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Edge of a precipice?  – Part 2

Mahboob Qadir

The writer is a retired Brigadier. He has extensive experience in dealing with UN matters related to strategic policy on countering violent extremism.

Gen Zia appeared on the podium not as the champion of democracy but as the savior and custodian of true faith. He wowed to restore our mutilated social equilibrium via the faith module, not quite realizing that faith or religion is just one part of a person’s moral intellectual make up and not the entire framework.

This dangerously faulty view could be attributed to his childhood in an essentially orthodox Muslim cleric’s household. He could not appreciate or perhaps accept that those of a different faith could also be good human beings and equally good Pakistanis or that Pakistan’s best political option was the way Jinnah had declared. With this erratic and ill-founded presumption he proceeded to ‘re-Islamize’ the country according to his misty lights and his lights eventually came to be powered by Saudi petro dollars and Salafi dogma. He wasn’t greedy but that does not mean he was a visionary too. His dangerous liaison with mullahs and picking up their recipe for social reengineering has proved to be utterly disastrous for the health of our gasping society, political direction and world view. He landed us into a huge crater of conceptual quicks and full of sectarian pestilence and medieval self-notions. Where the more we struggle to come out the more we sink in.

Today’s insufferable level of sectarian polarization and biting animosity  can be laid squarely placed at Gen Zia’s door, whereas the flood gates were opened by Bhutto.

What followed can be easily summarized as the elements of discord which came together in an equation of inevitable national disaster for our country. Zia busied himself in rooting out Bhutto era deformities, crudely reintroducing various religious practices like forced prayers, a sort of religious police, public lashings and planting Ulema of his ilk in public offices for the first but ominous time. Ominous because the mullah tasted the sweet taste of state power and then on has been maneuvering endlessly to remain in power or relevant to power. His Salafist leanings and country’s poor economic state drew him closer to Saudis who were looking for just such an overture.

It resulted in throwing open the doors of our well-settled religious compound to Saudi interventions like construction of hot points- the single minaret Wahabist mosques, selective funding of like-minded ulema and madrassas in Pakistan and induction of madrassa students in specific Saudi universities. This mass of local Salafis was to soon become useful for different but deadlier purposes. Meanwhile the state of Pakistan came up with laws and regulations like Blasphemy law, reportedly in a hurry to please Saudis and in the process gain confidence of, by now, quite vocal religious lobby in the country. Both considerations turned out to be calamitous for the nation and brought about a different set of disasters for the country. What a pity.

Just as popular sentiment was turning against late Gen Zia’s manipulations of state power and our last remaining safe quadrant that is our faith, two defining events happened in our neighborhood almost simultaneously. Iran was swept by Khominite revolution and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Both were aggressive ideologies and threatened our remaining equilibrium or what Zia thought he had restored, seriously and in Iran’s case radically. Almost overnight Gen Zia and his regime became apple of the eye of the US for military-political reasons to be pitched against the Soviets, and of Saudis as a tool to put some fear of God into aggressive Iranian regime who was threatening a revolt in the Middle East openly. That was the start of the Iran-KSA proxy war in Pakistan and one more branding iron for us.

US and Saudi geo-strategic interests in the region converged in Pakistan and our military leadership saw a golden opportunity to perpetuate itself in power and earn some money for the country too. It joined the secret jihad alliance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and indirectly to contain Iranian revolutionary influence. Both backfired to our regret. Iran was made to feel insecure to which by 1981 it responded by coaxing our Shia minority to become belligerent. The Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s invaluable help. We hosted and armed Afghan resistance and inherited the basket full of vipers that we had fed to grow.    

Gen Zia had served their purpose and was killed in a mysterious plane crash soon after. US abandoned Afghanistan post-haste which promptly plunged into anarchy and internecine war for turf and power, whose malicious breed TTP and related terrorism has terribly tainted Pakistan in global community, polarized our nation, severely retarded economic progress and caused very large number of dead and wounded among LEAs and civilians. Heavy footed US has always created mayhem, chaos and disorder wherever they have intervened, which became the case with Afghanistan, before that in Somalia and afterwards in Iraq and Syria.

Zia had tried to wet nurse a fresh breed of ‘piously’ groomed political class in the country again, perhaps, simplistically thinking that he could do so and ended up giving us one of the most unethical bunch of men in the shape of Muslim League (N) led by Sharifs, a family of brazenly money hungry clan with no sense of propriety, history or Pakistan Movement. This selection and grooming was by design, little did he know that the eggs he hatched would bring forth demons who would plunder national treasury like none before and would become the major antagonists of their mother nursery; the Army. He foisted PPP on this hapless nation, again to our lasting regret, by default. That is he hanged Bhutto and thus gave him proverbial nine lives of a cat. Between them, Bhuttos and Sharifs have plundered and ransacked this country like the British did in 1857 or even worse. Zia also reinforced the legacy of military takeovers to the detriment of our political evolution and left behind a legion of unprincipled and self-centered politicians who quickly began manipulations to grab state power after his death. Zia’s rule also conclusively demonstrated military’s institutional incompetence and unsuitability to manage political affairs.

Soon Benazir became the Prime Minister who was infamously signposted by Asif Zardari, the super privileged husband, instantly gaining an unenviable nickname Mr 10% for his standard cut in every major state contract. Before her swearing in, she was reportedly interviewed by the COAS Gen Aslam Baig for her fitness to lead the country. Strange to say, the least but stranger was the time when she was requested to visit GHQ for necessary briefing particularly about Afghan war which was still raging. She came with her main Cabinet colleagues which included late Gen Nasrullah Babar, Iqbal Akhund, Ghulam Sarwar Cheema and quite a few others. She was to be received outside COAS’s office by Gen Baig himself. He came out a few minutes before her arrival, went back and reappeared without his headgear. That was queer but sent out a wrong message that was how the new Prime Minister was to be regarded .She sat bolt upright till the end of hours of rigorous briefing, took copious notes and asked intelligent questions. Her interest in Afghan war was noteworthy. As if on getting a whiff immediately Nawaz Sharif, true to his grousy but scheming nature, started actively courting GHQ and poisoning their ears against PPP govt.

Soon political temperature started to become uncomfortable between Punjab and PPP at the centre. It was probably ‘91 when the then CM Punjab Nawaz Sharif ordered DG Rangers Lahore to physically throw Governor Punjab Chaudhry Altaf Hussain out of the Governor House. DG Rangers had the maturity to tell the CM office to consult HQ Corps V Lahore first. Had that illegal order been obeyed it would have set a very dangerous precedence but quite suited to supra legal Don-like mindset of the Sharifs which came into full play later on.

In the aftermath of demolition of Babri Mosque it was again reckless and coarsely thoughtless Nawaz Sharif who provoked people to protest in force next day and did nothing to safeguard private or public property or Hindu properties/temples in Punjab against charged crowds.. As a result mullahs inflamed popular sentiments in their sermons, people came out in large unruly numbers, ransacked whatever was left of a few Hindu temples and inflicted heavy damage upon shops, traffic signals and roadside buildings. Lahore was the worst affected where Nawaz Sharif was nowhere to be found. I was then posted as a senior staff officer at Corps Headquarters Lahore. It was with great difficulty and at personal peril that I was able to save Jain Mandir Lahore from definite destruction from a highly emotive crowd. This was a typically devious Nawaz performance that became hallmark of his defective personality in years to come; provoke people and back out when going gets tough.

It had to be Zia’s prodigal political heir Nawaz Sharif to be naturally foolish enough to poke the army in its ribs in 1998, to once again take over. He tried to cause COAS’ plane crash along with civil passengers on board by an utterly novel but uncharacteristically brilliant method of mass murder. He issued orders to prevent army chief’s PIA plane landing anywhere in the country while the fuel was running out, hoping that the plane will crash once the tanks are empty. This was a terribly evil plan. The Army intervened and NS was shown the door, tried and jailed. His life was saved by the Saudi largesse and inauspicious intervention. Another round of military rule began in the country which is still fresh in the memory not for its merits but for the miseries and ignominy it inflicted upon the country including Kargil disaster. While late Zia espoused outward Islamic morality, Musharraf patronized playboyish cavalier swagger to undo Zia’s deceitful legacy and as a personal habit. That introduced a sense of official fickle mindedness and added to sub ideological confusion among armed forces in particular and civilian cadres in general.