Pakistan The Zia Regime

Pakistan Country Studies index

Pakistan - The Zia Regime

The zia regime

When Zia assumed power in mid-1977, Pakistan was out of the limelight and indeed was considered by some observers to be a political backwater. By the time of Zia's death in 1988, it had, because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, become an important actor occupying a central position in the world arena.

Although Zulifqar Ali Bhutto had tried to redirect Pakistan's regional orientation toward West Asia and Zia continued this trend, the nation's geostrategic interests dictated a concentration on South Asia. Pakistan's foreign policy was very much centered on India. Less than two years after Zia's assumption of power, Congress, led by Indira Gandhi, was voted out of office and replaced by the Janata Party, whose foreign minister was Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Jana Sangh, long seen as anti-Pakistan. Nonetheless, relations between Pakistan and India may have reached their most cordial level during the almost three years Janata was in power. Vajpayee visited Pakistan in February 1978. There were exchanges on many issues, and agreements were signed on trade, cultural exchanges, and communications--but not on such key issues as Kashmir and nuclear development.

The nuclear issue was of critical importance to both Pakistan and India. In 1974 India successfully tested a nuclear "device." Bhutto reacted strongly to this test and said Pakistan must develop its own "Islamic bomb." Zia thus inherited a pledge that for domestic reasons he could not discard, and he continued the development program. He asked India to agree to several steps to end this potential nuclear arms race on the subcontinent. One of these measures was the simultaneous signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The second step was a joint agreement for inspection of all nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Pakistan also proposed a pact between the two countries to allow for mutual inspection of sites. And, finally, Pakistan proposed a South Asian nuclear-free zone. It appeared that Zia was looking for a way to terminate the costly Pakistani program. But in order to sell this idea in Pakistan, he required some concessions from India. Termination would also get him out of difficulties the program was causing with the United States, including the curtailment of aid in 1979. These proposals were still on the table in the early 1990s, and were supplemented by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's call for a roundtable discussion among Pakistan, India, the United States, Russia, and China on nuclear weapons in South Asia.

Not all relations within South Asia were negative. President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh proposed an organization for South Asian cooperation. Pakistan was at first reluctant, fearing Indian domination, but eventually agreed to join the group, along with Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was formally inaugurated at a summit meeting in Dhaka in 1985. There have been some positive steps toward cooperation, and regular rotating summits are held, although often with some delays.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India (1984-89) came to Islamabad in 1988 to attend a SAARC summit, the first visit of an Indian prime minister since 1960, when Nehru visited to sign the Indus Waters Treaty. Zia stopped briefly in New Delhi in December 1985 and in February 1987 visited again, having invited himself to see a cricket match between the two countries. Zia's estimation was that he and Rajiv could meet quite cordially but could not agree on substantive issues.

Active and potential conflict continued to be a constant factor in Pakistan's relations with India. The dispute over the precise demarcation of the Line of Control in Kashmir at the Siachen Glacier heated up periodically and over time caused substantial casualties on both sides because of numerous small skirmishes and the extreme cold in the remote area. Also, in the 1986-87 winter the Indian army conducted Operation Brass Tacks, maneuvers close to the Pakistan border, and Pakistan mobilized its forces. However, the dangerous situation was defused, and no hostilities took place. India accused Pakistan of aiding Sikh insurgents in India's state of Punjab. Pakistan denied this accusation, but some people thought that Operation Brass Tacks might have been a means to strike at alleged bases in Pakistan's Punjab Province. Zia skillfully handled the diplomacy during the period of tension.

Zia continued the process, begun by Bhutto, of opening Pakistan to the West and drew on Pakistan's Islamic, trade, and military ties to the Middle East. Military ties included stationing Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia and training missions in several other countries. Remittances from Pakistanis employed as migrant workers in the Middle East, especially in the Persian Gulf area, increased during the Zia years and became an important factor in Pakistan's foreign-exchange holdings.

Zia played a prominent role in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). A Pakistani was secretary general of the OIC, and Zia served on committees concerning the status of Jerusalem and the settlement of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), neither of which were successful. At the 1984 summit at Casablanca, he played a key role in the readmission of Egypt to the OIC and, in doing so, reminded his fellow heads of government that the organization was one for the entire Muslim community and not only for Arab states.

The United States under the administration of Jimmy Carter did not welcome the displacement of Bhutto by Zia; representative government, human rights, and nuclear nonproliferation were also of concern to Carter. The execution of Bhutto only added to the United States displeasure with Zia and Pakistan. In March 1979, Pakistan--and Iran--terminated their membership in CENTO.

A number of United States laws, amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, applied to Pakistan and its program of nuclear weapons development. The 1976 Symington Amendment stipulated that economic assistance be terminated to any country that imported uranium enrichment technology. The Glenn Amendment of 1977 similarly called for an end to aid to countries that imported reprocessing technology--Pakistan had from France. United States economic assistance, except for food aid, was terminated under the Symington Amendment in April 1979. In 1985 the Solarz Amendment was added to prohibit aid to countries that attempt to import nuclear commodities from the United States. In the same year, the Pressler Amendment was passed; referring specifically to Pakistan, it said that if that nation possessed a nuclear device, aid would be suspended. Many of these amendments could be waived if the president declared that it was in the national interests of the United States to continue assistance.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, causing a sudden reversal of United States policy. Carter, who had described Pakistan as a "frontline state" in the Cold War, offered US$400 million in military and economic aid to Pakistan-- an amount that Zia spurned and contemptuously termed "peanuts." When the Ronald Reagan administration took office in January 1981, the level of assistance increased substantially. Presidential waivers for several of the amendments were required. The initial package from the United States was for US$3.2 billion over six years, equally divided between economic and military assistance. A separate arrangement was made for the purchase of forty F-16 fighter aircraft. In 1986 a follow-on program of assistance over a further period of six years was announced at a total of more than US$4 billion, of which 57 percent was economic aid and the rest military aid.

The Soviet Union, meanwhile, under its new leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, was reassessing its role in Afghanistan. Indirect "proximity" negotiations in Geneva under the auspices of the UN were going on between Afghanistan and Pakistan with the United States and the Soviet Union as observers. In April 1988, a series of agreements were signed among the United States, the Soviet Union, Pakistan, and Afghanistan that called for the withdrawal of Soviet forces by mid-February 1989. The withdrawal was completed on time.

Throughout the years of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, relations between the United States and Pakistan were best characterized by close cooperation. Still, United States policy makers became increasingly concerned that Zia and his associates- -most notably, General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, then head of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence--appeared to give preferential treatment to the Islamic fundamentalists, especially mujahidin leader Gulbaddin Hikmatyar. Other disagreements persisted, particularly over the failure of the Zia regime to convert to representative government. Documented Pakistani violations of human rights were another major issue; Pakistani involvement in narcotics trafficking was yet another. But the issue that after Zia's death led to another cutoff of aid was Pakistan's persistent drive toward nuclear development.

The event of the Zia period brought Pakistan to a leading position in world affairs. However, Pakistan's new visibility was closely connected to the supportive role it played for the anti- Soviet mujahidin in Afghanistan--and this deceased when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. In the 1990s, Pakistan faced some major domestic problems--mounting ethnic and sectarian strife as well as widespread civil disorder. Pakistan will need to address these problems as it strives to improve its international standing as a maturing democratic nation and one aspiring to be the industrial and technological leader of the Muslim world.

You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:

Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq - Wikipedia
History of Pakistan - Wikipedia
pakistan history: Zia Regime
Dictatorship in Pakistan: A Study of the Zia Era (1977-88)
Zia Regime, History, Pakistan, Asia - Federal Advisory

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