Najam Sethi is an interesting character of Pakistani media who has carefully and opportunistically attempted to construct his image as a liberal journalist while not compromising his links with the real stakeholders in Pakistan, i.e., GHQ. Sethi is known for his contempt of politicians, both from right and left wing. However he has been historically lenient towards politicians known for their links with the military establishment. Sethi was a federal minister for accountability in the interim cabinet of the PPP’s traitor President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari when he dismissed Benazir Bhutto’s government under the instructions of the GHQ. He also played a key role in supporting and building General Pervez Musharraf’s image in Pakistani and international media after his military take over in October 1999.
The aim of this post is to build up an archive on Najam Sethi recording his pro-establishment history and current manoeuvres as political advisor to Mir Shakilur-Rahman (CEO of the Jang Group / Geo TV), the vilest character in Pakistani media today. This post and the archive will be continuously updated in the next few weeks.
A clean and capable man of immense integrity
June 15, 1995 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
When Mr Farooq Leghari was appointed foreign minister instead of finance minister by prime minister Benazir Bhutto in 1993, her motives were thought to be transparent enough. Mr Leghari was said to know more about economics and finance than all Ms Bhutto’s MNAs put together. As the PPP’s premier Mr Clean, Mr Leghari had done an admirable job as minister for water and power in Ms Bhutto’s first government (1988-90) and he would have made an excellent finance minister during her second term. But the last thing Ms Bhutto wanted now was a competent, honest, no-nonsense finance minister who would not only have known what to do but, more importantly, what not to do. No. The prime minister was determined to retain the finance ministry in her own grasp so that she could handpick appointments to the financial institutions of the country and dispense patronage at will. So Mr Leghari was banished to the foreign ministry where, if he’d lasted, he would have been fated to play second-fiddle to the glamourous, glib, globe-trotting daughter of the East.
Mr Leghari owes his elevation to the Presidency soon thereafter to a peculiar combination of circumstances. Originally, the idea was to accommodate Mr Wasim Sajjad as a “consensus” candidate, provided Mr Nawaz Sharif agreed to help repeal the 8th amendment. When Mr Sharif refused, Ms Bhutto toyed with Mr Hamid Nasir Chattha but quickly abandoned the idea when eyebrows were raised in certain powerful quarters. As the search for a PPP president got underway, Mr Leghari increasingly began to appear as the right man for the job. He had stuck by the Peoples Party, in particular the Leaderene, through thick and thin for seventeen long years, so his credentials were irreproachable. Having denied him the coveted finance ministry, Ms Bhutto saw this as a good opportunity to placate him by kicking him upstairs where his do-good inclinations wouldn’t interfere in the cynical running of the executive. There could not be a better man in the Presidency than the deferential Sardar of the vanishing Leghari tribe, thought Ms Bhutto. At last, she would have her very own Fazal Elahi Chaudhry!
Mr Leghari’s first few months in the Presidency were unfortunately marred by controversy and bad blood. Mr Nawaz Sharif and the opposition boycotted Mr Leghari’s oath-taking ceremony. When President Leghari expressed a desire to call on Mr Sharif in Lahore, the opposition leader bluntly rebuffed the gesture by proclaiming that he would have nothing to do with “a jiyala President”. Since a “jiyala President” was exactly what Ms Bhutto was seeking to consolidate, she must have been delighted by the opposition’s reproachful attitude towards Mr Leghari. “That should clip Leghari’s wings and dampen any ambitions he may harbour of playing an intrusive role in times to come”, was the way many PPP stalwarts put it.
Soon thereafter, the opposition had occasion to “confirm” its suspicions. When Ms Bhutto moved against the Sabir Shah government in the NWFP, the President was constitutionally obliged to act on her advice. Having refused to open a line of communication with him in the first place, the opposition was now quick to condemn Mr Leghari’s intervention in support of Mr Aftab Sherpao. For the opposition, it was irrelevant that Mr Aftab Sherpao’s move came after Mr Sabir Shah had already lost support of the independent MPs who had propped up the PML(N) coalition. It was irrelevant that Mr Sherpao had every constitutional right, however distasteful his modus operandi, to move a vote of no-confidence against Mr Shah. It was irrelevant that under the constitution Mr Leghari, whatever his personal disquiet, had no option but to accept the federal government’s advice and act accordingly. The opposition desperately wanted to believe that President Leghari was a “jiyala” and the circumstances were tailored to reinforce such convictions. If the opposition was hopping mad at the President, Ms Bhutto must have been delighted. The greater the hostility between the President and the opposition, the better for the prime minister! A wedge was later to be driven between the President and the opposition during President Leghari’s trip to the USA in April 94.
Mr Leghari had made no plans to attend his son’s graduation ceremony in the United States. But he was persuaded by the prime minister and the army chief to undertake the trip for an important reason. Following US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott’s visit to Pakistan in January, the Americans were keen for Ms Bhutto to visit Washington immediately so that they could lean on her to make concessions on Pakistan’s nuclear programme in exchange for a waiver to the Pressler amendment. Since the troika was united in opposing any concessions to Washington, it was felt that Ms Bhutto’s trip, far from resolving the core issue, might yield a negative fallout at home and abroad. Far better, it was thought, that President Leghari should undertake an exercise in “quiet diplomacy” on the pretext of a personal visit. In this manner, Pakistan’s national security concerns could be forcefully reiterated before the Americans without any hint of a snub by the government of Pakistan or any suggestion of false expectations at home.
The opposition, unfortunately, saw this as an opportunity to attack the President. A campaign was mounted to allege that the President had incurred huge expenses from the state treasury in undertaking a “personal” trip to the United States. Mr Leghari’s overloaded working itinerary was ignored or belittled. The interesting point is that at no stage did the government’s media managers make any serious effort to brief the press about the real purpose behind the President’s visit to the United States. Nor did the government seriously dispute the opposition’s allegations against the President of “overspending” or “misusing official facilities”. It seemed as though the government was happy to sit back and derive malicious pleasure from the erosion of Mr Leghari’s credibility in the eyes of the people.
The “Mehrangate” affair, which erupted while Mr Leghari was still in the United States, was a blow to the President’s reputation. Even as the opposition was fabricating “facts” about his sale of land to Mr Yunus Habib (at worst, an error of judgement), government spokesmen like interior minister General Naseerullah Babar and law minister Iqbal Haider were blithely issuing contradictory and wishy washy statements which only served to deepen suspicions about Mr Leghari’s role in the matter. The curious aspect of the whole affair is that when Mr Leghari personally sought to clarify his position to a section of the press, the government’s media managers only made only half-hearted efforts to disseminate his detailed interviews. As a matter of fact, some PPP stalwarts privately expressed displeasure over attempts by the President to defend himself in public and at least one such view was reflected in the editorial of an Islamabad newspaper known to be close to the government. Although conclusive proof of the government’s complicity in the sordid character-assassination of President Leghari is not available, it is now known that the person who leaked the “Mehrangate” land deal story to Mr Sharif was none other than the aggressive PML(N) MNA who was arrested some months ago for fraudulent land transactions and then defected to the PPP by announcing the formation of a PML(N) “forward bloc”, courtesy a well-known media manager of the PPP government.
The arrest of Mian Mohammad Sharif by General Babar’s hounds on the eve of President Leghari’s address to a joint sitting of Parliament drove the opposition and the President further apart. Mr Nawaz Sharif had originally rejected the proposal (made by the same double-faced PML(N) MNA referred to above) that opposition MNAs should shower Mr Leghari with rotten eggs and tomatoes during his Presidential address. Instead, the opposition had contrived a harmless plan to sneak a few small tape-recorders into parliament and play back the “Go Baba Go” tapes of 1992 to remind Mr Leghari of his raucous role at the time. Mian Sharif’s arrest, however, put paid to that. An outraged opposition went to parliament and lunged for the President. In the brawls which ensued, government thugs beat up a couple of opposition members so badly that they had to be hospitalised. Relations between the President and the opposition hit an all-time low, prompting many people to wonder whether the timing of Mian Sharif’s arrest (he was as inexplicably released some days later) was in some way linked to efforts by certain government circles to drive yet another wedge between the President and the opposition.
It has taken Nawaz Sharif nearly eighteen months to realise that his strategy of attacking President Leghari has played directly into Benazir Bhutto’s hands. By trying to weaken Mr Leghari and erode his credentials, Mr Sharif has effectively debarred himself from trying to exploit a potentially powerful source of influence, moderation and balance in the political system (a lesson the wily Ms Bhutto was quick to demonstrate when she successfully drove a wedge between Mr Sharif and Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993). If all this is clear, why does Mr Sharif still demand assurances that Mr Leghari is not a “jiyala” and will indeed play the bipartisan role expected of him? When President Leghari reflects on how the Bhutto government has let him down on so many counts, is it not conceivable that he may be deeply hurt, offended and even angry? Equally, can any conscientious and informed person remain oblivious to the continuing follies, inefficiencies and corruptions of the Bhutto government without wringing his hands in despair and reflecting about alternatives and options?
For Mr Sharif’s benefit, it may be necessary to inject some cold facts about Mr Farooq Leghari into the calculations. Mr Leghari’s contribution to the struggle for the restoration of democracy is second to none in the Peoples Party, so he doesn’t owe anything to anyone. He has been to prison, he has been showered with lathis and blows. He was the party’s leading light during Ms Bhutto’s incarceration abroad until 1986. He was the Bhutto government’s most competent and clean face during its years in office from 1988 to 1990. More crucially, it was Mr Leghari who played a decisive role in determining the choice of PPP candidates from south Punjab in the 1993 elections, an intervention which helped Ms Bhutto form a government in Islamabad. If Ms Bhutto has elevated him to the Presidency, Mr Leghari must surely know that she did him no great favour — he, and he alone in the PPP, merited the honour and responsibility.
Mr Leghari is also, as everyone knows, a genuinely pious, patriotic and self-respecting man. When he resigned from the Peoples Party after becoming President, he was sending an obvious message: he would sincerely strive to become the President of Pakistan by rising above party political interests. When he expressed a desire to call upon Mr Sharif shortly after, he was trying to build bridges between the government and the opposition in order to strengthen democracy.
Mr Farooq Leghari has said time and again that he does not want to be an “intrusive” President. That should reassure the prime minister, although God knows her bumbling government would benefit enormously from some definite intrusions by the President. Mr Leghari is also ready to break the ice with Mr Sharif. That should be welcomed by the leader of the opposition who needs to think in national rather than party terms all the time.
Finally, if Mr Sharif wants to know whether President Farooq Leghari is still a “jiyala” or not, there can be no better way of finding out than by having a heart to heart talk with him. Mr Sharif has nothing to lose and much to gain from opening a dialogue with the President and keeping it going despite any initial frustrations which might result. In a calm and composed manner, Mr Farooq Leghari has come a long way in the last eighteen months. He has a longer way to go in the next four years. It is in the interests of Pakistan and democracy that everyone should seek to extract maximum mileage from this clean and capable man of immense integrity.
Time and tide wait for no man
July 4, 1996 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
The confrontation between the judiciary and the executive is turning nasty. On June 26th, after waiting nearly two years for the Punjab government to fulfill its promises to hold elections to the local bodies, the supreme court (SC) finally acted to restore Punjab’s 1993 councillors back to power. The next day, the PM whipped her Punjab MPAs into line and contemptuously threw out the local bodies law. No law, no judgment, Ms Bhutto seemed to crow, the SC could go jump in a lake for all she cared. A couple of days later, the PM made the astounding charge that the opposition was trying to induce the judiciary to throw her out of office by tempting a few judges with offers of prime ministership and chief ministership.
Ms Bhutto is in a spiteful, unrepentant mood. Since the SC adjudged many of her judicial appointments to be illegal, she has stormed into the Presidency time and again to insist that President Farooq Leghari should immediately fire (‘de-notify’) CJ Sajjad Ali Shah. Thus far, fortunately, President Leghari has refused to heed her advice. If the PM is bent upon committing hara-kiri and taking the system down with her, he seems to be saying, he will have no part of it.
President Leghari, it is learnt, does not entirely approve of the SC’s judgment in the “judges case”. Indeed, he is thought to believe that the SC court has gone beyond its constitutional jurisdiction by assuming a veto power over the matter of the appointment, transfer and promotion of senior judges. But President Leghari cannot be unaware of the facts which have triggered such a heavy-handed response from the judiciary. The spirit of the constitution, which envisages meaningful consultation between the CJ and the PM over such matters, was blatantly violated by Ms Bhutto. The personal undertones which have crept into the conflict are also known to everyone. Therefore, in the interest of political stability, Mr Leghari has tried to cool down tempers on both sides and build bridges between the PM and the CJ.
But Ms Bhutto is in no mood to listen to President Leghari. In fact, she went so far as to belittle him by filing a rude reference to the SC on his behalf without even showing him the draft for approval.
This is not the first time President Leghari has given good advice to the PM and been snubbed for his pains. He has told her countless times to run a clean and efficient ship. He has begged her to fire all the corrupt and inefficient bureaucrats who are leading her, and the country, to the precipice of disaster. He has tried to stop her from committing the government to some highly suspect deals. And he has made no bones about his view that the prime minister’s husband should keep a low profile and not interfere in the running of government. But the PM has turned a deaf ear to all his pleas. Thus has the dangerous deadlock between Ms Bhutto and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah led to a widening gulf between Ms Bhutto and Mr Leghari. The tragedy is that even as he discreetly tries to rein in the PM, Mr Leghari is fast losing credibility as a neutral president.
Mr Farooq Leghari is impaled on the horns of a dilemma — if he publicly censures Ms Bhutto, he imperils a long-standing relationship; if he doesn’t, he risks undermining the trust and responsibility reposed in the office of the President by the people of Pakistan.
It cannot be easy for Mr Leghari to show his displeasure against Ms Bhutto in public. He was her loyal deputy for 17 years and owes her for elevating him to the Presidency. He is also on record for opposing an interventionist Presidency which exploits the 8th amendment. It is also conceivable that Mr Leghari may hold the opinion that the options to Ms Bhutto — Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, the ‘Babas’ or, indeed, the khakis — are no options at all. What, then, should he do?
If Mr Leghari’s public silence is predicated on such personal and political considerations, he should consider the other side of the coin. If he is honest to himself and to the nation he heads, Mr Leghari must realise that he owes immeasurably more to the office he occupies than to the person who put him there. He should also know that time and tide wait for no man. The longer he condones, or appears to condone, Ms Bhutto’s rash and unacceptably autocratic and corrupt behaviour, the more he risks being ignominiously sidelined along with her in the future. Indeed, unless Mr Leghari is also cut from the same cloth as the rest of the servile bunch around Ms Bhutto, the President must stand up and be counted. Now.
It is really quite simple. The prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, is leading this country to constitutional chaos and administrative mayhem. The President, Farooq Leghari, must stop her from doing so.
Sincerity and Vision
July 25, 1996 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Many commentators question the wisdom of another mid-term election. It is argued that since Nawaz Sharif is not likely to prove a worthier leader than Benazir Bhutto, a fresh election cannot provide any meaningful “resolution” to the crisis of government today. Far better, the argument goes, that Benazir, however flawed, should be allowed to complete her term so that some stable rules are established for the future.
Other thinking is focussed on the long-term viability of a parliamentary system which breeds corruption, anarchy and inefficiency. Again, most analysts are opposed to any tinkering with the system by the army whose record of interventionism is rather dismal. Far better, it is said, that the system be given time and space to develop internal checks and balances to improve its performance. In this context, voices are heard urging the Presidency and/or the judiciary to take a lead in “cleansing” the system.
These are weighty considerations. But all such formulations, and their variations, lead to a host of unanswered problems. If mid-term elections are no solution and the present government is allowed to run riot for another two years or so, the crisis of state and economy will inevitably lead to a complete breakdown of the rules of the game instead of strengthening some of them. By postponing a suitable resolution of the underlying crisis, are we not ensuring that the final day of reckoning will be brutal and convulsive?
If mid-term elections are no panacea and we also cannot afford to let Benazir Bhutto ravage the landscape, we must examine the possibility and efficacy of the second theme — an internal, on-going reform of the parliamentary system with or without the assistance of the Presidency, judiciary or army.
The prime minister and the leader of the opposition have, when the roles were reversed, clearly demonstrated their inability and unwillingness to reform the system from within and give us good government. Tragically, both leaders remain prisoners of their past. If they cannot think ahead, what can the Presidency, judiciary or army do within the bounds of the constitution?
Ladies and Gentlemen, The President!
October 3, 1996 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Those who used to say that the President, Farooq Leghari, is, and will always remain, a PPP “jiyala” who doesn’t have the guts to put the national interest above blind loyalty to Benazir Bhutto must get ready to eat humble pie. Mr Leghari has now publicly demonstrated that he means business and will not allow Ms Bhutto, or anyone else for that matter, to trample over the constitution and get away with the pre-meditated murder of state institutions and the public interest. Some background information is, however, necessary to put Mr Leghari’s recent “interventions” in perspective.
Like many of her friends who have drifted away from her in disillusionment, Mr Leghari is known to have long urged Ms Bhutto to run a clean and efficient ship. He has publicly drawn attention to the menace of corruption and asked the government to make its economic and financial decision-making apparatus more transparent. The President has been worried about the state of the economy and he has continuously communicated his concerns to Ms Bhutto and her advisors. And, in a move applauded everywhere except perhaps in certain government circles last December, he used his discretionary powers to appoint General Jehangir Karamat, a soldier of impeccable credentials, as chief of army staff.
In March this year, however, Mr Leghari found himself in an awkward position when Ms Bhutto took umbrage against the Supreme Court’s judgement ordering her government to fire 20 judges appointed by her earlier because they didn’t fulfill the court’s criteria for appointment. The President is thought to have advised the PM, in her own interests, to accept the decision instead of raging against the CJ unwisely. When Ms Bhutto spurned this advice, relations between Justice Shah and premier Bhutto deteriorated to such an extent that she flew into a rage and demanded that the President fire the CJ.
Stunned by Ms Bhutto’s recklessness and troubled by the potentially far reaching consequences of such a move, President Leghari urged Ms Bhutto to cool down, meet with the CJ and sort out things amicably. In due course, he paved the way for a couple of meetings between Ms Bhutto and Justice Shah. But Ms Bhutto was still in no mood to relent. Soon thereafter, she filed a Presidential Reference before the SC challenging its judgment and followed this up by lodging a Review Petition as well. The Reference, which was rudely drafted, was duly returned by the SC because it hadn’t been shown to Mr Leghari or been signed by him.
Appalled, Mr Leghari was at his wits end when Ms Bhutto decided upon another tack to undermine the judgment. Prodded by the government, justice Shafi Mohammadi (one of the 20 judges affected by the judgment) of the Federal Shariat Court, which lies exclusively in the President’s domain, launched an attack on the SC and the CJ. When the President’s attention was drawn by the CJ to this provocative act, he thought fit to privately advise the government to remove Justice Shafi from the FSC. When Ms Bhutto still refused to heed his advice, he was constrained to warn that he would take action under his discretionary powers and fire Justice Shafi from the FSC. An open conflict was averted only when Ms Bhutto saw the writing on the wall, removed Justice Shafi from the FSC and persuaded him to submit his resignation from the Sindh High Court.
Ms Bhutto has consistently refused to implement the SC’s judgment. Instead of firing (“de-notifying”) all the affected judges as demanded by the SC, she has evaded the issue by nudging some of them to submit their resignations to her government. Until some time ago, the President was wont to accept these resignations as “advised” by the prime minister. However, problems arose when the CJ formally wrote to the President objecting to this modus operandi on Ms Bhutto’s part and asked him to “intervene” and compel the government to abide by the SC’s decision in letter and in spirit.
Instead of acting unilaterally, which might have fueled controversy, President Leghari passed on the CJ’s letter to the PM for information and comment. Similarly, the PM’s comments on the CJ’s letter were passed on to the CJ, including her extraordinary claim that “the judiciary was part of the government”. The President also wrote back to the CJ, with a copy to the PM, asking him to explain how and under what presidential powers the SC wanted the president to “intervene” in order to enforce its judgment. On the 21st of September, when it was clear that Ms Bhutto remained unmoved, the President finally sought to resolve the deadlock between the PM and the CJ by filing a formal Reference with the SC asking it to inform him of the scope of his constitutional powers to appoint or denotify judges. Having done so, he refused to entertain any further requests from the government to accept the resignations of any more judges until the matter was legally and constitutionally sorted out.
President Leghari has also incurred the wrath of Ms Bhutto on the issue of corruption and how to combat it. For two years, the President has privately urged the PM to take concrete steps to make her government more transparent. But Ms Bhutto has, if anything, connived in making the problem more intractable and her government less defensible. Last year Imran Khan put corruption on the top of his agenda for reform. When the crowds roared their disapproval of corruption, opposition leader Nawaz Sharif was quick to co-opt the slogan and stand up in parliament to demand a judicial commission on accountability. Despite ringing denouncements of Surreygate, however, Ms Bhutto refused to accept the demand, forcing Mr Sharif to address his complaint to President Leghari. The President passed on Mr Sharif’s demand for an accountability commission to the PM. When she replied in an evasive manner, he duly passed on her views to Mr Sharif. When Mr Sharif persisted with his demand for a judicial commission, and the press supported this demand, the President thought fit to write a letter to both houses of parliament endorsing the demand and proposing enlargements in it. Ms Bhutto’s majordomo, Naseerullah Babar, then sought to belittle the President’s proposal by punching holes in it.
President Farooq Leghari’s recent meeting with Mr Nawaz Sharif has come in the wake of these developments, even though the President has long said that the doors of Aiwan i Sadr are always open to the leader of the opposition. There is a background to this meeting also. Last year, channels of communication were opened between the camp of the opposition leader and the Aiwan i Sadr, mainly through the good offices of a Muslim League leader in Lahore who has worked closely with Mr Leghari in the past. The purpose of this contact was to affect a meeting between Mr Sharif and President Leghari so that the acrimony of the past, when Mr Leghari was in the PPP and Mr Sharif was prime minister, could be buried and a normal working relationship established between them in the larger national interest. The President was also keen to act as a bridge between Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto so that the two leaders could reduce their mutual hostilities in the interests of democracy. However, the meeting did not materialise earlier because Mr Sharif was not sufficiently persuaded of the President’s independence and neutrality even though he had long given up attacking the President in public.
Following President Leghari’s public assertion of independence and authority recently, however, Mr Sharif had a change of heart and authorised a couple of lieutenants to arrange a meeting with the President. When Mr Leghari welcomed this opportunity to exchange views with Mr Sharif, a meeting was duly organised. In this meeting, Mr Sharif and Mr Leghari recapitulated their own perceptions of events since 1993 and their own roles therein. The President assured Mr Sharif of his neutrality and reiterated his commitment to democracy, rule of law and constitution. He explained that he had written to both houses of parliament asking them to find ways and means to combat corruption because it was bringing the political system into disrepute. When Mr Sharif presented a detailed critique of government and urged the President to exercise his powers under 58-2-B of the constitution to dismiss Ms Bhutto and order fresh elections, Mr Leghari noted the opposition leader’s concerns and told him that if and when he felt that such a course had become absolutely necessary in the national interest, he would not hesitate to exercise his constitutional duties. He also assured Mr Sharif that when the next elections are held he would guarantee an impartial caretaker administration as well as an independent election commission.
President Leghari met with PM Bhutto two days later. The two leaders exchanged their respective points of view. Ms Bhutto wanted to know if Mr Leghari was interested in “sharing power” with her. No, said Mr Leghari, that was not the issue at all. He had taken certain steps in the larger interests of the country and these had been based on his given constitutional powers. Where there was some doubt about the scope of his powers, he had referred the matter to the SC for clarification. He told the PM to implement the SC’s decision as quickly as possible because it was unconstitutional to undermine it. He urged her to join hands with the opposition and set up a credible accountability commission against corruption. He drew her attention to the deteriorating law and order situation across the country and insisted that the government do something about it quickly. When Ms Bhutto wondered why he had not waited some time before sending his Reference to the SC the day after her brother Murtaza was murdered, he explained that matters of state could not be kept pending on account of personal predicaments. At any rate, he said, he had done so because he wanted to give her time to voluntarily implement the SC’s decision before the SC opened for its winter session in October and found to its anger and dismay that the PM was still dragging her feet on the issue.
Following this meeting, the PPP has spread the word that all differences between the President and the PM have been sorted out and the government is stable once again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many areas of conflict and tension abound. President Leghari has certainly nudged Ms Bhutto to implement the SC’s decision on 30th September because it was his constitutional duty to do so. Now comes the question of appointing new judges to the various High Courts of the country. If the SC says he has a particular role to play in this area, he will certainly play such a role, even if Ms Bhutto is opposed to it. the President sees corruption as a major threat to the working of the constitution and wants the government and opposition to agree to the establishment of a judicial commission to uproot the menace from the corridors of power. If this is not forthcoming, he may be expected to exercise his powers in the public interest and push this issue to its logical conclusion even if it upsets Ms Bhutto. He wants a perceptible and quick improvement in the law and order situation, especially in Punjab, and if Ms Bhutto cannot do something about it, he may be encouraged to take certain constitutional steps to do the needful. And so on.
There is no doubt about it. President Farooq Leghari is determined to assert his constitutional authority to stop the erosion of state institutions at the hands of reckless, corrupt, squabbling politicians and bureaucrats who have brought parliamentary democracy into such disrepute. If Ms Bhutto continues to flout the law and the constitution, as she has done so provocatively in the last two years, she cannot expect any measure of sympathy from Mr Leghari.
Source: The Friday Times
December 5, 1997 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
The resignation of Mr Farooq Leghari as President of Pakistan on November 2, came as a “surprise” to many. This was because Mr Leghari made no significant attempt to convey his views to the press or correct the government’s disinformation campaign against him. Indeed, Mr Leghari’s “spokesman” limited himself to a few short denials instead of lengthy explanations of the President’s conduct on a number of critical occasions. Mr Leghari’s argument for not going public was simple: he did not wish to add fuel to the fire at a time when his efforts were still directed at seeking an honourable compromise between PM Nawaz Sharif and CJ Sajjad Ali Shah.
Some people don’t like Farooq Leghari because of his political background as a Piplia. Some are alienated from him because he is “Sardar of the Legharis”, an unhappy reminder of colonial largesse. Others complain of his stiff, even haughty demeanour. One should not quibble over such half-truths. The fact is that Mr Leghari remains amongst the cleanest politicians in Pakistan. The fact is that he sacrificed his life-long friendship and association with Ms Bhutto for the sake of the country. The fact is that he did not allow his own political ambitions in late ’96 to thwart the will of the constitution. The fact is that he stood up for the judiciary against the encroachments of power hungry PMs like Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif. The fact is that he refused to compromise on the rule of law in exchange for a second term in office. The fact is that he chose to resign from the highest office in the land when he could no longer bring himself to sanction the murder of the constitution. How many politicians can lay claim to such attributes in this hapless country? Farooq Leghari may be out but he is by no means down. At 58, he will be up and about in no time. And that is, perhaps, the way it was meant to be.
A fair judgment on Justice Sajjad Ali Shah will take time to come. For the moment, his detractors will hold the ground. But history has a funny way of mocking the present. In the end, when all the facts are available, when all the conspirators have been identified, and when political or personal provocations have been sifted from the inherent rights of the judiciary, Justice Shah will be acknowledged, however grudgingly, as the first, true liberator of the judiciary in Pakistan.
PM Nawaz Sharif has now become all powerful. For him, it is a dream finally come true. For some of us, it could become a recurring nightmare. It is instructive that Mr Sharif should have dug in his heels and risked his all over a minor matter such as the issue of the five judges. It is even more ominous that he should have staked the country’s judicial and economic stability merely out of pique or the arrogance of power. Those who are celebrating his victory should pause and reconsider the consequences of budding fascism, which has historically paraded as the ultimate form of peoples democracy. Mr Sharif has destroyed the bureaucracy and the judiciary. He has decimated the opposition. If there is any unshackled institution left, it had better watch out. Sooner or later, Mr Sharif’s instinct for devouring institutions is bound to focus on it. That is when the real fun will begin. We hope and pray that those who gallantly stood by Mr Sharif in his hour of need will not rue this day for a long, long time to come.
Third party or third force?
August 21, 1998 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Mr Farooq Leghari’s Millat Party was launched at an impressive Convention in Lahore on August 14th. The Convention was attended by about 2000 delegates and observers from all over Pakistan, including over 300 former and current counsellors, MPAs, MNAs, Ministers and Advisors. Significantly, about 300 women delegates and scores of professionals and technocrats were also in attendance, as were hundreds of urban and rural middle-class young men and a sprinkling of minority representatives rarely seen on such occasions. That all this was accomplished in less than six months after Mr Leghari resigned from the Presidency is no mean accomplishment è even Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took nearly fifteen months after leaving office to float his Peoples Party in 1968. Mr Leghari’s hour-long speech, in which he lambasted both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and pointed the way forward, seemed to come from the heart.
As expected, though, there has been some adverse comment in the press. Some of it is perfectly understandable. Not everyone is persuaded that there is scope for yet another political party, given the plethora of failed parties on the landscape and the tenacity with which the two main parties continue to woo their constituencies. Nor are many people convinced that Mr Leghari, who lacks Ms Bhutto’s purple charisma or Mr Sharif’s deep pocket, has it within himself to rise to the radical challenge of these tumultuous times. Only time will tell whether such views are correct or not.
But some criticism is self-serving and unjustified. The very people who complain, for example, that “no major heavyweight politicians” have joined the Millat Party, would have complained doubly if some heavyweights had actually done so for then Mr Leghari would have been confronted with headlines screaming “Lotas and discredited people join Millat Party!”. In fact, most disreputable heavyweights are already ensconced in the PML and PPP and it is to Mr Leghari’s credit that he has positively shunned many heavyweights who are out of power. After all, a new party with a new agenda which looks to the future should comprise new faces who are not soiled by the past. (How many senior members of Mr Z A Bhutto’s PPP in 1968, it might be asked, were known heavyweights of the time?)
But these are minor matters. At the end of the day, the success of the Millat Party as not merely the third party but the “third force” will depend not only on Mr Leghari’s perceived strengths and shortcomings but also on those of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. There are thus two routes open to Mr Leghari. He can either opt for a stolid, middle-of-the-road, non-controversial approach which neither alienates nor excites anyone in particular in the hope that, come election day, Benazir Bhutto will have been electorally disqualified by Nawaz Sharif on account of her corruption and maladministration and Nawaz Sharif will have been discredited among the people on account of his corruption and maladministration, leaving Mr Leghari as the only decent, untried politician of national stature in the field. The problem of this “leadership-by-default” approach, however, is that so much can happen between now and the next election three years hence (apart from the certainty of massive electoral rigging by Nawaz Sharif) that Mr Leghari could be swept away, along with other politicians, by powerful forces or extraordinary events which are already swelling in the bowels of Pakistan.
The second approach is for Mr Leghari to try and position himself among the people of this country in such a way that he is able to ride the stormy waves that lie ahead and chart out a new route for Pakistan. As we know, politicians stand totally discredited as a species just as democracy stands totally violated as a political system. The future is especially looking uncertain and dismal. Apart from the socio-economic strains of a decade of bad governance, loot and plunder, the federal structure also faces considerable stress. Mr Leghari must therefore say or do something which is so extraordinary that it shakes the people out of their lethargy and disillusionment, sparks their imagination, rekindles their hope and moves them to root for him above any other politician or party. Crucial to this scenario, therefore, will be Mr Leghari’s ability to create one major perception in the country ― that he is the dynamic leader of a hopeful future whereas both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are moribund leaders of a sordid past.
But this is easier said than done. If Mr Leghari wants to make a Pakistani omelette, he will have to break some Pakistani eggs first. This requires taking bold, innovative, anti-status quo positions on a host of issues which set him apart from the rest of the political leaders, including Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, and demonstrate his abiding faith in the people of Pakistan to make rational decisions when faced with the crunch. Above all, it requires a simple but radical agenda for change which cuts across caste, class, gender, sect, creed, region, trade, vocation or profession without fear or favour of vested interests.
Truth will out
June 11, 1999 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Najam Sethi, editor of The Friday Times, was freed from captivity on 2nd June, more than three weeks after he was brutally abducted from his home at about 2.45 am on Saturday 8th May by a civilian agency of the government. The trials and tribulations of TFT’s editor, its publisher Jugnu Mohsin, their colleagues and the paper itself, bear noting, if only for the record.
TFT readers and friends should also know that the ordeal of the paper and its editor and publisher is by no means over. The Attorney General has formally told the Supreme Court that the government retains the right to proceed with “fresh cases” against Mr Sethi. Official efforts have therefore been swiftly launched to cripple TFT financially. Mr Sethi has also been put on the Exit Control List which bars him from traveling abroad. Most alarmingly, senior officials sympathetic to Mr Sethi have advised him to severely restrict his movements even in his hometown of Lahore.
This is how it all began. It is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Relations between Nawaz Sharif and Najam Sethi were severely strained in late 1992 when TFT became critical of Mr Sharif’s policies, carried articles alleging wrongdoing by the Sharif family and launched the satirical column titled “Ittefaqnama” on the back page. The then DG-IB Brig Imtiaz Billa and DIG Police Rana Maqbool in Punjab were accordingly deputed to “teach Sethi a lesson”. While both gentlemen went about their assignment assiduously, Mr Sethi and Ms Mohsin survived the threats and income tax notices because Mr Sharif fell from grace in early 1993. In due course, Rana Maqbool apologised to Mr Sethi (“I had no choice”….”I was only doing a job”…) while Mr Sharif unexpectedly arrived at Mr Sethi’s front door one day in 1994 saying “I have come to apologise….I had no idea of what my people did to you”. In due course, with everything forgiven and forgotten, Mr Sharif began to cultivate Mr Sethi through the good offices of a mutual friend-associate.
In November 1996, Benazir Bhutto was eased out of office by President Farooq Leghari, and Mr Sethi was inducted into the caretaker cabinet entrusted with the job of initiating accountability and holding elections. Mr Sethi, however, ran afoul of Mr Sharif when he proposed disqualification laws relating to bank loan defaulters which would have hurt the Muslim League more than the PPP and especially diminished the prospects of many top PML leaders from contesting the elections. Mr Sharif formally protested to Mr Leghari and the law was amended. Mr Sethi was among two or three members of the cabinet who vigourously opposed the amendment but were overruled. Mr Sharif therefore had occasion to record a minor “personal grudge” against Mr Sethi. Fortunately, however, this incident was soon forgotten in the flush of Mr Sharif’s stunning victory at the polls soon thereafter.
Mr Sharif and Mr Sethi retained a measure of mutual warmth after the former became prime minister in February 1997. Indeed, on at least two occasions, once over a one-on-one breakfast meeting in March and again over another one-on-one lunch in April 1997 at the PM House in Islamabad, Mr Sharif asked Mr Sethi to give up journalism and join his team at the “highest level”. But Mr Sethi politely declined, arguing that he could better demonstrate his “friendship” for Mr Sharif by remaining out of the political fray and commenting on Mr Sharif’s policies and conduct objectively from the sidelines of independent journalism. This was exactly what Mr Sethi had said to Ms Bhutto in 1994 when she too had hinted at “rewarding” Mr Sethi for his “outstanding services to the cause to democracy” (read: “cause of the opposition”).
But Mr Sethi’s budding personal relationship with Mr Sharif was fated to flounder on the rock of intellectual and moral incompatibility in much the same manner in which his warm relationship with Ms Bhutto had come to be severed in 1995. The Friday Times had been a crusading voice against corruption and stood for good governance since it was founded in 1989. It did not spare Ms Bhutto or Mr Sharif in their first misguided tenures but gave them both the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of their second terms. Then, when each began to go seriously astray, TFT lashed out at them, in the process derailing the personal relations between Mr Sethi and the two prime ministers respectively. At no stage, incidentally, from 1989 to 1999, were any favours asked of the two PMs, although both offered state largesse and were visibly surprised when it was promptly refused.
Mr Sethi’s relationship with Mr Sharif began to sour in May 1997 when TFT wrote editorials against Mr Sharif’s attempt to undermine the judiciary, in particular the March 1996 decisions in the famous Judges Case. TFT then went on to support Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah’s endeavours to strengthen the supreme court against the executive. And when the battle royale between Justice Shah/President Leghari and Mr Sharif erupted with full force in October 1997, TFT made no bones about opposing Mr Sharif’s attempts to become all powerful. Indeed, TFT was so outspoken that Mr Sharif was led by conspiracy-minded advisers into believing that Mr Sethi might have actually “conspired” with President Leghari into trying to overthrow his regime. Nothing was further from the truth. But Mr Sharif believed otherwise and was stung into vengeful spite by Mr Sethi’s alleged “betrayal”. Later in 1998, when Sethi and Sharif were totally estranged, Shahbaz Sharif was to comment that Nawaz Sharif could not bring himself to “forgive” Najam Sethi because he had expected Sethi to side with him instead of Leghari, whereupon Mr Sethi had remarked that the choice for him had never been between Leghari and Benazir or Leghari and Sharif but between right and wrong, between the rule of law and the law of the jungle, between good and bad governance and between accountability and corruption.
Relations between TFT and the Sharif government went from bad to worse in 1998. TFT was appalled by the choice of Mr Rafiq Tarar as president of Pakistan. TFT was opposed to the misguided economic policies of the finance ministry presided over by Mr Sartaj Aziz. TFT was aghast at the one-sided “accountability” of the PPP and IPPs orchestrated by Senator Saif ur Rehman. TFT was alarmed at the nationalist backlash engineered by the unilateral announcement of the Kalabagh Dam by Mr Sharif. TFT was terrified of the proposed 15th amendment bill aimed at making Mr Sharif all-powerful. And TFT didn’t mince its words and opinions when it lambasted the Nawaz Sharif government for abject failure on the most important issues of the day.
Matters came to a head in April 1999 when TFT commented on the conviction of Benazir Bhutto for corruption in an editorial titled: “Set a thief to catch a thief”. The editorial argued that Ms Bhutto had been rightly adjudged guilty of corruption but ended with the hope that “if one-sided accountability had been rejected by some today, even-handed accountability would be demanded by many tomorrow”. This was correctly interpreted in Islamabad as a fervent hope for the accountability of Mr Sharif one day. Therefore it did not endear Mr Sethi to either Mr Sharif or Senator Saif ur Rehman.
This editorial was followed by one titled “Personal Vs public interest” in which it was argued that the Sharifs and Senator Saif ur Rehman were setting ruinous legal and financial precedents for the country by refusing to pay back their accumulated defaults on the plea that “interest was un-Islamic”, or that their defaults had been “engineered”, or that foreign courts had no jurisdictions over loans contracted abroad. The same issue of TFT carried a story on the inside pages titled “Saif in the soup” describing the Senator’s attempt in the Lahore High Court to avoid payments of Rs 930 million demanded by United Bank Ltd. It is understood that both Mr Sharif and Mr Rehman were outraged at this “personal” affront by TFT.
Then came the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back. A BBC team investigating allegations of money laundering by members of the Sharif family arrived in Pakistan and set about interviewing people. Among those interviewed was TFT’s editor Najam Sethi and Mr Sharif’s estranged cousin Yusuf Aziz. The IB reported the BBC team’s movements and contacts to the authorities in Islamabad and concluded that Mr Sethi had probably arranged for the BBC to contact Mr Aziz via a local journalist named MAK Lodhi. Alarmed, the government picked up Mr Lodhi and shook him up. Lodhi is said by officials to have pointed the finger at Sethi in order to save his skin.
The dye was cast. Islamabad is favourably inclined towards conspiracy theories. The one at hand suggested a “dark plot by Najam Sethi, in cahoots with the BBC, to discredit and undermine the Sharif family and government”. Or so alleged Senator Saif ur Rahman on April 30th to Jugnu Mohsin on the phone while Mr Sethi was away in New Delhi delivering a lecture on “Indo-Pak relations in the new millennium”. It was time to teach Sethi a lesson as well as send a strong message to the small independent press that its days were also numbered, like that of Jang and the big groups earlier.
The rest, as they say, is history. Mr Sethi’s speech in New Delhi was painted as “anti-Pakistan” by paid hacks and lackeys of the government and provided the perfect excuse to punish Mr Sethi for his anti-government views.
The bad news is that Mr Sethi’s fundamental rights were trampled upon with unmitigated glee by an authoritarian regime in full flow. He could have choked to death on the night he was abducted and beaten up. Certain sections of the press took great pleasure from Mr Sethi’s acute discomfort, partly out of personal jealously and partly due to government pressure or vested financial interests. The Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi behaved abominably in pursuit of an appointment to Washington. And many unsuspecting but well intentioned patriotic Pakistanis were led into believing the government-sponsored falsehood in the government-controlled press that Mr Sethi had committed sedition and deserved to be punished.
The good news is that the Pakistani army, ISI and Supreme Court were not prepared to lend their shoulders to such outlandish allegations against Mr Sethi. Many sections of the domestic press discerned the truth and sided with Mr Sethi. To a man, the political opposition supported the cause of Mr Sethi. The international community woke up to the demand for press freedom and human rights and castigated the government of Pakistan for detaining Mr Sethi. In the end, most Pakistanis cast their lot with Mr Sethi instead of his detractors.
The best news is that by making Najam Sethi an international cause celebre the government has unwittingly strengthened the cause of press freedom and human rights in Pakistan.
But the saga of Najam Sethi, TFT, press freedom and democracy may not yet be over. The first trumped-up income tax notices were issued to Jugnu Mohsin, Najam Sethi, TFT and Vanguard Books Pvt Ltd on 19th May, over a week after Mr Sethi was detained. The second lot was slapped on 3rd June, a day after Mr Sethi was set free before the Supreme Court. The third installment was delivered on 8th June. Jugnu Mohsin’s bank accounts have been frozen and all monies illegally transferred to the income tax department. The settled income tax accounts of Najam Sethi and Jugnu Mohsin from 1994-95 to 1995-96 have been reopened for scrutiny and additional demands. The properties of both Jugnu Mohsin and Najam Sethi were “attached” for auction by the tax department on 7th June without giving them a chance to file their rejoinders. The accounts of Vanguard Books Pvt Ltd for 1994-95 have been reopened also. Exorbitant, illegal and false claims are being made by the IT department under pressure from Islamabad. The idea is clearly to cripple TFT financially and force it to close down.
All this is totally unnecessary and counter-productive. It gives Mr Sharif a bad name. And it paints Pakistan in unflattering colours before its friends abroad. The repression of TFT’s editor must stop. Wiser council must prevail. The personal hostility of Mr Sharif or Senator Saif against Najam Sethi should not be taken to such absurd limits where it begins to encroach upon the interests of the government and country at a time when both need all the friends and assistance they can muster at home and abroad.
Proof of the pudding…
October 22, 1999 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
The radical reform agenda announced by COAS General Pervez Musharraf on October 17 is: (1) Rebuild national confidence and morale (2) strengthen the federation by removing inter-provincial disharmony and restore national cohesion (3) Revive the economy and restore investors’ confidence (4) Ensure law and order and dispense speedy justice (5) Depoliticise state institutions (6) Devolve power to the grass roots level (7) Hold across-the-board accountability.
This is a tall order. It cannot be accomplished in a few years, least of all without the continuous and creative involvement of the finest representatives of civil society. But a beginning can be made.
General Musharraf’s objectives are laudable. But the General has not discovered them in a flash of inspiration. In fact, these objectives have long been formulated by concerned Pakistanis as core issues in the debate of reforming and revitalising Pakistan. More significantly, they form the very yardstick by which the people of Pakistan have already condemned and rejected Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and by which General Musharraf’s regime will also inevitably be measured. Therefore let us get some things straight.
1. The new regime has got off to a fair start. This is not because of any intrinsic merit in it. Far from it. The international environment is hostile to military take-overs, as demonstrated by the Commonwealth and the European Union. But it has got the critical benefit of doubt from Washington only because (a) the people of Pakistan have shed no tears for the departed “sham-democratic” government of Nawaz Sharif (b) the people of Pakistan have afforded legitimacy to the new regime because they have high expectations of it. From this it follows that if domestic support withers on the vine because the Generals are unable to deliver, they will find themselves in a tight corner at home and abroad.
2. The Generals have initially been slow to take and announce decisions. This hasn’t hurt their domestic credibility so far for two good reasons: (a) because they were “reluctant coup-makers”, there was no premeditated plan of action (b) because they wish to avoid blundering into the political thicket, they have treaded with deliberation and care. But the regime’s spokesmen must not flog this argument too far. Betrayed time and again by their leaders, Pakistanis have become innately suspicious and cynical of long-winded promises and excuses. They want action and they want it fast. If cynicism and loss of faith begins to set into the public, it will be very difficult to reverse.
(3) The means and ends of the new regime must be consistent with each other. For instance, if ruthless, across-the-board accountability is to be carried, the chosen mechanism must be demonstrably efficient and equitable. This would imply that since the existing judicial system is notoriously inefficient, biased and politicised, and since “due process” as practised here is ridiculously slow, it simply cannot be used in its current discredited form to carry out accountability. By the same criterion, those who are to sit in judgment over others must first offer themselves for public scrutiny. In this context, it may be noted that the existing Ehtesab Benches of the High Courts, apart from being controversial, have delivered just one decision in two years, despite the current law which prescribes a maximum time limit of three months.
(4) The reform agenda is tough and unremitting because Pakistan “has hit rock bottom”. It will require more than “a prayer for vision, wisdom and courage” by a brave General to be fulfilled. Let alone soldiers, the best political strategists, statesmen, thinkers and technocrats on offer will not be able to avoid costly mistakes. Therefore General Pervez Musharraf and his colleagues would be advised to give their regime a full-fledged civilian-technocratic face as early as possible and retreat into the background. In this way the army can be shielded from criticism when things go wrong while it enjoys kudos for all the good things done by “its” government.
(5) Certain international opinions and concerns cannot be disregarded. That is why the new regime has retained the fig leaf of “democracy” and “legality” by “suspending” the national and provincial parliaments and keeping the constitution in temporary “abeyance”. That is why General Musharraf has appended the rather innocuous title of “Chief Executive” to himself instead of calling a spade and spade and becoming a CMLA. And that is why Mr Rafiq Tarar has been retained as President of Pakistan. But surely the Generals don’t think they can fob off the international community thus without concretely addressing some of its more serious and outstanding concerns like nuclear and missile proliferation, a broad-based government in Afghanistan and regional peace as soon as possible?
Pakistan, as General Musharraf candidly admits, has “hit rock bottom and is at a crossroads”. This is no mean verdict — lesser mortals have been imprisoned for saying much the same thing. Now it’s time to put the diagnosis behind and get on with the prescriptions. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating of it.
October 15, 1999 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Two weeks ago, we asked “whether some sort of political change was in the air” and answered that “if change is to come, good or bad, it must originate from the direction of GHQ or the PM’s house”
(TFT Editorial, “Optional leaders or policies?”, September 30th). And that is what happened on the fateful day of October 12. A civilian coup against the military leadership was launched from the PM’s house and thwarted by GHQ in a counter-coup. The story of events leading up to the two coups is worth recapitulating, if only to gauge what lies ahead.
General Pervaiz Musharraf, it may be recalled, was handpicked by Nawaz Sharif as COAS after General Jehangir Karamat was sacked last year for decrying the lack of a consultative process of governance. Then, disregarding criticism, General Musharraf went out of his way to prop up Mr Sharif’s government — from ordering the army to unearth ghost schools and carry out a long overdue census to manning military courts and running WAPDA. He did so because he sincerely believed that his efforts were aimed at enhancing national security and “nation-building”.
But some months ago, following the enforced withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kargil under American pressure, the chummy relationship between the PM and COAS began to sour. As the Kargil episode increasingly came to called the “Kargil misadventure”, Mr Sharif decided to pass the buck to the army and get General Musharraf to take the rap for it. Indeed, speculation was rife at the time that Mr Sharif’s Intelligence Agencies had bugged conversations between the COAS and CGS and passed on the tapes to New Delhi as “proof” of Mr Sharif’s “innocence” in the matter. Irked, the COAS was compelled to publicly assert that “everybody was on board” re Kargil. Relations between the two deteriorated when the COAS announced that “there would be no unilateral withdrawal from Kargil” even as Mr Sharif was making plans to rush to Washington and surrender unilaterally, an event which led to much demoralisation and anger within the armed forces.
Matters now took an ugly turn. Even as General Musharraf was rushing from pillar to post, exhorting his troops to keep their morale high, Mr Sharif was secretly sowing the seeds of division in the upper echelons of the armed forces. Rumours were floated to suggest that the COAS had not taken his colleagues, including the Air Chief and the Navy Chief as well as several Corps Commanders, into confidence, the idea being to undermine the authority of the COAS and sow dissension within the ranks.
For Mr Sharif, it was a tried and tested strategy — weaken an opponent by creating tensions and misunderstandings between his colleagues and him, isolate him and then destroy him. That was how Mr Sharif had contrived the ouster of the chief justice of the supreme court, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, in 1997. Now the strategy was swiftly executed once again and at least two corps commanders (General Saleem Haider in Mangla and General Tariq Pervez in Quetta) along with the DG-ISI, General Khawaja Ziauddin, were egged on to flout the authority of the COAS and challenge his views at home and abroad, in private and in public. The stage was set for a coup against the army high command by Mr Sharif which would begin with the sacking of General Musharraf.
But General Musharraf was not blind to goings-on in the PM House. So he moved to protect his flanks and consolidate his home base. General Saleem Haider was transferred from a command position at Mangla to a staff position at GHQ on September 20 and General Tauqir Zia, a loyalist, appointed to head the critical corps. Then, on October 10th, General Tariq Pervez was sacked by the COAS, as a warning to other generals that dissent at the behest of the PM or at the alter of personal ambition would not be tolerated. The dye was cast. The COAS was ready to thwart any attempt to remove him from his command and purge his senior colleagues. Shortly thereafter, he made the confident statement that he “would complete his tenure”, suggesting that the prime minister would not, or could not, remove him.
However, disregarding the obvious “moves” by the COAS to “protect” himself, Mr Sharif made bold to put his plan into action. General Musharraf was confirmed as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, so that he would be lulled into a false sense of security. Then Mr Sharif waited for the COAS to go to Sri Lanka on official business before striking.
Mr Sharif’s trip to the UAE when the COAS was in Sri Lanka came out of the blue. It was not on any agenda. Nor could one fathom what Mr Sharif urgently needed to discuss with the Emir of the UAE. But the composition of the PM’s entourage was the giveaway. What was the need to take the DG-ISI with him? Why were Mushahid Hussain and Pervez Rashid, head honchos of media disinformation, members of the select entourage? What was Nazir Naji, the PM’s speech writer, doing in the UAE along with the PM? There were no press conferences or speeches or briefings. Clearly, all were together to put the finishing touches to a coup against the army high command away from the prying eyes and ears of Military Intelligence.
The evidence of October 12 confirms this. Mr Sharif went to Multan, ostensibly for a routine, scheduled public meeting, to give the impression of “business as usual”. Then the civilian coup was launched, shortly after General Musharraf’s PIA flight took off from Sri Lanka and he was out of contact with GHQ. Pakistan TV in Islamabad was “occupied” at 5 pm by Pervez Rashid and a contingent of the police. The announcement of General Musharraf’s sacking, as well as the appointment of General Ziauddin, followed. General Ziauddin is then reported to have called up the CGS, General Aziz, to inform him that he was on his way to GHQ to take charge. When he was politely rebuffed on the plea that GHQ wanted to wait for General Musharraf to arrive and relinquish charge, the counter-plan went into operation. The pilot of the PIA flight carrying the COAS to Karachi was radioed by Chairman PIA Khaqan Abbasi to divert the Airbus to Nawabshah where a special plane and a police escort was waiting to arrest and transport the COAS to Islamabad. When the pilot protested that the airstrip at Nawabshah could not accommodate the Airbus, he was ordered to fly to Dubai. When the pilot said he did not have sufficient fuel to do so, he was ordered to go to Islamabad. Then General Musharraf intervened and ordered the pilot to land at Karachi and discovered that a coup against him was in the process of unravelling.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Corps Commander Pindi had sent a contingent to stop the PTV authorities from broadcasting news of the sacking of General Musharraf and the appointment of General Ziauddin as the new army chief. But the small contingent was overpowered by a force led by the PM’s military secretary and the PTV broadcasts were resumed. This compelled GHQ to despatch a stronger force and rout the erstwhile coupmakers. Troops loyal to General Musharraf had already sealed the PM and his close associates in the PM House and elsewhere by the time General Musharraf landed in Islamabad and assumed full operational charge. Then the corps commanders went into session to determine how to deal with the situation, eventually declaring that the Sharif government had been “dismissed” (by whom, it was not said) and that the Chairman JCSC and COAS (not CMLA), General Pervaiz Musharraf, would address the nation in due course.
The facts are clear enough. General Musharraf is not an innate, politically ambitious, coup-maker. The sincerity in his short but emphatic four minute address to the nation on October 13 rings true, every word of it. Mr Sharif, on the other hand, clearly tried to over-reach himself once too often and failed. Indeed, he seemed to have been finally emboldened in his recklessness by the statement of support from the Clinton administration in Washington warning the army not to carry out a coup some weeks ago!
It is also clear that a majority of the people of Pakistan had had enough of the Sharifs and their hangers-on. They were repressive, deceitful, corrupt, incompetent and dangerous. Not too many tears are going to be shed at the passing of their rogue regime. And as for democracy, it died in Pakistan when the supreme court was stormed and the judiciary humiliated and undermined, when parliament was gagged, when provincial governments were arbitrarily removed, when the press was attacked, when the bureaucracy was politicised, when all checks and balances on the power of the prime minister were systematically removed and the sword of the impending Shariah Bill was waved to scare away conscientious dissenters. If a formal burial of this long-decaying corpse was ordered on the day of the successful counter-coup, does it matter?
It matters in one sense. All other things being equal, democracy is still the least objectionable system of the lot. But there are democracies and democracies. Indeed, there are as many forms and types of democracy as there are countries. Nor do elections constitute the be-all and end-all of democracy. Apart from a number of Western countries with history on their side, most new nations cannot demonstrate uninterrupted periods of successful democratic practise. Nor is democracy an end unto itself. Indeed, it is meant to be a means to desireable ends like security, stability, prosperity, creativity. So where does that take us?
We have had ten years of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Each regime has been worse than its predecessor. Neither has given us security, stability, prosperity. Indeed, we have become worse off on all these fronts with each passing year. That is why our loss of faith in the electoral system is now reflected in diminishing turnouts at the polls and an increasing resort to arms to fulfill our needs or overcome our frustrations and alienation. Therefore another round of sham elections with the same “leaders” and candidates is the last thing we need.
Most Pakistanis are desperate for an “interim arrangement” which will hold across-the-board accountability and set the new rules of the game to include the many demands of good governance before the political system is opened up a couple of years down the line for a fuller form of representative federal democracy. This is a do-able formula. But certain conditions are attached to it. The “caretakers” must be transparently above-board and competent. They must be prepared to take hard decisions without fear or favour. They must have the moral authority to lead from the front so that no one may cast a stone at them. And they must demonstrate the collective courage and wisdom to reverse course on a number of disastrous domestic and foreign policy adventures.
General Pervaiz Musharraf and his colleagues have unwittingly arrived at a critical juncture of Pakistani history. Everything around them smacks of failure on a grand scale. If they can deliver a significant portion of a new agenda to restructure and revamp Pakistan, history will remember them as the saviours of Quaid i Azam’s dream. If they can’t — for whatever reasons — the implosion will engulf them as surely as it will all of us.
The only short-term option
October 29, 1999 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
The recent appointments at the very top have, by and large, escaped scrutiny in the press. Opportunists apart, the most generous explanation for this may be that, given General Pervez Musharraf’s palpable sincerity, no one wants to start picking bones with him from day-One, rather than any candidate’s outstanding qualification for the job. Nonetheless, some non-personal remarks may be relevant for the record.
Clearly, no hard criterion seems to have been followed in the process of selection. The CE has reposed his confidence in certain professionals who have served the governments of General Zia ul Haq, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif with or without credit. Nor has he cared too much about the past or present political affiliations of some members of his team, preferring instead to pay greater attention to their perceived strengths in other areas. We are also struck by some unbiased and fairly widespread comment on the general-make up of General Musharraf’s team so far: with the odd exception to prove the rule, most of the faces have a status-quo halo about them, with fairly stolid reputations to boot. Nor, it seems, has each and every candidate been picked on the basis of the management criterion of “the right man for the right job at the right time”. How this motley crowd will cope with the dynamic reform agenda promised by General Musharraf therefore remains to be seen.
Fortunately, however, the fog has been lifted for those of us who were wondering about the role of an NSC in a military dispensation when a Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and a Cabinet, both headed by General Musharraf, are in existence already. Now we know. The current NSC is as much a showcase of sorts as a precursor of institutional innovation in time to come.
That said, let us be clear about the nature of the agenda before Pakistan in the aftermath of Nawaz Sharif’s reckless rule. This non-personal agenda has two aspects, the internal and the external. The popular view that internal reform must be instantly carried out is likely to be disabused because there is no such thing as an “economic jumpstart”. People will have to face greater hardships before the beneficial effects of a change of government begin to filter through. This is so for a variety of reasons: the industrial sector is linked to the loans crisis and is subject to a deep rooted bout of general mismanagement, inefficiency and corruption. Nor has a creeping devaluation of the rupee in the past helped boost the country’s exports. Indeed, economic experts have discovered that Pakistan’s predominantly agriculture-related exports do not much respond to moderate changes in price. The trade and confidence gap has therefore widened and brought the rupee under a sort of “historic” pressure that won’t slacken. The crisis may therefore intensify before it is resolved by our new stewards.
Equally, the process of accountability or Ehtesab will take much longer than people think, not least because the most publicised item of Ehtesab remains the crisis of default. But it may not be possible (or desirable) to forcibly recover the total amount (over Rs 200 bn) from loan-defaulters. In fact, utmost care needs to be exercised so that the loan defaulter issue does not adversely affect domestic business confidence in the same manner as the IPP issue vis a vis international trust.
This brings us to the external aspect of the new government’s agenda. It is wrong to assume that, after the ouster of the Nawaz Sharif government, Pakistan’s dependence on external factors will diminish immediately. For that to happen, Pakistan will have to look after its external affairs more carefully and more honestly than Nawaz Sharif and his cronies did. What has been lost is trust. The international backlash against events that took place under Nawaz Sharif cannot be shrugged away. This backlash, which has directly benefited India, will have to be analysed and tackled cooly and dispassionately rather than with cries of hurt pride and injustice. Pakistan needs to recreate its image in the eyes of the world. It must demonstrate that its market is willing to trade with the world and honour its contracts.
There are definite gains or losses to be made on the foreign policy front. Can we get rid of the cobwebs of the ‘Made in Pakistan’ charade let loose under Nawaz Sharif? An aggressive posture based on the delusion of righteousness will not do. It should be remembered that the world’s reaction against the suspension of democracy in Pakistan is informed by more understanding than in the case of martial laws imposed during the Cold War era.
Equally, proper reform in the internal order will register well with the world. The warlike situation created within the country by legally indeterminate organisations fighting covert wars must be defused. Foreign policy debacles triggered by these wars and the damage done by them to civil society in Pakistan have scared our neighbourhood and the world. Our national economy will not respond to any reform unless the rumour of war ends and the resultant environment of peace liberates domestic and foreign investment. This is the short-term option available to Pakistan.
Musharraf holds the cards
July 7, 2006 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
The picture on the front page was taken in London some days ago. Nawaz Sharif is resplendent in sky blue. He is smiling benevolently and patting Asifa Zardari, who is in blushing pink, on the cheek, while Mama Benazir Bhutto, in rose red, looks on benignly. Sherry Rehman’s hands are folded demurely in front and Bashir Riaz, Naveed Chaudry and Amin Fahim look smug as smug can be. The great ‘democrats’ have just signed a pact to end the ‘tyrannical’ regime of General Pervez Musharraf back home and live happily ever after. Someone should frame this picture for posterity. There may be occasion to reflect on it in the future when the knives are out once again.
Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have much in common. Ms Bhutto is the daughter of a Sindhi vadera who was plucked out of obscurity by Field Marshal Ayub Khan and made Foreign Minister of Pakistan and who then went on to become prime minister over the political carcasses of Generals Ayub and Yayha. But he fell foul of a third army chief (General Zia ul Haq) when he overarched into Bonapartism. His brave daughter inherited his strengths and weaknesses and has been on the other side of the generals ever since. Mr Sharif is the son of a Punjabi businessman who was nurtured in the backwaters of the old city of Lahore. General Gilani, the Punjab military governor, gifted the old man’s son Nawaz to General Zia ul Haq. But in his quest for Bonapartism, Nawaz stepped on the toes of General Asif Nawaz, sulked in front of General Waheed Kakar and sacked General Jehangir Karamat. He was eventually dispatched by his handpicked army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, on the eve of crowning himself Amir ul Momineen. In other words, both Ms Bhutto and Mr Sharif must thank Pakistan Army generals for their good fortune in ruling Pakistan and their bad politics in being exiled from it.
Truth and reconciliation?
April 28, 2000 in The Friday Times (Editorial)
Open any newspaper. Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif feigns piety, head covered, eyes down, hands cupped, she says she seeks only Allah’s justice. She mocks politics: “I am just a housewife, my husband is innocent, I don’t want to lead the Muslim League”. She taunts the generals: “My popularly elected husband was ousted by a retired and vindictive general, Nawaz Sharif tried to cement divisions in the army created by a gang of four”. She woos the international community: “Nawaz Sharif didn’t sanction Kargil”. She upbraids the press: “Stand up for our rights, Nawaz didn’t know what Saifur Rahman was doing”. She berates the judiciary: “The hijacking judgment was engineered”. And she insults the intelligence of the people of Pakistan: “Nawaz was not corrupt, he was a democrat, he had found a solution to the Kashmir problem”. Congratulations Begum Sahiba. You’ve come of age.
Across the seas, another woman whose husband is also in a Pakistani prison continues to brazen it out. Benazir Bhutto says she did not wrong while in power. Out of office, she mocks the law by being a fugitive from justice.
Despite the enormity of their sins, we can either exhort General Pervez Musharraf to track down Bhutto, Sharif et al and show no mercy. Or we can suggest an approach based on truth and reconciliation.
The first approach hasn’t yielded any dividends so far. Ms Bhutto was charged with corruption and misconduct and ousted in 1990 by the establishment. Her husband was imprisoned and her party hounded to the wall by Nawaz Sharif. But the people of Pakistan shrugged off these charges and brought her back to power in 1993. She was thrown out again in 1996, this time by her handpicked president. Her husband was again imprisoned but this time the couple was convicted by Nawaz Sharif for corruption. Yet her political party has made her chairperson for life, the press prints her utterances prominently and she could be a political force in less restricted circumstances.
Nawaz Sharif’s case is similar. He was ousted in 1993 by the establishment for creating a constitutional deadlock. His brother and father were imprisoned for corruption by Ms Bhutto. But the people of Pakistan voted him back into power with a vengeance in 1997. He was kicked out again last year, this time by his handpicked army chief. He and other family members are in prison. They face stiff penalties for hijacking, kidnapping, corruption, etc. Yet his political party sticks to him, the international community intercedes on his behalf, the press gives him front-page treatment and he would be a political force in less captive circumstances.
Both politicians have clearly betrayed the trust of the people. But they are not yet history. This may be because no new political leader has been able to spark the imagination of the people and sweep these two politicians aside in the battle for hearts and minds. But it is also because people are reluctant to repose unquestioning faith in the army’s ability to deliver the promised land. After all, if the two political parties have wallowed in corruption and incompetence, the third political party (the army) which has ruled Pakistan for half the time since independence has provoked three costly wars and presided over its dismemberment. Worse, the army seems to be floundering again and this has created misgivings about the fate of our state and civil society. International isolation, coupled with political and economic ineptitude, is no recipe for sustainable development or democracy.
Should we seek the goal of sustainable democracy rather than try to simply restore it? Instead of asking the third political party to crush the leaders of the other two, can we consider a process of national reconciliation among all three parties on the basis of truth? By truth we mean the truth of the allotment of evacuee property, the truth of Liaqat Ali Khan’s murder, the truth of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report, the truth of the trial of Z A Bhutto, the truth of the US$ 10 billion Afghan pipeline in the 1980s, the truth of the Ojri camp explosions, the truth of the F-16 and Mirage commissions, the truth of the Bahawalpur aircrash, the truth of the rigged 1990 elections, the truth of General Asif Nawaz’s death, the truth of the Motorway and Yellow cab kickbacks, the truth of the LDA/CDA plots, the truth of the Swiss bank accounts, the truth of the IPP tariffs, the truth of various privatisations and SRO revisions, the truth of the Surrey mansion, the truth of the Augusta submarines and French frigates, the truth of the Ukrainian tanks, the truth of the London flats, the truth of the defaulted bank loans and write-offs, the truth of the Kargil affair, etc.
If Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and the many politicians, bureaucrats, judges, businessmen and generals who have plundered and wrecked our beloved country are ready to tell the truth, atone for their sins and agree to return Pakistan’s looted wealth, the people may reconcile with them. But if they persist in their great deception, they should all be hauled over the coals and no mercy should be shown to them.
An open letter by a right wing reader to Najam Sethi
The issue of TFT dated November 7-13,2008 proved that the management of this magazine have a clear baised and agenda against some independent private TV channels and some popular anchors.
You published articles of Mr. Khalid Ahmad, Mr.Ejaz Haider, Moeed Yusuf and Mr. Mazhar Abbas about the current role of media. Mr. Khalid Ahmad and Mr. Ejaz Haider never discussed the unbalanced news coverage of TV channels but they targeted some anchors without naming them. These two writers just repeated the allegations of Pervez Musharraf against some anchors which were banned on November 3rd 2008.
I think that Khalid Ahmad sahib and Ejaz Haider sahib should not write against other anchors because both of them are anchors themselves at Sama TV and Dawn TV. The ratings of their shows are not very good so they have started a campaign against Nusrat Javeed, Mushataq Minhas, Hamid Mir and Javed Chaudhry.
TFT also published an article of Mr. Mazhar Abbas who never defended media properly. Mr. Mazhar Abbas himself is an anchor of ARY and he is also brother of DG ISPR Major General Ather Abbas. He is Secretary General of PFUJ but he targeted only Daily Jang in his article and never mentioned the role of TFT and Daily Times. These two papers under the editorship of Najam Sethi supported a dictator Musharraf openly. Najam Sethi used his paper for becoming a minister for accountability in the caretaker cabinet of Farooq Leghari in 1996 and Publisher of Daily Times Salmaan Taseer used his paper to become caretaker minister after the emergency in November 2007. Will you please explain that why you used journalism for getting some political objectives?
Your Urdu paper Aaj Kal is a classical example of Yellow Journalism. In the recent past this paper used filthy language against Nusrat Javeed, Irfan Saddiqui, Mushataq Minhas, Mir Shakeel ur Rehman,Shaheen Sehbai, Javed Chaudhry and even wrote that Hamid Mir is not a real son of his father. Will you please provide some evidence that Hamid Mir is really a bastard. I remember Hamid Mir was a columnist for TFT in 2001.
You have also started a campaign against Nusrat Javeed. He is not a Mullah then what is your problem with him? Yes i know that he is a Musharraf hater and you are a Musharraf lover. This is the real cause of your war against Pakistani media.
I know that you will not publish my letter because you have no answer but i just wanted to tell you that we know your agenda. Today you are trying to prove that Pakistani media is projecting anti state elements as the heroes. Yes i agree that anti-State elements should not be projected as heroes but tell me that why Mr. Najam Sethi took arms against Pakistan in 1974 in Baluchistan? A case was registered against him, Ahmad Rashid and others on the orders of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Why was he arrested by Pakistan Army at that time? Why he declared Pakistan a failed state in Delhi in 1999? How his kids got jobs in US State Department? We know that you people just want to use PPP government for another operation against Pakistani media and unfortunately people like Mr. Mazhar Abbas have joined your ranks.
Don’t throw stones on others while sitting in a glass house.