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January 5, 2018

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Game of thrones: disclosures of Ishratul Ebad — III

DUBAI: On Friday morning of March 7, 2014, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad is at his official residence. His phone rings and the operator connected him to a top officer from an intelligence agency who wanted to speak with him from Islamabad. Dr Ebad informed this journalist whilst conversing on the matter without disclosing any key names. I guess it could be no less than chief of an intelligence agency.

After the exchange of pleasantries, the officer tells Ebad: “There is an urgent and very sensitive issue to be discussed with you.” The governor told him to go ahead.

“No it cannot be discussed on phone. Sir, I am sending you a senior officer, he would meet you by 02:00 pm and would convey you my message,” the officer told the governor. The governor started waiting for the officer who was to fly from Islamabad, probably by the agency's plane.

“At that point of time, I realised that it was a panic call and something important is either happening or going to happen,” recalled Ebad while talking to this journalist. At around 02:00 pm, the senior official was sitting across the governor’s table. The matter pertained to Gen Musharraf’s departure.

“Sir, as you know that our former Chief General Pervez Musharraf is facing a treason trial, his next date of hearing is fixed for March 11, we want to have a longer date beyondMarch 18 as this time is too short to make a case with strong legal grounds.”

The federal government had set up a special tribunal headed by a Sindh High Court judge. The agency was looking for Dr Ebad’s assistance since he was privy to the sensitivities of the matter and they wanted his constitutional advice.

“I spoke to some retired judges and top lawyers including a former chief justice and shared with them the problem while requesting their advice.” Dr Ebad still thanks a former CJ who gave a prudent advice. I guess former CJ Iftikhar Ch was also included in the consultative process.

Was it happening without the knowledge of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had approved the treason case against General Musharraf, was my obvious question.

“No, it was not like that, I was told by the intelligence officer that they had spoken to PM Nawaz and the PM had given them a go-ahead,” answered the former governor.

Dr Ebad told the officer that “I am also in obligation to take the federal government into confidence”. “Indeed”, replied the officer. The tribunal convened the hearing on March 11 and set March 19 as the new date for the hearing, which was postponed to March 24 and finally to March 30.

On March 27, the Sindh governor received another panic call from the top officer of the intelligence agency. “There is an emergency and I need to meet you,” was the crux of the short call. On the same day while meeting in Karachi, the officer told the governor that PM Nawaz Sharif had asked for a clear verdict from the tribunal, after which the government would have no objection but the verdict should include some specific words.

“We cannot dictate the judges as what to write in a verdict as that is against the principle; however, we can argue in a way that the judges themselves give a desirable verdict,” says Ebad. "I told them that I would recommend you to a competent lawyer and I recommended Barrister Faroogh Nasim for General Musharraf,” disclosed Ebad.

On March 30, when Gen Musharraf was required to be produced in the court and was hosting his lawyers, the same time Faroogh Nasim was submitting his papers in the court as new attorney for the former president. After the hearing, the decision came in favour of Gen Musharraf.

Now everybody was waiting for the signal from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he would let Musharraf go abroad as he had already given his word.

“When they all were waiting and Gen Musharraf was also ready to go, the interior minister reached the intelligence agency by telephone and sought two more days, as PM Nawaz Sharif wanted to take his party into confidence,” recalled Ebad. “This was a bolt from the blue and left everyone was perplexed,” says Ebad.

After the government’s response, “few were of the view to let Gen Musharraf slip abroad on a chartered plane, on the basis of the court order but I objected to it. I told them that would not be good for the reputation of the army as well as that of General Musharraf, as he would be declared a fugitive for the rest of his life and the army would be blamed every time Gen Musharraf was mentioned,” said Dr Ebad while recalling his arguments. “Fortunately, all realized merit in my argument,” he said.

However, the issue once again went into a tail spin and the civil and military started losing confidence in each other. But, Ebad recalled that he once again counselled proceedings through the court of law.

Later, the government went into appeal in the Supreme Court and allowed Gen Musharraf to leave the country and he proceeded abroad to the satisfaction of all. The legal process was pursued vigorously by Dr Faroogh Naseem.

Ebad recalled that during the entire episode, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar played very sensibly and pragmatically.

“Ch Nisar once said, my position in the PML-N is similar to that of yours in the MQM,” recalled Dr Ebad with a smile.

Minus Altaf Hussain

On January 28, 2015, the dead body of a missing MQM activist Sohail Ahmad was recovered from Karachi resulting in an impassioned speech of Altaf Bhai targeting the Rangers and other law enforcement agencies, said Ebad.

Following Altaf Bhai’s speech, a complete shutterdown strike was observed in the economic nerve centre of Karachi plunging the stock market to the rock bottom. This triggered alarms bells and the critical situation made the country’s top leadership to scramble to Karachi on January 30.

That day the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, chaired a meeting attended by Ebad, former Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan, former Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah, ex DG ISI Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, ex Corps Commander Karachi Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar, ex DG Rangers Sindh Bilal Akbar and others.

A briefing was given by the then Inspector General of Police Ghulam Haider Jamali about the killing of MQM activist Sohail Ahmad. The participants unanimously decided that a thorough investigation should be carried out. Soon after that meeting, Lt Gen Rizwan said: “Despite MQM’s allegations, the activist was not picked up by the ISI or any other law enforcement agency but Altaf Hussain is targeting the army leadership, which is not acceptable.”

“I was mindful of the Peshawar’s Army Public School tragedy which had recently taken place and the mood of the entire nation, especially the military establishment, was sullen. In that meeting, nobody used the word “minus Altaf” but the DG ISI made it clear that the behavior of Altaf Bhai was not acceptable,” recalled Ishratul Ebad. At that point of time, it looked clear that Altaf Bhai would not be able to continue with agitational politics anymore.

“Even then I tried to resolve issues between the MQM and the military. I prepared a two-page working paper and spoke to Altaf Bhai, the military was also taken on board. At that time the military hierarchy also showed understanding,” Ebad shared without going into specific details.

"You prepared a document for the working relationship, then why things could not work out between Altaf Bhai and the military?" was my obvious question.

“While we were still working on that paper, another statement from MQM London Secretariat was issued, in which different personalities were humiliated. That led to completely stopping the work on compiling the working paper,” recalled Ebad. He added, “Prior to that on March 4, Rangers briefed a high level security meeting, citing the presence of criminal elements huddled with MQM leaders in a Nine-Zero meeting.”

Against this backdrop, Rangers raided Nine-Zero on March 11 and arrested almost 150 people and recovered a huge cache of ammunition and weapons. Once again, Altaf Bhai slammed the army and its leadership.

Ebad again intervened and tried to manage the situation and consequently Altaf Bhai addressed his party followers on March 18 in which he praised the army and announced holding out a rally on March 23 in support of the armed forces. "I took a sigh of relief and returned to my residential portion of the Governor’s House.” It was around midnight, Ebad said when he saw Saulat Mirza, a former MQM activist who was on death row, making startling disclosures against the MQM’s top leadership on TV right from his death cell.

"All hell broke loose after this. It led to another fiery speech from Altaf Bhai and everything that we were building collapsed like a house of cards. The trust between Altaf Bhai and the military was finally shattered that very day,” disclosed Ebad.

So in a way was it Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar who broke the attempt at mending fences? “I am not sure,” Ebad said.

Can we say that Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) is the brainchild of ex COAS Gen Raheel Sharif, DG ISI Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar, CGS Lt Gen Bilal Akbar or ex DG ISI Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, I rephrased the question, but he firmly denied saying, “unfortunately the establishment gets to be blamed for everything which may not always be the case.”

So then what is PSP, I asked again. “It is china cutting in the political territory, ” Ebad quipped.

Is there any chance of Altaf Bhai’s re-engagement with the military, was my next query. “According to my understanding, it is highly unlikely,” said Ebad.

Unlike others who left Altaf Hussain, Dr Ebad is not ready to speak a word against Altaf Bhai despite his differences. “I cannot utter a word because I still think that it was Altaf Bhai who introduced me to the power echelons. Even if the mentor turns into a tormentor, he still remains the mentor,” Dr. Ishratul Ebad adds while sipping Moroccan Tea.

Departure from Governor House:

In my observation, since 2011 Dr Ebad had practically become the Pindi's boy. The powerhouse in Rawalpindi would back him as he was looking after the economic hub of the country. But every beginning has an end, and no one is a permanent resident of any power house.

Dr Ebad enjoyed proximity with ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif and the former linked his own future with that of the ex-army chief. Somewhere in the middle of 2016, Dr. Ishratul Ebad interacted with Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and asked whether he would get an extension or not.

“I have already declared publicly that I will not seek an extension and I am firmly committed to that; however, there are certain unfinished tasks which I will try to accomplish before leaving and I will share with you once my retirement gets closer,” Gen Raheel had told Ebad. “My exit strategy would be to leave before your departure,” Ebad told Gen Raheel in response.

In the end of October 2016, the longest serving governor phoned Gen Raheel Sharif. “I have started my farewell meetings,” the former COAS told Ebad. The same day Ishratul Ebad started to wrap up as well.

“On November 9, I tendered my resignation and held farewell meetings and left, since then I am here in Dubai,” Dr Ebad told this scribe.

On the eve of leaving for Dubai, at the Mazar-e-Quaid, Karachi Ebad received a farewell telephonic call from Gen Raheel. “You are an asset to Pakistan and the services you rendered for the country are undeniable” remarked Raheel. Ebad recalled, “I treasure those gracious words for my life.”

Tricks of remaining in power:

I was still curious to know what were the tactics he adopted to remain in power for so long. Dr Ebad candidly shared the following.

A). Whenever you are in power, don’t use power but use brain.

B). Be humble.

C). Whenever you want to remove someone, call him, give him respect. Do not disrespect people.

D). Keep national interest in your mind, and in that context maintain relations with Rawalpindi with dignity. In safeguarding national interest, do not give thought to who is happy or annoyed.

E). Always give sincere advise to everyone including your bosses, juniors and even enemies.

F). You need to have an understanding of issues with vision and initiative.

G). There is a smart combination of administration and politics. This is an art that you should master where to use administration and where to employ politics and where to combine both and in what proportion.

The final and the foremost lesson in the power house is:

H) Trusting people is good but it’s better not to trust anyone in power.

The discussions with Ebad revealed that he is custodian of many secrets as he remained a silent operator as the Governor Sindh in handling some of the very critical and sensitive issues in the recent history. This reporter also realised that some key elements of the establishment are still in touch with him. He might be out of sight, but internally he is in.

Note: This interview was carried out during at least four sessions with Dr Ishratul Ebad (December 16 to December 28, 2017) in Dubai. Some parts of this interview have been withheld on his request.

Concluded

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