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September 17, 2015

Throw out the baggage prime minister, you will stand tall


September 17, 2015

As some political parties, with their hands now forced out of the till, shout victimisation, a report in a national daily declares that a minister from Punjab refuses to resign over what he calls are baseless allegations while the Punjab supremo, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, reportedly weighs the option of asking the provincial minister to step down until the NAB inquiry against him concludes. The report takes me back to nearly three decades when Mr Mohammad Khan Junejo was the Prime Minister of this much blessed yet much abused country. Our memory, as a nation, is short. We easily forget recent events. And that deprives us of the advantage of learning from our past and avoiding the pitfalls where visible.
Not too long ago, we had a prime minister, elected in a party less election who, in a span of three years, dismissed three ministers on allegations of corruption and, or, malpractice without waiting for the results of any enquiry. Mr Mohammad Khan Junejo was a handpicked Prime Minister, recommended by the late Pir Mardan Shah, Pir of Pagara, and nominated for the office by the then President, the late General Zia ul Haq. He assumed office as the prime minister of Pakistan in March 1985 and, three years later, in May 1988, he was sent packing by the same president who had nominated him for the office. But even in his dismissal from office, Mr Junejo stood tall. Why? Because he had earned, through his personal integrity and good governance, the respect of the average Pakistani. Prime Minister Junejo dismissed Prince Mohyuddin, his Minister for Communications, scion of the powerful House of Kalat on alleged corrupt practices. I do not recall Prime Mohyuddin having been convicted later on any such charge. And, as his Press Secretary, I still remember the day when Mr Junejo sent a message to Mr Anwar Aziz Chowdhry, the then Minister for Local Government, asking him to resign on reports of negligence and alleged malpractices by that Ministry in disbursement of funds. Mr

Chowdhry, a politician of long standing and many qualities, did so promptly. It speaks volumes of Mr Junejo’s governance and Mr Chowdhry’s principles. The third victim of Mr Junejo’s impatience with any taint on his governance was Mr Islamuddin Shiekh from Sukkur, the then Minister of State for Production and now a close and trusted confidant of Mr Asif Ali Zardari. Of the three ministers removed by Mr Junejo, only Mr Shiekh, if I remember correctly, went through the process of prosecution. Yet, Mr Junejo never hesitated in acting against not one but three cabinet colleagues because he believed in a clean administration and any allegation, even if a misperceived one against his government was not acceptable to him.
Mr Junejo was equally intolerant to corruption in the civil service. Not that he succeeded in eliminating corruption from the country but he led by example. There had been media reports about corruption in Karachi Customs Collectorate. Prime Minister Junejo ordered the then influential Collector of Customs, Mr Maqsood Butt and a group of about half a dozen other officials to be suspended from service. Weeks later, on a visit to Karachi, we learnt that the prime minister’s orders had not been implemented. Mr Salman Faruqui, the present Federal Ombudsman who was then serving as an Additional Secretary to the Prime Minister suggested that as press secretary to the prime minister I bring this to the notice of Mr Junjo on our flight back to Islamabad. I was hesitant as the rumour was that the orders had not been implemented on the intervention of Pir Pagara, the Prime Minster’s Pir and mentor.
As the prime minister’s Falcon jet took off from the Faisal Airbase for Islamabad, Mr Faruqui, sitting opposite me, gestured that I raise the issue. He had also told me that the rumour was that a handsome amount had changed hands for the suspension order not to be implemented. Prime Minister Junejo lifted a newspaper and started reading. He and I were thus not in eye contact with each other as I started muttering all that I had heard from Mr Faruqui. Mr Junejo kept reading and listening but did not utter a word. I was unnerved as I thought the prime minister must be upset over what he was hearing form me about Pir Pagara, his Pir and mentor. There was silence except for the humming of the aircraft engine. As the jet landed at the Chaklala airbase, Mr Junejo put down the newspaper, put on his Jinnah cap and we all disembarked. His silence made me believe that I had bitten more than I could chew and that my goose had been cooked.
I had barely entered my house in Islamabad that the green telephone (VIP telephone network) rang. The prime minister’s ADC was on the line. “Sir, kam hogaya (the work has been accomplished)”, he whispered to me. “What happened”, I asked, rather nervously. “Your story on the flight has worked. The Prime Minister summoned the Chairman CBR (now FBR) Mr Imtiazi and the Finance Minister Mr Yasin Watoo. They have confirmed that the order was not implemented on the intervention of Pir Pagara. The prime minister has asked the Chairman CBR to issue the suspension order of all the seven officers immediately and put up a copy for his information today”. I was obviously very relieved but more importantly, my admiration for Mr Junejo grew immensely.
I have narrated the incident only to highlight the fact that only three decades back if a man from the remote small town of Sindhri with not much academic achievement to show off and with not much personal political clout to fall back on, could govern with such firmness and run a fairly clean administration, why can it not be done today. It is doable even today if there is a will at the top, the very top. And that requires some sacrifice. It will serve everyone and the country best if that sacrifice is offered today for tomorrow may be too late. It is my hope and prayer that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who I have had the privilege to work for in his first tenure in that office, will step forward and seize the opportunity that Providence has offered him yet again. A wholesale cleaning of the stables is the only option even if it means throwing out many of his own.
[The writer is a former federal secretary.]

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