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November 6, 2017

Benazir’s dismissal on Guy Fawkes night


November 6, 2017

In Islamabad it was Guy Fawkes night (Nov 5th) twenty one years ago a handpicked president Farooq Leghari, considered trustworthy, dismissed Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government on usual cooked up charges. In 1605 Gunpowder Plot in England failed but in Pakistan powers that be succeed in subverting democracy once again.

My wife Zarina and I were with the prime minister late that night. We had long chat about ongoing rumours besides my briefing to her on the visit of Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary late Robin Cook who had arrived earlier on 3-day visit—first by him to Pakistan. Around midnight we left her for Islamabad Club where we were staying.

As soon l entered the room came the fateful call. ADC Misbah asked me to come on land line, prime minister wanted to speak to me. Calm as usual Bibi said: “Wajid Bhai, Farooq has dismissed the government. You immediately go back to London. Asif has been arrested from Punjab Governor House and taken to some unidentified place. You must be next.”

I was shocked and wondered why me? I told Bibi that I am not going anywhere. I have not done anything wrong, why should I run away. It will give the impression as if I was guilty of something. Moreover, how could I leave her in the weird situation with Asif already arrested? She insisted — “Farooq is vicious and timid person and he will come after you since you are close to me.” Then the line went dead.

I discussed the gravity of the situation with my wife and we agreed I must stay on. My teenage son Zulfikaur was alone in London and Zarina as Fair Chair of Commonwealth Countries League had to be present on November 6th for the Fair that was to be graced by the Royalty. She was already booked on PIA’s morning flight. I took her to the Islamabad Airport and checked her in. However, at the immigration, the officer in charge told us that neither you nor your wife can board the plane. When I argued with him he referred me to an agency official.

There was an argument between us. I told him I wanted to talk to the agency chief since Zarina’s absence as Chair of the CCL Fair would be bad for Pakistan and her absence would be a diplomatic embracement. He went inside and came out after a little while. He got clearance from his higher ups and Zarina was allowed to leave.

After seeing her off I rushed to the house of our dear lawyers Amna Paracha and late Barrister Zulfiqar Khan — close friends of Bhuttos. Everyone was flabbergasted on Legari’s unconstitutional action especially when the PPP had selected him as its official candidate. Both Bibi and Asif had gone out of the way and laboured painstakingly to get him elected as head of the state when there were many better candidates available. We were worried about Bibi as Prime Minister House had been surrounded by the military and she had been totally incommunicado.

By the evening of 5th November she was allowed to see a limited number of visiters on clearance of the military. She had been told to vacate the Prime Minister House for the interim prime minister Malik Maraj Khalid — yet another old PPP stalwart. Bashir Riaz, Amna, Salim and I were among the few who had gathered to see if she was OK. She was hardly given any time to pack up. Seeing me she again advised me to go back to London. There was no news where and how Asif Zardari was kept.

In her makeshift residence though under close watch of spooks, we could, however, meet her. When alone we discussed what could possibly be in store for her. I found her hurt over Farooq’s anti-democratic step. Looking back I was of the view that it was a colossal misjudgement to make him president. I reminded her that he had given a glimpse of his shaky loyalty-though an important office-bearer of PPP—he had become totally inactive after Bhutto Sahib’s arrest by General Ziaul Haq. She agreed. She should have suspected him when the then spy agency chief very strongly recommended his candidature. I believe—especially in Pakistan—that intelligence agencies have their Quislings and Trojan horses in every political party to use them at a critical juncture when they want to subvert a government from within.

Being a prime minister from Sindh like her father Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the shabby treatment given to her following her ouster in 1990—I naturally had serious apprehension for her. I told her “instead of making arrangements for me to leave the country, you should think of yourself too”. Brave lady that she was, she shrugged her shoulders—“Wajid Bhai, we have to face what has to come. We can’t leave Quaid and Bhutto Shaheed’s democratic mission half way”.

As suspected by her I was arrested in mid November and tortured for months to force me to commit perjury. FIA failed and I remained steadfast. Nawaz Sharif won election and as prime minister one expected he would be fair. Instead his Gestapo Chief Saifur Rehman-besides keeping me in and torturing me worst than before-went after Bibi and Asif like blood thirsty hounds to the extent a senior judge was forced to convict both in April 1999. She wanted to go back but we stopped her. She could fight her battle better from London and Dubai.

I don’t remember the number of red warrants issued against her by Saifur Rehman and later equally vicious dictator. Eight years is a long time in exile and to keep the struggle on for democracy relentlessly only a leader of her grit, determination and courage could sustain. It was a do and die battle. And she gave her life for it. Notwithstanding what MNS did or did not do, this piece is to remind him of Quislings and Trojan horses within and also acts of divine retributions. One has to pay for one’s sins somehow.

I remember how Bibi appointed Justice Sajjad Ali Shah CJP believing him to be strong supporter of democracy. His judgment upholding Bibi’s dismissal by Leghari on charges of corruption published in newspapers—taken by CJP as gospel truth in the absence of hard evidence and his announcement of the court decision just on the eve of elections—was a clear message as to who dictated the judgment. PPP candidates and supporters hardly participated in elections. They knew their defeat has already been written. MNS may have appointed many favourites as judges, but they too knew well Mao’s saying that all power flows from the barrel of the gun.

Leghari too as president and Supreme Commander of armed forces--misconceived himself to be a victor with an assured long innings in the Presidency. With powers under 58-2-B he had decided to play games with the new prime minister too. He did not realise that he was used by the invisible players. He wanted Nawaz to have simple majority, they got him two/third. After browbeating CJP home, MNS removed 8th Amendment and forced Farooq to resign on threat of impeachment. Soon came Shariah Bill, Kargil misadventure and GPM’s sack that rebounded on him by yet another institutional decision, taking him lock and stock and barrel to comforts of Saroor Palace only to return him home, courtesy Benazir Bhutto.

  Author is the former high commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.

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