40 years of Zia and the far-reaching repercussions of the 1977 military coup

On the 40th anniversary of Gen Zia's military coup, Eos looks back at the events which altered Pakistan's trajectory.
Published July 5, 2017


Forty years ago General Ziaul Haq seized power and put the country under its third and longest martial law.

Over the next decade, he decisively transformed what was left of Jinnah’s dream of a secular democratic Pakistan into an almost completely theocratic polity.

His handiwork has survived more than three decades and appears unlikely to be replaced with another political structure in the foreseeable future.

In order to understand Ziaul Haq’s success in redefining Pakistan and the survival of his scheme we have to examine the genesis of ‘the Pakistan idea’ because he drew upon the tussle between two groups of people over what Pakistan was meant to be.

Pakistanis today live not in the country envisaged by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah but in the country practically shaped by Gen Zia, who drew on a tussle from its founding moments.

The Lahore Resolution of 1940 offered a constitutional scheme as an alternative to the one embodied in the Government of India Act of 1935.

In his address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, the Quaid-i-Azam also described the creation of Pakistan and Partition as the only solution of India’s constitutional problem.

This would imply that the movement for Pakistan was a purely political struggle unrelated to any religious objective.

However, the new constitutional scheme advanced for two parts of the British Indian territory was based on the fact that these were Muslim-majority areas and, after the failure of the Muslim leaders to secure adequate safeguards to which they were entitled as a large minority, the All-India Muslim League had won considerable support for the Two Nation Theory.

This theory defined the Muslims of India as a nation completely different from the majority (Hindu) community and one entitled to a state of its own.

The grounding of the Pakistan demand in the religious identity of the people for whom a state was being demanded gave rise to the idea that Pakistan could be an Islamic state.

Jinnah did not advocate a religious polity but he did not completely disown the religious motivation either. He ignored Gandhi’s offer of persuading Congress to concede Pakistan if it was not demanded on the basis of religion.

Jinnah often maintained that he was asking for a democratic state and that was what Islam stood for. The only people who believed Pakistan was not going to be an Islamic state were the ulema, with rare exceptions.

The elections of 1945-1946 revealed a significant division in the ranks of Pakistan’s supporters.

While the League leadership continued demanding Pakistan without disclosing in detail what Pakistan was going to be (like, religious slogans were raised especially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).

Although the slogan 'Pakistan ka matlab kia, La Ilaha il-Allah' was not the battle cry, it was frequently raised at some places.

Other religious slogans, such as 'Muslim hai tau Muslim League mein aa' [If you are a Muslim join the Muslim League] and 'Pakistan mein Musalmaanon ki hukumat hogi' [Pakistan will be ruled by Muslims] were freely used.

That religion did play a role in the movement for Pakistan was confirmed by the request made by Congress campaign organisers in Punjab to their high command to send some Muslim scholars to help them.

Thus the Pakistan supporters were divided into two camps; one may be loosely defined as the group that swore by democracy while the other was vaguely attached to the concept of a religious state.

The roots of Zia’s Pakistan lay in this division.

With the creation of Pakistan there was a reshuffling of posture by both groups.

The Quaid-i-Azam realized he no longer needed the religious card.

Three days before Pakistan’s emergence as a new state he said goodbye to the Two Nation Theory and called for the formation of a new nation on the basis of people’s citizenship of Pakistan.

The religious parties that had opposed the Pakistan demand did a complete volte-face and called for making Pakistan an Islamic state.

Pakistan supporters were divided into two camps; one may be loosely defined as the group that swore by democracy while the other was vaguely attached to the concept of a religious state. The roots of Zia's Pakistan lay in this division.

Two factors guided them: They had opposed Pakistan because they had no hope of its becoming an Islamic state; in the Pakistan the League had demanded, the Muslims were going to be in a nominal majority and declaring it as an Islamic state would have been almost impossible.

The partition of Punjab and Bengal changed the situation. In the new Pakistan’s population of 65 million, non-Muslims were only around 20 million, and most of them were in the eastern wing.

The ongoing riots could further reduce the non-Muslim population.

Besides, the religious parties had seen in the elections the strength of the religious slogans.

These two factors had brightened the prospect of declaring Pakistan an Islamic state.

Maulana Maududi was among the first ulema who decided to benefit from this situation.

He migrated to Pakistan, deleted the anti-Pakistan thesis from his major publication 'Musalman aur Siyasi Kashmakash' [Muslims and Political Struggle], accepted the Punjab government’s invitation to lecture the bureaucrats on Islamic values and broadcast similar messages on the radio.

However, he soon lost the government’s goodwill when he declared that Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir was not jihad as the state was not Islamic.

Within a few months of Pakistan’s creation, in February 1948, the ulema of various shades of opinion presented the government with a charter of demands containing steps required to establish a religious state.

They were put off with promises of favourable consideration of their demands.

But the government was rattled by East Bengal’s demands for acceptance of its cultural rights and tried to face these demands by raising the standard of Islamic solidarity.

Eventually, it took refuge under the Objectives Resolution of March 1949, which displayed a variety of wares to suit different sections of the population.

The most important feature of the resolution was a declaration that sovereignty belonged to Allah. The ulema were jubilant.

The slogan-walas had defeated the Jinnah lobby.

The Jamaat-i-Islami now declared Pakistan an Islamic state.

The most telling observation on the Objectives Resolution came from a Congress member of the assembly who warned the house that the resolution had cleared the way for the emergence of an adventurer who could claim to be God’s appointee.

And General Zia behaved exactly like that.

Thus we find that between 1947 and 1953 the ‘religious slogan group’ acquired a toehold in the political arena, thanks to the failure of the ‘democratic ideals group’ to honour Jinnah’s advice to keep religion out of politics and also its failure to promote democratic norms.

Further, it made the grave mistake of resisting democratic demands by seeking refuge under a religious canopy.

The ‘religious slogan group’ took an exaggerated view of its strength and challenged the government by launching the anti-Ahmadi agitation in 1953.

It lost because the state services, especially the army, had not abandoned the colonial policy of denying religious/sectarian elements any accommodation at the cost of law and order.

But this was the only victory the ‘democratic ideals group’ was able to achieve against the ‘religious slogan group’.

Between 1953 and 1958 the ‘democratic ideals group’ had to contend with a new challenger — a civil and military bureaucratic combine that had scant respect for the democratic facade that had hitherto been sustained to a certain degree.

Neither party paid much attention to the ‘religious slogan group’ that was left to lick the wounds it sustained in 1953.

However, while preparing the country’s first constitution, the civil bureaucracy gave considerable concession to the religious parties by calling the state the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, reserving the presidentship for Muslims and creating an Islamic board to advise the government on its religious duties, including the task of ‘Islamisation’ of laws. These provisions were later to be used as the foundations of a theocratic state.

The Ayub regime tried to crush both the ‘democratic ideals’ and ‘religious slogan’ groups.

The former were Ebdo-ed out of the political arena (Ebdo was the Elective Bodies Disqualification Order which threatened prosecution of politicians for ‘misconduct’ unless they promised not to participate in politics for seven years). The latter were controlled by putting mosques under the Auqaf department.

Further, Jamaat-i-Islami was subjected to a propaganda campaign in addition to the detention of its leader. When the regime brought in its constitution in 1962, it dropped the word “Islamic” from the state’s title. (It also dropped the chapter on fundamental rights.)

However, the Ayub regime was responsible for strengthening the religious parties’ place in national politics.

After most of the politicians had been sent into the wilderness, mosques were the only platforms left for any agitation.

When the opposition parties got together to set up their candidates to contest the 1965 presidential election, the alliance had as many religious parties as the quasi-democratic ones and they gained in terms of popular support while campaigning in favour of Fatima Jinnah.

The anti-Ayub agitation was a secular, democratic movement and therefore Yahya Khan concentrated on removing the people’s political grievances by accepting the ‘one-man, one-vote’ principle, and undoing the one-unit.

He did not think of pandering to the religious lobby till his attempt to issue a new constitution on the night of surrender at Dhaka but these parties’ support to this draft constitution was of help neither to Yahya nor to themselves.

The religious parties benefitted a great deal from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s attempts to win them over to his side.

The constitution of 1973 declared Islam as the state religion and invested the Council of Islamic Ideology with wide powers.

In February 1974, Bhutto joined King Faisal’s efforts to counter the forces of Arab nationalism with Islamic nationalism and organised the Islamic Summit.

About six months later, his government had the Ahmadis declared non-Muslims. All this did not help him.

And after the mishandling of the 1977 election by his advisers, the religious parties spearheaded a movement for his ouster under the slogan of Nizam-i-Mustafa, which called for Islamic laws to be implemented in the country.

Further concessions to the clergy — such as imposing of a ban on the sale and consumption of liquor and declaring Friday as the weekly holiday — did not help Bhutto because Zia had already decided to overthrow him.

Now it can be said that the Bhutto government of 1971-1977 provided Zia with a broad enough platform to launch his plan to redefine Pakistan. And he went about this task with the zeal and confidence of a neo-convert.

Between 1978 and 1985, Zia took a number of steps to complete Pakistan’s transformation into a theocracy of the medieval variety.

A Federal Shariat Court was created for enforcing religious laws, striking down laws it found repugnant to Islam, and with some power to make laws.

The state assumed the power to collect zakat and ushr.

Ahmadis were barred from calling their prayer houses mosques, from possessing and reading the Quran or using the Muslim ways of greeting one another, using Islamic epithets or naming their daughters after women belonging to the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) family.

The Penal Code was amended to provide for punishment for desecration of the Holy Quran and for punishing blasphemy with death or life imprisonment (later on the the Shariat Court made death for blasphemy mandatory).

The parliament was designated as the Majlis-e-Shura, and an arbitrarily amended Objectives Resolution — used hitherto as a preamble to the constitution — was made its substantive part.

Furthermore, an attempt was made to subvert the system of democratic elections by holding party-less polls.

In addition, Zia amended the constitutional provisions relating to qualifications for membership of assemblies and disqualification of members to make them suggestive of respect for religious criteria.

He also subverted the education system, firstly by facilitating the growth of religious seminaries (while extension and improvement of general education were neglected and books on rights and democracy were burnt) and increased religion-related lessons in textbooks at all grade levels.

Further he tried to consolidate his measures through a constitutional amendment (the ninth amendment) but it was not adopted.

He was also unable in his attempts to create morality brigades to enforce the system of prayers and puritanical regulations.

Many factors helped Zia to impose his belief on the people including measures that lacked Islamic sanction. He fully exploited the political advantages the religious parties had won from poorly performing quasi-democratic governments.

And the conflict in Afghanistan yielded him enormous dividends. He was able to convince a large body of people that through his Afghan policy he had brought glory to Islam.

That Pakistan today is what Gen Zia made it into cannot be denied and the reasons are not far to seek.

First, it has not been possible to undo the changes made by Zia in the constitution and the laws. Every bit of change made by him is treated by the religious lobby as divinely ordained.

Some of the parties that are not included among religious outfits are unabashedly loyal to Zia’s legacy — those that are not are afraid of taking on the religious mobs.

The secular elements lost the streets to the hordes controlled by the clergy, especially by the madressah authorities, long ago.

The judiciary, never keen to rule against religious extremists, has often declined to touch Zia’s amendments on the grounds of their having been endorsed by elected governments through acquiescence.

The difficulty in interfering with Zia’s disruption of the Pakistan structure can be judged from the fact that his name could not be removed from Article 270-A of the constitution until April 2010 — that is, 22 years and five elections after his death.

Secondly, the religious landscape is dominated by arch-conservative elements who do not allow any intra-religious discourse and those who can challenge them dare not stay in the country.

Further, the ouster of left-of-centre parties from the councils of influence and power has made the so-called mainstream parties hostages to the orthodoxy.

In this situation, there is little hope of relief from exploitation of belief in the interest of an unjust and oppressive status quo.

The curse of the Zia legacy will continue to bedevil the state and the people for quite some time till ordinary citizens realize it has nothing to offer them except for unmitigated misery.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 2nd, 2017

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Dr Ayesha Jalal is the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University in the US, with a joint appointment at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy and Law.

In 1998 she was the recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship also known as the ‘Genius Grant.’ She is well known for her seminal book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the demand for Pakistan, 'The Sole Spokesman'.

Her latest book, which was published in 2014 was titled 'The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics'.

She has also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Columbia University and Harvard University.

This interview was conducted over email.

Let’s begin with whether you think Gen Zia’s coup of July 5, 1977 was fundamentally different from the military coups that preceded it — Gen Ayub Khan’s, Gen Yahya’s — and the one that followed it, Gen Musharraf’s. If yes, how so? Did it change Pakistan’s trajectory? And if not, why not?

Every coup in Pakistan’s history occurred because of a specific combination of historical dynamics and, since these were never identical, the factors leading to Zia’s coup were not the same as those that prompted Ayub’s takeover or, for that matter, Musharraf’s.

Zia’s intervention altered Pakistan’s trajectory significantly as the country was drawn deeper into late Cold War politics as a front-line state in the US-led war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan to the grave detriment of its own internal security and political stability.

The 1977 coup also took place against the backdrop of a Saudi-led global assertion of Islam in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the quadrupling of oil prices.

The hike in oil prices had large implications for Pakistan, which at the time was struggling to find its feet in the international arena after a staggering military defeat at India’s hands that had led to the breakaway of its eastern wing in 1971.

Was Gen Zia’s coup motivated entirely by domestic power politics or was there any element of an international support involved in the initial stages, as some allege?

I have argued in The Struggle for Pakistan that almost nothing of political consequence ever happens in Pakistan that is not somehow linked to global politics.

It is in the interplay of domestic, regional and international factors that historians have to look for persuasive explanations.

Zia’s coup was no different. Informed by domestic calculations, it was also influenced by Pakistan’s quest for nuclear power status, something that pitted Z.A. Bhutto against Washington, as well as alliances with the oil-rich economies of the Gulf in the aftermath of defeat and dismemberment in 1971.

How much of a role did Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s style of governance play in causing the army to move in again after only five years of civilian rule? What was his biggest miscalculation?

It almost certainly did. Strains in relations between Bhutto and the army high command started well before the controversial 1977 elections that brought people out in the streets and eventually contributed to the making of Zia’s coup.

Bhutto’s greatest miscalculation was undoubtedly his choice of Chief of Army Staff.

He had expected Zia to be pliable and non-interventionary because the general, apart from being self-effacing, lacked a natural power base within the army — something that proved to be wrong by a long margin.

Professor Ghafoor of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) admitted in a PTV interview in 1994 that Gen Zia moved to overthrow the government after agreement had been reached over the contentious 1977 elections between ZAB’s PPP and the nine-party Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) on the evening of July 4. Do you think the coup was inevitable?

As a historian, I have issues with the word “inevitable” as it presumes that something can happen regardless of human choice and responsibility.

What I have seen of the available historical evidence, there was nothing “inevitable” about the July 1977 coup since negotiations were underway between the main political parties and the incumbent government that could have led to a compromise.

Why was more time not made available for the negotiations to proceed until all alternatives for a compromise had been fully explored?

Could it be that the parties opposed to Bhutto and the PPP feared that victory would still elude them even if the new election results were more credible?

The full answer to that all-important question requires access to the thinking of the main politicians and, above all, the calculations of the military high command and, most notably, Gen Ziaul Haq himself.

The PNA, especially parties such as JI, and politicians, such as Air Marshal Asghar Khan, backed the coup, despite an agreement having been reached with ZAB to redo the elections. Why do you suppose this occurred?

It is not unusual for Pakistani politicians, parties and people at large to welcome military takeovers and celebrate coup-makers at the outset and then change their minds later.

In the case of Air Marshal Asghar Khan, it was his stiff opposition to Bhutto that explains his support for Zia’s intervention.

After all, the coup was the easiest way to get rid of the PPP and its leader while another round of elections was likely to see the return of the PPP to power, albeit with a reduced majority.

Every spell of military rule seems to be followed by an initial euphoria about its end which quickly dies down to be replaced by a yearning for a return to strongman rule. Is this simply a case of nostalgia and memory lapse on the part of the public or does this indicate something about the nature of our state and its peoples?

Progressive women activists burn their scarves to protest Zia’s enforced morality laws in 1983
Progressive women activists burn their scarves to protest Zia’s enforced morality laws in 1983

I think I have partially answered this question earlier. I would add that long suspensions of political processes under military authoritarianism have led to a general disdain for politics and politicians in the country.

The negative narrative on politicians goes some way towards explaining the enthusiasm with which people have at different points in time welcomed military takeovers.

Can one make any inferences from the available evidence about whether the people of Pakistan in their majority were in favour of martial rule or against it? The Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) seems to have been most active in Sindh. Did that mean the other provinces were more accepting of martial rule?

It is interesting that initially some in Pakistan thought that the coup was intended to protect Bhutto’s interests.

This changed very quickly, especially once Bhutto threatened Zia with dire consequences for his unconstitutional act.

Once it became clear that Zia had no intention of holding elections within the stipulated 90-day period, people did reconsider, with some becoming vocal critics of the regime despite the crackdown on all forms of political dissent.

Opposition to continued military rule was by no means restricted to Sindh even if the MRD proved to be most effective there.

Delayed elections even created a wrinkle in the Zia regime’s alliance with the Jamaat-i-Islami that had helped the regime withstand a potential popular outcry over Bhutto’s hanging in April 1979.

How did Gen Zia’s rule impact Pakistan politically, economically and culturally?

Zia’s rule brought about a qualitative change in Pakistan, politically, economically and culturally.

The shift from ideological issues to a monetisation of politics as well as elections, the regime’s embrace of neoliberalism, and the growing reliance on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, resulted in distinct alterations in the country’s political culture.

Did Gen Zia’s reign have any good repercussions for Pakistan? For example, economists point out that Gen Zia’s rule was good for Pakistan’s economy. Did it strengthen Pakistan internationally or strategically?

Many of Pakistan’s woes since the 1980s are traceable to the policies of Zia’s regime. One can always point to this or that result to indicate the good effects of Zia’s rule.

For instance, small and middle-size traders did well under the regime. Pakistan was one of Washington’s closest allies under Zia during the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

This had its downside for the proponents of democracy but also gave Islamabad the clout it had lacked under Bhutto on the issue of the nuclear programme.

Needing to keep Pakistan on its side, Washington looked the other way as Pakistan, under Zia, raced ahead with the nuclear program.

One of the enduring legacies of Gen Zia’s reign was the so-called ‘Islamisation’ of society, with the bringing of religiosity squarely into the public realm. Did this derive, in your opinion, from Gen Zia’s sincere beliefs or was it an act of political opportunism? And what has been the legacy of this? Why has it been so difficult to reverse for post-Zia governments?

Dawn front page from December 3, 1978 reports on the various first steps taken by General Zia in his drive towards ‘Islamisation’
Dawn front page from December 3, 1978 reports on the various first steps taken by General Zia in his drive towards ‘Islamisation’

One does not have to dwell on Gen Zia’s personal religiosity to know that as a pragmatic ruler he would not have unfurled his ‘Islamisation’ policies if the global and domestic contexts were not conducive for such a course of action.

I have already spoken of the global assertion of Islam since the early 1970s that, together with the neoliberal turn in the 1980s, helped entrench and extend support for Zia’s ‘Islamisation’ policies across a cross-section of Pakistani society, making it difficult for elected governments that came after him to risk appearing to restrict religion’s enhanced role in the public sphere.

There is an argument made that pre-Zia, Pakistani society was governed by elite interests — political and economic — and that even the culture reflected that; and that the conservative, religious ethos we see in society today is better reflective of the wider ethos of society. Would you agree with this?

The assertion is more impressionistic, indeed judgmental, rather than one based on rigorous research and analysis.

It is one thing to say that Pakistani society is inherently more religious and conservative than to argue, as I have suggested, that this has happened because of a particular global conjuncture since the 1970s.

If the situation changes in the future and a need arises for less visible uses of religion in the public sphere, I think you can expect a corresponding change in official attitudes that will invariably impact public discourses as well.

Can the toxic legacy of Gen Zia’s coup and his reign ever be wiped from Pakistan or is this a fool’s hope?

It all depends on the choices the people and leaders of Pakistan make in response to shifting geopolitical conditions and domestic imperatives.

While the legacy may not be erasable, it is certainly possible to correct some of its more obvious excesses.

It has been 40 years since the coup and most Pakistanis today were born after Gen Zia was killed in 1988. There is often criticism from younger Pakistanis that harking back to a dead and buried man for every ill in today’s society is a way for analysts to absolve today’s politicians and policymakers of their own sins of omission and commission. Do you think that is a fair criticism?

The criticism is an example of the presentist turn in public discourse, not just in Pakistan but globally.

It also conveys the ahistorical nature of popular understandings of what plagues contemporary Pakistan. Without appreciating the historical processes that have brought Pakistan to its current pass, it will prove very difficult to bring about the changes — institutional and ideational — that the country so desperately needs.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 2nd, 2017

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I was 10-years-old and had just been promoted to grade six when on July 5, 1977, the civilian government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was deposed and General Ziaul Haq declared martial law. It was the beginning of a flagrantly despotic rule that lasted for 11 years.

My school in Karachi was spread over 14-acres of land; the building, an impressive umbrella dome standing on stoic columns, with the highest central point fitted with circular stained glass.

Long corridors comprising classrooms and offices stretched out from the dome in all directions.

There were also some linear blocks built around the dome and its tentacles.

These building structures were surrounded by large and dusty playing fields, typical to schools in the rain-starved metropolis.

It was under that dome and within those corridors and on those playing fields that I witnessed a people change, an outlook alter, a society fragment, and a nation morph.

Since mine was a public school managed by the Cantonment and Garrison Educational Institutions (C&GEI) — a military-run department in those times working under the federal government — some of the changes that came about during and after 1977 were quite rapid while others came a little slower.

For instance, the school’s Drama Society and its Music Society were discontinued from that year onward.

The school brass band continued, but its conductor was now put under the Physical Training section in the absence of a Music Society. Iqbal’s celebrated poem, titled Bachchay Ki Dua (A Child’s Prayer), “Lab pe aati hai dua bann ke tamanna meri…”, which encourages children to seek knowledge, cherish human values of compassion and sacrifice, and stand up for the poor and the weak, stopped being sung in our morning assemblies.

Instead, the band played and we, the students, marched in single file to the tune of the popular military song Ae mard-i-mujahid jaag zara/Ab waqt-i-shahadat hai aaya (O holy warrior! Wake up/It is time to embrace martyrdom).

On April 4, 1979, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged.

The school was shut down and, for a while, we couldn’t march to the beat of the inspiring song of martyrdom.

One morning, my brother and I woke to the screams of our mother and the puttering of an auto rickshaw waiting for her at the door.

Nana Jan, our maternal grandfather, had been arrested. He was 85 years old at that time.

Eventually, no charges were pressed against him due to his frailty and old age.

His crime was writing letters of solidarity to Bhutto when the latter was in prison.

After school recommenced, one of my teachers overheard me sharing this story with a group of classmates. The teacher pulled me aside and said: "No politics in school. No politics anywhere. No politics ever."

He was a warm and convivial man otherwise, but the iciness in his voice that day stunned me. I had such fear in my eyes that all my friends, too, felt scared.

In the early summer of 1980, our batch entered into ninth grade.

The camaraderie we enjoyed overwhelmed any competitions, rivalries and differences.

We were largely blissful in our ignorance, leave alone being bothered about each other’s language, ethnicity, family or faith.

But we had an Islamiat class scheduled on that hot afternoon of our first day of ninth grade.

The teacher began by saying that non-Muslim students had a choice to take a course in Ethics unless they opted to sit for the Federal Board examination in Islamiat.

But which of the Muslim groups would the non-Muslim students sit with?

Because the next thing our teacher asked was for Muslim students to come forward and identify themselves as Shia or Sunni.

Our textbooks were not the same anymore. Hence, the state of Pakistan officially divided ninth-graders into different religious sects.

In the middle and latter part of that decade, I was older and conscious about the torture and violence inflicted first on Pakistanis by the Zia regime and then in Afghanistan, to which Zia was party to.

I had personally observed and experienced the curbs on freedom of expression and the harassment of anti-regime activists by the authorities and their cronies.

I witnessed and survived the ethno-linguistic riots and sectarian clashes.

I observed the rise of a diverse range of militant outfits fuelled by the regime — from that of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement to Sipah-i-Sahaba — and the official and material patronage of orthodox groups such as Jamaat-i-Islami and the anti-intellectual proselytising groups such as the Tableeghi Jamaat.

On the one hand, Zia wished to suppress diversity and pluralism in all matters of politics and religion, language and literature, culture and art.

And on the other hand, his policies and strategies consciously fragmented the Pakistani polity and society. What he did is absurd, puzzling and paradoxical.

However, for me, General Zia’s greatest legacy is the erasure of any memory from before his time — the elimination of any sense of history from our collective national psyche.

In 1986, two years before Zia was killed, the military-led administration of my school decided to pull down the dome and raze all the old blocks.

Two separate junior and senior schools were quietly built on a small piece of land instead, while most of the original land was converted into a housing colony.

Today, there is neither the sign of that dome nor does the Cantt Public School exist.

When you visit the site, it appears as if the area has always been like this — flats, townhouses, shops, roads, mosque, and two subdued schools occupying the land on the margins. There is no other memory.

The writer is a poet and essayist based in Islamabad. He recently published a collection of essays titled ‘Crimson Papers: Reflections on Struggle, Suffering, and Creativity in Pakistan’

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 2nd, 2017

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HOW ZIA RULED: 1977-1988

July 5, 1977

Gen Zia removes Bhutto in a bloodless coup, suspending the constitution and declaring martial law. He announces elections will be held in 90 days. But simultaneously begins a censorship regime. Political activists and journalists are arrested and flogged in public

May 13, 1978

Eleven journalists are sentenced by military courts. Four journalists — Masudullah Khan, Iqbal Jafri, Khawar Naeem Hashmi and Nasir Zaidi — are also flogged

December 2, 1978

Shariat benches constituted at the high court levels while an appellate Shariat bench constituted at the Supreme Court level. Shariat benches could revisit any law deemed to be un-Islamic. Prayers to be offered in congregation at all government offices during working hours. All offices and shops to remain shut at the time of Friday prayers

April 4, 1979

ZAB is hanged in Rawalpindi jail despite a split verdict and international appeals

October 15, 1979

Gen Zia clamps down further on press freedoms. Two days later, the Daily Musawat and Daily Sadaqat are both banned

December 24, 1979

Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. Gen Zia drags Pakistan into the jihad sponsored by the Americans and Saudis

May 26, 1980

Establishment of Federal Shariat Court is announced

December 19, 1984

Zia holds referendum on ‘Islamisation’ which will give him five more years at the helm. His government claims that more than 95 percent of votes cast were in support of Zia

February 25, 1985

National polls are held on non-party-basis

March 2, 1985

Articles 62 & 63 of the Constitution amended to make parliamentarians’ qualifications subject to ‘Islamic’ morality

November 9, 1985

Eight Amendment to the Constitution comes into force, giving Zia the power to dissolve the parliament under Article 58-2(B)

September 17, 1977

ZAB is arrested for “conspiracy to murder”

October 1, 1977

Elections postponed indefinitely

January 1, 1978

Gen Zia declares 1978 as Year of ‘Islamisation’. Education committee constituted to review syllabi and revise them to include an ‘Islamic bias’

September 16, 1978

Gen Zia assumes office of president; retains the office of army chief

February 10, 1979

Islamic penal laws enforcing ‘Hadd’ are promulgated in pursuance of ‘Nizam-i-Islam’. These include the Prohibition Order and the Zina Ordinance as well as separate laws for amputation for theft and punishment by whipping

March 18, 1982

Changes introduced to the Pakistan Penal Code; Section 295-B now stipulates a life term for defiling, damaging or desecrating a copy of the Holy Quran

February 9, 1984

Government bans all students’ unions

April 27, 1984

Ban imposed on use of Islamic nomenclature by Ahmadis

March 23, 1985

Martial law is lifted and Muhammad Khan Junejo is sworn in as Prime Minister

October 5, 1986

The use of derogatory remarks for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is criminalised. The offence is made punishable by death or life imprisonment

May 29, 1988

Zia dissolves parliament and dismisses Junejo’s government. He promises elections in the next 90 days

June 15, 1988

Zia promulgates the Shariat Ordinance, making Sharia supreme law of the land

August 17, 1988

Gen Ziaul Haq is killed, along with 31 others, in a plane crash near Bahawalpur

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