Monday 22 September 2008

Pakistan's moment of truth (UPIASIA)

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — Founded as it was by a bacon-friendly, whiskey-drinking Muhammad Ali Jinnah, by the end of the 1950s – once almost all non-Muslims had been driven out of Pakistan – the country remained only loosely tethered to the lifestyle encouraged by the ulema, the body of Koranic scholars that has appeared as the indispensable intermediary between believers and God in the Islamic world.

Led by officers trained under the British, the Pakistan army in particular remained secular, although it had used religion in 1947-48 to try and pry loose Kashmir from India, the country to which its maharaja had acceded.

All this changed with Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s fateful appointment of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq as chief of army staff, superseding seven officers, all of whom were better qualified for the job. Bhutto chose Zia on the basis of the fawning missives he used to receive from the general, and the deferential – indeed cringing -- manner in which Zia introduced Bhutto to his men during a prime ministerial visit in 1975.

Such suppleness of spine convinced Bhutto that in Zia he would have a servile henchman. Instead, a year later, the general displaced Bhutto in a coup and executed him shortly thereafter.

Zia, at that time the only Wahabbi general in the Pakistan army, swiftly introduced changes in the institution to bring it in sync with the extreme philosophy of Ibn Wahhab, whose toxic creed had been backed by first the United Kingdom and subsequently the United States as a counter first to Turks, then Arab nationalists and finally, the Soviets. Zia aligned his country firmly with other Wahabbi states, and began to fill the officer ranks of the army with recruits from the numerous Islamic seminaries, or madrassas, that had begun to proliferate in Pakistan during the 1960s.