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Still blaming Zia?: op-ed

11 July 2017 No Comment

by Khursheed Sardar in The Nation, July 11, 2017
Pinning the burden of responsibility for all of Pakistan’s ills on a certain Gen Zia-ul-Haq has been a Pakistani summer ritual for decades. This, of course, does not mean that it isn’t observed during other seasons. But the 43-day window between July 5 and August 17, allows many of us to reiterate the most lethargic of clichés regarding Zia.

That Zia is still alive is almost as nauseating as Bhutto not being dead. But while the latter is supposed to be a token of eulogy – which has metamorphosed into its own parody – the former is a sweeping verdict holding one man as being responsible for the continued turmoil in the country 29 years since his death.

29 years is a long time. It’s almost three decades – over a quarter of a century. If we are still blaming an individual – not an institution or an ideology – for something that he did all those years ago, the argument itself is self-defeating for two basic reasons.

First, despite the clout Zia enjoyed, the policies he implemented would need to have had popular backing for them to still be in place after 29 years, only eight of which have been under formal military dictatorship.

Second, for such an influence to last three decades, it is evident that those who have followed Zia have done little – if anything – to reverse what he did.

The Islamisation project that Zia successfully completed was initiated long ago. The movement for Pakistan itself had evolved from an endeavour to safeguard rights to securing Islam after the Muslim League’s battering in the 1937 elections. When the leaders shifted the argument from Muslims to Islam, an Islamist state being born is but a natural corollary.

Of course, one could always ignore political gimmicks if they aren’t implemented once the politicians are at the helm. The Objectives Resolution in 1949, that established Islam as the state religion, and its interference into personal lives, did more to lay the foundation of Pakistan’s Islamisation than anything Zia did.

For, while the military dictator might’ve made the most of the ground that had been laid for him to impose an ideology that he fervently adhered to, if it hadn’t been him someone else would’ve picked up the tools for hardcore Islamisation that were readily available thanks to Zia’s predecessors.

Among these was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto himself, whose façade as the antithesis to Zia continues to be bought and sold in excessive numbers.

It was Bhutto who spearheaded the excommunication of Ahmadis, coupled with other Islamist actions like banning alcohol and implementing Friday as the weekly holiday. And it was the PPP founder himself, and not Zia, who finalised the ‘Afghan mujahideen’ policy long before Zia – or Ronald Reagan – cashed in on it.

Bhutto, and his advisers, believed post 1971 Pakistan would have needed Islamist support in Kabul to give them strategic depth, and this was coupled with the Pan-Islamist diplomacy initiated by the PPP government to woo the newly rich Arab states in the 70s. It was indeed the PPP government again in the 90s, after Zia’s death, that facilitated the Taliban in Kabul in the mid-90s, spearheaded by Benazir Bhutto and ‘Taliban architect’ Naseerullah Babar.

That the support for Taliban, and the apologia for their gruesome acts of terror, was the mainstream political narrative till the APS attack on December 16, 2014, is not Zia-ul-Haq’s fault.

The PML-N, which itself was born in Zia’s lap, and the PTI, singlehandedly responsible for mainstreaming Taliban apologia, are now the two biggest parties in Pakistan. Their stance on Islamisation and jihad might have fluctuated, depending on opportunistic needs, but have they even suggested anything remotely similar to undoing what Zia forced upon Pakistan?

Can any of these parties even hint at reform – not even repeal – in the blasphemy law?

Will their election manifestos ahead of next year’s elections include separation of Islam and the Constitution?

Will they vocally reject jihadism as a policy in Afghanistan – and Kashmir – and loudly denounce armed jihad as an outdated Islamic idea?

If not then, for crying out loud, stop blaming Zia and start accusing people who are alive and in control over our affairs for the mess that we are in.

‘Zia’s ghost’ is as real as any other ghost. The Islamist ideology, however, which he imposed – not created – is a real and actual threat, especially for the Muslim world.http://nation.com.pk/columns/11-Jul-2017/still-blaming-zia

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