Much water has flowed down the Indus since I wrote last. Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali has become a footnote in history. His 37-day ordeal that included breathing hot air down his neck by President Pervez Musharraf and his cronies has ended and he must be a happy man. After all—despite his being a heavyweight– he had been rendered into something that was neither here nor there. He would also be pleased with himself since he has managed to escape sharing honours with Musharraf in the liquidation process of the country. Choudhri Shujaat Hussain as prime minister for 45-days would not only keep the seat warm for Shaukat Aziz but would make as well full use of the short time that he has-in rearranging the deck chairs on Musharraf’s Titanic. And Shaukat Aziz– if elected-by hook or by crook-would only be there for a little while as Pakistan’s cloned model of Dr Manmohan Singh.
Jamali’s tenure was uneventful since most of the shots were called by Musharraf including in matters of foreign policy, negotiations with India on Kashmir and war on terrorism. In short, Jamali cannot lay claim to any feathers for the good work (if any) during his 19th-month tenure nor be blamed for the worsening situation—since everything was in the hands of the President.
Jamali remained Pakistan’s prime minister for 19 months-sixth in the line since 1988 elections following General Zia’s fatal fall from the sky. Like Muhammad Khan Junejo, Jamali too was handpicked by a military dictator to dance on tunes played by him. While Muhammad Khan gnawed at the roots of Zia ‘s power base and brought about a schism in his Praetorian constituency, Mir Zafaraullah Khan was too weak to do anything of that sort. Rather he kept a distance with his “boss” and left no stone unturned to please him to the extent that he took everything lying down including Musharraf’s active politicking with the members of the Parliament under its roof to bring about what he has called “smooth transfer of power”.
Since this is the year of the monkey-mind you what I am referring to is the Chinese astrological year of change-I have no intentions either advertently or inadvertently-to refer to the monkey tricks that are being most prodigiously practised by our rulers, I would suffice to state here that much more is to come before December 2004. There would probably be more assassination attempts, more bloodshed, chaos and anarchy since invisible hands have an agenda to keep the Pakistani pot boiling to preserve their vested interests.
Analysts even see a volte-face on Kashmir peace negotiations that so far seem to be making some progress howsoever slow. They even hint at yet another Kargil in the making. Although Choudhri Shujaat’s election as prime minister has been interpreted-by and large–as a masterly move by the king makers of Gujrat to keep the prime ministerial doors shut on Humayun Akhtar, insiders in the real corridors of power in Islamabad have another view to it. They feel that it has also got something to do with those elements that thrive on turmoil in Kashmir. And it is being said regarding Shaukat Aziz’s election that there could be many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip.
On the whole analysts describe Jamali’s removal as yet another step towards unravelling of the political set up Musharraf had ordered as democracy. Earlier his handpicked Chief Minister in the strife-torn province of Sindh was also made to resign for failure to control deteriorating law and order situation including attack on the Corps Commander, cold-bloodied murder of PPP leader Munawar Suhrawardy and Shia-Sunni clashes. Jamali’s ouster is being considered as a precursor of many other changes that are in offing before December 31st when General Musharraf would be required to give up his uniform. It is also being perceived as the beginning of the end of Musharraf era.
Analysts also keep mentioning about the air of desperation and despair that now haunts Islamabad’s corridors of power. From President onward to everybody who matters, it is the atmosphere of touch and go. They have become exasperatingly sensitive to the media to the extent that NA Speaker handpicked leader of the Opposition Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s National Assembly speech following the election of Choudhri Shujaat Hussain as Prime Minister was blacked out by the PTV. While PTV’s shameful conduct as disseminator of government lies is understandable since it is state-owned, private television channels are also not spared of the official media diktat if they do not dance to the tunes played by Musharraf’s Goebbels.
The other day when ARY-Digital’s popular anchorman P.J. Mir brought former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto live for her comments on the cold-bloodied murder of PPP stalwart Munawar Suhrawardy in Karachi, Islamabad felt embarrassed over her accusations that hinted at Musharraf having something to do with the removal of the man from the Pakistani scene who was the kingpin in the strategy that the PPP had planned for her return home to take on the military dictator.
I may mention here that Munawar had himself told me when he was in London last month that he was constantly receiving threats from the invisible rulers and that he had been warned to lay off and keep away from PPP or the planning of Bhutto’s return-to the point of being threatened to be made horrible example. Analysts believe that there is enough circumstantial evidence to pinpoint the suspect hands behind Munawar’s assassination. They say that his brutal murder has carried the message to other PPP activities warning them of the fatal consequences if they treaded the path Munawar had selected for himself.
There are others who do not hesitate in mentioning about the man who is opposed tooth and nail to Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. How scared Musharraf is of her that when it is mentioned that she is planning to return home-he loses his commando cool, forgets whatever little decency he has and stoops to the ground in publicly expressing that he would “kick” her out. Rumours goes that following that interview of Bhutto P.J. Mir has been once again grounded on the instructions of the Pakistan’s media dictators.
A little digression here. General Musharraf’s abuse of Pakistan army-once an institution of pride for every Pakistani and its generals-has made it a constant source of open scathing criticism by the public. The other day we were doing a Q&A programme on Prime TV on the resignation of Prime Minister Jamali and election of his successor. By and large callers described Musharraf’s show in Pakistan as a third rate circus and were explicitly contemptuous of his so-called democracy and smooth transfer of power. At one stage some one mentioned about his TV interview in which he had said that he would “kick” out Benazir Bhutto. An angry caller burst out and demanded that the generals be dragged in the streets and ‘kicked’ for the crimes they have committed against Pakistan, its democracy and its people. His was not a singular outburst.
The general tenor and temper of most of the callers was angry. It ran chill in my spine and I recalled how Shahinshah of Iran’s generals had to flee from their otherwise secured steel-gated homes -military uniforms and trousers down-exchanging them for Pakistani shalwar-kurta-to hide their identity from the angry mobs that were thirsty of their blood for their violation of human rights when they were absolutely power drunk.
There are no two views that Musharraf considers Benazir Bhutto as his archrival. He knows it too well that it is she who has the qualities of leadership, foresight and vision that can dismantle his dream of converting Quaid-I-Azam’s democratic Pakistan into a garrison state. Despite being acclaimed as a fearless commando, if there is one who he fears most, it is this “nayhat-thee larki” of great Awami revolutionary poet Habib Jalib. Having had their mouthful on every front, he and his cronies continue spending millions of dollars to malign her both at home and abroad-without of course-belittling her as the only Pakistani leader of international stature.
In this context one would like to refer to the expensive propaganda blitzkrieg launched by Musharraf and his prodigious NAB wallas last year regarding her so-called ‘conviction’ by a Swiss inquiry officer on the basis of concocted allegations by Islamabad against her and her husband nearly 8-year long incarcerated Asif Ali Zardari-having done a life sentence without being convicted in a single case. The much-flawed findings of the Swiss Inquiry officer failed to draw curtain on Bhutto’s public career and Musharraf’s entire media hype was pricked of its hot air when the Swiss findings were quashed at the first hearing of her appeal.
Following the Swiss quashment of the bogus findings, Islamabad could not swallow the humiliation and it again went into reinvestigation. Through its media-mongers it tried to create the perception that Bhutto was avoiding to go to Geneva. She has nailed it prim and proper. She not only appeared at Geneva’s Palais de Justice but also put the record straight. Pakistan’s former Prime Minister told the Swiss investigators on Wednesday (June 30) that she “categorically” rejected allegations that she had used Swiss banks to launder millions of dollars in kickbacks. “I was very pleased with the opportunity to explain my point of view,” Benazir told The Associated Press in an interview after she emerged smiling from her hour-long appearance behind closed doors.
“I said that I categorically denied the charges of malpractice, corruption or receiving any funds,” said the PPP chairperson, who was accompanied by a group of lawyers and aides. Benazir’s appearance in Geneva – the first time she has been questioned by Swiss officials – was arranged by another Geneva investigating magistrate, Christine Junod.
“The accounts have nothing to do with me,” Benazir said. “I have been wrongfully roped into this matter, and I’m looking forward to assist the Swiss inquiry to clear my name.” “I am disappointed that my political opponents in Pakistan are using the Swiss judicial system to settle political scores against me.The Swiss are too smart to allow themselves to be manipulated,” Benazir Bhutto said. The PPP chairperson was categorical that it was a “false case” and that she will produce credible witnesses to prove her innocence.
Interestingly Societe Generale de Surveillance, or SGS, the world’s largest customs inspection company, that Pakistan government alleges had paid bribe for exchange for business with Bhutto government has settled with Musharraf regime and has received compensation. Despite its settlement with the present rulers in Islamabad SGS has maintained that it did not bribe Bhutto government nor the contract for Customs inspection was given to it on any ground other than merit and its international reputation and standing. Benazir’s lawyer Alec Reymond believes that there is enough legal ground to ask Geneva court to annul the Pakistani government’s further right to be a party to the politically motivated case – because it had reached a settlement with the SGS. Until the courts rule on the request, “we will not answer questions”, he reportedly told the media. The Pakistan government has hired four top lawyers-including one from London–paying them enormous fee from the national exchequer to pursue the concocted case against Bhutto. While the going is good Chairman NAB Lt-Gen Munir Hafeez and other NAB big wigs ensure that they are around too notwithstanding huge hotel expenses, travelling and daily allowances that shore up their large pockets.
It may be recalled that at the earlier findings Bhutto had remained un-represented and unheard during Islamabad’s multi-million dollar anti-Bhutto project to find the needle of corruption in the haystack of good work done by her including in the business of customs evaluation that increased national revenue income manifold. In her principled position she has maintained that the disputed Geneva accounts did not belong to her and that she did not influence the award of the contract to SGS-it was a normal and transparent government of Pakistan undertaking–a fact that has been confirmed by the findings of International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in an arbitration case filed by the SGS.
While Bhutto had taken the wind out of the NAB sails by personally visiting Geneva, NAB has come up with yet another lie to cover up its failure by claiming that a Swiss Court had indicted Bhutto for alleged money laundering. NAB hired pen pushers have tried to project the Swiss inquiry as a court trial .The question of indictment of Ms Bhutto by a court therefore simply does not arise, disclosed her legal aides. As a matter of fact there is no case against her in any court of law in any foreign country. The proceedings before the inquiry magistrate in Geneva were no more than mere inquiries into the allegations levelled by the government of Pakistan. It may be recalled that the Swiss Attorney General quashed the findings of an earlier inquiry into this particular case in November last. It is obvious that the sole objective of the government of Pakistan and the NAB has been to engage Bhutto in endless litigation and also tarnish her image through media trial so that she does not return home to challenge Musharraf.