This content is written with reference to a featured film Khamosh Pani that revolves around the transitions that took place when Indian Sub-continent was partitioned (1947), a moment which is characterised as a time of tremendous brutality. The core theme associated with the movie is that how community pressure forces people to do formidable things in order to safeguard their so-called honour and how it erodes toleration and vicinity bonds. Fundamentally the story begins in 1979, when President Zia-ul-Haq imposed Martial Law and maneuvered the elucidation of Islam. He associated his government with what we know as Nizam-e-Mustafa [The order of the Prophet (PBUH)] and he restructured many institutions such as legal, political, social, etc, in accordance with the teachings of Islam. Moreover, to ensure the legitimacy of his dictatorial rule he described himself as a ‘soldier of Islam’ and he paid his maximum attentions towards forming an Islamic society for which Pakistan was created. The purpose of this blog is to basically highlight the “Islamisation of Pakistan” and its impact on the society during General Zia’s era.

Since the commencement, the leaders of Pakistan have used religious sentiments as a device for strengthening Pakistan’s identity. During Zia’s rule the Islamists brought it into the consideration of the general public that East Pakistan was lost because of the un-Islamic policies of our leaders, and this argument was further used to bring people, especially the youth, under the folds of Islam. Pakistan during this time acted as the supreme force against Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which is also characterised as Jihad. Islamists were not just looking forward to convince people towards shariah but they were also concerned about recruiting fighters for jihad. As Zaid Haider discussed in his papers that people were recruited as mujahedeen, fighting in the name of God, therefore many young men who had no future security and were uneducated with no or modest world exposure were taken easily by the fundamentalists based on the argument that sacrificing their life in the way of ALLAH is the ultimate way to salvation. This transition is also depicted in the movie when Saleem who had no ambition in life, found a path, a purpose by engaging himself in the holy war. By many such people Zia was considered as “the bringer of light” concentrating on Muslim unity. But such initiatives created a lot of social divides between families, as we witnessed in the movie how Saleem developed a distance with his mother and was unable to perform his duties as a son.

Another aspect that was witnessed during Zia’s rule was religious conflict between the Shia and Sunni sects, which became more severe as a result of Islamisation. Conflicts over issues such as Sunni-based Islamic measures regarding zakat and usher not just separated the Shia community but also gave birth to excessive violence in the form of assassinations and attacks on mosques and shrines resulting in infinite causalities among both the sects. This sectarianism was also provoked by the Iranian revolution, where the two sects of Pakistan were made proxies to fight the battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. To conclude, if Zia’s intention was actually to bring Islamisation in Pakistan than he would have done something to resolve the matters between the two sects and unite them as Muslims, but Zia did not do anything in this regards; in fact, Sunni madrasas were increased in number, further increasing resentment between the two, therefore we can relate the conflicts taking place presently between Sunni and Shia in Karachi back to 1980s.

Along with sectarianism, religious intolerance also emerged due to Zia’s Islamisation policies. Before the partition Muslims and Sikhs lived together in Punjab, but following the partition there was a lot of bad blood between the two communities. Men from both sides tried to acquire others’ land and property by illegal means and even kidnapped and raped women of the respective sides. An argument that I would like to highlight here is that a leader of an Islamic republic could be accountable for spreading the Islamic teachings but he is not allowed to identify who by definition should be a Muslim or a non-Muslim, but Zia in the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) introduced the classification of Muslim and non-Muslim and in the same amendment he determined the status of Ahmedis as “non-Muslims”. Moreover, Zia’s emphasise was to make Pakistan a state comprising of polished citizens which he thought was only possible when they are made a better Muslims. But Zia’s believe went into contradiction with the promises made at the time of partition to protect minorities’ rights, as Pakistan was not just a state that belonged to Muslims but it also incorporated non-Muslims who might not share the same religion but could be responsible and obedient citizens. The discrimination represented through Islamisation is also reflected in the documentary in which Sikh pilgrims were bullied during prayers and were not free to practice their religion.

To conclude I would state that Zia’s Islamisation policy introduced a lot of injustice and discrimination in the society, whereby people lost their trust and confidence in political leaders. His administration is not just associated with Islamisation of Pakistan, but a period when Pakistan advanced towards extremism, with the explosion of a jihadi and sectarian culture along with excessive use of narcotics and militant violence.  Moreover, I believe that Zia used Islam for his own well-being and to defend an otherwise dishonest and unlawful regime, therefore I agree with Malik who observed that during General Zia’s era Pakistan suffered the most suffocating years of its existence.