|Pakistan Table of Contents
General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, chief of the army staff (COAS), took control of Pakistan by proclaiming martial law, beginning the longest period of rule by a single leader in Pakistan's history. It ended only with his death in a still-unexplained aircraft crash on August 17, 1988. President Fazal Elahi Chaudhry remained in office until his term expired in September 1978, when Zia assumed that office in addition to his role as chief martial law administrator.
In announcing his takeover of the government, Zia stated that he had taken action only in order to hold new elections for national and provincial assemblies within ninety days. Political parties were not banned, and nominations were filed for seats. The country expected that a new "free and fair" poll would take place. It did not. Zia canceled the elections because, he said, it was his responsibility first to carry out a program of "accountability"; he had "unexpectedly" found "irregularities" in the previous regime. As a result, a number of "white papers" on topics ranging from fraud in the 1977 elections, to abuses by the Federal Security Force, and to Bhutto's manipulation of the press were generated. The attacks on the Bhutto administration increased as time passed and culminated in the trial and the hanging in April 1979 of Bhutto for complicity in the murder of a political opponent.
After elections were canceled by decree on March 1, 1978, Zia banned all political activity, although political parties were not banned. The same month, some 200 journalists were arrested, and a number of newspapers were shut down. Zia, however, maintained that there would be elections sometime in 1979. Members of some of the PNA parties, including the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Pakistan Muslim League, joined Zia's cabinet as he tried to give a civilian cast to his government. But suppression of the PPP continued, and at times Bhutto's widow, Nusrat, and his daughter, Benazir, were placed under house arrest or jailed. Elections for local bodies were held in September 1979 on a nonparty basis, a system Zia continued in the 1985 national and provincial elections. Many of those elected locally identified themselves as Awami Dost (friends of the people), a designation well known as a synonym for the PPP. Zia announced national and provincial elections for November 17 and 20, 1979, respectively, but these, too, were canceled. Many thought that the showing of the Awami Dost made him fear that a substantial number of PPP sympathizers would be elected. As further restrictions were placed on political activity, parties were also banned.
On February 6, 1981, the PPP--officially "defunct," as were the other parties--and several other parties joined to form the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy. Its demands were simple: an end to martial law and elections to be held under the suspended 1973 constitution. The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy demonstrated from time to time against Zia's government, especially in August 1983, but Zia was able to withstand its demands. Many of the leaders spent time in jail.
Nusrat Bhutto brought a suit protesting the martial law takeover. The Supreme Court ruled against her and invoked once again the "doctrine of necessity," permitting the regime to "perform all such acts and promulgate all measures, which [fall] within the scope of the law of necessity, including the power to amend the Constitution." After this ruling, Zia issued the Provisional Constitutional Order of 1980, which excluded all martial law actions from the jurisdiction of the courts. When the Quetta High Court ruled that this order was beyond the power of the martial law regime, the Provisional Constitutional Order of 1981 was issued. This order required all judges of the Supreme Court and high courts to take new oaths in which they swore to act in accordance with the orders. Several judges refused to do so and resigned.
In February 1982, in an unsatisfactory response to the demand for elections, Zia created an appointed Majlis-i-Shoora (Council of Advisers), claiming that this was the pattern of Islamic law. The body was clearly unrepresentative and had no powers of legislation. It served merely as a tame debating body.
The Islamization of Pakistan was another of Zia's goals. In 1978 he announced that Pakistani law would be based on Nizam-i-Mustafa, one of the demands of the PNA in the 1977 election. This requirement meant that any laws passed by legislative bodies had to conform to Islamic law and any passed previously would be nullified if they were repugnant to Islamic law. Nizam-i-Mustafa raised several problems. Most Pakistanis are Sunni, but there is a substantial minority of Shia whose interpretation of Islamic law differs in some important aspects from that of the Sunnis. Zia's introduction of state collection of zakat was strongly protested by the Shia, and after they demonstrated in Islamabad, the rules were modified in 1981 for Shia adherents. There were also major differences in the views held by the ulama in the interpretation of what constituted nonconformity and repugnance in Islam.
In 1979 Zia decreed the establishment of shariat courts to try cases under Islamic law. A year later, Islamic punishments were assigned to various violations, including drinking alcoholic beverages, theft, prostitution, fornication, adultery, and bearing false witness. Zia also began a process for the eventual Islamization of the financial system aimed at "eliminating that which is forbidden and establishing that which is enjoined by Islam." Of special concern to Zia was the Islamic prohibition on interest or riba (sometimes translated as usury).
Women's groups feared that Zia would repeal the Family Laws Ordinance of 1961, but he did not. The Family Laws Ordinance provided women critical access to basic legal protection, including, among other things, the right to divorce, support, and inheritance, and it placed limitations on polygyny. Still, women found unfair the rules of evidence under Islamic law by which women frequently were found guilty of adultery or fornication when in fact they had been raped. They also opposed rules that in some cases equated the testimony of two women with that of one man.
After the 1985 election, two members of the Senate from the Jamaat-i-Islami introduced legislation to make the sharia the basic law of Pakistan, placing it above the constitution and other legislation. The bill also would have added the ulama to sharia courts and would have prohibited appeals from these courts from going to the Supreme Court. The bill did not pass in 1985, but after the dismissal of Prime Minister Junejo and the dissolution of the national assembly and provincial assemblies in 1988, Zia enacted the bill by ordinance. The ordinance died when it was not approved by Parliament during the first prime ministership of Benazir Bhutto (December 1988-August 1990), but a revised shariat bill was passed by the government of Nawaz Sharif (November 1990-July 1993) in May 1991.
Provincialism increased during Zia's tenure. He handled the problem of unrest in Balochistan more successfully than had Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Zia used various schemes of economic development to assuage the Baloch and was successful to a high degree. The North-West Frontier Province, alarmed at the presence of Soviet troops next door after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, remained relatively quiet. But the long-festering division between Sindhis and non-Sindhis exploded into violence in Sindh. The muhajirs formed new organizations, the most significant-being the Refugee People's Movement (Muhajir Qaumi Mahaz). The incendiary tensions resulted not only from Sindhi-muhajir opposition but also from Sindhi fear of others who had moved into the province, including Baloch, Pakhtuns, and Punjabis. The fact that Sindhi was becoming the mother tongue of fewer and fewer people of Sindh was also resented. The violence escalated in the late 1980s to the extent that some compared Karachi and Hyderabad to the Beirut of that period. The growth of the illicit drug industry also added to the ethnic problem.
Pressure on Zia to hold elections mounted, and some of it came from overseas, including from the United States. In 1984 Zia announced that elections to legislative bodies would be held in 1985, and this time the schedule held.
Zia decided to restore the separate electorates, abandoned under Ayub Khan. In the National Assembly, ten of the 217 directly elected seats were set aside for minorities: four each for Hindus and Christians and one each for Ahmadiyyas and "others," including Parsis, Sikhs, and Buddhists. There were also twenty indirectly elected seats reserved for women, although women could run for directly elected seats. Zia decided that parties would not be permitted to participate. Each candidate, therefore, would be an "independent."
Before the general elections, Zia held a national referendum ostensibly seeking a mandate to continue in office as president. The referendum, on December 19, 1984, focused on Pakistan's Islamization program. The electorate was asked simply if it felt the government was doing a good job of Islamizing the various social institutions of the state. Zia interpreted the positive results (98 percent voting "yes") to mean that he had received the right to a new five-year term as head of state. There was, however, little doubt that the vote was rigged.
After the "election," which most PPP supporters boycotted, Zia announced the appointment of Mohammad Khan Junejo as prime minister, subject to a vote of confidence in the National Assembly. Junejo, a Sindhi, took office on March 23, 1985. Zia issued the Revival of the Constitution of 1973 Order, which was a misnomer. The constitution was so vastly changed by various decrees that it was much different from the one enacted by the Bhutto regime. In the 1973 document, power had been in the hands of the prime minister; by 1985 it was in the hands of the president.
Zia promised to end martial law by the end of 1985, but he exacted a high price for this. The Eighth Amendment to the constitution confirmed and legalized all acts taken under martial law, including changes to the constitution. It affirmed the right of the president to appoint and dismiss the prime minister. With the amendment passed, Zia ended martial law in late 1985. Political parties were revived. In 1986 Junejo became president of a revived Pakistan Muslim League. The PPP, although self-excluded from the National Assembly, also resumed activity under the leadership of Benazir Bhutto.
Junejo, however, was not able to accomplish all of Zia's agenda. For example, his government did not pass the sharia bill. It allowed the resumption of political parties, a step not welcomed by Zia, who saw parties as divisive in what should be a united Islamic community. Nonetheless, the dismissal of Junejo on May 29, 1988, and the dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies the next day, came as a surprise. In explaining his action, Zia pointed to the failure to carry Islamization forward and also to corruption, deterioration of law and order, and mismanagement of the economy. Another important reason for Junejo's dismissal was his interference in army promotions and his call for an investigation into an arsenal explosion near Islamabad; civilians were not expected to meddle in military affairs.
Zia procrastinated on calling new elections, which even his own version of the constitution required within ninety days. He finally set November 17, 1988, as the polling date for the National Assembly, with provincial elections three days later. His reasons for the delay were the holy month of Muharram, which fell in August during the hot weather, and the lack of current electoral registrations (a point he blamed on Junejo). Despite the open operation of political parties, Zia indicated that elections would again be on a nonparty basis. Before elections took place, Zia was killed in a mysterious aircraft accident near Bahawalpur, in Punjab, on August 17, 1988, along with the chairman of the joint chiefs committee, the United States ambassador, and twenty-seven others. A joint United States- Pakistani committee investigating the accident later established that the crash was caused by "a criminal act of sabotage perpetrated in the aircraft."
Court actions ended the nonparty basis for the elections, and parties were permitted to participate. A technicality--the failure to register as a political party--that would have prohibited the PPP from taking part was also voided. The election gave a plurality, not a majority, to the PPP. Its leader, Benazir Bhutto, was able to gain the assistance of other groups, and she was sworn in as prime minister on December 1, 1988, by acting President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. He in turn was elected to a five-year term as president by the National Assembly and the Senate.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress