LAHORE - TV channels and newspapers on Saturday recalled how the government of Mian Nawaz Sharif had been overthrown on October 12, 1999, after he dismissed Gen Pervez Musharraf as army chief. They also highlighted the fact that Mr Sharif was back to power for a third time but the general who thought he had sealed his political future by banishing him to Saudi Arabia was now under detention at his own farmhouse in Islamabad, which has been declared a sub-jail.
But hardly any channel or newspaper shed light on what would have been the situation if Mr Sharif had succeeded in doing what he tried to do.
As repeatedly pointed out earlier, Mr Sharif, himself a Kashmiri, wants to see men from the same clan posted on all important positions. And this he was going to do on the fateful day as well, because of which he had to pay a heavy price. He removed Gen Musharraf and elevated Gen Ziauddin Khwaja as the new army chief. The badges had been pinned on the new man when the army reacted.
At the time, Mr Sharif enjoyed a two-thirds majority in parliament, because of which he was in a position to have any constitutional amendment or law passed. The president was a loyalist of the Sharif family.
Had the prime minister succeeded in installing Gen Ziauddin Khwaja, it would have led to a family rule in the country, after which there would have been no scope left for any other party, no matter how many elections were held.
Maybe, some people disagree with this assessment. But before doing so, they must not forget what the Sharifs did for the same general subsequently.
When Shahbaz Sharif was the chief minister during 2008-13, he had appointed Gen Ziauddin as Chairman of the Chief Minister’s Inspection Team, a position much below the status of a man who was selected as COAS. He held the office till the Supreme Court gave a judgment against the rehiring of retirees.
And now when the PML-N is in power also at the Centre, Gen Ziauddin has filed a petition with the Lahore High Court seeking pensions and other benefits he was refused by the army because of the Oct 12 episode. It is significant to see that the petition was not filed when the PML-N was not in power at the federal level.
Another example of Mr Sharif’s love for the Khwajas is that of Khwaja Zaheer, a retired bureaucrat. He was first proposed for the post of the NAB chairman, which the PPP did not support. And since the prime minister did not like a capable Khwaja should sit idle at home, he appointed him as his special assistant.
Needless to point out that in the present setup Khwaja Asif is minister for water and power and his brother-in-law Khwaja Naeem is Nepra chairman. Ishaq Dar and Abid Sher Ali (relatives) are also holding important positions. Khwaja Saad Rafiq is taking care of the railways while his brother Khwaja Salman is assisting the Punjab chief minister.
Khwaja Ahmed Hassan, who lost the provincial election, is now heading the Lahore Transport Company, which is an important assignment. He is also the vice-chairman of the Metro Bus Authority. He was the mayor of Lahore during the previous PML-N rule and is again likely to hold the same position once the local elections are held.
Bilal Yasin Butt, a relative, is minister for food in Punjab.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza – who is also an MNA – is like deputy chief minister and he has been given necessary powers for the purpose.
Another son – Salman – is playing a behind-the-scenes role. However, he was very prominent in the official delegation that the prime minister led to China a few months ago. A TV channel had once reported that about three dozen relatives of the Sharifs are in assemblies.
The president chosen by the Sharifs during their second term was Mr Rafiq Tarar, a personal friend of the late Mian Muhammad Sharif. A former judge of the Supreme Court, he was so strongly ‘committed’ to the ‘constitutional system’ that he continued to hold the office even after the overthrow of the PML-N government. When he was shown the door, he complained that he had not been allowed to complete his term. ‘Hats off’ to him.
While the writer doesn’t support military interventions and the overthrow of democratic governments, the system that was in place in 1999 was like a family ‘Raj’. And if the new army chief had been accepted, the ‘Raj’ would have continued without facing any challenge from any quarters.
As for the situation after 14 years, it is quite unexpected. Gen Musharraf was a problem for Mr Sharif then and he is a headache for him now. The prime minister doesn’t know how to get rid of him. It is said that Saudi Arabia is annoyed because of the way Mr Musharraf is being mistreated. According to some quarters, Saudi Arabia has not helped Pakistan despite serious economic problems because of this annoyance.
In such a situation, what the PML-N leaders call a black day was not really that black. And whatever trouble the Sharifs faced was the handiwork of the prime minister. And if the Oct 12 action was unconstitutional, then the ruling party should also hold the Supreme Court and the 2002-2008 parliament responsible who had validated it. Also, the PML-N leadership should condemn the 1977 military intervention and curse all those who had joined hands with the then dictator.
TAIL PIECE: The writer had completed the write-up when came a news that Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chauhdry said while addressing lawyers in Sialkot that a dictator ambushed democracy and the constitution on October 12, 1999, and that the civil society and the judiciary are now a guarantee against such adventures.
It was hard to believe that the CJP made these remarks, because he was part of the apex court bench that had validated the military intervention and had given Gen Musharraf power to amend the Constitution and hold elections in three years. If the CJP really said so, it would be difficult to determine whether his bench had given a wrong judgment in the Syed Zafar Ali Shah case or he is wrong now.