PRECIOUS little happens in Pakistan that cannot be traced to the man who ruled over this country for 11 dark years of its existence. On the morning of Aug 17, exactly 24 years after his death, Gen Ziaul Haq’s presence was felt all the more poignantly. ‘Terrorists attack Kamra airbase’, ‘19 pulled out of buses, shot dead in sectarian attack’ at Babusar Top, ‘Zardari seeks Muslim countries’ assistance’ on Afghanistan. Rulers either side of Zia have contributed to this mad, unending dance of death that Pakistanis have been subjected to. But while the dictator may have found the soil fertile for cultivating his brand of hatred, he was so thorough in his execution of the self-assigned job and so heartlessly committed to his creed that he ensured that generations after him will find it impossible to escape his influence.
Zia’s figure looms large over a Pakistan where, ostensibly, no popular political party stands by his ideals — just as none has dared to declare a war against his legacy. The parties which he fathered, and the ones which were born of circumstances of his making, have all turned their back on their mentor. Yet, the ghosts of intolerance the general let loose on society with a ferocity previously unseen are not only very much around and kicking, they have spread far and wide and today use various disguises. Zia used Islam, originally, as a tool to secure the moral high ground against the politicians he had thrown out and that tool later became his convenient ideology, a justification for his rule. Most dangerously in the present context, he played an able facilitator to a process which was destined to superimpose the interests of the people of the country with the perceived interests of the Islamic ‘millat’. Inevitably, this was a prelude to a long, violent campaign for the hegemony of an interpretation, a sect over others. This cannot be effectively countered unless those who now disown Zia — and this includes almost all political parties here — gather the courage to actively fight his legacy. The standard catharsis through Zia-bashing will not be enough.