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  #41  
Old Wednesday, September 07, 2016
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Default Sep 04, 2016

A Leaf From History: Pakistan’s nuclear cat on a hot tin roof


The US administration had kept a vigilant eye on political developments in Pakistan for quite some time but the country’s attempts to acquire nuclear capability were on the top of the US agenda.

Meanwhile, Benazir Bhutto, the country’s first democratically elected prime minister since the death of dictator Gen Zia prepared for her scheduled visit to the US in June 1989.

Pakistan’s immediate need was financial assistance to meet its budgetary deficit. Although US aid was coming in to support Pakistan’s anti-Soviet occupation policy in Afghanistan, the country confronted the huge challenge of supporting more than four million Afghan refugees as a result of war.

The US feared, however, that a part of the funds provided for refugees and other allied issues was being used instead for the development of a nuclear bomb.

Consequently with the aim of capping Pakistan’s nuclear programme, US aid had become conditional for the continuation of military and economic aid.

For the continuation of military and economic aid, the Pressler amendment, passed in 1985 required the American president to issue annual certification that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device.

Despite being prime minister, Bhutto had been kept isolated from the nuclear programme.

Although no reasons were given for it, it seemed that civilian involvement was not welcome in the secretive programme by the military.

She decided to meet Dr Munir Ahmad, chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission to discuss Pakistan’s nuclear capability.

It was during this meeting that Benazir Bhutto was introduced to Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan who had been put in charge of developing the bomb by her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The prime minister asked Dr Munir Ahmad to move the Ministry of Science and Technology closer to her office and to report to her on a daily basis. She also made funds available for several national security and defence projects.

This infuriated President Ghulam Ishaq Khan who saw national security as his domain. As she continued with her projects and planning, Bhutto maintained her public stance saying: “We only want nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Despite US and other Western powers trying to stop Pakistan from becoming a nuclear power, it is believed that Pakistan acquired nuclear capability in 1987.

As US worries about Pakistan’s covert nuclear programme mounted, in the 1980s, Pakistan’s leadership played a game of denial and bluster
On January 11, 1989, a US delegation led by Congressman Stephen Solarz visited Pakistan and called on President Ghulam Ishaq Khan who tried to convince him that Pakistan was not making a bomb.

He also asked the US not to discriminate about nuclear technology in South Asia, since India had become an avowed nuclear power back in 1974.

By the end of March 1989, two months ahead of her visit to the US, Bhutto became aware that Pakistan had achieved nuclear capability to a great extent.

To prevent a possible US embargo, she made sure that documents were prepared showing that the nuclear programme had been capped, although enrichment continued unabated.

On arrival in the US on June 4, 1989, Benazir Bhutto received a warm welcome and was appreciated for adhering to democracy and objectively dealing with issues that confronted her. With this visit, she also became the first Pakistani prime minister to have been invited to address a joint session of the US Congress.

While she held discussions with US President George Bush and other high ranking officials of the US administration, a spell of conflicting reports about Pakistan’s nuclear programme appeared in the media.

Some sources expressed reservations about Benazir’s stance and, subsequently, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also expressed its inability to confirm if Pakistan had really capped its nuclear programme. According to the CIA, “Pakistan has taken the final step toward possession of a nuclear weapon by machining uranium metal into bomb cores.”

For an accurate verification, the US government asked Robert Gates, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser at the White House to report on Pakistan’s nuclear capability.

He reported that Pakistan was not making a bomb but warned that, unless Pakistan melted down the bomb cores it had produced, President Bush would not be able to issue the Pressler amendment certification needed to permit the continued flow of military and economic aid.

Twenty-four years later in 2013, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani wrote in his book Magnificent Delusions, “When the Pakistanis denied that they had ‘crossed the line’, Gates commented, ‘if it waddles like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then maybe it is a duck’.”

Haqqani wrote that, “Pakistanis had lied to Gates on both the issues that he had raised in Islamabad.” The US administration had been very watchful of Pakistan’s developments in politics and had refused certification to Pakistan before the December 1988 elections.

Haqqani further wrote, “The US had failed to recognise that no Pakistani government could curtail the nuclear programme. After having acquired the bomb, expecting Pakistan to give it up was unrealistic; instead, this was the time for the US to accept Pakistan’s nuclear status as fait accompli.

If nuclear weapons were Pakistan’s ultimate guarantee against its psychological fears against India, the purpose had been achieved.

Rather than limiting itself to implementing the Pressler sanctions while Pakistan persisted with denial and bluster, the US could have asked Pakistan to be honest about the nukes and then negotiated safeguards against further proliferation.”

After prolonged meetings with US officials and politicians, Benazir Bhutto managed to convince President Bush to issue certification saying that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear bomb.

But after her government’s dismissal in November 1990 by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, he denied the annual certification and applied an embargo through the Pressler Amendment which had a deadly impact on Pakistan’s economy.

Source: Pakistan’s nuclear cat on a hot tin roof
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 4th, 2016
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  #42  
Old Wednesday, September 21, 2016
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Default September 18th, 2016

A Leaf From History: The spectre of Hamid Gul


Although Benazir Bhutto’s arch-rival in 1988 — after the restoration of democracy — was Mian Nawaz Sharif and his Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), her tenure proved that politics at the time came attached with a string named Gen Hamid Gul.

Gen Gul was the serving chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) at the time. He was handpicked by Gen Zia to succeed Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman as the ISI chief. Together, the duo formed Gen Zia’s most trusted aides and confidants. Gen Rahman aspired to elevate himself to the presidency but the Bahawalpur air crash put an end to those aspirations.

But Gen Gul was a man intent on prolonging Zia’s legacy to Islamicise the country and pursue the foreign policy objectives of strategic depth in Afghanistan and India. Till the time of the Bahawalpur air crash, Gen Gul had significant interference in the ministries of defence and foreign affairs and was seen frequenting government offices, making blueprints for future army action in Afghanistan as well as intervention in the civilian set up of Pakistan.

Gen Gul’s meddling in political affairs and administrative set-up of the civilian government had created discomfort for many, yet no one would challenge him because he was close to Gen Zia. Under the delusion that he and other like-minded people in the military establishment could “save the country” and run it smoothly, he boasted of having a solution to all government issues, political or otherwise.

One ‘soldier of Islam’ had perished in the Bahawalpur air crash but another rose to the fore post-1988
The IJI too was also Gen Gul’s conception. It was formed in September 1988 as a nine-party alliance of right-wing parties under Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, just two months before the country went to polls. Gen Gul was opposed to progressive and liberal politics and held a strong conviction that the rise of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) would damage the ideological foundations of the country.

Despite his best efforts, however, the IJI did not muster enough strength in the National Assembly to form a government. The votes that they did bag, largely from Punjab, gave them enough numbers to become a potent opposition — one that also enjoyed the blessings of a serving general.

The formation of the IJI by a serving army general remained a thorny issue after Benazir assumed power. Although most politicians at the time demanded that he be relieved of his duties, she took her time to replace him since she needed a compelling case to do so.

In early March 1989, Gen Gul presented a blueprint of Operation Jalalabad which aimed at capturing the town. According to Gen Gul, the plan was flawless but failed miserably. The prime minister expressed annoyance and Gen Gul was subsequently removed on May 24, 1989 from his post of ISI chief. He was reassigned to Multan as corps commander.

Throughout his career, the Sargodha-born Yousufzai remained true to his ideals. While talking to a news channel on October 30, 2012, he claimed that the politicians were crooks and if they continued following the path they were on, the army would continue to intervene in state affairs. He said that he was not ashamed of what he had done and was prepared to face any charges under the Constitution.

Gen Gul’s career was marked with controversies and 20 years later, political leaders criticised him for his suspicious links with militant groups and he was asked to tender an apology to the people of Pakistan. He admitted to having masterminded the IJI plan and claimed that he did not want to see politicians control the armed forces.

Indeed, he attempted to dislodge the Benazir government despite not enjoying the overt influence he did as ISI chief. Before the dismissal of the Benazir Bhutto-led government in August 1990, attempts to remove her civilian government were made through a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly. However, the plan failed.

That time Benazir Bhutto resisted the intervention but events that followed show that military intervention in civilian affairs had become a regular feature.

Source: The spectre of Hamid Gul
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 18th, 2016
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Old Wednesday, October 05, 2016
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Default October 2nd, 2016

A Leaf From History: (Im) balance of power


With 94 seats in a house of 207, Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had assumed the reigns of power in 1988 knowing that a hung parliament might prove to be a thorn in the side for the new government. And so it proved, as Benazir struggled to assert herself or her party’s mandate on the status quo.

In the corridors of power, there was deep-rooted opposition and skepticism to Benazir’s person and to her party that claimed to espouse liberal and progressive values. Politics was firmly considered a man’s game and Benazir would have to fight the age-old perception that it was un-Islamic for any woman to be the head of state (though in her case she was head of goverment).

She countered this view by claiming that despite having been raised as a modern woman, she was a true Muslim. After entering active politics, she began wearing a dupatta (head scarf), shalwar kameez and supported moves to adhere to an Islamic code of life. Her wedding ceremony too was conducted according to Islamic traditions. And yet, her efforts to change biases fell on deaf ears.

Although democracy had returned in 1988, Benazir soon discovered that her powers as prime minister were severely clipped
But perhaps, this demonisation of her person was just the tip of the iceberg.

Benazir decided to adopt a conciliatory position because she believed that she would not be tolerated by the various power players she was surrounded by. Her first move was to maintain amicable ties with the powerful president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, as well as the army. Central to her disagreements was the matter of power — how much of it could be exerted by the prime minister and how much of it was to be exercised by the president.

Since Gen Ziaul Haq’s time, the balance of power had constitutionally been skewed towards the president. Through the Eighth Amendment, for example, Gen Zia had given the president the right to unilaterally dissolve the National Assembly and the incumbent government.

Benazir attempted to redress the imbalance but found many obstacles in her way. In his book Trial and Error (2002), Iqbal Akhund, one of Benazir’s confidantes who also served in the foreign office during her first regime, argues that Benazir could have prevailed had she adhered to her principles without caring for the fragile support she’d receive in the National Assembly.

This was a difficult path to tread, although it was also a more probable way to succeed in the long run. She began to follow this guideline but soon lost control of things. Ties with the presidency, army, and judiciary all went sour, and everything was lost before the brakes could be applied.

Among the first disagreements between Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan was over the appointment of judges to higher courts and the appointment and transfers of senior officers in the armed forces. In both cases, the prime minister could only recommend changes but not make them.

Many of Benazir’s proposed changes to internal policy were rejected by the president, who asked her to have them passed through the parliament instead. The president knew full well that the prime minister would never head to the National Assembly because she did not have enough support in the house.

Then there was the issue of the army chief. Gen Mirza Aslam Baig, who had been promoted as the chief of army staff (COAS) immediately after the Bahawalpur crash, was scheduled to retire in August 1991. Traditionally, the outgoing chief of a service recommends the name of his potential successor to the government. In case of a difference of opinion, the prime minister or president (as the case may be) can nominate another officer of their choice.

When discussions came about regarding Gen Baig’s future, Benazir recalled that he was instrumental in having constitutional rule restored after the Bahawalpur air crash. He was the first senior military officer to reach Islamabad and he was the one who immediately called the other two service chiefs — Admiral Iftikhar Ahmad Sirohey and Air Chief Marshal Hakeemullah Khan Durrani — into a three-hour-long meeting.

Gen Baig convinced the other two to restore the constitution and subsequently, power was handed over to Senate Chairman Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was to hold elections to the national and provincial assemblies as scheduled. Later on, Gen Baig would tell PPP leaders that it was he who brought Benazir Bhutto to power.

Although Gen Baig was confirmed as a four-star general by Benazir, and also awarded the Tamgha-i-Jamhooriat, the prime minister did not recommend an extension to his service. This move was supported by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who promptly appointed Gen Asif Nawaz as the new COAS.

The appointment of the chief of the joint staff committee (CJSC) also widened the fissures between the PM and the president. Benazir wanted to extend the tenure of Admiral Sirohey after the completion of his first stint but she ran into constitutional wrangles once again. Admiral Sirohey had been appointed on November 10, 1988 — a month before Benazir’s ascension as the PM — and was to retire on August 17, 1991.

The post of CJSC practically does not offer any authority over the three combating forces; the service chiefs retain charge of their command authority. The position had been created in March 1976 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in an attempt to better coordinate the actions of the three staff chiefs and to tend to their operational requirements.

After taking oath as the prime minister, Benazir believed that she was the authority to appoint the CJSC. She was wrong. Gen Zia had amended this clause and handed decision-making authority to the president. When the communiqué from PM Bhutto about Admiral Sirohey’s extension reached President Ishaq Khan, it was shot down. After completing his tenure on August 17, Admiral Sirohey was relieved and Gen Shamim Alam Khan was appointed in his place.

Even though the Benazir-Ishaq row over the balance of power eventually reached a settlement, the tussle did not end there. With one hatchet buried, many more were set to swing in the days to come.

Source: (Im) balance of power
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 2nd, 2016
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  #44  
Old Sunday, November 06, 2016
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Default October 16th, 2016

A Leaf From History: The spectre of Siachen

Rajiv Gandhi was perhaps cut from a different cloth. In sharp contrast to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to attend the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit meeting in Islamabad, Rajiv sought to break the ice with Pakistan at the 1988 Saarc summit meeting, also held in Islamabad. He arrived a second time in July 1989, this time to focus on the lingering dispute over Siachen, the world’s highest and deadliest battleground.

Bitter battles had been raging over Siachen between Pakistan and India since April 13-14, 1984, when Indian troops occupied unmanned ridges hitherto unmarked in both countries’ records. Subsequently, India claimed victory over the glacier in the Kashmir valley. Since 1947, this was the first time that India had moved its troops in this uninhabited mountainous range where the border had not been demarcated. There have been many skirmishes between troops over Siachen ever since, leaving the need for a final settlement of a battleground where inhospitable climatic conditions have killed more men than armed combats.

In 1987, there were fierce battles again but six days of fighting ended in a no-win position. Pakistani troops confined Indians to their positions and did not venture into Indian territory either.

Amidst this backdrop, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto held a banquet to honour her Indian counterpart, who had arrived on the evening of July 16, 1989. Since Rajiv was returning on a trip to the (now defunct) Soviet Union, there was no previously agreed upon agenda. Therefore, proceedings of the meetings held during the ’88 Islamabad summit formed the basis of further talks.

Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto pledged to find a permanent solution to the battlefield that neither country could conquer in 1989. Some three decades later, the war continues
In ’88 the two premiers had agreed on three steps: prohibiting each other from attacking nuclear installations, enhancing cultural cooperation and facilitating civil aviation. Benazir and Rajiv had also agreed to ensure that talks took place at the defence secretary level in a bid to find some resolution to the rocky issue of Siachen.

After back-channel diplomacy, the defence secretaries had reached an agreement. The joint statement after the accord said: “There was agreement by both sides to work towards a comprehensive settlement, based on redeployment of forces to reduce the chances of conflict, avoidance of the use of force and determination of future positions on the ground so as to conform with the Simla Agreement and to ensure durable peace in the Siachen area. The army authorities on both sides will determine the positions.” In the follow-up to this agreement, Pakistan demanded that troop positions return to the pre-1972 positions, as agreed in the Simla Agreement.

Therefore, when Rajiv arrived in ‘89, the agenda turned out to be focussed and serious.

At the banquet, Benazir described the dispute over the Siachen Glacier as a “flashpoint” that could trigger a greater calamity. Indeed, the two countries had been bickering over Siachen and drawn into skirmishes for over five years at the time. Although she touched upon all subjects in her speech, she clarified that she was in favour of an early agreement on Siachen. She also demanded a step-by-step solution.

“We seek an end to clashes and conflicts that have led to the loss of so many lives,” replied Rajiv.

Before the talks had begun, political observers in both camps were not hopeful of any advancement in policy decisions and expressed scepticism. Most argue that both premiers were beset by too many problems at home for these foreign policy negotiations to yield successful results. Some even remarked that Rajiv’s short visit was unlikely to generate an atmosphere conducive for lasting peace.

And this proved to be the case, as the years to follow saw little development in the peace process. Even 27 years later, with Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto both gone, the two countries have yet to work out a pathway to peace.

Source: The spectre of Siachen
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 16th, 2016
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Old Sunday, November 06, 2016
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Default October 30th, 2016

A Leaf From History: A history of ethnic violence


Time and again ethnic violence has caused unrest in various parts of the country. Sindh, however, has often been the most affected because incidents of violence have left deep-rooted scars on the ethnically polarised province.

Ethnic disturbances in Sindh first began in 1952 when, during an Ashura procession, some rumours created tensions between Sindhi and Urdu speaking residents and an infuriated crowd burnt down a police station. The district administration prevented further aggravation by efficiently handling the situation.

Violence again erupted between Urdu and Sindhi residents in the wake of a bill passed by the Sindh Assembly on July 2, 1972 outlining measures for the promotion of the Sindhi language. Some mischief-mongers claimed that it was aimed at marginalising Urdu. A newspaper ignited the situation with provocative headlines, because of which riots erupted in Karachi and Hyderabad claiming the lives of many innocent people.

Sindh has had a long history of ethnic strife. Unless governments tackle the real causes of social and political disempowerment, the province will continue to remain a powder-keg
After nine violence-ridden days, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto arrived in Karachi and, after consulting with representatives of both segments, a fresh language bill was presented on July 16 declaring both Urdu and Sindhi official languages in Sindh. This calmed the charged atmosphere but the riots left behind dwindling trust between Urdu and Sindhi-speaking peoples.

Sociologists also trace the history of Karachi’s ethnic conflagarations to the 1960s after then president Gen Ayub Khan initiated a plan to settle Pakhtuns — his own ethnic group — in the city. While new industries, the transport sector and the expanding economic base created new job opportunities, it also put extra pressure on the sociology of the city. In particular it caused a sense of deprivation and insecurity for earlier residents who thought that they had a preferential right for employment. Soon local markets were being manned by people coming to Karachi from outside Sindh, which further aggravated resentment among residents of Sindh.

During Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo’s government, 1985-86 witnessed a renewed wave of horrifying incidents but the measures taken to control the situation proved cosmetic. The situation was supposedly in control but in reality tension simmered amidst the fear of rioting and disturbances that could flare up at any time. Military dictator Gen Zia (1977-88) thought that it was because of a few miscreants who wanted to exploit the situation to their political ends but he was wrong.

In April 1985, Bushra Zaidi, a college student in Karachi, was killed in a traffic accident. The tragic incident sparked one of the deadliest waves of riots the city has ever witnessed. Since the bus owner and the driver were Pakhtuns, Pakhtuns began to be targeted by Urdu-speaking militants, who used the incident to create a sense of ‘Mohajir nationalism’ as well. Pakhtuns also responded in kind. Riots brought life in Karachi to a standstill. Numerous vehicles were torched and organised attacks took place in working class and middle class localities of Orangi and Liaquatabad. Law and order was restored only after the army was called in. Tensions continued for many months and it was feared that if underlying causes were not addressed, there might be a recurrence of violence.

In December 1986, the police supported by the army, took action against drug peddlers in Sohrab Goth, a largely Pakhtun area on the outskirts of Karachi. In reaction, riots broke out in the city with Qasba and Aligarh colonies being the worst hit areas. Hundreds of people lost their lives in the violence.

Riots also erupted in Hyderabad on September 30, 1988, when some miscreants fired indiscriminately in crowded areas, killing more than a hundred people, mostly Mohajirs. In reaction, the following day, about 40 Sindhi labourers in Karachi were attacked by Mohajir militants in an organised way. The local administration took measures to control the riots but the fearful atmosphere continued for weeks. The Hyderabad incident, and its reaction in Karachi, once again shifted the pattern of ethnic violence from Mohajir-Pakhtun to Mohajir-Sindhi.

After taking charge as prime minister in 1988, Benazir Bhutto took measures to establish peace but this mainly involved PPP reaching an accord with the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) which championed the Urdu-speakers and whose support the PPP needed to form the federal government. Talks were held between the two parties and a 59-point accord was signed on December 2, 1988.

The accord included steps to be taken by the government to address the causes of the unrest. MQM’s demands included the repatriation and settlement of Biharis (Urdu-speaking East Pakistanis who continue to live in refugee camps) from Bangladesh to Pakistan. Another condition was that no person other than the permanent citizens (Sindhi and Urdu-speaking communities) living in Sindh would be allowed to vote in Sindh, nor to own industries and business houses in Sindh. It was also demanded that transport in Karachi should be run by the Karachi Municipal Corporation and a fresh census would be conducted for reallocation of funds.

The PPP-MQM accord in 1988 may have kindled a ray of hope but differences arose only a few months later, in early 1989, when the PPP refused to resettle the ‘Biharis’ from Bangladesh. In addition, there was a larger political game afoot, with the combined opposition – backed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan – planning to dismiss Bhutto’s government and dissolve the parliament.

Violence erupted again in July 1989 and May 1990. This time riots erupted when clashes took place between the PPP-aligned People’s Students Federation and the MQM-aligned All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation. Once again the troops were called in to restore peace.

Remarkably, no major ethnic riots have taken place since then, though some would argue that riots have been replaced by targeted killings along ethnic lines, but also between different MQM factions.

All governments from the ’60s to-date have claimed they have found a permanent solution, but none has in fact been able to do so. The fact is that, given the large-scale demographic and sociological changes, which affect economic and political stakes, Sindh continues to remain an ethnic powder-keg. All ‘solutions’ have so far proved to be superficial.

Source: A history of ethnic violence
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 30th, 2016
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Default December 18th, 2016

A Leaf From History: Benazir’s angels


Despite the deck being stacked against her government, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto survived the November 1, 1989 vote of no-confidence moved by Nawaz Sharif and his Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). Before the vote, the presidency, army chief and intelligence agencies had forged unity and decided to act decisively, which they did. But while the establishment had held up its end, Nawaz failed to push the vote through.

An inquest was needed and Nawaz wanted answers for the debacle.

A total of 119 votes were needed to dislodge Benazir. With 92 seats in the National Assembly, the PPP needed at least another 27 votes to survive. The IJI had 54 votes but sought an extra 65 votes to oust the government. With both parties in need of additional votes, a battle to woo parliamentarians to their respective sides began in earnest.

In reinforcing party loyalties, PPP planners swung into action much before the tabling of the no-confidence resolution on October 23. During this hectic period, all efforts were geared towards reinforcing the ranks of the party, luring votes by securing the perfect deal and making up the requisite numbers.

The PPP government might have survived the 1989 vote of no confidence but who saved her?
On the other hand, the IJI focused most of their efforts on wooing the 37 independent candidates to their side. Allegedly, a lot of money was thrown around in horse-trading by both parties. The situation was such that many observers termed the politics of the time a lucrative business. In the final count, the IJI-led opposition could only bag 107 votes, falling short by 12 votes.

For the IJI, the vote result pointed to an uncomfortable reality: five of its members stayed away from what was going down. Among them was an old Nawaz loyalist, Humayun Akhtar, and his absence was noticed. As punishment, he was denied a party ticket in the October 1990 elections.

Meanwhile, the PPP wanted to know who the 37 members who had rescued their government were. One explanation was that the independent candidates whom Nawaz was banking on had broken down and voted in favour of the PPP government. This factor came as a rude shock to Nawaz given the identity of those who had joined forces to oust the Benazir government.

Before the vote of no confidence, Benazir had accused the president, the army chief and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of conspiring to bring down the government. This was termed a political statement at the time but 24 years later intelligence officials testified before higher courts that they had been involved in political manoeuvering.

In a case heard by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court in February 2013 regarding the misappropriation of Intelligence Bureau secret funds during 1989, former IB director general Masood Khan Khattak claimed that non-political forces were behind the vote. He named President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Baig as the men who wanted to dislodge the Benazir government in the shortest possible span of time.

During the testimony, he also spoke about pre-poll rigging in the November 1988 elections which began with the formation of the IJI. According to him, the establishment was only forced to hand over power to Benazir on December 2, 1988 due to the weight of 92 PPP MNAs-elect at that time.

Meanwhile, independent assessments of the vote and its fallout attributed the opposition’s failure in dislodging the government to terrible political timing. It was argued that the political situation had not yet developed to such a crescendo to prompt a vote. Nor had the allegations against the PPP government built the kind of momentum that could create cracks in the ruling party. PPP loyalists too were largely satisfied with their leaders and there appeared no cause of dissention or fissures within.

Lateral entrants to the PPP had no interest in the party ideology either; their loyalty depended on personal favours that were being extended to them. In fact, there were some disgruntled elements whose loyalty to the party leadership was under question. But despite the opposition’s efforts to lure these members to their side, the members stayed put.

The independents that the IJI leadership thought would be keen on joining forces seemed inclined not to believe in mere promises. Believing that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, many chose to side with Benazir to gain immediate benefits.

Though the government of Benazir Bhutto was sent packing eight months later, it was not through a parliamentary vote but by presidential decree. For the time being, Article 58 2 (b) would hold greater sway than the popular mandate. It would later be removed by the one man who was adamant that it be employed in 1989: Nawaz Sharif.

Source: Benazir’s angels
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 18th, 2016
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