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Old Sunday, January 10, 2016
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Default January 10th, 2016

A leaf from history: Zia’s standpoint delays Afghan accord


The final round of Afghan talks was not just a question of expatriation of Soviet troops from Afghanistan; it had, in a way, turned out to be a battle of nerves between president General Ziaul Haq and prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo. The general wanted to show his military craftsmanship and bring an accord according to his plan so he could become a Mujahid of Islam, while Junejo wanted to resolve the issue quickly to allow him to concentrate on domestic issues. Obliquely opposed to each other, both stuck to their guns. In fact, political circles expected that the final accord on Afghanistan might be signed on March 15; hence, all involved in the issue wanted to shape it in a way that it would become acceptable to all parties concerned.

Technically, Gen Zia had the upper hand as being president in uniform he had manoeuvred constitutional changes to enable him to act as the master of the show. The condition that Afghans be allowed to choose their own government was supported by both Pakistan and the US, but internationally it could not fetch the required support, although in principle Gorbachev had agreed in a vague manner.

When Gen Zia saw that Junejo was adamant to reach an accord without informing him (Zia), he decided to make his opinion loud and clear. But Junejo also decided to browbeat Zia’s plan.

Zain Noorani was warned that if he did not follow what he was being told he would be lynched on the road
To execute his plan, prime minister Junejo removed Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan and appointed Zain Noorani as the minister of state for foreign affairs which was part of his original scheme to keep foreign and defence affairs in his own hands and to deal with issues of both ministries using different men. Sahibzada’s closeness to Gen Zia was known. Now it became easier for Junejo to defuse Zia’s move. On Feb 25, 1988 Junejo convened a cabinet meeting at which he placed the Afghan issue for open discussion. His point of view was that though Afghanistan was an international issue since it consumed much of Pakistan’s economy and human resources, the Pakistani government had the right to consult its political leaders and people of opinion to evolve a wider consensus. It was a wise and diplomatic move and was approved. It was decided to convene an All Parties Conference (APC).

Gen Zia was not unaware of Junejo’s movements. As the news of the APC became public many names of the expectant participants were disputed. The rightists did not want the leftists to join the talks while the major parties did not agree to all the “non-functional” parties to sit along with them. PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto made it clear that she would not attend the APC if Gen Zia was there, which was agreed on. The APC was scheduled to be held on March 5, 1988, for which Nawabzadah Nasrullah Khan and Pir Sahib Pagara along with Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi worked hard. Benazir Bhutto also didn’t want Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, an ‘uncle’ of the Bhutto era, to attend the APC; however, she was told that to create a consensus it was necessary to have him on board.

The holding of the APC was a difficult task, given the backdrop of developments, but Junejo’s team handled it intelligently and all expected participants agreed except Gen Zia, who, because of reservations about the possible outcome, opted otherwise.

The conference was scheduled to continue for two days i.e., March 5 and 6. On the evening of the first day’s session, when the day’s proceedings were being reviewed, Gen Zia unexpectedly arrived there. After a few minutes when he was told that the APC would continue the next day, he satirically said: “It means that another week would be spent on the APC.”

When Gen Zia saw that Junejo was adamant to reach an accord without informing him (Zia), he decided to make his opinion loud and clear. But Junejo also decided to browbeat Zia’s plan.
On the night of March 13, when Zain Noorani was about to fly to Geneva, and a meeting of the cabinet was in progress at the PM House, prime minister Junejo received a phone call from Gen Zia. The general asked Junejo about the meeting to which he replied that the meeting was over and he was about to visit him to brief him about the deliberations, “… but if you want to come, who is going to stop you,” he said. The call ended. A few moments later the door opened with a bang and the general walked in.

After some preliminary discussion Gen Zia began to talk about the possible Afghan solution and the suggestions that the cabinet had prepared for talks at Geneva.

It took him over an hour outlining the Afghan policy Pakistan wanted to follow. At the end, he told Zain Noorani not to sign anything except what he was being told. “Mr Noorani, if you signed the accord with your eyes closed and without undertaking the country’s interest, mind it people would lynch you … Let me tell you clearly that if you signed the accord without considering the future of the Afghan people and the country, people would lynch you on the roads.” At that moment Gen Zia appeared in a serious mood and spoke in a coarse voice.

He asked Noorani to take notes very carefully about what he had to say at Geneva and what to do. He was told that there could be no solution except the formation of a national government in Kabul with the consent of all parties. He was told in clear terms that if they did not agree to accept this, then he should not sign the accord and the talks be postponed. Poor Noorani wound up the notebook, placed it in the briefcase and straightaway drove to the airport.

He left for Geneva a dejected person. He did not attend the meeting; instead the hosts were told that Mr Noorani had fallen ill. After staying in his hotel room he came back the following day. Zia, Junejo and everyone in Pakistan waited for the news which never came.

Source: A leaf from history: Zia’s standpoint delays Afghan accord
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 10th, 2016
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  #22  
Old Monday, January 25, 2016
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Default January 24th, 2016

A leaf from history: Junejo gets through the Geneva Accord


After the all-party conference and the cabinet meeting, the prime minister, Mohammed Khan Junejo, was sure that he would succeed in having his way against Gen Zia’s wishes. On the other hand, Zain Noorani kept both of them guessing as to what was happening at Geneva, and in the end both found themselves bluffed. On his return to Islamabad, he explained his position, communicating to both that the international stakeholders wanted some more time to think.

During his stay at Geneva, Noorani faced all kinds of pressures to sign the accord without insisting upon the formation of an interim government after the removal of the Najeebullah administration.

The Soviet Union wanted to resolve the issue without meeting the condition of forming a consensus government. The United States too was interested in that perception and supported the USSR — perhaps it was more interested in the ouster of Russian troops than a stable government in Kabul, because the US did not want Gorbachev to claim the credit of vacating Afghanistan as a unilateral act.

Gen Zia wanted his proposal to be adopted as part of the final accord, but the US continued to dissuade him
All the powers seemed to be overactive in resolving the issue in a way that was more suitable for them. Gen Zia seriously wanted his proposal to be adopted as part of the final accord, while the US continued to dissuade him. When it became difficult for the US to influence Gen Zia it imposed a 120-day ban on aid to Pakistan. The US wanted to show its anger; it feared that perhaps Gen Zia wanted to make Afghanistan a laboratory for his fundamentalism and might lead to the formation of a new fundamentalist bloc in the Central Asia.

Efforts were still afoot in various directions and at different levels when on the morning of April 10, Islamabad and the garrison town Rawalpindi experienced a dreadful tragedy. It all began with two huge explosions; and in a couple of minutes missiles, rockets and all kinds of projectiles were raining on the twin cities. It was revealed that the storehouse of Ojhri near Rawalpindi, meant for storing arms and ammunition for the Mujahideen, had exploded sending missiles and bombs raining down. While more than 100 people had been killed and many more injured, the extent of damage to the property was incalculable; the military sheds were completely gutted. The magnitude of loss was still to be ascertained. The armed forces were shocked but they had to ascertain the causes, the magnitude of loss and, finallythe responsibility.

The nation was in a state of complete confusion, with no clue as to how it happened and who could be held responsible for the colossal loss. While Junejo and his administration diverted their attention towards minimising the damage and finding out the causes of the Ojhri disaster, Noorani continued to sift through the huge pile of papers and documents to meet the deadline as the peace planners were busy figuring out an agreeable solution to the Afghan issue.

World leaders were unable to reach a decision as to what could be done in a situation of chaos and confusion, utter disillusion and hopelessness. All parties were already busy to evolve an acceptable accord since the talks were postponed in March, and a series of meetings and parleys had already taken place. A new round of talks that was initiated by the UN secretary general Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, won a popular support. With this development someone thought of moving things further. Finally, a draft of the accord was finalised, duly helped by the UN secretary general, and copies were distributed to all countries concerned including Pakistan, though Gen Zia didn’t like it.

The draft accord was accepted by most parties and finally it was ready by the evening of April 13, 1988. All parties were optimistic. The historic Geneva Accord was signed at Geneva the next morning, witnessed by the US Foreign Minister George Schulz, the UN diplomat Diego Cordovez and Zain Noorani of Pakistan. On April 15, when the news broke, Gen Zia reacted before his companions in a terse and happy mood. He continued slaying the exclusion of his proposal about the Najeebullah government and feared a worst series of battles in Afghanistan. But for the record, he issued a statement, welcomed the signing of the accord, and termed the return of Russian troops a miracle of the 20th century. He remarked that the Najeebullah government should have gone earlier as its presence could reignite another flare-up.

The draft accord was accepted by most parties and finally it was ready by the evening of April 13, 1988. All were optimist. The historic Geneva Accord was signed at Geneva the next morning, witnessed by US foreign minister George Schulz, UN diplomat Diego Cordovez and Zain Noorani of Pakistan.
The world was satisfied to have witnessed an accord which brought an end to the war. However, the destruction and misery left behind remained a stark reminder of the war for decades to come. Pakistan became the worst affected country, with the introduction of narcotics, arms trade and factionalism; besides its economy was heavily burdened by having to feed about four million Afghan refugees for nine years.

The accord mainly emphasised non-interference in Afghan policies, with international guarantees, and voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees and their rehabilitation. In all, the accord included several instruments and a bilateral agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the principles of mutual relations. An agreement was also signed on the inter-relationships for the settlement of the situation relating to Afghanistan, signed by Pakistan and Afghanistan and witnessed by the Soviet Union and the United States.

The agreements also contained provisions for the timetable of the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It officially began on May 15, 1988 and ended by Feb 15, 1989, thus ending a nine-year-long Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Source: A leaf from history: Junejo gets through the Geneva Accord
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 24th, 2016
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  #23  
Old Wednesday, February 10, 2016
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The Ojhri Camp disaster — Who's to blame?

April 10, 1988, would be remembered as a day of mass mourning; it was the day when in the early morning the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi received a dreadful shock. It all began with a low-density explosion, followed by a huge one, after which all kinds of missiles, rockets and projectiles started raining down in all directions.

This was something similar to the Lydia earthquake over 2,000 years ago in Italy. It created a lot of panic and fear; rumours of every kind gripped the capital — ranging from an Indian attack to a disaster at the Kahuta nuclear facility.

For many hours, no one could be found who could tell what had happened.

Also read: 20 years on, Ojhri Camp truth remains locked up

At that time Gen Ziaul Haq was attending a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Kuwait and had to rush back home. The officials assured the people that there was no reason for fear and that it was just an accidental explosion at the arms and ammunition depot at Ojhri, located between Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

But since the national psyche had been tormented with many mythical lies and unfounded stories, no one believed the official explanation.

Over a 100 people were killed and many more injured.

Zia wanted to save his men
Ojhri, an old-fashioned, World War II storage of arms and ammunition, was mainly made of brick barracks with thatched roofs. Previously used as temporary army units, after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the influx of arms increased manifold and in 1979 the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate chose the Ojhri Camp for temporary storage and disposal of weapons, as and when required.

Though not congested, the Camp certainly needed management. Gen Khalid Mahmud Arif, in his book Working with Zia mentions that on the ill-fated morning when some ammunition was being shifted from one place to another by a rather untrained team, an accident took place.

“At about 09:30am, a box containing 122mm Rocket fell from the top of the stack while the men were trying to slide it down. It hit the ground with a thud and exploded on impact, starting a fire which panicked the workmen ... It was fitted with an inbuilt percussion fuse, which, the experts claimed, could be activated by strong impact. In simpler language, this fuse had a point-detonating mechanism without an inbuilt safety device,” he wrote.

The chain reaction in the dump played the worst part.

Also read: Islamabad`s children of the mist

The prime minister was on a brief visit to Sindh; when he learnt of the disaster he immediately rushed to the capital. After initial inquiries he issued special orders for the rescue and rehabilitation of victims.

The most important question was to identify what caused the disaster and initiate an inquiry. On April 12, Junejo appointed a five-member inquiry commission headed by Gen Imranullah, corps commander of Rawalpindi, besides a five-member ministerial committee to conduct an inquiry into the tragedy.

This committee was to inquire into the matter and present a report to the prime minister who, after studying the findings, would, in turn, prepare his report for the National Assembly. The committee comprised Qazi Abdul Majid Abid, Mir Ibrahim Baloch and Malik Naeem Ahmad Khan, while Mohammad Aslam Khattak was to act as chairman.

Also read: Defacing the constitution

While taking all these actions, Junejo did not communicate with Gen Zia, creating tension between the two which led to the dismissal of the Junejo government and the dissolution of the assemblies.

Gen Zia wanted an inquiry by men of his choice, ostensibly if it was the fault of “his men” they would have to be spared.
Junejo knew it and perhaps that is the reason why he formed the committees before Gen Zia’s arrival. It is said that Gen Imranullah had held the director general (DG) ISI responsible for the tragedy and suggested appropriate action.

This was meant to hurt Gen Zia. Aslam Khattak’s report said that in war-like conditions that the nation was in, accidents can occur and should be considered as a token of martyrdom in the path of a noble cause; therefore, the four junior employees should be punished according to law and the rest be forgiven, to end the fiasco.

As the inquiry row continued, the National Assembly demanded the parliamentary committee report to be made public immediately and those found responsible be taken to task.

The defence minister, Rana Naeem Ahmed, wanted to get the report edited so that it could become more unanimous and acceptable. This ensued into an exchange of hot words and Aslam Khattak clarified that the report cannot be altered at any cost.

The defence minister started working on a new report. When Gen Imranullah was questioned, he blamed the director general of the ISI. After some re-investigation Rana Naeem wrote the report in which he clearly held the ISI responsible.

He wrote that since the Camp was under the DG ISI, action should be taken against the former DG ISI Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman and the present DG ISI Gen Hamid Gul. The report once again saw hectic vetting and in early May 1988, prime minister Junejo handed over these reports, bearing signatures of the rest of the members, to Gen Zia. Junejo informed him that he would discuss the issue after his return from South Korea and the Philippines.

When the reports were presented, there was a lot of confusion in the presidential house and the general wanted to solve the issue in a manner that could spare his close associates.

Gen Zia’s biggest worry was Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman, the man he trusted most.

Source: The Ojhri Camp disaster — Who's to blame?
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 7th, 2016
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Old Sunday, February 21, 2016
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Default Feb 21st, 2016

A leaf from history: Junejo’s government sacked


Ever since Mohammad Khan Junejo took over as prime minister, reports of differences between him and president Gen Ziaul Haq trickled in. On the very first introduction, on March 20, both had a brief but bitter argument when Gen Zia said: “I have decided to appoint you as prime minister of the country,” to which Junejo replied: “When are you going to lift martial law, Mr President?”

This caused the first crack and the differences increased with the passage of time.

Donning the army chief’s uniform and armed with Article 58 2(b), Gen Zia enjoyed a strong position. It is not known when the general decided to send the prime minister packing, whether it was an instantaneous decision taken on May 29, 1988, or had been in the general’s mind for quite some time.

“Rafaqat, this is it, but may I tell you that I have decided to pack them up”
There were many factors for Gen Zia being displeased with Junejo; the most important among them was the removal of three ministers: Dr Mahboobul Haq, Dr Attiya Inayatullah and Dr Asadullah, who were especially summoned from the United States. Even more pertinent was Junejo’s refusal to give an extension to Gen Arif and Gen Rahimuddin. Junejo’s intention to act as an independent prime minister could be seen in the fact that the day he relieved Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan, he also issued formal instructions to the foreign ministry that in future no file regarding the Foreign Office should be sent to the President House.

Ziaul Islam Ansari, a journalist who was close to and admired the general, summed up his opinion in General Ziaul Haq: shakhsiyat aur karnamay (1998). According to him, “… the people knew well that … there were no major differences between them; the only thing was that Gen Zia wanted all powers in his hands.”

It is said that serious differences existed between Junejo and the Punjab chief minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was pampered by Gen Zia. Ansari mentions that while on his visit abroad, Gen Zia had asked the editor of an Urdu newspaper to speak to the prime minister about sorting out their differences. Subsequently, the editor spoke to Junejo in Manila but the latter denied having any differences with the general or with Nawaz Sharif. Junejo believed that his differences with Sharif were of an insignificant nature. However, a meeting between the two was arranged at Manila but no reconciliation came through. After the meeting, Nawaz Sharif telephoned Gen Zia from Manila which perhaps set the final course.

On May 29, when the prime ministerial entourage was preparing to return to Islamabad, Gen Zia pondered over his future relationship with Junejo and his team. In the afternoon, he summoned his staff officer, Gen Rafaqat, who brought some files with him, which were to be sent to the prime minister’s office after being signed. After signing the files, Gen Zia asked for some writing paper and a pen and wrote the dismissal order for Junejo’s government and the dissolution of the assemblies. In a brief conversation between them, Gen Zia said: “Rafaqat, this is it, but may I tell you that I have decided to pack them up.”

After landing, the prime minister held a brief press conference in the VIP room at the Islamabad airport, about the expected result of the visit and then drove straight to PM House. Until then, there were rumours among the reporters about an important press conference at President House. A small press room had been quickly set up at President House where during the introduction, a reporter commented: “Janab aaj to lambi daurr lag gayee,” (Today we had a hectic day). To this Gen Zia replied, “Daur to abb lage gi, main aap ko bahut barri khabar de raha hoon” (Little do you how hectic the day is going to become, as I am now giving you a huge story.)

It is not known when the general decided to send the prime minister packing, whether it was an instantaneous decision taken on May 29, 1988, or had been in the general’s mind for quite sometime.
In his introductory remarks Gen Zia emphasised that he had given much freedom to the democratic team which had failed to run the business. “It appears that they are not capable of running the administration. I had been repeatedly telling them but either they do not want to take anything seriously or they do not intend to do anything. They have failed to implement the Islamic system and control the law and order situation. Despite my constant efforts, they have failed to bring improvement. I have therefore decided to use my constitutional powers, dismiss the prime minister and his cabinet, and dissolve the assemblies.” He then read out the text of the proclamation, which was as follows:

“Whereas the objects and purposes for which the National Assembly was elected have not been fulfilled.

“And whereas the law and order in the country have broken down to an alarming extent resulting in tragic loss of innumerable valuable lives as well as loss of property.

“And whereas the life, property, honour and security of the citizens of Pakistan have been rendered totally unsafe and the integrity and ideology of Pakistan have been seriously endangered.

“And whereas public morality has deteriorated to unprecedented levels.

“And whereas in my opinion a situation has arisen in which the government of the federation cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and an appeal to the electorate is necessary.

“Now, therefore, I Gen Ziaul Haq, President of Pakistan in exercise of the powers conferred on me by Clause (2) (b), of Article 58 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan hereby dissolve the National Assembly with immediate effect and in consequence thereof the cabinet also stands dissolved forthwith.

General,

(M. Ziaul-Haq).

May 29, 1988.”

The order was moved at 06.30pm. Ignorant of this development, Junejo was in his study when his ADC sought permission to visit him. He was asked if there was anything special. To this he told Junejo that his government had been dissolved and he was no more the prime minister. This was immediately confirmed by his personal secretary, Capt Issani. When he tried to contact some friends Junejo was told that all offices of the PM House had been sealed.

For some time there were rumours that some kind of action was in the process but it appeared that Junejo could not understand the importance of the Eighth Amendment. Initially unmoved, Junejo was not shocked. He knew that Gen Zia was not in a hurry to use the powers he was armed with. Zia had made up his mind when the members of the assembly persistently demanded an inquiry report of the Ojhri disaster and to punish those found responsible for the tragedy.

Junejo spent the next two days bidding farewell to all who came to see him. He appeared prepared to spend the last night at the official residence peacefully.

Source: A leaf from history: Junejo’s government sacked
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 21st, 2016
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Old Monday, March 07, 2016
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Bashir Moriani — a trendsetter


BASHIR Ahmad Moriani, a short story writer of eminence and poet passed away in Karachi on Feb 26. His departure marks the end of an era that heralded modern Sindhi literature.

He was 81.

Born on March 10, 1935 to a family of moderate means in Shikarpur, he acquired his early education from his native town and graduated with a master’s degree from Sindh University, Jamshoro, in 1958. He took keen interest in literature particularly contemporary Sindhi literature which at the time was undergoing fundamental transformation.

A new notion of social realism was taking over. Sindhi literature was moving away from the influences of Persian and Arabic which had crept into its diction over a span of many centuries. Deeply influenced by these changes Moriani wrote short stories and composed poetry that were published by leading literary magazines.

He joined the civil services in 1958. For a while he also worked as a teacher. His career in bureaucracy helped him climb up the ladder in various administrative departments but that put an end to his literary pursuits.

His short stories differed from other writers in terms of technique and plot execution. Stories such as Tukri, Chuhri and Zindagi Jo Rog illustrated the acute class divisions and exploitation that exist in society. Some of his stories were also translated in other languages.

He also composed poetry in various genres such as doha, free verse and ghazal. His first poetry anthology Asnam-i-Khayali appeared in 1955 before he joined the civil services. It was followed by a novel Ajanabi (1957). His short story collections include Zindagi Ji Raah Tay (1953), Choond Turki Kahaniyoon and Adhoori Udam (1984).

After retirement he settled in Karachi. He is survived by his children and grandchildren.

Source: Bashir Moriani — a trendsetter
Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2016
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Default March 6, 2016

A leaf from history: Zia’s fears not unfounded


After removal from office as prime minister, Mohammed Khan Junejo did not leave the PM House immediately, nor did he express his anguish. He remained calm, as though he was aware of what was transpiring while a number of friends and associates called on him.

On May 30, Junejo called a meeting of his former ministers and close friends who expressed profound regret. He recalled all the advice that he had received from them as the former premier. As he sat quietly, his mind raced over matters of the past and he couldn’t decide where exactly he had gone wrong.

Apparently, there were many factors for his dismissal. Some people close to Gen Zia believed that Junejo would have struck if Gen Zia had not hit first. At the same time there were indications that Gen Zia had planned to dismiss Junejo as early as February, much before the Ojhri Camp disaster, since Junejo had become unbearable for him.

It may have been on the general’s mind for some time, but the final decision came in the wake of the Ojhri camp explosion. Before leaving for Philippines and South Korea — his last official visits — Junejo had presented the report prepared by Aslam Khattak to Gen Zia saying: “Saeen, keep the report. We can take a decision after my return.” Gen Zia had actually received the report even before it was presented to the prime minister, a fact that was never discussed during assessment of the causes of Junejo’s dismissal.

Junejo became the first prime minister of Pakistan to leave the capital in an honourable manner post dismissal
Besides the above mentioned report, Junejo had also remarked that the Ojhri camp had been unlawfully used as a passage of arms and ammunition although there was a system to record where the arms and ammunition needed to be used. There had been reports in the press that Stinger missiles were being used by Iran then at war with Iraq, and since Iran did not have any channel for receiving them it was suspected that the missiles had been stolen or sold to Iran from the Ojhri camp.

Another factor for Gen Zia’s action is said to have been his own behaviour in the final deal on Afghanistan in Geneva. Gen Zia wanted an interim government that represented all factions of Afghanistan after removal of Najibullah’s government. Suspecting that Gen Zia wanted a fundamentalist pro-Islamic government reflecting his own political perception, the US considered it to be a dangerous move and thought it necessary to go ahead with the removal without accepting Gen Zia’s demand. Ziaul Islam Ansari says that in mid-April, the general had told a group of his men that the US wanted to replace him for not toeing American policies anymore.

Many close observers believe that Gen Zia also wanted to teach Junejo a lesson for his ‘austerity campaign’ that prohibited the use of big cars by civilian and military officials, forcing them to use small local cars which, many believe, was humiliating for the military commanders.

Junejo’s dismissal was also attributed to a more pertinent domestic move. Some National Assembly members had been pressing Junejo to present the Ojhri camp inquiry report for debate in the house. Zia’s supporters later claimed it was planned that when Gen Zia would proceed on his US visit in June, the report would be presented to the National Assembly with the aim of approving a resolution by calling upon Gen Zia to: a) punish those found responsible for the tragedy and, b) calling upon Gen Zia to step down as chief of army staff (COAS). The general had already been voted through a (farcical) referendum to stay as president till 1990. Moreover, stepping down as COAS would have brought an unsung end to his career.

However, Junejo did not accept this charge. In the midst of claims and counterclaims, he said it was the brainchild of Gen Rafaqat, Gen Zia’s staff officer, and Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman to save himself from the criticism in the National Assembly against him. Of course, Gen Zia was there to outplay Junejo and save Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman, at all costs.

All these reports, mostly contributed by Zia’s intelligence, put the general in a defensive position, and he decided to take a quick pre-emptive shot at the Prime Minister House.

In the capital, political circles were trying to visualise the new situation while the general wanted to clarify things with the prime minister. After addressing the nation on May 30, the general went to Junejo’s residence and told him that the caretaker government should include Muslim League workers. To this Junejo said that they should be staunch supporters of the Muslim League.

Meetings with various political leaders, including Hamid Nasir Chattha followed, with the aim to make Junejo quit as Pakistan Muslim League president and hand over the party to some appropriate person. Chattha also told Junejo that Pir Pagara had agreed to visit Islamabad the following week where he would probably hold talks with Gen Zia and other important people.

While efforts were being made to make Pakistan Muslim League a functional party, at Gen Zia’s insistence, Nawaz Sharif took the responsibility to try to make the party an active political force. Before Pir Pagara’s arrival in the capital, Mian Nawaz Sharif announced that the PML would think about joining the government at an appropriate time.

Meanwhile, on June 1, Junejo finally bid farewell to friends and staff members. He was allowed to use the VVIP room at the airport for the last time. There was a rush of his friends but the VVIP attendants did not allow anybody to enter. In Pakistan’s history he was the first prime minister to have been allowed to leave the capital in an honourable manner after dismissal.

Source: A leaf from history: Zia’s fears not unfounded
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 6th, 2016
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A leaf from history: Zia’s mysterious ‘off-the-record’ answer

The Aug 17, 1988, air crash near Bahawalpur resulting in the death of the president, Gen Ziaul Haq, the country’s top military brass and the US ambassador Robin Raphael was a tragedy which had a deep impact on the region. However, it left many questions unanswered. People continue to wonder if Gen Zia had had an idea of what lay ahead. Perhaps by analysing the developments that he had witnessed, he might have had some inkling that something was going to happen, but where, when and in what manner, it was uncertain and unclear.

A series of developments began after the dismissal of prime minister Mohammed Khan Junejo, on May 29, 1988. The next day, Junejo held a meeting with his former ministers and friends and discussed the future strategy, including the formation of the caretaker government. In the evening, Gen Zia addressed the nation, repeating all what he had said earlier, in his press conference. He also called on Junejo at the Prime Minister House for an informal but important meeting. The general made an attempt to justify his action but at the same time he wanted the Muslim League leadership to be handed over to someone else. Junejo did not support the general’s desire and said that the new leader must be a firm believer in Muslim League policies. Gen Zia told Junejo that he had already spoken to Pir Sahib Pagara who had pledged to visit the capital in a week.

The dismissal affected Gen Zia’s work and behaviour, as it appeared from his formal schedule. The first thing he did was to reverse any and all administrative changes carried out by Junejo. The bureaucracy had become accustomed to this so they showed no reaction.

Confining himself mostly to his office and home, the general expedited the process of Islamisation. In this regard, he began working on a new ordinance called the Sharia ordinance which he thought would be delayed if not implemented soon enough. Therfore, on June 15, 1988, he promulgated the ordinance which he considered the cornerstone of his policy.

Did Gen Zia have a clue that something catastrophic was about to happen?
Incidentally, the ordinance did not receive the appreciation that he expected; the reason being that it did not satisfy every school of thought, even the Jamaat-i-Islami which had stood by his side for quite some time, differed bitterly. Most of the political parties differed on the very perception of the ordinance as its philosophy was based on a central leadership i.e., presidential form of government as against a parliamentary democracy which the majority of parties wanted.

On July 21, Gen Zia announced that general elections would be held in November, as announced previously, but these would be held on a non-party basis. This ignited a new debate and the political parties began making plans to strongly resist. On Aug 1, 1988, Benazir Bhutto filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the proposed elections on a non-party basis.

As other political parties also took an interest in Benazir’s petition, the ‘too faithful bureaucracy’ did not show much interest in the election arrangements, as they felt that this time the situation might turn grimmer than feared. They began holding meetings, especially in the Foreign Office, which sent a message of urgency.

One of Zia’s supporters, journalist Ziaul Islam Ansari, mentions some events such as Gen’s Zia’s meetings with newsmen between Aug 8 and 10, covering a variety of questions of an important nature. In one such meeting, on Aug 10, with selected newsmen mostly from the National Press Trust, the general specifically spoke of two things. He said that a conspiracy had been hatched by Russia to increase Indian influence in Kabul with the objective of punishing Pakistan. But, the general said, Pakistan would not allow this to happen. He said a few words that created anxiety.

He said that when everything had been settled in Afghanistan, his efforts to bring in a consensus government in Kabul were being opposed by some countries and they wanted to punish him. He said, “They want to sort out Pakistan and to achieve that they want to sort me out,” but immediately asked the reporters to treat it as “off the record” and not publish it. When one journalist asked what he meant by “they want to sort out”, the general replied that he meant that these countries were interpreting the consensus government in Kabul as a hard-line Islamic government which would export fundamentalism to the rest of the world.

That day the journalists found Gen Zia in a rather strange disposition. The man who would always share the best moments with newsmen, did not appear in spirits. It was quite surprising to see a man who spoke highly about jihad against Russian occupation, narrate all events leading to the settlement of a major issue. His demand for forming a caretaker government before signing the Geneva Accord appeared painful for him. When he referred to some powers without naming them, it appeared that either he had been conveyed a message or he had sensed it.

The next day, Aug 11, 1988, saw unusual activities at the President House. The Supreme Court gave its verdict on Benazir Bhutto’s petition regarding theholding of elections on a non-party basis. It proclaimed that holding elections on non-party basis did not have any legal support and that the government’s standpoint was not justified. When the general was contacted for comments he appeared adamant about holding elections on a non-party basis and said that the formulation of electoral rules was the task of the government and, if needed, these laws would be formulated in a manner in which the polls could be held on non-party basis.

Source: A leaf from history: Zia’s mysterious ‘off-the-record’ answer
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 20th, 2016
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A leaf from history: The Bahawalpur tragedy


It was little past 3 pm on Aug 17, 1988. The plane, a Cessna, had completed its routine check around Bahawalpur. The pilot, Wing Commander Mashhood Hassan arrived along with his co-pilot, navigator and engineer for a pre-flight check. Half-an-hour later Gen Zia arrived with his guests, after witnessing the operation of the new American battle tank, Abrams M-1/A-1, accompanied by some top generals of Pakistan, the US ambassador Arnold Raphel and Brigadier Gen Herbert Wassom, head of the US military aid mission to Pakistan. Two crates of mangoes had been loaded just moments before the flight took off. Before boarding the plane on his way back to Islamabad, the general said goodbye to the vice chief of army staff Gen Aslam Baig and others.

Gen Baig had declined Gen Zia’s invitation to accompany him as he had some work to attend to in Lahore. At 3.46 pm, with its normal roaring sound, the C-130 Hercules, nicknamed Pak-1, took off. As Pak-1 took off for the return journey, Gen Aslam Baig watched it gain altitude. A couple of minutes later the Cessna pilot informed Gen Baig that Pak-I was tumbling and after some erratic movement near the Sutlej, the plane began to descend. No distress call was heard from the pilot as communication came to a halt. In no time, the plane crashed and a fireball rose bringing an end to the lives of all those travelling in the plane.

Gen Zia’s tragic death in a plane crash changed the course of events
Gen Khalid Mahmud in his work Working with Zia records that the take-off was perfectly smooth. He notes:

“… For two minutes and 30 seconds, the aircraft kept gaining height and the pilot remained in contact with the Bahawalpur control tower. Then the disaster happened. This was a surprising development because the aircraft was flown by a highly experienced cockpit crew. The sturdy turbo-prop, reputed for its reliability and safety record, remained airborne for another two minutes. Those agonising 120 seconds took Zia and others travelling with him to their rendezvous with death. Eyewitnesses on the ground saw the erratic behaviour of the aircraft, bouncing up and down before it hit the ground violently, nose down. So tremendous was the velocity that the engines ploughed several feet into the ground. The disintegrated aircraft carrying 20,000 pounds of fuel burnt fiercely for hours and the burning pieces of wreckage were widely spread. Thirty-one persons on board also burnt to death. Barring a few badly charred mutilated corpses, the rest were cut to small pieces of bones and flesh, beyond recognition. The human remains retrieved after an extensive search operation posed considerable identification issues.”

To add to the tragedy, except for the airport control tower, there were no means to inform the relevant quarters. Gen Aslam Baig had seen the president’s plane take off but a minute later the pilot informed him that the control tower had lost contact with the president’s plane and the plane had gone down. On learning this Gen Baig asked that his plane be diverted to Islamabad; the military officers travelling with him decided to go to the capital as the situation made it imperative for Baig to be present there.

The loss of communication with the C-130 created fears. Defence minister Mahmood A. Haroon was in Karachi and while leaving for Islamabad a few minutes past 4.00 pm, he sent a message regarding the president’s plane to the Dawn newsroom. In the absence of any authentic information, the country was in the grip of all kinds of speculation. People called up newspaper offices eager to find out about the situation.

After the disaster, there was no word from any government quarter for several hours till a decision was taken about how to tackle the situation. Security measures had been tightened in preparation for any untoward situation while communication was strictly guarded. Amid such a situation rumours of promulgating martial law were getting stronger. However, in a few hours, a system was agreed upon according to which senate chairman Ghulam Ishaq Khan was to go on air and address the nation, break the news of the tragedy and announce a new system to run the affairs of the government. A state of emergency was declared with special security arrangements made in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore.

With confirmation of the tragic happening, speculation arose as to the possible cause of the disaster. People knew that Gen Zia took extraordinary caution in travel as well as other activities. He would take several senior army generals along with him, and never disclose which plane he would use. Even for the daily commute between his office and residence he would not disclose what route he would take. For the Bahawalpur visit, too, two C-130 planes were available at the Chaklala air base but the staff did not know which plane the general would use. Just a little before his departure he chose Pak-I while the other, Pak-II, was to follow as a cover-up plane. After getting the nod, the ground staff quickly fixed the 21-foot-long VIP passenger capsule and installed it. When the Pak-I took off from the Chaklala air base, the second plane Pak-II followed it and after Pak-I landed at the Bahawalpur air base, the second plane flew to Sargodha — half-an-hour’s flight from Bahawalpur as there was no space for the second plane at the Bahawalpur airstrip.

The eight-seater Cessna used by Gen Aslam Baig had flown to Bahawalpur earlier as he had to receive Gen Zia and other dignitaries. The jet plane of the US officials — ambassador Arnold Raphel and Brigadier Gen Herbert Wassom, the head of the US military aid mission to Pakistan — was parked at the Multan air base as Gen Zia had requested them to accompany him in his C-130.

There was no immediate reaction from politicians. The tragedy shocked the world and it was an occurrence that was bound to change the course of history. A team of investigators was sent to the crash site, while the US offered to send a forensic team and aviation experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help the Pakistan probe team. As the official machinery began making arrangements for the funeral, people waited for some news regarding the cause of the disaster.

Source: A leaf from history: The Bahawalpur tragedy
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 3rd, 2016
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Noted Sindhi writer Agha Saleem passes away


KARACHI: Noted Sindhi fiction writer Agha Khalid Saleem passed away on Tuesday. He had been under treatment for the past two months before he suffered a stroke and died. He was 81.

Popularly known as Agha Saleem, he contributed significantly to Sindhi short story, novel and drama and also composed poetry and translated Sindhi poetry into Urdu.

Born into a Shikarpur Pathan family, his elders had settled in Sindh during Ahmad Shah Durrani’s rule of Sindh in the 18th century. He began his schooling at his hometown and when his family moved to Hyderabad in 1948, he resumed his education there. During his college days in association with Sirajul Haq Memon, Tanvir Abbasi and Murad Ali Mirza he began writing short stories. Written in 1952, his first short story was titled Aah ay zalim samaj. After graduating from Sindh University, he joined Radio Pakistan, a job that afforded him an opportunity to satisfy his urge to write. There he wrote some wonderful plays. He ventured into the realm of novel and also composed some poetry, but soon devoted himself to writing fiction.

Whether short story or novel, he depicted the world in which reality turns into suffering and becomes the cause of ethical and moral degradation. In Oondahee dharti roshan hath, he narrates history in the form of a dancer from the Moenjodaro of 5,000 years ago. In his novelette and short stories, he dwells upon cultural values, the loss of identity and ethical values.

In 1978 he was arrested with two colleagues of Radio Pakistan, Hyderabad, for allegedly showing disrespect for the Founder of the Nation. He was prosecuted under martial law, but on the intervention of a politician, Kazi Mohammad Akbar, he was pardoned.

Agha was also among the first writers who wrote radio plays in Sindhi. His first radio play, Wapsi, was received with appreciation. It was followed by Roop Bahroop, Gulan jahera ghava and Gul chhino Girnar jo. His play Dodo Chanesar was staged also and it met with acclaim. After retirement he continued to write and his autobiography was published just last month. His short stories are a commendable contribution to literature. He also composed poetry but later concentrated on translating Shah Latif’s poetry into Urdu.

His works include: Chand ja tamanayee (short stories, 1967), Dharti roshan aahe (short stories, 1985), Roshni ji talash (novelette, 1985), Oondahee dharti roshan hath (novel), Hama-i-oost (novel, 1985), Falsafay ji kahani (translation), Gunah (short stories) Annpooro insaan (short stories), Urdu translation of Shah jo risalo (1985). His poetic anthology Pann chhan aeen chand appeared in 1986.

Four days ago he celebrated his 81st birthday. In a recent interview, he said he wrote because he wanted to satisfy his ‘latent beloved’.

Source: Noted Sindhi writer Agha Saleem passes away
Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2016
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A leaf from history: The significance of number eight


At 9 pm on Aug 17, 1988, the time for the main news bulletin on state-owned radio and television, then Senate Chairman Ghulam Ishaq Khan addressed the nation. This most important speech was preceded by the national anthem, and a recitation from the Holy Quran, as is the norm prior to all official appearances of the prime minister or the head of the state.

Ishaq Khan began by breaking the news of Zia’s death, confirming that there were no survivors, and that he as the Senate chairman had automatically taken over as acting president until an elected government took over, as per the Constitution of the country.

He said that Gen Aslam Baig, the vice chief of the army staff had been appointed chief of the army staff and would be performing duties according to the Constitution. The issue of appointments of other service chiefs had been deferred.

A national emergency followed Zia’s helicopter crash, amidst steps to restore democracy
Without getting into details he announced that since Gen Zia had announced elections would be held on Nov 16, polls would be held as scheduled, for which arrangements were being made by the election commission. For ensuring a peaceful atmosphere, an emergency had been declared throughout the country. He also said this announcement should bring an end to all rumours.

After the address, the civil and military administration began sorting things out at an emergency level.

Everybody had waited for the announcement, which came after a delay of over five hours; however, those with political knack were interested to know what had actually happened behind the scenes.

There was not much to tell. The delay was due to the arduous task of getting everyone together to make the decisions. At the time of the disaster, Gen Baig was still in Bahawalpur, but upon realising that nobody had survived, he had rushed back to the capital. On his arrival, he discussed the situation with Gen Jehangir Karamat, the director-general of operations at the time; and called in Gen Imranullah, corps commander of Rawalpindi; Gen Hamid Gul, director general of intelligence; and a few others at the GHQ.

There were only two plausible options: the army could take over and promulgate another martial law till elections were held, or follow the constitutional path and allow the Senate Chairman Ghulam Ishaq Khan to take over as president and run the affairs until elections were held.

Ghulam Ishaq Khan was summoned, but was made to wait in a separate room, where he sat wondering why he had been called at that hour, although he knew about the crash and the arising situation. After the three service chiefs decided to follow the constitutional path, they entered the room where Ghulam Ishaq was sitting. When he was told about the crash Ghulam Ishaq replied: “What do you gentlemen want me to do?” “Sir, we want you to take over the presidency,” said Gen Baig in a composed tone. “Oh bhai, agar aap logon nay das din kay baad takeover karna hai to abhi kar lo,” replied Ishaq Khan.

All three chiefs assured him that they had no intention of imposing martial law. At this assurance, Ishaq Khan asked for some time to think. After about three minutes, he called the three chiefs in and expressed his willingness. Meanwhile, Gen Rafaqat, Gen Zia’s former staff chief, had already made arrangements to send for the chief justice. Since the chief justice was out of the country, the acting chief justice arrived and Ghulam Ishaq Khan took the oath to assume the post of president of Pakistan. Thus a situation which may have pushed the country into another undemocratic system, for an unspecified period, was handled smoothly.

While the crash inquiry was underway, a number of theories circulated among the public. The majority were puzzled about whose conspiracy it might be. It was up to the government to establish trust among the people by conveying that the actions they took bore no any ill-will and was only taken for the restoration of democracy. Public apprehension and concern was not unjustified — they had been living on Gen Zia’s false promises for the past 11 years.

The administrative machinery on its part had begun efforts to compile evidence to find the cause of the tragedy, but it was a lengthy and difficult task. Reflecting on the crash, one could imagine the effort neccessary to achieve a flawless disaster.

Newspapers used their space to highlight the death, with definite fallout for Pakistan’s foreign policy; economic conditions that had been under pressure for the last eight years; hosting more than three million Afghan refugees; and facing repercussions of the war, in the form of drugs, illegal arms, and increasing lawlessness. But with the government’s declaration of moving towards the restoration of democracy, hoping for better was the only solace the public had. Questions like ‘what were the probable causes of the tragedy?’ or, in case of a sabotage, ‘who was the master planner?’, appeared in the national media — but no one was able to reach any reliable conclusions.

While political gatherings and the public continued to debate various aspects of the crash, star-gazers and fortune-tellers were keen to speculate about movements of the stars, to explain the disaster. Many recalled that in early August, Gen Zia had convened a mashaikh conference at Islamabad, as well as a khawateen conference on the same subject. On the sidelines, he had spoken about numerology, and in a light tone said that he believed in the ‘figure of eight’, and pointed out that the year 1988 was passing and that the month was also August (the eighth month of the year). He also said that people were making predictions about what might happen as a result of this numerical alignment. He did not believe in such things, but after his death, someone in his family remarked: “But why didn’t he think that in the number 17, one and seven added together to become eight — a reference to Aug 17, the day of the crash.”

Source: A leaf from history: The significance of number eight
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 17th, 2016
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