Pakistani President hopes to sculpt 'model Islamic state'
New Delhi — In a move reminiscent of Ayatollah Khomeini's efforts to return Iranian women to the anonymity of the chador, Pakistan's martial law administration will require female college students and teachers to wear the enveloping garment when they show up for classes this month. The compulsory wearing of the chador, expected to run into considerable opposition from college professors and students, is the latest in a series of moves by President Zia ul-Haq to "Islamicize" Pakistan.
His announced goals for the officially Islamic state, established 33 years ago as a homeland for the Muslims of Britain's old colonial empire in the Indian subcontinent, are sweeping.
They include the creation of a new interest-free Islamic economic order, the substitution of traditional Islamic laws (Shariat) for inherited Western codes, and the evolution of a pure Islamic form of government that will serve as a model for other Muslim states.
But Zia's steps toward these goals have encountered stiff resistance from minority religious sects. They also have run into a sea of practical problems and political opposition from critics who see the Islamization drive as a diversion from fundamental issues of dictatorship vs. democracy.
By tapping the fundamentalist Islamic militancy sweeping the world, critics charge, President Zia is trying to prop up a military dictatorship under increasing pressure to hold free elections. The regime repeatedly hass promised -- and indefinitely postponed -- a vote.
Among liberals and Pakistanis attuned to Western lifestyles and education, there is exasperation over Islamabad's partiality to religious issues over pressing social and economic problems. "If we had wanted a mullah for president , we could have hired one for $50 a month," a Lahore intellectual says sarcastically.
Some diplomatic observers see Islamization as an unsubtle drive to curry favor, money, and arms from oil-rich traditional Islamic states. And, in what General Zia must regard as the unkindest cut of all, some Pakistani religious and political figures claim that his one-man style of rule is itself un-Islamic.
Few doubt, however, Zia's personal religious sincerity. A devout Muslim, he launched his Islamization crusade shortly after coming to power three years ago in a military coup against former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The late ruler had been highly Western-oriented in outlook and lifestyle.
"When we embarked upon this noble task," Zia explained last year, "we felt that although in the past we called ourselves the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, we did nothing to mold it into the pattern of Islam."
Since then he has established new Shariat law faculties at universities, levied Koransanctioned taxes on the rich, and taken preliminary steps toward interes-free banking and corporate finance. He also has decreed that persons caught eating or drinking during prohibited hours of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, would be punished by flogging.
His amendments to the Pakistan penal code include harsh traditional punishments: amputation of the right hand for thievery; removal of both the right hand and left foot for armed robbery; 80 lashes for drinking wine; death by stoning for adultery; and eight lashes for false accusations of adultery.
In one public flogging last year, thousands filled a Rawalpindi stadium to watch pimps and customers caught in a brothel receive their punishment.
But there have been no known instances of amputation or stoning, because exacting evidence and proof must be shown before the punishments can be meted out.
One practical problem Zia faces in Islamizing Pakistan is the lack of an economic model to follow that abolishes interest -- considered usurious -- but retains investment incentives.
Another is the difference between legal systems of Sunni Muslims, the majority in Pakistan, and Shia Muslims, a minority of 20 to-25 percent.
Zia's introduction of the "zakat" wealth tax as a compulsory measure, enforced by deductions from savings accounts, brought 20,000 angry Shias out into Islamabad streets this summer in the largest popular protest ever against his government. To avoid a showdown, Zia promised to amend his controversial zakat ordinance. A compromise measure is expected to be announced this month.