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Zia promises 'Islamic democracy,' but critics are unconvinced

The long awaited pronouncement by President Zia ul-Haq concerning Pakistan's political future has not defused his critics nor reassured those who are looking for a return to democratic institutions.

And despite the announcement Friday that martial law would be lifted and that local, provincial, and parliamentary elections would be held, all in 18 months, President Zia has left unanswered many questions about his new ''Islamic democracy.''

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He was equally evasive when he met the press Sunday as to what role, if any, he would permit the country's now-banned political parties to play - except that local elections would be nonpartisan. Yet on Sunday he permitted his political opponents, for the first time in six years, to stage a massive rally in Karachi, which has always been the center of Pakistan's political life.

After detaining nearly 300 of his critics in the last three days in the provinces of Punjab, Baluchistan, and the North West Frontier, he made no arrests in Karachi's volatile Sind Province. Most of his opponents had already gone underground, however. On Sunday many of them emerged cautiously. They were clearly surprised when they were permitted to walk freely into the courtyard of the mausoleum of Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

There, the opposition leaders addressed a crowd of 20,000. All of the Karachi leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) were there, with the exception of the one person who most rattles the usually unflappable Zia, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party, Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of the executed former prime minister. Miss Bhutto has spent most of the last five years under house arrest.

The MRD leaders, comprising an alliance of parties opposed to General Zia's martial law regime, demanded immediate elections under the now-suspended 1973 Constitution. But, by announcing on Friday that the Constitution would remain in force, although amended, General Zia clearly took much of the wind out of the MRD sails.

He has still not revealed how the Constitution will be amended, except that the powers of the presidency will be considerably enhanced, and that ''Islamic principles'' will be incorporated - a move that could be sweeping, or could be limited to economic measures, including Islamic taxation measures.

Neither has the enigmatic general provided any insights into the role or composition of a national security council that he will form. His critics charge the council could provide the cover for a permanent role for the military after the lifting of martial law.

He did, however, dispel a bit of uncertainty Sunday when, at his press conference, he said that the president, as had been the practice in democratic Pakistan before, would be elected by a joint session of the local, provincial, and national assemblies.

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Many had expressed reservations over the weekend that Friday's announcement - in which the general remained silent on how the president would be chosen and what his qualifications would be - could open the door for a permanent military chief of state. Whatever the mode of selection, however, the more powerful presidency is clearly tailored for General Zia, if that is the way he wishes it to be.

''He's very deliberately keeping his options open,'' a Western official said. ''His whole strategy is to keep the Pakistan People's Party out of power. That's the bottom line. So he's setting forth a process which will allow him to continue to control events. And, I must say, he's being very skillful at this.''

It would certainly appear, at least for the moment, that the general-turned-politician has assumed the upper hand.

Through a series of announcements, spanning the weekend, he has kept his divided and often quarrelsome opposition off balance. He also has given himself a fall-back position if, in fact, he has misjudged. And he has retained an edge over this Muslim nation's increasingly militant Islamic fundamentalists.

He rejected their advice that the 1973 Constitution be abolished and that a new document be drawn. And, on Sunday, his long-awaited announcement on Islamization was over in less than 10 minutes' time. He merely announced that Islamic ''qazi'' courts would be established on an experimental basis in only two cities - Rawalpindi and Islamabad. These cities are nearly joined to each other, and therefore are an area the wily Pakistani leader can easily control.

Thus Pakistan's Independence Day weekend came to an end. Multicolored lights festooned the city. Cars bore the national flag. There were nationwide celebrations.

The opposition rally by the MRD in Karachi was the only one held. In other cities across Pakistan, police moved in and arrested leaders, and the rallies were disbanded. But Karachi was the kickoff for what the MRD hopes will be a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience.

For anyone who remembers Mahatma Gandhi's civil disobedience campaign against the British, it could will be a familiar scene. Each day, beginning today, a former member of parliament, a state legislator, or another well-known politician will lead a group of six people courting arrest in Pakistan's major cities. The groups of six would typically include a student, a factory worker, a lawyer, and party workers.

The MRD will also call for a one-day nationwide strike, and, if its plans are successful, there will be daily rallies in the cities of Karachi, Quetta, Rawalpindi, and Lahore.

The key questions now are how long they can sustain such a movement, how many volunteers they can attract, and in which places they will find their strongest support.

There seems little doubt that the one person who will be watching closely will be President Zia.

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