Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (Punjabi, Urdu: محمد ضياء الحق; August 12, 1924 – August 17, 1988), was a four-star rank general officer who served as the sixth President of Pakistan from 1978 until his death in 1988, by probable assassination according to the Pakistani inquiry findings, having declared martial law for the third time in the country’s modern history in 1977. As chief martial law administrator and as president (head of state), his reign is regarded as the longest-serving regime, ruling nine years.
Zia saw action in World War II as a British Indian Army officer, before opting for Pakistan in 1947 and fighting in the war against India in 1965. In 1970, he led the Pakistan’s training mission in Jordan, proving instrumental to putting down the Black September insurgency against King Hussein. In recognition, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed Zia to four-star assignment, as Chief of Army Staff in 1976, over several senior officers. Following increasing civil disorder, Zia planned and deposed Bhutto and declared martial law over the country in 1977. Bhutto was controversially tried and executed by the Supreme Court less than two years later, for authorising the murder of a political opponent.
Assuming the presidency in 1978, Zia played a major role in the Soviet incursion in neighbouring Communist Afghanistan. Aided by the United States and Saudi Arabia, Zia fully endorsed the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet occupation throughout the 1980s. This culminated in the USSR’s withdrawal in 1989, but also led to the proliferation of millions of refugees into Pakistan’s frontier province. Zia also bolstered ties with India, Israel, and emphasised Pakistan’s role in the Islamic world. Domestically, Zia passed gradual but broad-ranging legislation as part of state’s Islamization. He also escalated Pakistan’s successful pursuit of atomic bombs, restarting the space program as spin-off of the atomic project, and instituted industrialisation and corporatization, helping Pakistan’s economy to become the fastest-growing in South Asia. Averaged over Zia’s rule, GDP growth was the highest in history of Pakistan.
After lifting martial law and holding non-partisan elections in 1985, Zia appointed Muhammad Khan Junejo Prime Minister but accumulated even more presidential powers via the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. After Junejo signed the Geneva Accords in 1988 against Zia’s wishes, and called for an enquiry into the Ojhri Camp disaster, Zia dismissed Junejo’s government and announced fresh elections in November 1988. But he was mysteriously killed along with several of his top generals, admirals, among two American diplomats in a suspicious air crash near Bahawalpur on 17 August 1988.
Zia is a polarising figure in Pakistan, credited by some for preventing expected soviet attack on Pakistan and wider soviet incursions into the region, development of Pakistani Nuclear weapons as well as historic economic prosperity, but decried for weakening democratic institutions, supporting militancy, and passing Islamist laws that may have given rise to Islamic fundamentalism in the country.
Zia was commissioned in the British Indian Army in a cavalry regiment on 12 May 1943 and served against Nazi Germany and its allies in World War II. After Pakistan gained its independence, Zia joined the newly formed Pakistan Army as a Major. His regiment was now the Guides Cavalry Frontier Force Regiment. He was trained in the United States in 1962–1964 at the US Army Command and General Staff College Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. After that, he returned to take over as Directing Staff (DS) at Command and Staff College, Quetta. During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Zia was a tank commander. However, Zia is also said to have been the Assistant Quarter Master of the 101st Infantry Division.
Zia was stationed in Jordan from 1967 to 1970 as a Brigadier, helping in the training of Jordanian soldiers, as well as leading the training mission into battle during the Black September operations as commander of Jordanian 2nd Division, a strategy that proved crucial to King Hussein‘s remaining in power. By 1973, then Major General Zia was commanding the 1st Armoured Division at Multan.
He was then promoted as Lieutenant General and was appointed commander of the II Strike Corps at Multan in 1975. It was during this time that Zia invited Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the Colonel-in-Chief of the Armoured Corps at Multan, using his tailor to stitch the Blue Patrols of his size. The next day, Bhutto was requested to climb a tank and engage a target, where the target was quite obviously hit. After the function, Zia met Bhutto and expressed his loyalty to him .
On 1 March 1976, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto approved then-3 star general Lieutenant-General Zia as Chief of Army Staff and to be elevated to 4 star rank. This promotion was ahead of a number of more senior officers. This promotion was highly controversial but had political motives for Bhutto, who saw Zia as firmly religious and an apolitical military figure who had distaste of politics. This was the same motives and move made by future Prime minister Nawaz Sharif who promoted Pervez Musharraf based on his political ambitious, as Chief of Army Staff, but met the same fate as Bhutto in 1999 (although he was not executed).
At the time of his nominating the successor to the outgoing Chief of Army Staff General Tikka Khan, the Lieutenant Generals in order of seniority were, Muhammad Shariff, Muhammed Akbar Khan, Aftab Ahmed Khan, Azmat Baksh Awan, Agha Ibrahim Akram, Abdul Majeed Malik, Ghulam Jilani Khan, and Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. But, Bhutto chose the most junior, superseding seven more senior lieutenant-generals. However, the senior most at that time, Lieutenant-General Mohammad Shariff, though promoted to General, was made the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, a constitutional post akin to President Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry. Zia never called Bhutto as “Mr. Prime Minister”, but relied on the term Sir while referring to Bhutto.
Planning of coup
Prime Minister Bhutto began facing considerable criticism and increasing unpopularity as his term progressed, the democratic socialists alliance who had previously allied with Bhutto began to diminish as time progresses. Initially targeting leader of the opposition Vali Khan and his opposition National Awami Party (NAP), also a socialist party. Despite the ideological similarity of the two parties, the clash of egos both inside and outside the National Assembly became increasingly fierce, starting with the Federal governments decision to oust the NAP provincial government in Balochistan Province for alleged secessionist activities and culminating in the banning of the party and arrest of much of its leadership after the death of a close lieutenant of Bhutto’s, Hayat Sherpao, in a bomb blast in the frontier town of Peshawar.
Civil disorders against Bhutto
Dissidence also increased within the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and the murder of a leading dissident Ahmed Raza Kasuri‘s father led to public outrage and intra-party hostility as Bhutto was accused of masterminding the crime. Powerful PPP leaders such as Ghulam Mustafa Khar openly condemned Bhutto and called for protests against his regime. The political crisis in the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Balochistan intensified as civil liberties remained suspended, and an estimated 100,000 troops deployed there were accused of abusing human rights and killing large numbers of civilians.
1977 Parliamentary elections
On 8 January 1977 a large number of opposition political parties grouped to form the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). Bhutto called fresh elections, and PNA participated fully in those elections. They managed to contest the elections jointly even though there were grave splits on opinions and views within the party. The PNA faced defeat but did not accept the results, alleging that the election was rigged. They proceeded to boycott the provincial elections. Despite this, there was a high voter turnout in the national elections; however, as provincial elections were held amidst low voter turnout and an opposition boycott, the PNA declared the newly elected Bhutto government as illegitimate.
Staged a Coup d’état
General Zia had been long planning to impose the Martial law and end of Bhutto’s government since 1976, soon when he became chief of army staff. On multiple occasions, Zia deliberately concealed intelligence information and misguided Bhutto on various political matters. Soon, all the opposition leaders called for the overthrow of Bhutto’s regime. Political and civil disorder intensified, which led to more unrest. Bhutto imposed martial law in major cities including Karachi, Lahore and Hyderabad. However, a compromise agreement between Bhutto and opposition was ultimately reported. This compromise theory was however probably a later day addition as a major PPP armed rally was in the offing. Zia planned the Coup d’état carefully, as he knew Bhutto had integral intelligence in the Pakistan Armed Forces, and many officers, including Chief of Air Staff General Zulfiqar Ali Khan and Major-General Tajammul Hussain Malik, GOC of 23rd Mountain Division, Major-General Naseerullah Babar, DG of Directorate-General for the Military Intelligence (DGMO) and Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan, were loyal to Bhutto. Meanwhile, intelligence unit and army formations were placed in Prime minister secretariat who kept an eye on Bhutto’s movement, tapping phone calls and keeping a record of invitees to the Prime Minister’s secretariat. General Zia’s closest ally, General K.M. Arif, had tried to meet with Bhutto in various attempts, but such actions were thwarted by Zia. Finally, on 5 April 1977, Arif succeeded in secretly meeting with Bhutto, revealing the plot against him. Bhutto remained unconvinced and disbelieving, reportedly asking how his protege General Zia could do such things to him. Bhutto dismissed General Arif later.
Formation of Majlis-e-Shoora
As like the previous military governments, General Zia disbanded the idea of “Parliamentary democracy” after he banned all political parties in Pakistan; and political structure built by Zulfikar Bhutto was destroyed, hampered, and non-existed by the 1980s. However, a new system was still needed to administer the country where issues of government policies were demanding speeding solutions. In the absence of a parliament, Zia decided to set up an alternative system, Majlis-e-Shoora, in 1980. Most of the members of the Shoora were intellectuals, scholars, ulema, journalists, economists, and professionals in different fields. The Shoora was to act as a board of advisors to the President. Zia decided to replace “Parliamentary democracy” system to Soviet-like mind idea of “technocracy” and all 284 members of the Shoora were to be nominated by the President, also known as a technocracy or government of technocrats.
Amongst technocrats included in Zia’s cabinet was Dr. Asad who increased the oil production of the country many fold. Many members of this Shoora later joined other parties after his death. Zia’s parliament and his military government reflect the idea of “military-bureaucratic technocracy” (MBT) where professionals, engineers, and high-profile military officers were initially part of his military government. His strong hate for the politicians led the promotion of bureaucratic-technocracy which was seen a strong weapon of countering the politicians and their political strongholds. Senior statesman and technocrats were included physicist-turned diplomat Agha Shahi, jurist Schariefuddin Perzada, corporate leader Navaz Scharif, economist Mahbub ul Haq, and senior statesman Aftab Kazie, Roedad Khan, and chemist-turned diplomat Ghulam Ishaq Khan were a few of the leading technocratic figures in his military government.
Referendum of 1984
After Bhutto’s execution, momentum to hold elections began to mount both internationally and within Pakistan. But before handing over power to elected representatives, Zia-ul-Haq attempted to secure his position as the head of state. A referendum was held on 19 December 1984 with the option being to elect or reject the General as the future President. According to official figures 95% of votes were cast in favour of Zia, however only 10% of the electorate participated in the referendum.
1985 elections and constitutional amendments
After holding the 1984 referendum, Zia succumbed to international pressure and gave permission to election commission to hold the national wide but non-partisan general elections in the country in February 1985. Most of the major opposing political parties decided to boycott the elections but election results showed that many victors belonged to one party or the other. To make things easier for himself, the General nominated the Prime Minister from amongst the Members of the Assembly. To many, his nomination of Muhammad Khan Junejo as the Prime Minister was because he wanted a simple person at the post who would act as a puppet in his hands.
Before handing over the power to the new government and lifting the martial law, Zia got the new legislature to retroactively accept all of Zia’s actions of the past eight years, including his coup of 1977. He also managed to get several amendments passed, most notably the Eighth Amendment, which granted “reserve powers” to the president to dissolve the Parliament. However, this amendment considerably reduced the power he’d previously granted himself to dissolve the legislature, at least on paper. The text of the amendment permitted Zia to dissolve the Parliament only if the government had been toppled by a vote of no confidence and it was obvious that no one could form a government or the government could not function in a constitutional manner.