With Fakhruddin G Ebrahim’s demise, Pakistan has lost a fine jurist, rights activist, and a man of integrity
“Hello Mazhar! This is Fakhruddin. I called you early in the morning because I know you are an early riser. Do you have time to talk?” It was a pleasant surprise for me. “Fakhru bhai kamal kar rahey hein. Tabiat kaisi hay? Khair tu hay?” I replied. “Yes, everything is fine. I just need your advice,” he said. “Sure, if I can be of help,” was my answer.
He disclosed then that the main political parties had agreed to offer him appointment as Chief Election Commissioner.
“I told Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan that it was not my cup of tea but he is insistent. He says that there is a consensus on my name. What do you advise?”
After a pause I said, “Fakhru bhai, it’s a difficult job but there is no harm in making an effort to make elections look more transparent. It is difficult in the sense that some of these very parties could raise questions once they lose and then, of course, there is a strong mafia around.”
A few days later he informed me that he had accepted the offer on the condition that he would go home soon after the polls and not continue till the next elections.
I used to visit him at the ECP offices in Karachi and Islamabad. I learnt that he was used to arriving his office at around 9 am, much before most other staff.
Unlike his predecessors who had no veto power and had only one vote like other members of the ECP, Fakhruddin Ebrahim wanted to make the Commission as powerful and effective as the Indian Election Commission. To this end, he also visited New Delhi and met the Election Chief. When he proposed similar reforms here he was opposed by the other ECP members.
This was a high-drama election and saw the rise of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). He faced a lot of criticism, including from people who, till 2012, had used to visit him not only for legal advice but also for inviting him to join the party. In 2002, he was even offered a ticket from Karachi by Imran Khan and Dr Arif Alvi.
PTI did very well in the elections. They not only formed the government in Kyber Pakhtunkhwa but also emerged as a strong opposition party. In Karachi, it bagged about 800,000 votes.
In an interview months later he told me that due to lack of time he had been unable to bring about reforms in the Election Commission although he tried his best to make election 2013 better than earlier elections.
My association with Fakhru bhai goes back to the early 1980s when I joined a Karachi-based evening newspaper, The Star. I and my colleagues used to admire people like him and Justice Dorab Patel who had refused to take oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) under Gen Ziaul Haq.
Unlike his predecessors who had no veto power and had only one vote like other members of the ECP, Fakhruddin Ebrahim wanted to make the Commission as powerful and effective as the Indian Election Commission. To this end, he also visited New Delhi and met the Election Chief.
I used to call him in the morning or in the second half of the day and at times visited him in his office near the Baluch Colony Bridge.
Once he was asked to probe allegations levelled by three Australians against former skipper, Saleem Malik. One day, my editor late Ghulam Nabi Mansuri asked me to file a lead story. I made a random call to Fakhru bhai to find out about the inquiry against Saleem Malik. He said, “I have completed the probe and sent it to the PCB but I can’t share the contents of the report at this moment.”
I asked, “Just let me know if he is guilty or not” and when he said, “no,” it was good enough for a banner headline. The report was later picked up by the world media. The allegations by Tim May and Mark Waugh had proved baseless. Years later, following another broad inquiry conducted by Justice Qayyum, Malik was banned for life from having any management role.
When he became governor of Sindh in 1988, he laid the foundation of Citizen-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) as people were fast losing confidence in police with the rise in kidnapping for ransom and car-snatching incidents. The idea clicked and the way Jamil Yusuf and Nazim F Haji worked on the project it started giving results and played an important role in addressing people’s complaints against the police with immediate registration of first information reports (FIRs).
When the PPP government was sacked on August 6, 1990, the then President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, asked Governor Fakhruddin to dissolve the provincial assembly, too. He refused and instead resigned himself. The same evening he was replaced by another governor who dissolved the assembly.
During the second Benazir government he was made the attorney general. One day, at the Supreme Court, he saw Sharifuddin Pirzada representing the Federation in one of the cases. He came back to the office and sent his resignation to the prime minister.
During his early days as a lawyer and later as judge of the Sindh High Court, he provided immense relief to political workers, in the days of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government. He was very kind to me when I was arrested under the Defence of Pakistan Rules (DPR) during Bhutto’s government as a National Students Federation (NSF) member.
“When my case about determining the class in jail came up before him, he issued a directive that political prisoners should not be kept in C-Class as they are not criminals,” recalls Masroor Ahsan, a former Karachi president of the PPP.
Journalist Bachal Leghari recalls that Fakhru bhai, more than once, ordered his release and granted him bail when he was arrested during Bhutto’s time.
He was a man of principle. One might disagree with him about his role during the 2013 general elections but the fact remains that even his biggest critics called him one of the most honest men.
One of my interviews with him became controversial during the 2013 elections. It was when he said that he could not recognise the army general who came to meet him and asked if the army could help the ECP during the elections. “It was when he introduced himself that I realised that the person talking to me was Gen Kayani.”
He later told me that this sentence had resulted in some criticism against him. “But I told my critics that since it was his first interaction with me I didn’t recognise him. I have no regrets on that account.”
In 1995, It was my privilege to invite him as chief guest at a function organised by the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) to honour the founding fathers of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).
With his death, Pakistan has lost one of its finest jurists, rights activists, and men of integrity. Fakhru bhai is dead, long live Fakhruddin G Ebrahim.
The writer is a senior analyst and columnist of GEO, The News and Jang
He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO