He was the sixth President of Pakistan who assumed power in a military coup on July 5, 1977 removing populist Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Having declared martial law for the third time in Pakistan’s history, he remained the country’s longest-serving head of state, ruling more than eleven years.
Zia is most noted for his efforts to introduce religion as a public policy of the government into mainstream Pakistani society and built close relations with the United States and support for the US-backed mujahideen resistance against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
The seed of extremism, sown by the so-called Islamisation process of Zia regime in the country has now turned into a lush tree with its branches of radicalization of large segments of the society.
He started his military career in World War II as a British Indian Army officer After graduating from the Delhi University with a BA degree in History. In 1970, he led the Pakistani training mission in Jordan, proving instrumental to putting down Palestinian Black September insurgency against King Hussein.
Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed Zia as Chief of Army Staff in 1976, over several senior military officers. He deposed Bhutto in a coup in so-called “Operation Fair Play” and imposed martial law over the country in July 1977.
He get rid of popular former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was controversially tried and executed by the Supreme Court less than two years later, for authorising the murder of a political opponent.
Zia ul Haq assuming the presidency of Pakistan in 1978, played a key role in the US war against Soviets in neighboring Afghanistan which was culminated in the Soviet forces pullout in 1989. His adventure in Afghanistan also led to the proliferation of millions of refugees, with heroin and weaponry into Pakistan.
He remained a ruthless ruler in Pakistan crushing opposition alliance Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) with brutal force in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh, the native region of democracy icon Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Zia held non-party elections in the country in 1985. He made a party and appointed Muhammad Junejo as the Prime Minister but he accumulated even more powers via the infamous Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
Prime Minister Junejo signed the Geneva Accord in 1988 for peace in Afghanistan against the wishes of Zia ul Haq and also called for an inquiry into the Ojhri Camp disaster. Zia dismissed his handpicked Junejo’s government and announced fresh elections in November 1988.
He however killed along with several of his top military officials and American ambassador in a mysterious plane crash near Bahawalpur on August 17, 1988.
Zia remains a polarizing figure in Pakistan’s history. He sown the seeds of obscurantism in the country, which encouraged religious intolerance in the country and radicalization of the society.
His policies promoted hatred and intolerance on the basis of faith in Pakistani society leading the nation sliding in an ideological labyrinth shattering the very fabric of the society.