President of Pakistan (1978–88). Condemned worldwide for the execution of his predecessor, Zulfikar Bhutto, he instituted a repressive regime in Pakistan.
Born in Jullurdan to a middle-class family, Zia was educated at Stephen's College, Delhi, before attending the Royal Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun. During World War II he served in Burma, Malaya, and Indonesia, becoming a commissioned officer in 1945. Joining the Pakistani army in 1947 after partition, he was appointed to various instructional, staff, and command posts over the next nineteen years. In this period he attended the command and staff colleges at Quetta (1955) and Fort Leavenworth, USA (1959 and 1963).
Between 1966 and 1976 Zia rose from commander of the Cavalry Regiment to general and chief of the army staff. He served as an adviser to the Royal Jordanian Army (1969–71) and as a deputy division commander during the war with India (1971), which saw the loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In 1977 he led a bloodless coup, deposing prime minister Bhutto, who had appointed him to his senior positions. He retained those posts after the military takeover, adding to them chief martial law administrator, and in 1978 was sworn in as president. In 1979 he ignored worldwide appeals for clemency when he refused to commute Bhutto's death sentence on charges of conspiracy to murder. He also banned all political parties and embarked upon a programme for the total Islamization of Pakistan. Zia was re-elected as president in a referendum in December 1984. In 1985 he announced constitutional changes increasing the powers of the president and brought martial law to an end, though in practice he still maintained strict political control. He died in an air crash, possibly as the result of sabotage.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).