Tuesday April 23, 2024

The testimony of a general

By Saeed Khalid
June 26, 2016

Part - III

A year after Lt-Gen Majid Malik began his comfortable exile in Morocco, Gen Zia overthrew Bhutto and assumed all powers. The figurehead president, Ch Fazal Elahi, was eventually sent home and Zia, in addition to being the all powerful chief martial law administrator, became president of the Islamic Republic. Malik, who had resigned on Zia’s promotion as the army chief was now ‘his’ ambassador.

Quitting the ambassadorial post might not have been a solution as Malik had experienced with Bhutto following his resignation from the army. Gen Malik had thus entered another agonising phase in life. As Zia abandoned his promise to hold elections in 90 days and proceeded with Bhutto’s trial leading to death sentence, Malik decided to let Zia know about his reservations. Iftikhar Murshed, a career diplomat serving in the Rabat mission as first secretary (later ambassador to Russia and now editor/publisher of ‘Criterion’) helped Malik draft the letter to Zia.

This extraordinary communication from a former colleague to an all-powerful military ruler can be seen in full as an annexure in Gen Malik’s autobiography. Copies of the letter were sent to all members of the military council, including the air force and naval chiefs. Malik made the following recommendations:

Bhutto should be given a punishment below death penalty or sent into exile, international reaction to his sentence be kept in view. And Zia should standby his commitment to call fresh elections and return the army to the barracks.

Zia ignored these recommendations and paid no heed to appeals for clemency for Bhutto pouring from all over the world. Despite his personal history with the ousted premier, Malik was greatly pained by Bhutto’s hanging. He lost interest in ambassadorship and returned to Pakistan in 1979. He was called by Zia along with another retired general Shafiq and asked to give their recommendations to the military government. Malik, as before, advised him to end martial law and restore democracy. Zia replied that he had plans to make Pakistan an Islamic state.

Malik began to fulfil his pending desire of farming near Lahore. He later joined the private sector as adviser to a glass manufacturing company Toyonasic. With Zia still firmly in power and having called party-less elections in 1985, Malik returned to his native Chakwal to contest for the National Assembly. This would mark the beginning of a long and successful political career.

Once in parliament, Malik joined those asking for lifting of the martial law. However, Zia was ready to share but not hand over power. Zia proposed Khawaja Safdar as speaker of the National Assembly. That helped the opposition to unite and successfully campaign for the candidature of Fakhr Imam. Malik recalls the showdown as the first setback to Zia’s authoritarian rule.

More upsets were to follow. Zia’s favourite for premiership was Elahi Bux Soomro but the Pir of Pagara intervened in favour of his disciple Mohammad Khan Junejo whose name was also among those short listed for the prime minister’s post. Junejo was seen as a modest and harmless person. After his oath-taking, Junejo sent a list of cabinet ministers that included Malik’s name but Zia cleverly eliminated Malik by telling the prime minister that he had some other important assignment for him in mind. Junejo understood that Zia’s reason for keeping Malik out of the cabinet was a ruse and appointed him as chairman of the Federal Anti-corruption Team. On Malik’s recommendation, Junejo removed three ministers, the first prime minister to sack his cabinet colleagues on charges of corruption.

In his autobiography ‘Hum bhi wahan maujood thai’, Malik traces the developments in the steadily deteriorating relations between Zia and Junejo, culminating in the Junejo government’s dismissal and dissolution of the assembly, followed by Zia’s death in a plane crash in 1988.

In Malik’s assessment, the Pakistan of today has been largely shaped by Bhutto and Zia. The former took steps to make the masses aware of their rights in an age-old system of exploitation and servitude. However, Bhutto’s failure in running the economy led to a deep economic decline and put an end to fresh private investment. The PPP instituted a system of patronage, nepotism and corruption further damaging the social fabric.

Zia thought he had been sent on some divine mission to Islamise Pakistan, and ended up enforcing the ritual and punitive aspects of religion while ignoring its core values. Pakistan suffered from Zia and Bhutto and both died unnatural deaths, says Malik.

Malik would have further success in elections by getting re-elected to the National Assembly in 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1996 on the ticket of the PML led by Junejo and then Nawaz. He was proud of bringing the government closer to the people of Chakwal. He was able to get large areas electrified and schooling and health facilities upgraded.

Malik served as minister of petroleum and natural resources in the caretaker government of prime minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and later as minister for food and agriculture as well as minister for northern areas and Kashmir affairs in the first and second governments of Nawaz Sharif.

Recalling events that led to Musharraf’s coup in 1999, Malik refers to Sharif’s interest in improving ties with India, something that made the army uneasy because of its past experience. The Pakistan-India moves for rapprochement reached a high point with Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore in February 1999 marked by the signing of a number of texts aimed at moving forward to improve relations.

Nawaz Sharif had to confront a major crisis following the military adventure in Kargil launched by Gen Musharraf, in consultation with a small group that included generals Mehmood, Javed, Aziz and Tauqeer. A serious discord arose with Gen Musharraf claiming that the then prime minister Sharif knew about the Kargil move while the latter denied knowledge of the operation. Gen Kayani, GOC 12 Div was also unaware and opposed the adventure once he knew about it.

Malik holds Musharraf responsible for the “Kargil fiasco” – as any action across the LoC should have been cleared by the cabinet. Malik was present in the briefing as minister for Kashmir affairs along with the prime minister when the details of the operation were shared in May, 1999. The seeds of a showdown between Musharraf and Sharif were planted by the Kargil episode which was brought to an end with a hurried trip by Sharif to meet President Clinton on July 4, 1999 resulting in the withdrawal of Pakistani personnel from Kargil.

Musharraf’s takeover was different from earlier military interventions as he did not impose martial law and designated himself as chief executive while remaining army chief. Three years later, he floated the PML-Q with the help of Mian Azhar and Ch Shujaat. Malik was persuaded by them to join the PML-Q. He left the PML-N reluctantly in what he calls the only controversial matter of his life adding that had Nawaz appointed Zafarul Haq as acting president of the party while he was in exile, it would have been welcomed but the choice of Javed Hashmi was not universally accepted.

Gen Malik’s regret at having joined Musharraf’s camp became poignant as the requirement of a university degree for 2002 election prevented him from contesting the polls marking the first time that he would be absent from the assembly since joining politics in 1985. His bid for election as district nazim was unsuccessful, thus bringing to a close a remarkable career in military and politics spread over six decades.

Tailpiece: Malik devotes a section of his book to the all-important matter of selection of the army chief, demonstrating that the criteria of seniority and professionalism were not always followed. That aspect, however, deserves a separate write-up.