(b. Jalandhar, 12 Aug. 1942; d. Bhawalpur, 17 Aug. 1988)
Pakistani; President 1978–88 Zia came from a lower-middle-class family and was educated at St Stephen's College in Delhi before joining the British Indian Army in 1944. He was commissioned into the cavalry and saw service in Burma, Malaya, and Java at the end of the Second World War. After his promotion to Brigadier in 1969, Zia was seconded to Jordan where he helped King Hussein's forces in their operations against the PLO. On his return home, Zia commanded the first Armoured Division for three years. He was still relatively unknown however when he became head of the Pakistan army in the spring of 1976.
Zia launched the coup code-named ‘Operation Fairplay’ against Bhutto on 5 July 1977. It ushered in Pakistan's longest period of military rule. Even when it was withdrawn on 30 December 1985, Zia retained his post as Chief of Army Staff and continued to wield power through the office of President. Indeed on 29 May 1988, he dismissed his handpicked Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo.
Zia's political survival rested on his skill in wrong-footing opponents, and on the favourable external environment following the December 1979 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. This transformed him overnight from an international pariah to America's front-line ally in the fight against Communism. The Reagan administration provided $3.2 billion of military and economic assistance, despite concerns over human rights abuses and the nuclear programme.
The martial law era was punctuated by unfulfilled promises of national elections and by discussion of the relevance of democracy for an Islamic state. Zia maintained that a Western-style democracy was unsuitable for Pakistan. He eventually agreed to hold ‘party-less’ elections in February 1985, following a referendum on his Islamic policies which was linked with his re-election as President. The eleven-party alliance Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, which had mounted a major campaign in Sind in 1983 against the Zia regime, boycotted both the polls.
Zia introduced special shariat courts, with Islamic rules of evidence and punishments for certain crimes. Further measures included the provision of Islamic banking facilities and the government collection of zakat (alms) and ushr (agricultural tax). Islamization which was stoutly opposed by women's groups and human rights activists stirred up sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias.
Karachi experienced mounting ethnic violence from 1986 onwards. Clashes between mohajirs and Pakhtuns, later extended to the Sindhi community. The growing lawlessness was encourage by the ready availability of weapons and drugs as a result of the Afghan War. Zia justified his dismissal of Junejo in terms of the deteriorating security situation. Party-less elections were scheduled for November 1988. Zia died however on 17 August following the unexplained crash of his C-130 aircraft.
Zia can be viewed as a pious Muslim who halted his country's moral decay and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Empire, or condemned as an intolerant and vindictive ruler who cynically manipulated Islam to remain in power.