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January 3, 2018

Game of thrones: disclosures of Dr Ishratul Ebad — I

Top Story

January 3, 2018

DUBAI: On Wednesday, December 18, 2002 a phone rang at the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) International Secretariat, London. Mohammad Anwar, a trusted lieutenant of Altaf Hussain (commonly called Altaf Bhai), pushed the speaker button of the main desk phone. “I am Maj General Ehtesham Zamir, from the Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI) Political Section,” someone said, grabbing attention of the people sitting in the room.

After exchanging courtesies, the ISI’s Head of Political Section told Anwar that he sought three names for the slot of the Sindh governor, as approved by then-president Gen Pervez Musharraf. Anwar responded that he would get back to him after getting the names from Mr Altaf Hussain, his party’s chief.

Anwar was about to call his party chief, who lived near the London Secretariat when suddenly, the phone rang again. As per the procedure, Anwar pushed the speaker button to receive the call. This time it was Mr Altaf Hussain himself, wanting to know what was going on. Anwar told his leader about the call of Maj Gen Ehtesham Zamir, seeking the names for the slot of governor Sindh. Altaf Hussain asked him to write down three names and then dictated those: Altaf Hussain (himself), his one-year-old daughter Afza Altaf and Dr Ishratul Ebad, who at that point of time was sitting on the same table with Mohammad Anwar.

Everyone sitting in the room knew that Altaf Bhai was actually naming Ishratul Ebad for the governor’s slot. But the man who had been approved for the throne wanted to discuss the matter with his wife and children before making any decision. Ebad went to his home to his wife Shaheena Jabeen and his four children, seeking their opinion about him becoming the governor. It was not the first time he was having the government portfolio, back in early '90s, he had served asthe provincial housing and environment minister.

Ebad’s wife Shaheena Jabeen, formerly a medical student, advised his husband not to accept the slot, as their life was already miserable since they left the country in 1993. She and her children were fed up with living and working in a constantly uncertain situation. However, they were unable to share it with any member of the party. Shaheena wanted Ebad to leave the party and concentrate on his family and medical profession in London. The whole family unanimously rejected the idea. While they were still sitting, their landline phone rang. Ebad picked up the phone; Mr Altaf was on the other side. Ebad informed the party chief about the family's decision.

Altaf Bhai refused to accept the decision and talked to the whole family on the phone's speaker and convinced them to accept the proposal.

The family reluctantly accepted and the same day Ebad’s profile was sent to the ISI for security clearance and Ishratul Ebad started preparations to leave for Islamabad in the next couple of days. Here began the journey of Ebad as the Sindh governor, which he remained for 13 years, 11 months and 13 days.

Tête-à-tête with Ebad

We were sitting in a corner of Dubai’s five-star hotel, where Ebad shared some incidents of the past with this correspondent.

Politicians often declare that holding power is the greatest achievement. If holding power is an acknowledged barometer for measuring success of a politician, then Ebad is undoubtedly the most successful politician of the country's history, who remained the governor of Sindh for the longest time.

He worked with four presidents, including one military dictator, seven prime ministers, six chief ministers and three army chiefs; no other politician or even a military dictator have had this honour.

Despite an official holiday on Saturday, December 21, 2002, the Pakistani High Commission issued a passport to Ebad as his passport had expired and he was living in asylum. A ticket was arranged and on the same day Ebad landed at the Islamabad airport from where he was received by the ISI’s senior officers and taken to the Sindh House, his official residence.

After two days, ISI’s Head of Political Section Major General Ehtesham Zamir drove him to the Army House, Rawalpindi where the then president Gen Musharraf was sitting with his ISI chief Lt-Gen Ehsanul Haq, his Chief of Staff Lt Gen Hamid Javed, Chief of Military Intelligence Maj Gen Nadeem Taj and, of course, Tariq Aziz, his principal secretary. Both joined the meeting where Musharraf welcomed Ishratul Ebad and the gathering started interviewing him about his past and personal life.

Ebad, while revealing the details, said: “In that meeting, besides some other questions, Gen Musharraf Sahib asked me about my role in Major Kaleem’s kidnapping case in Karachi, Sindh; I told him I had nothing to do with that. Then he said that he was told about that. I told him that he may check, in that case some other person was nominated and I did not know him.”

In the same meeting, Musharraf asked Ebad: “MQM is very popular and represents the middle class, then why it gets involved in violence.” Ebad responded that when a party gets popular then it generally happens. He further added: “I told Musharraf Sahib in a lighter vein that when God gifts you with the beauty then delicacy naturally comes to you. Everyone in the meeting, including Musharraf Sahib, laughed at that.”

This was his first meeting with the military officers, who were going to play a key role in the next couple of years. He had won their hearts.

On the evening of December 26, Maj Gen Ehtesham Zamir took Ebad in his vehicle to Islamabad and they had dinner at a restaurant. Suddenly, Zamir questioned Ebad if he had a "sherwani " for the oath-taking ceremony. Ebad's response was and that he did not know if it was necessary. Late in the night, Zamir took Ebad to his tailor’s shop in Islamabad which was almost closing at that time.

Zamir told the shopkeeper to find him a 'Sherwani' or stitch it that night as he was going to have an oath-taking ceremony next day. The shopkeeper said that the tailor had left for home, so there was no possibility to stitch that; however, the shopkeeper found a solution and brought out a 'Sherwani' of one of his clients.

Next day, Ebad took the oath as the 30th governor of Sindh, while wearing a 'Sherwani' of someone whom he did not even know. His journey in the power house formally started that day. In the days to come, he was to walk on a tightrope, deciding between his party policies and the line dictated by the military leadership that was actually running the country. He had already won both.

Following the swearing in, he also became a frequent visitor to the Rawalpindi’s Army House, where he developed a close relationship with Gen Musharraf and his military aides. Soon he became probably the only trustworthy civilian, as the military formally started inviting him to some of the most confidential meetings—which were only attended by the military officers.

In one of those meetings, held in February 2003, attended by the top military officers and headed by Gen Musharraf, a brainstorming session for reforms in the country was going on where the intelligence reports pertaining to performances of then-prime minister Jamali and then-chief minister of Sindh Sardar Ali Mohammad Mahar came under discussion. The participants of the meeting were fed up with the performance reports of both the top public office holders. All of them gave their opinion; some even advised to wrap up the political system. Then Gen Musharraf asked Dr Ishratul Ebad to give his view.

Describing his stance, Ebad said: “Sir, the problem with you people is this that you do not let the system run; you get fed up quickly even from the system that you have created yourself. Political stability depends upon the appropriate political dispensation; artificial representation leads to problems we are already facing.” Gen Musharraf and rest of the officers listened to him quietly. Dr Ishratul Ebad suggested: “If the public office holder is not performing well, the entire system should not be punished; the person with the problem should be expelled.” Musharraf quickly said, “Yes, we should do it.” DG ISI Lt-Gen Ehsan, DG MI Maj Gen Nadeem Taj and Musharraf’s chief of staff agreed as well.

Ebad suggested that these reports must be shared directly with the relevant people, while giving them an opportunity to respond. By halfway through the next year, both of them were gone and a new principle was set: remove the problematic person instead of harming the democracy. And, to-date many faces have changed, but the set principle continues to work.

During Musharraf’s tenure, the in-house structure within the system remained the same. Musharraf would always call a consultative meeting with his ISI and MI chiefs, his principal secretary Tariq Aziz, his chief of staff and then-governor of Sindh Dr Ishratul Ebad. The meetings would mostly take place at the Army House.

CJ’s removal by Gen Musharraf

On March 9, 2007, then-governor of Sindh Dr Ishratul Ebad received the then-president Musharraf at a ceremony of Pakistan Navy. Gen Musharraf was coming straight from Rawalpindi and was looking a bit tired. Both of them sat together along with other officers. Soon after, Musharraf shared that he had removed the then-chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, and a reference had been sent against him. Dr Ishratul Ebad looked at him but they didn’t talk much as others were also present around them. After the ceremony, both left for the Governor House. The news about the removal of the then chief justice was not new as Musharraf had already shared this with Dr Ebad—around the beginning of Dec 2006. “At that time, Musharraf Sahib had shared that provincial and central governments are all complaining against the CJ,” Ebad recalled.

At the Governor’s House, Dr Ebad and Gen Musharraf again discussed the issue of the deposed chief justice. Ebad told him that it should not have happened. Musharraf said, “Now all has happened.” Then he left for Islamabad. By that time, news of Iftikhar Chaudhry’s removal had touched the headlines of the private news channels.

On the same evening, the then Sindh governor watched the TV channels and found out that the deposed chief justice had been kept under house arrest. He spoke to Musharraf, telling him that he wanted to visit him. After a couple of hours, he was sitting in front of Gen Musharraf, the powerful man of that time. He told Musharraf, “Sir, whatever reference you have filed against the deposed chief justice is fine, but confining him to his residence, along his family, is not good.” “What? I did not give any such order,” Musharraf told Ebad.

The governor observed that Musharraf was kept in the dark. Musharraf immediately picked up the phone and directed that there should be no restriction on Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The Sindh governor returned home with satisfaction that now things would move positively despite the fact that damage had already been done.

“I was confident that orders of Gen Musharraf would be followed but to my disappointment, the president’s orders were not implemented because of the tides and the situation went bad to worse,” Dr Ebad recalled.

To be continued

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