick, and he soon assumed control of the government, declaring martial law and suspending the civil constitution. Prime minister Bhutto was arrested and later falsely charged with conspiring to commit murder, leading to his controversial trial and eventual brutal execution in 1979.

Under Zia’s rule, Pakistan transitioned from a struggling democracy to a absolute military dictatorship, a move that set the stage for a complex and often turbulent period in the nation’s history.

The Islamization of Pakistan

One of the defining aspects of Zia ul Haq’s rule was the radicalisation and Islamization of Pakistan. Zia was deeply conservative and held strong religious islamic beliefs. He saw himself as a protector of Islam in a country where the majority of the population identified as sunni Muslims.

Zia’s efforts to make Pakistan a more Islamic state took several forms:

Introduction of Islamic Laws: Zia implemented a series of Islamic laws, including the Hudood Ordinances, which pertained to crimes such as theft, adultery, and alcohol consumption. These laws were heavily criticized for being harsh and discriminatory, particularly towards women.

Banning Alcohol: Zia imposed a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol for Muslims in Pakistan, which remains in effect to this day.

Madrasa System: Zia encouraged the growth of religious seminaries (madrasas) and provided financial support to them. This had the unintended consequence of fostering extremism and militancy, that is still widespread in Pakistan.

Friday Sermons: Zia mandated that Friday sermons at mosques would be delivered according to government-approved scripts, further centralizing control over religious discourse.

Zia’s Islamization policies, while popular among majority conservative sections of society, also contributed to increased religiosity and sectarian tensions in Pakistan. These policies left a lasting impact on the country’s legal and political landscape.

Involvement in the Afghan Jihad

General Zia ul Haq’s role in the Afghan Jihad (also known as the Afghan War) is one of the dark chapter in his legacy. His support for the Afghan Mujahideen and the resistance against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan had far-reaching consequences for both Pakistan and the region. Here’s an overview of Zia’s involvement in the Afghan Jihad:

Support for Afghan Mujahideen: When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, General Zia ul Haq saw an opportunity to advance his radical Islamic agenda and strategic objectives. During this time, Pakistan funded and initiated the radicalization of the innocent Afghan youths. Pakistani intelligence agencies recruited many Afghans in disguise of Islamic Jihad and called them Mujahideen. He then decided to support the Afghan Mujahideen, who were fighting against the Soviet forces.

Effect on Afghanistan: Selfish policies of Pakistan, destroyed the Afghan’s social and economic fabric, ultimately these actions of Pakistan created a quagmire for nation of Afghanistan. People of Afghanistan are still suffering due to the interference of Pakistan in their internal matters.

Western Support: Zia’s support for the Afghan resistance aligned with the interests of the United States and other Western countries. The United States, in particular, viewed the Afghan Jihad as a means to counter Soviet expansion and containment.

Training and Logistics: Pakistan, under Zia’s leadership, became a critical hub for training, arming, and providing logistics to the Afghan Mujahideen. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) played a central role in coordinating this support. People of Afghanistan are still suffering due to these actions of Pakistan.

Clandestine Operations: The extent of Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan Jihad was marked by covert operations and clandestine activities. Zia blatantly lied about delicate balance between publicly supporting the Afghan resistance while denying official involvement.

Stinger Missiles: The United States supplied the Afghan Mujahideen with advanced weaponry, including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which proved to be highly effective against Soviet aircraft. Pakistan again played a crucial role in facilitating the transfer of these weapons to the Mujahideen, while stealing a major chuck of these weapons.

Impact on Pakistan: Zia’s support for the Afghan Jihad had long-term consequences for Pakistan. The Afghan conflict contributed to the proliferation of arms, the growth of militant groups, and the spread of extremist ideologies within Pakistan. There are several globally recognized terrorist organizations operating in Pakistan openly. Radicalization within the ranks of Pakistan’s army and weak legal system still provides an ideal eco system for terrorists to thrive.

Regional Implications: Zia’s support for the Afghan Jihad also had implications for the broader region, as it stoked tensions between Pakistan and a neighboring democracy, India, which had its concerns about Pakistan’s activities in Afghanistan and involvement in the international terrorism.

Soviet Withdrawal: Though, the Soviet Union eventually withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in 1989, the region could not come out of its radical thought process. Later policies adopted by Pakistan, never allowed Afghanistan to be healed.

General Zia ul Haq’s involvement in the Afghan Jihad is a complex and controversial aspect of his rule. While it achieved some of his strategic objectives and aligned with his radical values, it also contributed to the rise of militant groups, extremism and sectarian tensions within Pakistan, issues that continue to affect the region today.

Involvement in Black September

Black September was a period of intense conflict and violence in Jordan during September 1970. The conflict primarily revolved around tensions between the Jordanian government, led by King Hussein, and Palestinian militant groups, primarily the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which had established a significant presence in Jordan. The Jordanian government declared martial law and initiated a campaign to suppress the Palestinian militant activities and restore its authority. Jordan asked Pakistan for help in this regard. Zia ul Haq, at the time was in Jordan in 1970, as Brigadier, commanding the units of the Pakistan Army.

As the Jordanian government sought to remove the PLO from Jordan with the help of forces under Zia’s command. Pakistani military led operations resulted in airstrikes, artillery shelling, and ground operations on the refugee camps. The fighting took place in urban areas, where Palestinian civilians resided. This warfare tactic, that was nothing short of a massacre, led to huge casualties of innocent Palestinian refugees. Some estimates put this number around 25,000 deaths on the Palestinian side. Ironically, Zia ul Haq was extremely proud of his shameful actions on the Palestinians.

Non State Actors against India

Zia ul Haq’s tenure as the President of Pakistan from 1977 to 1988 saw a significant shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy and strategy, including the use of non-state actors for nefarious purposes. He was resentful of Pakistan’s humiliating defeat at the hands of India in 1971 Indo-Pak war. The idea behind this strategy was to use a combination of militant groups, irregular warfare, and low-intensity conflict to create instability and pressure points on India. Zia saw non state actors as a force multiplier. Though this policy did not gave the desired results, it radicalized the major population of the Pakistan. Policies adopted at that time, still results in deterioration of democracy and countless insurgencies within Pakistan.

Challenges and Controversies

During his time in power, Zia ul Haq faced a multitude of challenges and controversies, both domestically and internationally:

Economic Challenges: The economic condition of Pakistan worsened under Zia’s rule. His policies focused more on political and ideological aspects, neglecting crucial economic reforms.

Opposition and Repression: Political opposition was effectively silenced, and critics faced severe repressions, like violent death. Zia maintained his rule through martial law and he brutally suppressed dissent.

Execution of Bhutto: The execution of democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, remains one of the controversial aspects of Zia’s rule. It was widely criticized both domestically and internationally.

Support for Militancy: Zia’s support for the Afghan Jihad and the growth of militant groups in Pakistan created a legacy of extremism that continues to plague the country.

Deteriorating Relations with India: Relations with India deteriorated during Zia’s tenure, primarily due to the lingering Kashmir conflict and his support for insurgent groups in Indian-administered Kashmir.

End of Zia’s Rule and His Legacy

The Zia ul Haq era came to an abrupt end on August 17, 1988, when a plane carrying the general and several top military officials crashed near Bahawalpur, Pakistan. The crash, which claimed the lives of all on board, has been the subject of conspiracy theories and investigations. Zia’s death marked the end of a turbulent and controversial period in Pakistan’s history.

Zia’s legacy remains a subject of debate and contention. Radicals view him as a principled leader who upheld traditional values and played a vital role in resisting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Common citizens see him as a dictator who exploited religious sentiment for political gain, stifled democracy, and sowed the seeds of extremism and hate in Pakistan.

Aspects of Zia’s Legacy:

Erosion of Democracy: Zia’s coup and subsequent authoritarian rule marked a significant setback for democracy in Pakistan, the country could not recover since.

Islamization Policies: The strict Islamization policies he implemented have been rightly criticized for contributing to religious intolerance and extremism.

Militancy and Sectarianism: Zia’s support for the Afghan Jihad and religious seminaries indirectly contributed to the rise of militant groups and sectarian violence in Pakistan, claiming countless lives.

Legacy of Repression: The period under Zia’s rule saw the stifling of political opposition and dissent, leaving a lasting negative impact on the political landscape.

Final Words

General Muhammad Zia ul Haq’s rule was undoubtedly one of the most controversial periods in Pakistan’s history, with profound implications for the nation’s political, social, and religious fabric.

Zia’s commitment to Islamization and support for the Afghan Jihad left an indelible mark on Pakistan. The consequences of these policies, including the rise of terrorism, continue to challenge the country’s stability and security.

While radicals appreciate his stance on conservative values and his role in Islamization, it is essential to recognize that his rule witnessed a significant erosion of democratic institutions and human rights.

As Pakistan continues to grapple with the complexities of its history, Zia ul Haq’s legacy remains a subject of intense debate and reflection. His rule, with its many contradictions and controversies, serves as a cautionary tale about the interplay of religion, politics, corruption, and power in a diverse and complex nation. Please provide your comments below, it will help us in improving this article. Thanks for reading!

Zia ul Haq
Personal Details
Date of Birth : 12th August 1924
Died : 17th August 1988
Place of Birth : Jalandhar, British India (now in modern-day Pakistan)
Father : Muhammad Akbar Zia
Mother : Jahan Ara Begum
Spouse/Partners : Begum Shafiq Zia
Children : Shabnam, Rubina, Ifitkhar, Ijaz-ul-Haq
Alma Mater : Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, India
Professions : Military Officer and Leader

Famous quotes by Zia ul Haq

“I cannot say if martial law is the solution to our problems, but it is the way to achieve those solutions.”

“We will follow the Islamic system, because in this country, the majority of people are Muslims. The minorities should also have their rights. But they have their rights in their own way, not as it is for the majority.”

“I am a soldier, and I have my own vision of Pakistan. I believe in the strength of a united and disciplined nation.”

“In our democracy, we have managed to reach a point where decisions taken are not challenged or brought to a referendum.”

“Our laws are not perfect, but they will do until something better comes along.”

“Islam’s message is that if you submit to God’s will, you will find peace.”

“In Islamic societies, the military cannot and should not be independent of the government.”

“The government is taking steps to ensure that Islamic values are preserved in Pakistan.”

Facts on Zia ul Haq

Birth and Early Life: Zia ul Haq was born on August 12, 1924, in Jalandhar, British India (now in modern-day Pakistan). He came from a modest Punjabi family and was the second of four siblings.

Military Career: Zia joined the British Indian Army during World War II and, after the partition of India in 1947, he opted for Pakistan and became part of the newly formed Pakistan Army. He quickly rose through the ranks due to his competence and loyalty.

Coup and Seizure of Power: Zia came to power on July 5, 1977, through a military coup that ousted Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He declared martial law, suspended the constitution, and took control of the government.

Execution of Bhutto: One of the most controversial and significant events of Zia’s rule was the execution of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979. Bhutto was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder.

Islamization Policies: Zia’s regime saw a significant emphasis on the Islamization of Pakistan. He introduced various Islamic laws, including the Hudood Ordinances, and banned alcohol for Muslims.

Support for the Afghan Jihad: Zia played a key role in supporting the Afghan Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union, which invaded Afghanistan in 1979. This support was part of the broader U.S.-led efforts to resist Soviet expansion.

Deterioration of Relations with India: During Zia’s rule, relations between India and Pakistan worsened, primarily due to the Kashmir conflict and accusations of cross-border terrorism.

Death in a Plane Crash: Zia’s rule came to an end on August 17, 1988, when a plane carrying him and several top military officials crashed near Bahawalpur, Pakistan. The circumstances of the crash remain the subject of conspiracy theories and investigations.

Legacy and Controversy: General Zia ul Haq’s legacy is complex and controversial. While some see him as a defender of traditional values and a key figure in resisting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, others view him as an authoritarian leader who exploited religion for political gain, stifled democracy, and contributed to the rise of extremism in Pakistan.

Zia ul Haq’s family life

Wife: General Zia ul Haq was married to Shafiq Jahan. Their marriage was a private and low-profile affair. Not much is publicly known about his wife, as she maintained a relatively low profile during Zia’s rule.

Children: Zia and Shafiq Jahan had several children together. Among them, two of his sons later joined the Pakistan Army. Shaukat Zia and Ijaz-ul-Haq, both sons, pursued military careers and served in various capacities in the armed forces.

Academic References on Zia ul Haq

“Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization of Pakistan” by Charles H. Kennedy. This paper explores the Islamization policies implemented by General Zia ul Haq and their impact on Pakistan’s society and legal system.

“The Legacy of Zia ul Haq: Politics in Pakistan” by Brian Cloughley. A comprehensive book that delves into the political and military aspects of General Zia’s rule, as well as his role in Afghan affairs and Pakistan’s domestic politics.

“Between Mosque and Military: Zia-ul-Haq, the Ulema, and the Quest for an Islamic State in Pakistan” by Husain Haqqani. This book examines the complex relationship between the military, religious institutions, and General Zia’s quest for an Islamic state in Pakistan.

“General Zia’s Rule: Obituary for a Failed Ideology” by Nasim Yousaf. This article discusses the socio-political and economic implications of Zia ul Haq’s rule, as well as the consequences of his policies.

“Zia’s Pakistan: Politics and Stability in a National Crisis” edited by Craig Baxter and Charles H. Kennedy. This edited volume provides a collection of scholarly essays on various aspects of General Zia’s rule, including the Afghan Jihad, political repression, and Islamization.

“Zia-ul-Haq: An Intelligence Profile” by Brigadier A.I. Akram. This paper focuses on the intelligence and security aspects of General Zia’s rule, shedding light on the role of the military in governance.

“State, Society, and Religion: Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan” edited by Anita M. Weiss. This edited volume explores the religious and societal dimensions of General Zia’s rule and his impact on the state of Pakistan.

“General Zia Ul Haq and the Aftermath of Operation Fair Play” by Nafis Ahmad Siddiqui. This research paper examines the events leading up to the military coup led by General Zia ul Haq and its aftermath, particularly the trial and execution of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

This Article will answer your questions like:

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