In 1978, Zia formally became the president. His first step was to introduce Islamic law in the country and instituted the Islamization of Pakistan’s legal and economic systems and social order. The notorious “Hudood Ordinance” promulgated by Zia were to haunt the country for next many decades and efforts are now at hands (that is in 2006) to repeal or change these draconian laws.
In 1979 the Soviet Union marched into Afghanistan militarily and Pakistan’s insecurity brought in the US interest in Pakistan. Pakistan declared immediate support to the Afghan “mujahideen” in their resistance to the Soviet-backed Kabul regime. A huge influx of Afghans who opposed the new regime fled to Pakistan, which were to increase over 3 million in coming years and stayed on till as late as 2006. Although Pakistan accepted a six-year economic and military aid package worth $3.2 billion from the United States in 1981 as a reward for its being a front-line ally of the USA against the Russian presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan had to bear the influx of the largest ever movement of the refugees in the world from Afghanistan. An episode that not only changed the mood of the peaceful society of Pakistan, which came to be known as the “Kalashnikov Culture”, but till date is suffering from the backlash in the form of terrorism and presence of a large number of foreign mercenaries in its border belt.
In March 1981, as a revenge to the death of his father, Murtaza Bhutto’s organization, Al-Zulfikar Organisation (AZO) , hijacked a PIA’s plane. The plane was taken to Kabul, where a senior diplomat, Tariq Raheem – once an associate of Bhutto, was shot dead by the hijackers and his body thrown out of the plane and the aircraft was later taken to Syria, where Murtaza Bhutto had taken refuge. For the sake of security of passengers on board, the Zia government finally succumbed to the demands of the hijackers and released a number of hardened criminals booked for various heinous crimes. The PIA’s Boeing 720-030B, AP-AZP, now stands a retired life in one of the parks of Karachi.
14 August 1981 was a unique day in history of Pakistan when the independence day was officially observed in a manner never held before. Special arrangements were made, all educational institutions remained open and organized special events; national anthem was broadcast, during which all vehicles came to a halt; citizens were urged to decorate streets and homes with flags. The spirit still continues and since then day is celebrated with much fervour and zeal.
A referendum in December 1984 endorsed Zia’s Islamization policies and the extension of his presidency until 1990. Muhammad Khan Junejo established a civilian cabinet in April, and martial law ended in December. However soon differences erupted between the two and in May 1988 Zia dissolved the government and ordered new elections.
April 10 1988 – The military ammunition depot at Ojhri Camp on main Murree Road in Rawalpindi exploded resulting in widespread destruction in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Although an inquiry was ordered, but nothing came out of it or if at all there was something in it, it was not made public. Many smelt a foul play in the whole affair. The destruction was immense and live ammunition was scattered all around the twin cities. The Americans offered help to clear the rubble and defuse the ammunition, but required heavy expenditure, which Pakistan could not afford. Therefore Pakistan Army once again rose to the occasion and cleared off the entire area with no loss to its soldiers or accidental explosions.
The Ojhri Camp disaster was only the beginning in rapidly changing political paradigm of the country. On 17 August 1988, while the president was returning from Bhawalpur, where had gone to witness the test trials of an American tank, his C-130 aircraft crashed minutes after the take off killing the entire entourage on board, including Arnold Raphel, the US ambassador to Pakistan and a battery of top ranking generals of Pakistan Army. So many stories emerged about the possible causes of the crash – most pointing fingers to the USA, which had recently started feeling uneasy with their dealings with Zia. Who could have planned this act of sabotage?.The biggest achievement of Zia was throttling to full gear the nuclear programme, much to the annoyance of the USA, which also resulted into suspension of second cache of $4.0 billion US aid package.