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Meeting Zia-ul Haq

Pres Zia-ul HaqAfter retiring as the ambassador of India in Ankara in 1996, I decided to become a journalist, rather a commentator on international affairs, having started my diplomatic career in Cairo as assistant press attaché in early 1960s.

To enable me to work and function as an accredited journalist, Kuldip Nayar's Mandira publications appointed me as its roving correspondent for the region.

I have known Kuldip since 1964, when along with many other senior Indian journalists he had come to Cairo for the nonaligned summit. Kuldip was the managing director of recently minted; with shoestring budget the United News of India, a rival news agency to PTI. He has always been very affectionate like an elder brother and very hospitable.

Kuldip is the first successful journalist to establish a Syndicate in India, Mandira publications, which has done very well since decades .He had syndicated my articles to nearly a score of major Indian regional newspapers from 1996. At the same time I had begun writing articles for Turkish daily News, Ankara, Khaleej times is Dubai, Pioneer New Delhi and other English language publications in India.

In spite of requests from friends and editors to write short pieces of 1300 words for newspapers in Turkey, Lebanon and other places, my experience and background of 35 years as the diplomat half of it as an Ambassador gives me greater facility to write in-depth articles. Since 2002, I have written over 500 online in-depth articles for major newspapers, websites, and blogs etc. all over the world, which have been translated into a dozen major languages of the world.

However, I felt that I should share my experience as a diplomat and a journalist with Indians, who mostly read newspapers and magazines in India's regional languages. Mandira Publications has provided me that opportunity.

Meeting with Gen Zia-ul Haq in Bucharest

(From the Ambassador’s Journal)

“Why do not you come to Islamabad? Natwar is leaving Pakistan shortly”.” Excellency, all my teeth are still intact and I am somewhat junior diplomat to come to Pakistan,” I replied to the visiting Pres. of Pakistan Gen Zia ul Haq to whom I was introduced. During my post in early 1980s in Bucharest, Romania, then under the communist rule of Nicolai Ceausescu, all heads of mission were summoned to the presidency and in order of precedence introduced to the visiting head of state or government.

Apart from exchange of pleasantries with the Pakistani president and to meet with him in person, some of us are very curious because prior to his visit there were some media reports that the Pres. had instructed that the women of Pakistan should wear only Salwar and Kameez and not sari, since some extremists in Pakistan considered sari to be a Hindu costume. So we were pleasantly surprised and reassured that almost all the ladies accompanying him were dressed in saris. At the end of the introductions, the president and his party mingled with the invited guests and the president was quickly surrounded.

I sauntered over to a group which had three well dressed and articulate ladies from Pakistan delegation. We talked about India and Pakistan. The wife of the Minister of industry, if I remember correctly, who was connected with Karachi, was full of praise for our previous consul general Mani Shankar Aiyar, a very bright younger colleague, who was born in Lahore.

I casually remarked how was it to travel with the Pres. Of course, she praised the president and added that although he was not trained to be a politician or Pres. he was doing splendidly. I could not resist myself and said, “But of course any young cadet joining the Pakistani military Academy always aspires to occupy the presidential Palace.” After this, I quickly left the group.

Later while posted to Amman, I heard much more about Gen Zia, who as a brigadier was deputed to train Jordan’s military (1967-70). In the beginning, there used to be British military officers seconded to Jordan , created by Winston Churchill after WWI at a dinner table in Jerusalem when on a napkin he mapped the Emirate of Trans-Jordan East of river Jordan , to pacify Prince Abdullah , son of Sharif Hussain of Hejaz and the keeper of Mecca and Medina .The Sharif was fooled into aiding the British against the Ottoman Caliph and Sultan in Istanbul on assurance by Lawrence of Arabia of freeing the Caliph’s Arab subjects after WWI .But nothing of the sort happened .The perfidious British and Gallic French divided the Arab territories , created Israel and put new Arab kingdoms under their control .

King Hussain, a direct descendent of Prophet Mohammad, the ruler during my tenure (1989-92) had himself done a shortened course at the British Military Academy at Sandhurst. In fact, King Hussain married Antoinette Avril Gardiner, the daughter of a British military head of a training mission .Their son; King Abdullah also trained at Sandhurst, now sits on the Hashemite throne in Amman.

Brigadier Zia left an abiding impression among the population of Jordan about his religious proclivities. Some of them said that there was no Mosque in Jordan, where Brig Zia did not pray .But he was heartily detested by Jordanians of Palestinian origin who were expelled from Palestine after the creation of Israel and now form majority in the Kingdom. Brig Zia was the brain and strategician behind the defense and counter attack when the Palestinian guerrilla fighters organized the Black September insurgency against King Hussain. Jordan troops under Brig Zia crushed it and expelled the insurgents into Syria. Later for this Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto promoted him 4 Star superseding seven Lt Generals.

A source told me that after the whole operation was over there were big celebrations at the Hashemite Palace. The King himself sent a message to Pakistan that Brig Zia had saved a kingdom. At the party, naturally, Brig Zia was the cynosure of all eyes specially charming and enchanting ladies. A few of them with wine glasses in their hands came enthusiastically and enticingly to Zia and requested that he drink a toast with them for the success, hinting that he deserved whatever he wished or commanded .Brig Zia was a complete teetotaler, so in spite of repeated requests and entreaties by the ladies ,he continued to refuse politely . Finally, he said that did they desire he give up his lifelong absentension. At this the ladies desisted and Zia remained a teetotaler.

During his presidency Gen Zia hoodwinked many foreign leaders and took full advantage of the geopolitical location of Pakistan after the ingress of the Soviet troops into Afghanistan invited by the leftist rulers in Kabul. He wholeheartedly joined with US led West and Muslim counties in the Jihad against USSR in Afghanistan I would not repeat the adverse external and internal consequences of this decision and Islamizing the state of Pakistan, .He also fooled Indian leadership while planning rebellion in Indian Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir .As always, India’s RAW remained generally clueless .Zia would visit India for Pakistani cricket team's tour or to visit a Muslim holy center. One Pakistani diplomat said the Gen Zia kept his mustaches lowered but was very successful in achieving his internal and foreign policy objectives.

Gen Zia originated from peasantry class called Rain, mostly involved in horticulture, but his father was clerk, a good position in pre-partition days. Born in Jullundur, after graduating from St Stephens College, Delhi, he joined the army .In 1947 he opted for Pakistan. He was able to fool PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and finally had his benefactor hanged a very common thing in the history of Islam. Three of the first four Arab Caliphs died of violence. Among Mongols and Turks the sovereignty resided in the family and the fittest could take over the throne after the death of the ruler.

To counter the old established elites of Pakistan comprising of feudal landlords and the rich bourgeoisie, who looked down upon Gen Zia, he promoted another refugee family, of Nawaz Sharif from in Amritsar district in India, where his family had grown out of a flourishing blacksmithy business. He joined politics when the family’s steel business was nationalized by Bhutto. It was therefore funny of him to take potshots at Indian PM Manmohan Singh for old rustic women talk as if he belonged to the genteel aristocracy. 

More on Zia and Pakistan

Unlike India, Pakistan began with weak grassroots political organizations, with the British-era civil servants strengthening the bureaucracy's control over the polity and decision-making in the country. Subsequently, the bureaucracy called for the military's help, but soon the tail was wagging the dog. In the first seven years of Pakistan's existence, nine provincial governments were dismissed. From 1951 to 1958 there was only one army commander in chief, two governor generals, but seven prime ministers.

While the politicians had wanted to further strengthen relations with the British, the erstwhile rulers, General Ayub Khan -encouraged by the US military - formed closer cooperation with the Pentagon. And in 1958 the military took over power, with Ayub Khan exiling the governor general, Iskender Mirza, to London. A mere colonel at partition in 1947, with experience mostly of staff jobs, Ayub Khan became a general after only four years. Later, he promoted himself to field marshal. He eased out officers who did not fit into the Anglo-Saxon scheme of using Pakistan's strategic position against the evolving Cold War confrontation with the communist bloc.

General Zia ul-Haq, meanwhile, was a cunning schemer, veritably a mullah in uniform who, while posted in Amman, helped plan the military operation, which expelled Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization from Jordan in the 1970s. But he is more remembered for having prayed at all the mosques of Amman, if not in the whole of Jordan. He seduced the north Indian media with lavish praise and chicken and tikka kebabs meals. He planned Operation Topaz, which in 1989 fueled insurgency in Kashmir, while hoodwinking Indians with his goodwill visits to promote cricket contacts between the countries. His Islamization of the country made the situation for women and minorities untenable, while the judicial killing of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 turned General Zia into a pariah.

But the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made him a US darling, restoring and fatally strengthening the Pakistan military's links with the Pentagon. This made the Pakistani military and the ISI's hold pervasive, omnipotent, omniscient and ominous in Pakistan. This defense alliance, the seeds of which were planted by Ayub Khan, and the symbiotic relationship between the ISI and the CIA bolstered under General Zia, was never really dismantled and is unlikely to be fully disentangled.

The form of government in a country has seldom bothered the US in the pursuit of its national interests. Otherwise, why would it embrace Pakistan, or say Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia or any of the other kingdoms and sheikhdoms and repressive regimes around the world, and shun democratic India. Beginning with Ayub Khan's unofficial visit to the US, the foundations for bilateral cooperation in the military field were laid. These have survived through thick and thin, like a bad marriage where neither side can let go, and despite bad patches, such as the takeovers by Zia ul-Haq and Musharraf. In fact US find military or other dictators easier to handle. 

Like the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, September 11 revived the necessity, if not the passion of the 1980s, for Pakistan and the US to come close to each another once again. A divorce now, as naive Indian policymakers and media propose, is wishful thinking. The US needed Pakistan to protect itself from a backlash of its earlier Afghan policies of creating the mujahidin and supporting the jihad in Afghanistan and then Taliban, After 11 September, Washington desperately needed to stop Pakistan's nuclear bombs or material from falling into jihadi hands, and to eliminate, or at least curtail, further damage to US interests. The US and others in the West will keep on making pro forma noises in favor of more democracy


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