I am disgusted at what Zia did to Pakistan

Published: August 17, 2012
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We lost the freedom of expression that always characterises such reactionary dictatorships. SOURCE: FILE

To begin with, I absolutely loathe generals in uniform running countries. No matter how incompetent the politicians are, how relevant the doctrine of necessity is and how much of a messiah the man in the boots is, there is something very corrupt and amoral about the whole thing.

I remember watching Ziaul Haq’s martial law speech for the first time as a teenager during the peak of the lawyers’ movements. As a child who grew up in Musharraf’s martial law, I, for the first time, was discovering terms like ‘judicial independence’, ‘supremacy of the constitution’, and the ‘primacy of democracy‘. I was caught up in the romance of all that.

Then I saw his speech in which he shamelessly went on about how “Mr Bhutto’s” government has been brought to an end, assemblies dissolved and ministers removed.

What flabbergasted me was how could a man say all this in one sentence and never stutter for once. How could he tell his “aziz humwatno” (dear countrymen) that they are inconsequential and their elected institutions and people are nothing more than fragile toys left to the whims of a badly brought up child?

But he did all this, never being weighed down by the burden of his own words. Heck, he even talked about the constitution in the last part of the sentence. So the constitution, head of the government, provincial and national assemblies, ministers and governors, all went in the same sentence and the man did not even show a modicum of remorse. Despite this, we all know who was hanged in the wee hours of the morning and who got the much celebrated state funeral only fitting for a national hero.

A lot has changed in the last five years since I saw the video of his speech. The lawyers are upholding the law by banning Ahmadi-owned soft drinks and showering cold-blooded murderers with rose petals. Even judicial activism has been harbouring on the fringes of judicial martial law, but one thing has remained constant; my disgust for what Zia has done to my country and what he stood for.

With time, as I came to know of the lashing instances, torturing and persecution of political opposition, imposition of a certain brand of religion, the induction of dated laws into the constitution, I have developed this tremendous sense of loss. This was a loss of what was a dynamic, vibrant and plural country. We lost a culture that embraced rather than discriminated. We lost of a sense of justice that raped women must have felt when they couldn’t find four sound witnesses. We lost the freedom of expression that always characterises such reactionary dictatorships. I can never feel the pain of Habib Jalib but, yes, I do empathise with him, as I can with Khawar Naeem, Nusrat Javed, the blind rape victim, and thousands of other nameless humans who had to suffer through the tyranny of Zia.

A lot has been said on these pages about Allah Hafiz and Khuda Hafiz and the baggage that comes with it. I do not want to get into that because no one could have narrated it better than Mohammad Hanif in his brilliant debut book A Case of Exploding Mangoes. In fact, I would like to end this blog with an excerpt from that very book as nothing else could say it more eloquently. Here it goes:

Two things that weren’t even on the agenda survived every upheaval that followed. General Akhtar remained a general until the time he died, and all God’s names were slowly deleted from the national memory as if a wind had swept the land and blown them away. Innocuous, intimate names: Persian Khuda which had always been handy for ghazal poets as it rhymed with most of the operative verbs; Rab, which poor people invoked in their hour of distress; Maula, which Sufis shouted in their hashish sessions. Allah had given Himself ninety-nine names. His people had improvised many more. But all these names slowly started to disappear: from official stationery, from Friday sermons, from newspaper editorials, from mothers’ prayers, from greeting cards, from official memos, from the lips of television quiz-show hosts, from children’s storybooks, from lovers’ songs, from court orders, from telephone operators’ greetings, from habeas corpus applications, from inter-school debating competitions, from road inauguration speeches, from memorial services, from cricket players’ curses; even from beggars’ begging pleas.

In the name of God, God was exiled from the land and replaced by the one and only Allah who, General Zia convinced himself, spoke only through him.

On quoting this very moving passage from a brilliant author’s book, I would like to make a dedication to Pakistan’s true revolutionary poet; Habib Jalib.

Do you think Ziaul Haq is largely to blame for the radicalisation of Pakistan?

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Omer.Kamal

Omer Kamal Bin Farooq

An economics student from Lahore with a keen interest in sports, theology, politics, and, anthropology.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.