May 29, 1988: How and why and the continued aftershocks

May 30,2018

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Three decades ago or thirty years to this day, Pakistan’s democratic train was derailed for the second time in eleven years. And the erring pointsman in both cases was the same - General Ziaul Haq. The first was the removal of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on July 5, 1977 and the second, dismissal of Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo on May 29, 1988. Coincidentally, both from Sindh. The circumstances leading to the two derailments had no similarity. But I will not be divulging any secret if I emphasise that both were triggered by the same motive, survival, rather continuation in office of the pointsman.

While the anti-Bhutto PNA movement could be argued by his critics as self-inflicted in the backdrop of the rather controversial general elections of March,1977 and the prolonged anti-government movement that followed, no such situation existed in 1988 when General Ziaul Haq abruptly and unexpectedly (some say expectedly) sent packing the then National Assembly and the prime minister. I witnessed both from a vantage point. Sad chapters in Pakistan’s political history. While the dismissal and the unfortunate, indeed tragic hanging of Bhutto opened the door for regressive thoughts and politics in Pakistan in complete disregard of the vision of Mr Jinnah, Mr Junejo’s dismissal derailed the democratic train so badly that it continues to wobble even today.

Much has been written and said about how and why Prime Minister Junejo was sent packing when both the Parliament and the elected government were functioning smoothly. Indeed I do not recall any democratically elected government in Pakistan governing so fairly, cleanly and effectively. Mr Junejo was honest to the marrow. He led by example. He never used his office for anything remotely private. Only the immediate family was allowed to stay in the Prime Minister’s House when visiting from his village Sindhri. Guests of his children from outside Islamabad were treated as personal guests for whom arrangements were made at a local hotel for which Mr Junejo or his son Asad paid from their personal account. The household comptroller once told me in a complaining tone that they bought only half a kilo of meat each for lunch and dinner as Mr Junejo did not offer meals to his official visitors although all expenditure was legally on the house. However, his hospitality for all at his private home in Sindhri was always elaborate.

Mr Junejo was not a very high profile politician when nominated as the prime minister. His tenure as a provincial minister in what was then West Pakistan was his only exposure to an elected office. It was, therefore, amazing to see him grow fast in the office of the prime minister taking full charge of the government including foreign affairs and defence despite the presence of Gen Ziaul Haq as the president and Chief of the Army Staff and the ever hanging sword of Article 58(2)b. He quickly put together the Pakistan Muslim League as the treasury party in a partlyless House and marshalled his allies (members of the National Assembly), all appearing as if beholden to him, even though they had won their National Assembly seats on their own steam. He followed the constitution, the law and the rules. He governed sternly, setting standards of honesty with zero tolerance for corruption. We all know that he sacked three cabinet ministers on allegations of corruption one of whom was his business partner from Sukkur.

Steeped in the old tradition of politics where dignity and honour and not power and pelf carried a premium, he never compromised on integrity and merit. His namesake, a close and trusted senior officer from the Income Tax Service, could not convince Prime Minister Junejo to move him to another service cadre with better career prospects because he was not convinced the rules authorised him to do so.

Coming back to the events leading to the dismissal of Prime Minister Junejo on May 29, 1988 I will repeat that the first fissure between him and General Ziaul Haq appeared on his first day in office when addressing the National Assembly, Mr Junejo declared that democracy and martial law could not coexist. Gen Ziaul Haq’s Information Secretary of longstanding, Lt Gen Mujibur Rahman had the sentence edited out from PTV’s telecast of the speech only to be immediately removed by the prime minister. Surely and swiftly, Mr Junejo made his presence felt and took full control of the federal government, including the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. I remember informing him of a report in the International Herald Tribune which said Pakistan had already developed nuclear weapon. Mr Junejo’s repartee: “woh tou hamaray pas hae”(that we have). Here was a civilian Prime Minister, handpicked by a military ruler, who knew his responsibilities and knew how to legitimately exercise his authority. And that was what General Ziaul Haq was most uncomfortable with.

There were many irritants between the two. Mr Junejo’s foray into international relations (the Afghan-Soviet issue and the Geneva peace talks) and defence (appointing Gen Mirza Aslam Beg as the Vice Chief of the Army Staff) were hugely discomforting to the President and the army chief who had held complete sway over these areas of governance for nearly a decade. Mr Junejo convened an all Parties Conference (including Benazir) on the Geneva peace talks and eased out General Ziaul Haq’s confidant and indeed an able Foreign Minister, Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, only to send a strong signal that it was the prime minister who led the government. Compare this with the events of the last decade and draw your own conclusions.

Differences over the Soviet-Afghanistan Geneva peace talks, the Ojhri Camp blast and the subsequent inquiry initiated by Prime Minister Junejo and some other issues are cited as the major causes of Mr Junejo’s dismissal by General Ziaul Haq. However, those who had the eyes and ears of both, believe it was Genera Ziaul Haq’s doubt about Junejo getting him re-elected as the President from the Parliament that prompted Gen Zia to dismiss the government and his own created Parliament. Happily for Pakistan, the pointsmen of the past decade have helped keep the democratic train on course.

I have written and commented earlier on the consequences of Zia’s dismissal of Junejo and repeat that had Zia resisted his temptation, Pakistan would not have witnessed the political turmoil of the 1990’s whose aftershocks the country continues to feel even today.

The writer is a former Federal Secretary who also served as Press Secretary to Prime Ministers Junejo & Nawaz Sharif


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