Nisid Hajari, in his Midnight’s Furies, writes that Mohammad Ali Jinnah was deeply resentful of the way Gandhi interspersed religion and politics, and is recorded by one colonial governor to have said that "it was a crime to mix up politics and religion the way he had done." Jinnah believed that this practice paves the way for religious chauvinism on all sides.

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state,” he had guaranteed the people who were about to inherit a new homeland, in his presidential address to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in Karachi on 11 August, 1947.

Such ideals were the foundation laid down by the Father of the Nation. 70 years later, we find religion and politics inseparable. Today, as we scramble to find some semblance of evidence that we have progressed as a nation, we only pull the wool over our eyes.

The Pakistan of today is a country steeped in bigotry. We have a come a long way, but unfortunately not so much our pluralistic ideals. They have somehow been lost to time.

Explore: Ziaul Haq: Master of illusion

In today's Pakistan, an octogenarian man not of the faith decreed to be the national religion, will be tortured if he does not accord our rituals the 'proper respect'. A chipboard factory belonging to a community our nation has outcast will be torched and the places of worship of minorities attacked and looted.

Recently, a survey was conducted to commemorate 70 years of Pakistan and people from all parts of the country, from all walks of life were asked to name the person whom they considered to be the most influential Pakistani after Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The nominees included politicians, past prime ministers, military dictators and others who have played a role in shaping this country. The results revealed that the majority of people voted for Edhi.

There is no doubt about Edhi’s contributions to Pakistan. For decades, he had been the succor for the destitute and marginalised. If the ranking was based on good deeds, Edhi should certainly rank at the top. His stature as one of the world’s greatest humanitarians stands uncontested.

However, and it pains me to say, influence is measured by lasting impact across society. This influence can be positive or negative.

An influential person does not necessarily have to be a saint, but one who has caused a seismic shift in the nation’s history and the lives of its people. He/she changes the way we think, act and behave.

In truth, how many people have been impacted by Edhi other than the ones who have received help through his foundation? The latter owe their very lives to him but if you consider the 200 million who constitute this country, how many of them espouse Edhi's values in their daily lives? In fact, his son Faisal Edhi publicly said that donations to the Edhi Foundation have decreased after his father’s death.

The poll results are an exercise in self-pleasure for those who voted, who hold the erroneous belief that Edhi is an active influence in the lives of Pakistanis and the institutions of this county. The truth is far starker.

This may surprise, amaze or dismay many, but the most influential Pakistani of the past 70 years is General Mohammad Zia-ul- Haq.

Political leaders exert overwhelming influence on society due to the nature of their positions. In his 11 years of rule, Zia not only wielded absolute power but also altered the political and societal fabric of the country. Consider the repercussions of his stay in office nearly 30 years after his death.

Let us start from the Constitutional amendments he introduced that toppled many governments. Article 58 2(b) of the 8th Amendment, introduced in 1985, was instrumental in removing Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo in 1988.

Later, Presidents Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari resorted to the Article to dismiss the governments of Benazir Bhutto (twice, in 1990 and 1996) and Nawaz Sharif in 1993. The Article was finally removed via the Thirteenth Amendment in 1997 by the second Nawaz Sharif government.

Then consider Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution that have been in the news for the past few weeks. Although part of the 1973 Constitution, Articles 62 and 63, in their original form, had not made it mandatory for a legislator to be Sadiq and Ameen.

Later, during Zia's tenure, the two clauses were made part of the Articles and amended in 1985 by Item 16 of the Schedule, which gave the dictator further power to remove elected prime ministers. Zia could not put them to use, but for 32 years they have loomed dangerously over the political landscape.

Perhaps even more than the political arena, Zia's influence permeates Pakistani society. He passed broad-ranging legislation as part of Pakistan's 'Islamisation,' effectively promoting a holier than thou culture that has eventually crystallised into religious intolerance, taking the country down the path of extremism.

Ian Talbot, in his book Pakistan, a Modern History writes, “Pakistan during the period 1977–1988... aspired to be an ideological state... the goal of an Islamic state was deemed to be its main basis.”

Zia’s policies led to Sharia benches and the Federal Sharia Court, and replacement of parts of the Pakistan Penal Code with the 1979 Hudood Ordinance, which particularly hampered women's rights. Under him, madrassas received state funding, most of them from the Deobandi and Wahabi school of thought. The 1979 Zakat Ordinance worsened sectarian relations.

From the way we dress, speak, and think, the Pakistani society of today bears little resemblance to the one in 1977 and Zia is the principle architect of this change.

It is a sign of Zia’s continuing legacy that an extremist party such as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat holds a provincial seat and groups like the Jamat ud Dawah see a chance at entering mainstream politics.

Zia was a political genius who did something none of his fellow military dictators could do: create a constituency. General Ayub Khan and Pervez Musharraf had similarly long tenures and for a while enjoyed popular support but could not sustain it.

Zia, through the societal changes and clever use of patronage, created the constituency that also served the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad and later inherited by the PML-N. The broad swathes of conservative Punjab that forms the bedrock of the PML-N and has voted for the party since the 1990s would have wholeheartedly voted for Zia as well.

Therefore, it stands to reason that had he not perished in an air crash, Zia could have relinquished his uniform if he wanted and still carried on successfully as a civilian politician.

Make no mistake, this is very much Zia’s Pakistan, not Edhi’s and not even Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s. The Quaid-e-Azam may have played a key role in creating the country but it is unrecognisable from the one he had envisioned. His policies of religious tolerance, welfare, and role of state institutions have been overturned.

A simple read through his speeches makes that clear. Regarding the armed forces, he said, “Do not forget that the armed forces are the servants of the people. You do not make national policy; it is we, the civilians, who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out these tasks with which you are entrusted.” Military coups make a mockery of that statement.

Espousing religious harmony, rule of law and other virtues, Jinnah would have been sidelined by the state, much like how his sister was.

Let us not delude ourselves. Welcome to Zia-land.

Who do you think has had the most influence on Pakistani society? Write to us at



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