General Zia’s dictatorial regime, Islamization, and Pakistan’s military-centric national security approach

Despite Bhutto continuing with the national security state, the Pakistani military establishment did not tolerate civilian rule for very long. In July 1977, General Zia, the then Chief of Ar my Staff (CO AS), dismissed the Bhutto government and inaugurated another period of martial law rule. General Zia became Pakistan’s new leader and also retained his position as a Chief of Army Staff. Thereafter, the military introduced the “Revival of the Constitution Order,” a move that helped to create the NSC. The NSC was said to have an advisory role in recommending declarations of a state of emergency, security affairs, and other matters of national and strategic importance. General Zia was, however, unable to implement the NSC, which was brought in eventually by General Musharraf in 2004 (Siddiqa 2007). Thus, the primary objective of General Zia’s coup was to re-establish the supremacy of the military in the country and reverse the reforms introduced in the 1973 constitution. According to Muhammad Waseem (1989), a prominent Pakistani scholar:

The 1977 military coup was not a reactive militarism to correct the political situation or bring back order, and must be seen against the egalitarian reforms of Bhutto government and the institutional stresses which [the] military had to endure under the previous government and the way it was ensconced back into the seat of power with a mission to undo most of its predecessor’s leftist policies.

Since then, any civilian government in Pakistan which has tried to reassert control over the military faces the direct prospect of losing power thr ough a military coup or less directly by having its powers curbed by a civil bureaucracy and judiciary aligned with the military.

General Zia’s coup was not well received in Pakistan or internationally, but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 provided an opportunity for General Zia’s military regime to end its period of global isolation. General Zia was able to reinvigorate Pakistan’s alliance with the US and became once again a frontline state in the international struggle against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan during the Cold War. The Reagan administration announced two substantial military aid packages for Islamabad during the 1980s, worth US$3.2 billion and USS4.2 billion (Kronstadt 2004; Siddiqa 2007). The details of the US aid are given in Table 2.3.

Table 2.3 US aid to Pakistan, 1980-1989 (USD in million)


Economic Aid

Military Aid


































Total US Aid:


Source: US overseas Loans and Grants (Green book) available at, In Asif, M. and Muhammad, A. (2017). “Image of USA in Urban Pakistan: An Empirical Assessment.” A Research Journal of South Asian Studies 32 (2): 539 - 555.

In addition to this, the US also provided F-16 aircraft to the Pakistani military, though Washington did not provide the Airborne Warning and Control Systems requested by Pakistan. US military and financial aid significantly strengthened the position of the Pakistani military (Siddiqa 2007). In return, Pakistan provided a transit route for weapons supplies to the Afghan resistance movement (mujahideen) and hosted training camps for the mujahideen fighting the Soviet presence in Afghanistan (Malik 1994). The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan marked a new stage in the Cold War and led to a new convergence of interests between General Zia’s martial law administration in Pakistan and the Reagan administration in the US. Both states were determined to defeat the Soviet forces in Afghanistan through the mujahideen.

In a bid to enhance the legitimacy of his regime, General Zia held local body elections in all the four provinces in 1979-1980. The elections were non-party based to keep out the influential political parties from the election process. In particular. General Zia combined political centralization through his martial law administration and decentralization from the provincial to the local level through local body government (Cheema et al. 2005). Moreover, General Zia held a controversial presidential referendum in 1984, which was heavily rigged, and General Zia was somewhat predictably confirmed as Pakistan's new president (Zahid 2011). Like General Ayub Khan, General Zia introduced a controlled form of democracy in the country. In 1985, further non-party elections were held in which Muhammad Khan Junejo became the prime minister. Junejo was General Zia’s hand-picked man to extend military rule in the country. Junejo passed a notorious eighth amendment to the constitution. Under the terms of this amendment, power was concentrated in General Zia’s presidential office, an arrangement which remained in place until 1997. Under the eighth amendment of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan Act, 1985:

The President shall dissolve the National Assembly if so advised by the Prime Minister and the National Assembly shall, unless sooner dissolved, stand dissolved at the expiration of forty-eight hours after the Prime Minister has so advised, (2) Notwithstanding anything contained in clause (2) of article 48, the President may also dissolve the National Assembly at his discretion, where, in his opinion ... a situation has arisen in which the Government of the Federation cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and an appeal to the electorate is necessary.

General Zia’s military regime, therefore, institutionalized the power of the president to dismiss the prime minister, parliament, cabinet, and other civilian institutions if that was deemed necessary. Since then, successive presidents have used this discretionary power to dismiss elected governments with the support of the military.

Furthermore, General Zia institutionalized religion in the Pakistani state and society. Nonetheless, it is important to note that Pakistan originated with a single religious identity to have a separate homeland for the Muslims of British India. Therefore. Pakistan denies any other identity that supersedes their religious identity (Akhtar 2009). Both the military and civilian leadership exploited this religious identity to protect their strategic interests and political goals in order to gain control over the Pakistani state and society. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came into power with a socialist manifesto in December 1971, but he used religious slogans such as Islamic socialism and economics in order to gain power. After taking office, Bhutto declared Ahmadis, a subsect of Muslims, as non-Mus-lim in order to appease the religious clergy whereas Pakistan played a key role in establishing the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) during his regime and started special relations with Muslim countries (Haqqani 2004). Nevertheless, the Bhutto regime provided a foundation to General Zia military regime who took further steps towards Islamization.

General Zia established a legal and educational system based on Sharia laws. He established thousands of religious seminaries and introduced jihadist radical literature in public school syllabus. It is important to note that such curriculums were designed and developed in the University of Nebraska at the US to encourage jihad against the Soviet Union. About US$13 million worth of textbooks based on such a syllabus were distributed in public schools, religious seminaries, and refugees camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan (Ashraf 2009). As a consequent, religious schools mushroomed during General Zia’s regime from an estimated 900 religious seminaries to about 8,000 registered and 25,000 unregistered seminaries at the end (Murphy and Malik 2009; Ali 2011). Such seminaries provided a conducive environment to spread religious radicalization, extremism, and sectarian violence and served as a key channel for providing logistic resources and manpower to Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets forces in Afghanistan.

In addition, the Islamization process was further institutionalized in the armed forces by adding Islamic syllabus of new recruits, and religiously conservative officers were promoted in higher ranks. For this purpose, a close alliance was established between the mullahs (orthodox religious scholars) as religiously conservative scholars from Deobandi and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) groups were appointed in the military to work with the armed forces (T. Hussain 2009). In this process of Islamization, Pakistan became the epicentre of religious extremism and global jihadi groups who played a key role in defeating 114,000 strong Soviet forces in Afghanistan with support of the US and its allied countries (Murphy and Malik 2009; Ali 2011). This led to the foundation for an extremist religious infrastructure that served Pakistan's strategic interests during the Afghan war. Thereafter, Pakistan emphasized on proxy war to balance a hegemonic India and protect its strategic interests. Nonetheless, proxy wars have become a dangerous phenomenon in the post-Cold war era when such militant groups began searching for new targets within and beyond the region. In fact, some of the militant groups turned against the Pakistani state (see in Chapter 5).

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