Zia & His Administration

It must be observed that President Zia, like his predecessors who have governed Pakistan, faced the imperative of what can be termed “Pakistan’s Islamic mandate.” Pakistan came into existence due to the demands of Muslim nationalists for the creation of Islamic state; and the overwhelming majority of Pakistan’s population are Muslim. Pakistan’s decision makers differ as to what this means or should mean for politics and policy, but clearly all must heed the importance of Islam. By definition “Islamic politics” are majority-based politics, and each of Pakistan’s heads of government has been cognizant of this fact. For instance, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, arguably Pakistan’s most “secular-minded” leader, termed his economic reforms “Islamic socialism” and the credo of the Pakistan People’s Party was “Islam is our ideology, socialism our economy, and democracy our politics.”

Facing the reality of the Islamic mandate, President Zia employed Islam as a method to legitimize his government, popular legitimacy being a problem which chronically bedeviled Zia’s administration. Zia came to power as the consequence of a military coup which displaced a self-styled populist. In this context Nizam-i-Mustafa can be viewed as a policy designed in part to provide an Islamic justification for the continuation of a military- dominated regime.

Nizam-i-Mustafa also carries important international implications. Pakistan benefits greatly from its connection with the oil- rich Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia. The Gulf states employ around one million Pakistani workers, and the remittances they send back home account for around 40 percent of all export earnings in Pakistan. Also, under Zia’s administration Pakistan became an important member of the Islamic ummah (Islamic community) and played a major role in the Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC). And, largely conditioned by the Nizam-i-Mustafa, Pakistan has emerged as one of the most important centers of intellectual activity pertaining to Islam in the world.

Also, one should not lose sight of the fact that President Zia was a consummate political strategist and consciously adopted policies which moved cautiously in Islamic matters. This can be demonstrated in several ways: the step-by-step creation of the FSC through presidential ordinances; his appointment of mainstream jurists to staff the court; and his cautious approach to legal reforms, for example, the Qanoon-i-Shahadat, the Enforcement of Shari'ah Ordinance, and qisas and diyat legislation. Zia’s concerns throughout were to maintain stability in the state, and to curb the more zealous advocates of Islamic reform. In practice, Zia’s interests conduced to a cohesive strategy to approach Nizam-i-Mustafa. He consistently stressed his administration’s commitment to the Nizam-i-Mustafa by engaging in calculated political hyperbole concerning his administration’s accomplishments and initiatives. Simultaneously he quietly orchestrated and/or manipulated the political process to ensure that Islamic reform took place in an ordered and prudential manner. In sum, Zia’s strategy paid lip-service to the Islamic mandate, and helped to legitimize his government and to cement ties with the Islamic world. Further, it did not challenge the vested interests of Pakistan’s bureaucratic and military elites.


Source: Islamization of Laws and Economy: Case Studies on Pakistan, Charles Kennedy. Republished with permission. 

Copy URL