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Pakistan a Green Light

3 minute read

“I feel lighthearted and happy,” President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq told TIME New Delhi Bureau Chief Dean Brelis last week during a postelection interview at the general’s modest bungalow in Rawalpindi. Excerpts:

On the election results. There were a few surprises. But by and large, this exercise was a huge success. Our prediction of a 40% to 50% turnout was surpassed. The enthusiasm was great. I think people were saying, “We endorse your policies.” It was a green light.

On his efforts to bring the opposition into the elections. The secret talks took place on Jan. 18, a day before nominations closed. I thought that if the opposition came back with a positive attitude, I would postpone the elections for ten days to give them time to file nominations. Mind you, if I had (done that), the whole country would have said, “Here he goes again, the third time he has postponed elections.” If I had not, the opposition would have said, “You don’t want us to participate.” (In the end) they came back and said, “Sorry, we are not participating.” Their refusal gives absolute legitimacy to those who participated and won. On his new term. I will continue to live right here (in the army chief of staff’s bungalow). I shall give up my job as army chief of staff at the time I lift martial law, and I shall do so a few months after March 23. (The reason for the delay is that) we are trying a new form of government, a nonparty system. In parliament there will be new faces, young faces, old faces. They must prove themselves a stable, nonemotional, functional body. Once I’m satisfied that they have their feet on the ground, martial law will end.

On Islam and politics. There is an urgency that we must eventually, without hysteria, Islamize society, but in a manner that is acceptable. What is not acceptable is fundamentalism; what is acceptable is an evolutionary approach. Those who were turned out in this election were fundamentalists.

On foreign relations. We have excellent relations with China. We are hoping that one day we shall be invited into the British Commonwealth. Internal cohesion within Pakistan is vitally important, especially with the Soviets sitting on our western flank (in Afghanistan). There is also my peace offensive, which I believe can bring about a normalization of our relations with India. As I told (India’s) Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, why on earth can’t India and Pakistan live in peace?

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