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The Zia Regime

The military coup, dubbed Operation Fair Play, that toppled Bhutto in July 1977 caught the country’s political parties off guard and threw them into a state of confusion. In one fell swoop the coup had removed the opposition’s raison d’être. The government had been removed too quickly and by the armed forces rather than by the PNA, leaving the opposition with no immediate plan of action.

This confusion was compounded by the Islamic veneer of the new regime. For the first time in its history it appeared that Islamic parties would operate in a hospitable political environment and enjoy a certain amount of government patronage. Their ideological rapport produced what one party source called “a mother-daughter relationship” with Zia’s regime.[1] The general had hoped to restore state authority by controlling the Islamic parties by including them in his regime. What he offered was similar to what elsewhere has been termed inclusionary corporatism.[2] He had incorporated the demands of the Islamic parties into state ideology, thereby offering the Islamic parties a power-sharing arrangement in which the state would act as the senior partner, but the Islamic forces would gain from state patronage and enjoy a modicum of political activity. This strategy had short-run success because it appealed to the ideological sensibilities of the Islamic parties, but in the long run it failed as it ran counter to their fundamental political interests. The general’s mixture of Islam and autocracy generated corresponding tensions between the Jama‘at’s commitment to Islamization and its avowed democratic objectives.

The Jama‘at and its allies in the PNA were not pleased with Zia’s coup. For one thing the general had canceled the elections, though he emphasized the fact that Bhutto had never intended to abide by his agreement to hold elections and had himself planned to unleash the army against the opposition.[3] Therefore, had the army not acted with alacrity, according to the general, Pakistan would have been immersed in a blood bath and the alliance parties would have been thoroughly routed. Having removed the obdurate People’s Party government, Zia would now pave the way for the realization of the PNA’s demands for a democratic order. Zia also made full use of his reputation as an observant Muslim to gain the sympathy of the Islamic parties and quickly adopted the Nizam-i Mustafa, thereby adding to the PNA’s confusion over what political strategy to adopt. Zia also had a humble demeanor which, in contrast to the arrogant Bhutto, went a long way to impress the PNA leaders and also allay their fears.[4]

The Jama‘at was by no means immune to Zia’s manipulations. It had performed rather well in the elections of 1977, better than most of its allies in the PNA. If the campaign which followed the disputed elections of 1977 was any indication, the political fortunes of the party both within the PNA and nationally had subsequently soared even higher. The alliance had expected to inherit the government from the People’s Party, and the Jama‘at had anticipated ruling the coalition government that was to succeed Bhutto. Encouraged by the Islamic facade of Zia’s regime, the party therefore tried to salvage its fortunes by lobbying with Zia for early elections. Elections and Islamization thereby became the bait which Zia used to co-opt the Jama‘at. Between 1977 and 1979 the Jama‘at was increasingly drawn into his regime. Zia announced the first of a series of promised election dates for October 1, 1977. He referred to the house arrest of the anti-Bhutto politicians as “an enforced rest…[to] rejuvenate themselves for the coming General Elections.”[5] He promised the Jama‘at that after the elections a civilian government would be allowed to take over.[6] Eager to maintain stability, the Jama‘at went to great lengths to promote cooperation between Zia and the PNA, eventually acting as the broker between the two. Zia’s avowed commitment to the Jama‘at’s ideological position and the fact that he and Mian Tufayl both belonged to the Ara‘in clan (biradri) and were from Jullundar in East Punjab helped strengthen the entente.

Mawdudi enthusiastically endorsed Zia’s initiatives in implementing the Nizam-i Mustafa movement, hailing his efforts as the “renewal of the covenant” between the government and Islam.[7] As a result, the harmony between the Jama‘at’s ideological position and its political aims was lost. By appealing to the ideological sensibilities of the Jama‘at, Zia was able to turn the party’s attention from its political interests. Between 1977 and 1979, Zia adroitly manipulated the fate of Bhutto and his party—to whom government propaganda had given apocalyptic significance—to postpone the elections while still keeping the Islamic parties in check. He thought that once Bhutto was executed the anti-Bhutto alliance would fall apart, giving more breathing room to his regime.[8] He argued that elections were in the interests of neither the alliance nor of the country, if they were to serve as the means for resuscitating the People’s Party. Bhutto, he added, could be prevented from returning only if he was made accountable for the abuses which were committed while he was in office.

The prospect of Bhutto’s return was disconcerting to the opposition especially after it had been convinced that the gallows had awaited them all in July 1977 had Zia not intervened.[9] When Bhutto, temporarily released from prison, was received in Lahore on August 8, 1977, by a large and cheering crowd, the Jama‘at quickly fell in line with the government and raised the banner of “retribution first, elections next!”[10] The enthusiasm shown for Bhutto by Lahoris made the impending elections seem less promising than they had seemed earlier.[11] There was no point in pushing for elections unless the Jama‘at and the PNA would win them. With the memory of the anti-Bhutto agitations of the summer of 1977 waning, the Jama‘at and its allies now looked to the government and the judicial system to thwart any attempt at a comeback by the People’s Party by trying Bhutto for abuse of power. With the Jama‘at’s and the PNA’s support, Bhutto was implicated in an assassination attempt on one of his opponents; the intended victim survived but his father died, and Bhutto was charged with murder.

The quest for justice soon shifted to thinly disguised vindictiveness. Once the courts had convicted Bhutto on the charge of murder, the Jama‘at’s demand for his execution was loud. “Mr. Bhutto has not been punished as a political convict. The Court has sentenced him for involvement in a murder case. Being a moral criminal and murderer, any demand for commutation of his sentence would be tantamount to interference in judicial verdicts,” was how Mawdudi rationalized their stand.[12] So central was the Jama‘at’s support for Bhutto’s execution that Zia deemed it politic to meet with Mian Tufayl for an hour and a half the night before the former prime minister’s hanging.[13] The Jama‘at also provided Zia with support in suppressing the remaining pockets of People’s Party resistance. Mawdudi argued that if the People’s Party were allowed to run in the elections the debacle of East Pakistan would be repeated in Baluchistan or Sind;[14] this provided Zia with a convenient pretext for institutionalizing the martial-law regime and repeatedly postponing elections.

The Jama‘at’s effort to bring the elections about became the focus of the party’s relations with the government. Zia now argued that elections could not be held by a martial-law regime—a civilian government was required to oversee an orderly electoral process and, if necessary, the transfer of power. After months of negotiations between the PNA and the Zia regime, on August 21, 1978, an agreement was reached whereby the PNA would form a government which would oversee the national elections. The two sides agreed that the PNA would appoint two-thirds of the cabinet ministers and the general one-third. The Jama‘at joined the new government as part of both the PNA’s quota and General Zia’s team. As part of the PNA’s quota of ministers the Jama‘at received the portfolios of production and industry; petroleum, minerals, water, and power; and information and broadcasting.[15] Khurshid Ahmad was appointed to be minister of planning as part of Zia’s quota of ministers. After thirty years of political activity in Pakistan, for the first time in its history the Jama‘at had become part of the ruling establishment.[16]

The PNA’s arrangement with Zia, however, did not last for long. On April 21, 1979, to prepare for national elections, the PNA dissolved the government. Zia appealed to the Jama‘at to stay in the cabinet, but the party, hoping to control the postelection civilian government, turned down the general’s offer and decided to stay with the PNA.[17] To create some distance with the martial-law regime in preparation for elections, the Jama‘at also began to criticize Zia, especially his economic policy. Soon after Khurshid Ahmad left the cabinet, he criticized the government’s proposed budget as un-Islamic and as harmful to the interests of Pakistan as Bhutto’s policies.[18] The maneuver paid off. On October 7, Zia reached an agreement with the PNA, which committed the regime to elections on November 17, 1979.[19]

They took Zia at his word. Mawdudi declared that elections would soon bring the Jama‘at to power and that no additional extraconstitutional activities were therefore needed to hasten the advent of the Islamic state.[20] The party’s enthusiasm for an electoral victory soared even more when the Jama‘at participated in municipal elections in September 1979[21] and won 57 of the 160 seats contested in the elections to the Karachi municipal corporation (city council).[22] The 35 percent margin of victory was sufficient to assure the Jama‘at’s domination over the corporation and, by implication, the politics of the Muhajir community, at least for the time being. The elections had been boycotted by some PNA parties and had been held on a nonparty basis. The Jama‘at nonetheless saw any election better than none and, viewing the vote as a positive sign, formed the Ukhuwwat (Brotherhood) group, a surrogate for the Jama‘at in the election campaign. The Jama‘at’s tally of seats in the corporation was sufficient to secure the mayoralty of Karachi for the party; the office was held by ‘Abdu’ssattar Afghani until 1986.[23]

The results from elsewhere in Sind were not as promising. Of the province’s thirteen district councils, eleven were won by pro–People’s Party candidates, two by those close to the Muslim League and one by the Jama‘at.[24] In Punjab the Jama‘at did not do well either. In the Punjab district council elections, of the 500 seats contested, pro–People’s Party candidates received 212, independents 135, and the Jama‘at 35 seats. The Jama‘at may have come in a distant third, but it did better than the Muslim League with 28, the Jami‘at-i Ulama-i Islam with 13, and the Jami‘at-i Ulama-i Pakistan with 6 seats each. In corporation and municipal elections in Punjab, pro–People’s Party candidates got 527, independents 390, and the Jama‘at’s candidates 93 seats. Overall, in Punjab the Jama‘at got one district council vice-chairman, five municipal committee chairmen, six municipal committee vice-chairmen, five town committee chairmen, and four town committee vice-chairmen.

In North-West Frontier Province of the 360 district council seats, the Jama‘at got 32, but came in second behind pro–People’s Party candidates, who won 52 seats. The Jama‘at again defeated the Muslim League and the Jami‘at-i Ulama-i Islam. The Jama‘at did better in the elections than the other participating PNA parties and was defeated only by the cluster of pro–People’s Party candidates. Zia, however, would not have allowed Bhutto’s party to run in the national elections, which led the Jama‘at’s leaders to believe that they would sweep the polls in November 1979. This, however, also meant that the Jama‘at would render more support to Zia just to make sure that the People’s Party would be kept out of the elections. The Jama‘at became even more sanguine about its electoral prospects when, after Mawdudi died in September 1979, his funeral procession in Lahore later that month, less than a month before the promised November 17 national elections, drew a large crowd.

The municipal councils were the first openly elected bodies to be put in place since the advent of martial law, which, given the Jama‘at’s full participation in them, intensified the party’s rivalry with the Zia regime for the control of Pakistan. Zia found the Jama‘at’s good showing useful in that for the time being the party could be relied upon to control Karachi and contain the pockets of pro-People’s Party sentiments in Pakistan’s largest city, which was critical to the stability of the military regime. The Jama‘at’s ability to manipulate a nonparty election, however, did not go unnoticed by Zia.

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