Transient prime ministers, permanent institutions | Nusrat Javed

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The matter is not as simple as it is made out to be. Even if the documents stolen from the records of a law firm in Panama had not become public in April 2016, the permanent institutions of our state have had enough material to besiege the Sharif family, “should the need arise”.

Very few people would remember that, before the establishment of the National Accountability Bureau, there used to be an “Anti-Corruption Committee”. This Committee was set up by the Federal Government during the tenure of late Muhammad Khan Junejo and was headed by then first term Member of the National Assembly from Chakwal, General Majeed Malik. After the election of the first government of Benazir Bhutto in 1988, the Committee was kept alive and its charge was given to late Malik Qasim, Mohtarma’s steadfast proponent during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy.

This ‘charge sheet’ against Nawaz Sharif, which is said to have been prepared in ‘only 60 days’ — from April to July 2017 — includes much of the material that was available to Ghulam Ishaq Khan on that fateful evening back in April 1993, when he dismissed the first Nawaz government on charges of corruption
Malik Sahib believed that Nawaz Sharif, belonging to a business family from Lahore, was not a traditional politician; rather, he represented a group of industrialists who use political power to expand their businesses and get their mega loans written off. As the Chief Minister of the Punjab, Nawaz Sharif had restrained the Prime Minister’s government to Islamabad. Malik Sahib wanted to overwhelm this Chief Minister with allegations of corruption.

Malik Sahib’s office in the Parliament House was always filled with bankers invited from all over the country. He used all sorts of threats and incentives to gather material concerning the Sharif family businesses. Despite all his hard work, he could not find anything of significance.

Malik Sahib was a naval officer during the British rule. I have heard he was part of the sailors’ mutiny in 1946 that had shaken Bombay to the core. Coming from Attock, Malik Sahib also had family relations with several army officers. He was convinced that some of the institutions “there” would surely have some material against the Sharifs. But General Aslam Beg was the army chief at the time and he wasn’t happy with the Prime Minister.

Malik Sahib could not get any information against Nawaz Sharif from “there”. However, the opposition leader at the time, the late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, got hold of a hefty file, which he brandished at a fiery press conference arranged at a five star hotel in Rawalpindi one afternoon in September 1989. A few months later, while dismissing Mohtarma’s government, President Ishaq noted some incidents from this very file on the evening of 6 August 1990. Jatoi Sahib became the caretaker prime minister. Asif Ali Zardari was arrested and embroiled in various cases based on a few allegations contained in that file.

At the behest of Malik Qasim, some officers in civilian institutions of the state did provide some material against Nawaz Sharif to Mohtarma during her first government. Malik Sahib wanted to file cases against the Punjab Chief Minister on the basis of this material. The late Dr Sher Afgan Niazi was ready to support him wholeheartedly with all his parliamentary genius. Farooq Khan Laghari also joined this group, which already included Khawaja Ahmad Tariq Rahim from Lahore and Ahmad Saeed Awan from Faisalabad.

However, Mohtarma’s cabinet at the time included Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan as Interior Minister and Iftikhar Gilani as Law Minister. These two insisted that there should be a working understanding between Mohtarma and Nawaz Sharif in the interest of “democratic stability”. They reasoned that if these two were bent upon humbling each other, the advantage will be taken by the “third force”. Thus, the material gathered against Nawaz Sharif could not be utilized. However, I have seen a few highlights from that material in the “charge sheet” prepared against him in 2017.

This “charge sheet” against Nawaz Sharif – which is said to have been prepared in “only 60 days” from April to July 2017 – includes a lot of material that was available to Ghulam Ishaq Khan on that fateful evening of April 1993 when he dismissed the first Nawaz government on charges of corruption.

After the 1990 general elections held upon the dismissal of the first Mohtarma government, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Aslam Beg wanted the late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi to be the prime minister. However, the IJI – set up with a lot of hard work and run with Younis Habib’s money – had won countless seats from the Punjab. All the credit for this success was being given to Nawaz Sharif’s diligence. Politicians coming from “army families” like Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Malik Naeem were considered his die-hard followers. With the connections of these people, the decisions makers in Rawalpindi were persuaded that if the “modern minded” businessman from Punjab was not given that opportunity, our politics will remain subject to traditional feudalism, and the people of the Punjab, especially its middle class, will be demoralized, feel deprived, etc. The late General Hameed Gul convinced President Ishaq with this line of thought.

When President Ishaq indicated his willingness to nominate Nawaz Sharif, some loyalists of Jatoi Sahib were anguished. Jatoi Sahib’s special assistant, Barrister Kamal Azfar, called me to the Prime Minister House. Fearful of bugging and whatnot, he left his office and came into the parking lot. There he showed me a file recommending that the caretaker Prime Minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi should file a reference against Nawaz Sharif to disqualify him on charges of “corruption” based on “proofs” listed therein. While I was looking at that file, Ghulam Mustafa Khar suddenly appeared in that parking.

Seeing me with Kamal Azfar, Khar Sahib cried out in Punjabi: “Kamal Azfar has gone insane. The Generals have already decided to make Nawaz Sharif the Prime Minister. I have come here to tell Mustafa Jatoi not to resist this decision.” A visibly shocked Kamal Azfar snatched the file from my hands and rushed back to his office. Khar Sahib and I however started walking slowly towards Jatoi Sahib’s office. There he told me that President Ishaq Khan had sent him to explain “the wise thing” to Jatoi.

I would like to end the column by saying that the “charge sheet” prepared in 2017 also contains some material that I had seen that afternoon in 1990 in the parking lot of the Prime Minister Secretariat thanks to Kamal Azfar Sahib. In short, Prime Ministers come and go, but there is a state, which has some permanent institutions, where material against people keeps on gathering.

The writer is a senior journalist, analyst and TV commentator. This article was published in Urdu in daily Nawai Waqt on July 18. It has been translated in English by S Babar Mirza

Published in Daily Times, July 20th , 2017.