The legacy gets bloodier
By Mushir Anwar
The telephones were abuzz with excited whispers spreading the sensational news as the electronic media suddenly, without warning, shifted to the tilawat after a short confusing closure. A hush, mixed with a sense of disbelief and deliverance, descended upon the victims of the tyrant and dazed confusion set in amongst the ranks of those who had rejoiced at Bhutto’s end. Ghulam Ishaq Khan announcing the shocking end of the dictator in a plane crash 19 years back didn’t allow matters to drift longer than a few hours. An elaborate mourning programme was charted to go with the general’s memorable, though controversial, funeral outside the Faisal Mosque. Good old Azhar Lodhi’s lament rent the skies: “O people, look, he is going!”
Mind goes back to the Lal Masjid that he helped promote into a unique place of worship. One fine Friday he came here to offer the Juma’a prayers. Word got around, plain-clothed security men took their places within the premises and skull-capped herds, who thought praying with the ameer would double the sawab, gathered to join the jamaat. After Maulvi Abdullah’s eulogy the general rose to deliver his harangue. One old devotee in the back rows who probably thought the days of righteous caliphate had returned caused the general great annoyance when he stood up and called him by his name, “ Zia sahib!.” The general, more used to silent salutes, got furious. “Use proper language, learn some decorum. Say president sahib!” was his sharp rebuff. But hardly had the lesson sunk in when the men in civvies fell upon the poor old fool and threw him out of the mosque. Some people still talk of the general’s modesty.
Residents of Bhabra Bazaar may still recall the walk General Zia surprised them with one morning. An old lady, a corner of whose house her septuagenarian tenant was refusing to vacate, intercepted the ameer and raised hue and cry about the situation. What was the general’s response? “Go inside, send some male, we don’t talk to women!” Typical! as Eric Sykes, the British comedian would have said.
Zia knew the nation stood divided and could not be united again at least under him or his religious pretensions. So he set about dividing it further along ethnic, sectarian and biradri lines.
Addressing a gathering of Pakistanis in Zimbabwe, the general advised his countrymen not to go by the natives’ black colour. “They are good at heart!” he assured them. Then this gem that is hard to forget. Returning from a state funeral in Moscow he told the BBC, “The new leader seems to be quite intelligent.”
In a man seemingly so artless, cunning and callousness of the kind associated with him can only be understood in the context of human nature’s ability to design composite personalities from layered contrasts. Yet though the Soviet action came handy with its grave consequences — drugs, arms, extremism and the rest, it cannot be said it was his scheming, just as September 11 wasn’t Musharraf’s; though it did change his course to mire him in his present predicament.
Now the bursting of the Lal Masjid boil is seen as the symbolic culmination of Zia’s policies, but if you knew the CMLA better you would admit he would not have allowed the Ghazi brothers to pose the slightest challenge to his authority. The agencies, the jihadis and the extremists et al remained all under his control as long as he lived. They went berserk only in the following years when governments, one weaker than the other, came to power. The weakest of them all has been so weak it has made them its partners in power.
Looking at it in historical perspective it would appear the die had already been cast when the turbulent legacy of General Ziaul Haq’s bloody years began. Bhutto’s tactical surrender before the mullahs to puncture the inflating balloon of ‘Nizam-i-Mustafa’ not only gave a sense of power to the obscurantists but gave ideas to usurpers waiting in the wings.
They figured the Trojan horse of religion could be used to seize the reigns of power and ensure the perpetuation of their rule by fooling the masses into believing the era of caliphate had returned. Raising the terminological totems of Shura, Zakat, Ushr, Hudood, Qasas, Diyat etc., an illusory façade was created that did keep the naïve believer enthralled for some time. Government babus and ministers alike would not utter a word without reciting Bismillah first and the general’s own prelude to his sermons would always be more elaborate. Listening to the eulogies of his civilian attendants he would often gaze beyond, wondering if he really was the genuine piece. Power does that to people. One becomes the mask one wears.
The malaise however had roots in a past older than Bhutto’s. The field marshal used to court the Mashaikh who have always enjoyed a larger following because of their stress on love and gastronomy than the dry, puritanical Deobandees. His fall and that of Yahya Khan’s had much to do with the country’s breakup in which the religious mindset of the western wing had played an invidious role which is not generally recognised. Bengalis were regarded as lesser Muslims and were thought to be closer to Hindus culturally — the women wore saris and the language had the Deonagri script. So Al Shams and Al Badr fought the lesser Muslims alongside the western mujahids.
The Dacca surrender desecularised the defence machine. It became an ideological entity. Under its wings jihadi outfits started cropping up.
The cry for Nizam-i-Mustafa metamorphosed into human form and appeared in the shape of General Zia. Bhutto who personified his nemesis had to disappear physically. But his judicial dispatch to eternity created a strange disquiet, a disconcerting silence that needed to be broken.
Zia knew the nation stood divided and could not be united again at least under him or his religious pretensions. So he set about dividing it further on ethnic, sectarian and biradri lines by holding non-political polls and in the meanwhile enlarging his own constituency by creating a civilian arm of mosques, madressahs and mujahids whose shift from their traditional penury to undreamt of plenitude — dinners at five-star hotels, foreign trips, Pajeros and Corollas and the rest — depended on the funds he was getting from abroad to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
It was an open account that facilitated the entry of many mujahids into contraband commerce of drugs and arms and others into rolling real estate businesses. Here was jihad that promised you both the worlds. Now it is instant, like fast food. You blow yourself up and there you are!