Everything is NOT Zia’s fault – here are 6 reasons why

Published: July 8, 2014
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As of July 5, 2014, it has been exactly 37 years since he took charge and 26 years since he died, but we still blame him for most of the issues pertaining to the country today. PHOTO: AFP

As of July 5, 2014, it has been exactly 37 years since he took charge and 26 years since he died, but we still blame him for most of the issues pertaining to the country today. PHOTO: AFP As of July 5, 2014, it has been exactly 37 years since he took charge and 26 years since he died, but we still blame him for most of the issues pertaining to the country today. PHOTO: AFP

In the 1980s, there was a grocery store in H-Block, Model Town Lahore, called ‘Blueberry Bakers’. Now that I think about it, I wish I had asked the owner, known to me only as ‘uncle’, why his establishment was named as such, especially since I am 100% sure the store did not have a bakery and neither did it ever offer any blueberries. Blueberry Bakers was one of my go-to points for Super Crisps and RC Cola

While I might enjoy waxing nostalgic about where I bought junk food from as a 10-year-old, I’m guessing that’s of little interest to the readers.

What might, however, be of interest is one of my rather vivid memories at Blueberry Bakers; my mom and I were standing in the store, the TV in the store was on and a small crowd had gathered in front of it. All of a sudden (while I was eyeing a packet of Choco Chums for consumption), my mom grabbed my arm and shoved me out of the store.

“Jaldi ghar chalo!” she whispered into my ear.

(Let’s go home now, fast)

“Kyun Amma?!” I wailed.

(Why mother?)

Her response,

“General Zia marr gaya hai.”

(General Zia is dead)

“Toh kya farak parta hai?!” I protested (by this time I could already taste the Choco Chums melting in my mouth).

(So what difference does that make to us?)

“No,” she replied whilst dragging me out, “halaat kharab ho saktay hein.”

(The city’s situation might become bad.)

As a 10-year-old, I couldn’t understand why someone important dying in a plane crash in Bahawalpur would result in ‘halaat kharab’ 400km away in Lahore. It’s nice that children today are much more appreciative of the concept and realise the long arm of namaloom afraad’.

Long story short, Ziaul Haq had died in a plane crash. Some mangoes may or may not have been involved. There were conspiracies abound about how the usual suspects had plotted against the citadel of Islam (USA, Israel, India) and the Reader’s Digest and Vanity Magazine accused a not-so-usual suspect: the Soviet Union. In the meantime Azhar Lodhi lost his job at PTV for crying on air at Zia’s funeral.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the country has experienced several rounds of stunted democracy, almost another decade of dictatorship, followed by a somewhat enduring democratic setup. Pakistan suffers from unemployment, lawlessness, an electricity shortage, sectarianism, religious extremism and a decline in the arts. As of July 5, 2014, it has been exactly 37 years since he took charge and 26 years since he died, but we still blame him for most of the issues pertaining to the country today.

It makes me wonder, has Ziaul Haq become a scapegoat that the media and public conveniently pin all our issues on? Let’s see…

1. GDP growth:

Pakistan had the highest ever rate of GDP growth rate during Zia’s era (stand alone as well as compared to the competition, India). During Pervez Musharraf’s much touted growth era (2000-2008), our average GDP growth rate was 4.7% while India grew at 6.7%. On the other hand, Zia delivered GDP growth (from 1978-1988) of 6.9% as compared to India’s performance of 4.7% during the same period. Our growth rate during this period is ranked 19th in the world (India is at number 46), ahead of 239 other countries.

2. Arts and culture:

Maula Jatt, an icon of Punjabi cinema, came out in 1979. Unforgettable TV shows like TanhaiyaanDhoop Kinaray, Waris, and Fifty-Fifty all aired in the early 80s.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan entered the global spotlight in 1985 when he performed for an international audience in London.

Nazia Hassan sang Aap jaisa koi in 1980 and Disco Dewane in 1981.

Alamgir was all the rage in the 1980s.

Abida Parveen received the pride of performance award in 1984.

The Vital Signs released Do Pal Ka Jeevan in 1986. Ironically, the birth of the Pakistan pop music scene that we all enjoyed during the 1990s actually took place in General Zia’s time.

3. Extremism and militancy:

Flashback – the world’s most powerful army had invaded Afghanistan. If we did nothing, the worst case scenario was that the Soviets would annexe the Pakistan coastline to access the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf. Best case, we would have an Indian military ally on our western border. Neither option was acceptable.

Zia used foreign money and weapons to create a fighting force that defeated the powerful Soviet army, with virtually zero Pakistani casualties. We achieved ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, created a second line of defence against any military threat and (as an added bonus) the Kashmiri jihad got the Indian army bogged down in a war of attrition. It was a brilliant solution that almost every Pakistani endorsed. Yes, it back-fired 20 years later. Could it have been managed better? Maybe we should pass the blame around equally on this one and not put everything on Zia.

4. Electricity shortage:

In Zia’s era, ‘load shedding’ took place for 15-30 minutes, once a day, for a few weeks a year.

Need I say more?

5. Conservatism and intolerance:

The objectives resolution first (con)fused religion and state in 1949. We became the ‘Islamic’ Republic of Pakistan in 1956. The first anti-Ahmadi riots took place in 1953 in Lahore. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s 1973 constitution made Islam the state religion, which Bhutto amended in 1974 to classify Ahmadis as non-Muslims.

And for those who wish they could have a Mojito at a bar in Karachi: it was ZA Bhutto who passed laws banning gambling, clubs and alcohol. Once again, it’s ironic that the ‘Islamisation’ of Pakistan that Zia took to great heights was actually born in Bhutto’s era.

6. Crime and lawlessness:

The Afghan refugees came in the early 80s. It’s been 30 years – the Kalashnikovs they brought have rusted! Lawlessness is driven by lack of economic opportunity, fostered by official support to militant and criminal organisations (be it the establishment continuing to support jihadists, or political parties supporting extortionists and gangsters). It’s too old a problem to pin on Zia now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Zia bashing on account of everything bad he did (killing Bhutto, Hudood Ordinance, encouraging militant sectarianism etcetera). However, it’s equally important that we stick to the facts in our zeal to badmouth the dictator and spread the blame (or credit) fairly.

Blueberry Bakers has since been sold and is now known as ‘Clifton General Store’. I’m sure if we think hard enough we can find a reason to blame that on Zia as well.

Nzaar Nzaar

Nzaar Ihsan

A banker by day and aspiring journalist by night, he has lived in Pakistan and across the Middle East. He currently lives and works in Doha, Qatar. He tweets at @nzaar (twitter.com/nzaar)

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