Rising from the ashes…

February 12, 2023

Attempts were made during the Musharraf regime to sideline the main contenders for political power in Pakistan

Rising from the ashes…


en Musharraf had vowed early in his reign to keep two popular leaders, Benazir Bhutto Shaheed and Mian Nawaz Sharif, not only out of power but also out of the country. He kept trying to remove them from Pakistan’s political landscape. However, popular support and the times compelled him not only to accept them back but also see their parties rule the country in 2008. They are in power yet again. Unfortunately for the general, he had to live in exile till his passing last week.

In October 1999, Gen Musharraf deposed Sharif’s elected government in a coup. He arrested Sharif, his brother Shahbaz Sharif, his son Hussain Nawaz and his several close aides. Sharif was tried for hijacking and sentenced to a life term in jail. Later, he was exiled to Saudi Arabia at the Saudi Royal Family’s request. In 2009, the Supreme Court overturned Sharif’s conviction and acquitted him.

In 2001, Musharraf’s close advisors, Lt Gen Ehsanul Haq, the then ISI director general, and the then DGI, late Maj Gen Ehtisham Zameer, developed the idea of bringing together the PML-N leaders who had remained silent over the military coup under a new banner - the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). A good number of mainstream leaders from the Punjab, KP, Sindh and Balochistan were included in the new League. The PML-N, in the absence of Sharifs, was led by Makhdoom Javed Hashmi. In the 2002 elections, it had to field relatively unknown candidates in many constituencies as a majority of its electables had joined the PML-Q. It managed to win 19 seats in the National Assembly.

Musharraf kept the Pakistan Peoples Party under constant pressure by ordering the registration of more cases against Asif Ali Zardari, who was already in jail. He would often say “Nawaz and BB have no future in Pakistan.” He appointed Lt Gen Amjad Hussain as the National Accountability Bureau chairman. The latter then registered several cases against PPP leaders, including the late Khalid Ahmad Khan Kharal, Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, the late Jehangir Badr and his close friend Chaudhry Arshad, who died in NAB custody. The list goes on.

He assigned his close military aides – Lt Gen Ehsan, Maj Gen Ehtisham Zameer, Lt Gen Hussain Mehdi and Brig Ejaz Shah – to bring leaders from the PPP and the PML-N to the king’s party, the PML-Q.

This scribe is privy to several moves made by Gen Musharraf and his aides to ensure the king’s party’s victory through pre- and post-poll rigging. Musharraf also kept sending his emissaries to Zardari in jail to strike a deal with him. On several occasions Zardari was offered immediate release provided he signed an undertaking to stay abroad and not participate in politics. Zardari declined all such offers.

Once, in 2002, this scribe asked Zardari in Attock Fort, “Why don’t you accept the offer?” He responded, “I have been in jail for years. I have not made the sacrifices to end up making compromises.”

In the 2002 elections, the PPP was not allowed to use the name Pakistan Peoples Party. This was another tactic to dent its vote bank. The PPP contested the election as Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians and came in second, yielding a narrow margin to the king’s party. Late Makhdoom Amin Fahim was the president of the PPP-Parliamentarians. Having sensed that the PML-Q won’t be able to form a government, Musharraf personally met Amin Fahim at the Pir Sohawa Restaurant in Islamabad and urged him to defect in return for the premiership. Fahim was also offered the chief minister-ship of Sindh for his son Makhdoom Jamiluz Zaman. This scribe interviewed Fahim soon after these offers were extended to him and he confirmed the information. “I refused to defect. BB was not ready to support a dictator,” he said.

The late Hussain Mehdi prevailed on several PPP leaders, including Tariq Bashir Cheema and his brother Tahir Bashir Cheema, to join the PML-Q. The final outcome of Musharraf’s efforts to ensure the king’s party’s victory and to damage the PPP was the defection of 10 PPPP MNAs led by Rao Sikandar Iqbal, a collegemate of Gen Musharraf and a PPP senior leader, and Faisal Saleh Hayat, a victim of NAB scrutiny, who supported Zafarullah Jamali, a PML-Q candidate for the premiership in 2002, against their party’s candidate, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The defectors’ group was called the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians-Patriots. Later, eight more MNAs from the PPP joined it.

In 2007, when Benazir Bhutto announced her return, Gen Musharraf tried his best to stop her. When she returned, he kept her under house arrest in Lahore for several days. Despite all-out efforts by Gen Musharraf, the two parties that faced his wrath during his regime, continue to play significant roles in Pakistan’s politics. Benazir Bhutto was martyred. Years later, Nawaz Sharif was barred from contesting elections. However, in the foreseeable future, their parties do not look like vanishing from the country’s political landscape.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

Rising from the ashes…