The US Presidential polls had just ended. A dejected departing one-term president was clearing his desk. One last file awaited his signature. What do I do with it? He pondered. Sign it? Or leave it for the incoming president to decide. He chose the second option. But by the time the file turned up on President Bill Clinton’s desk, the ‘establishment’ in Islamabad had dismissed the Nawaz Sharif government, conveying to Washington the impression that the ‘culprit’ behind the reason for the processing of the file has already been taken care of. The file, therefore, was naturally trashed.
What was the file about? Well, a case for terrorism-related sanctions against Pakistan. Since it was not-on-the record conversation during which a hint about the content of the file was aired by a former foreign minister of Pakistan, I am not at liberty to disclose his name. He is still very active in Islamabad’s diplomatic circuit. Nawaz was dismissed in April 1993. The charges for dismissal were: ‘Maladministration, corruption, nepotism etc …”. Since these were too frivolous to stand judicial scrutiny, the Supreme Court rejected them and Nawaz was restored. However, since it was a scapegoat that the establishment was looking for in Nawaz to pass the ‘terrorism’ buck on to him, it refused to let him continue. What followed was as sordid a political drama as the one enacted during the formation of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in 1988 or while stealing the 1990 elections.
Like the establishment played the young Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the early 1960s, until he rebelled and then replayed him again during and after the Bangladesh crisis until it hanged him, the establishment played both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz like puppets throughout the 1990s pitting them against each other in a political war of attrition. Being politicians, the ultimate goal of all the three was power and they found the only way up the political ladder was via the establishment, so at times, they willingly served its purpose, promoting its security agenda and getting unceremoniously chucked out whenever they tried to strike out on their own. On the three occasions — the formation of the IJI, the theft of the 1990 elections and the 1993 drama — the two main characters, Benazir and Nawaz — were playing roles scripted by the establishment without, perhaps, knowing full well the ultimate objectives of the puppeteers.
At the eleventh hour, both Nawaz and Benazir tried to step back from the brink, each in his/her own way. Nawaz tried to woo Benazir by — according her — the official status of the leader of the opposition; she was also elected head of the National Assembly’s foreign relations’ committee. And Benazir, on her part, tried to make it impossible for the establishment to proceed with its plans by asking for a seat for her spouse in the interim cabinet. She thought its dislike for Asif Ali Zardari would make it impossible for the establishment to agree to the condition and she would also be able, once the establishment refused, to satisfy an already won-over Pakistan Peoples Party Central Executive Committee, which had herded her into the establishment’s embrace led by Farooq Leghari, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao and Shafqat Mehmood, against her better judgment. But to the dismay of the PPP, after elections in Sindh, it found out once again that it was pinned down by the MQM and in Punjab, Manzoor Watto of Pakistan Muslim League-Junejo was calling the shots.
The two — Nawaz and Benazir — were too ill-informed about what was going on behind their backs, while they sat in the prime minister house. One of them told a group of journalists that once when the government called a meeting of all the stakeholders to discuss the onrushing default deadline and asked for ideas, to the surprise of all, it was the representative of one of the so-called agencies who offered to chip in $150 million! The same prime minister was said to have been caught off-guard when some of the participants attending one of the Saarc summits embarrassed him with tales of the ‘doings’ of ‘our men’ in their respective countries. I am not sure if prime minister Nawaz Sharif had any inkling of what was going on in the ISI headed by then Lt-Gen (retd) Javed Nasir and the intelligence bureau headed by Brig (retd) Imtiaz Billa.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2012.
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