Pakistan’s Guy Fawkes Night

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
It was Guy Fawkes night in the year 1996 when sporadic fireworks were noticed on Islamabad’s horizon. Some kids in Halloween make up were doing the rounds celebrating. Sitting in Prime Minister House with my wife, on hearing a blast of fireworks I reminded the Prime Minister that it was Guy Fawkes night when in the year 1605 Catholic terrorist Guy Fawkes with his seven comrades plotted to blow up the British House of Lords  and kill King James.

Twenty-two years down the road  hordes of our Labaiki Guy Fawkes laid  siege of Islamabad and other parts of Pakistan following the acquittal of Asia BIbi on charges of blasphemy in a mother of all judgements by the Supreme Court. Past midnight at around 1 am myself and Zarina having had long chat with the PM took her leave for Islamabad Club. As we entered our room I received a call from ADC Misbah that PM wished to talk to me. President Farooq Leghari had dismissed Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government on fabricated charges of corruption. In 1605 Gunpowder Plot in England failed but in Pakistan powers that be with Farooq as their Guy Fawkes succeed in subverting democracy once again.

BIBI’s phone seemed to bring ill tidings. A calm Bibi said: “Wajid Bhai, Farooq has dismissed the government. You immediately go back to London. Asif has been arrested from Punjab Governor House and taken to some unidentified place. You must be next.” Next moment phone went dead. Message to me was clear. However, I argued with her why should I run away. It will give the impression as if I was guilty of something. And I refused to leave her in a difficult situation. She insisted — “Farooq is vicious and timid person and he will come after you since you are close to me.”

I discussed with my wife and we agreed I must stay on. Zarina as Fair Chair of Commonwealth Countries League had to be present on November 6th for the International Fair that was to be graced by the Royalty. She had PIA booking in morning flight. I checked her in. However, immigration officer stopped her from boarding. I was told that both of us can’t leave the country. I argued with him, he referred me to an ISI colonel. There was an argument between us. When I explained to him that at least my wife be allowed to leave as Zarina’s absence as Chair of the CCL Fair would be huge diplomatic embarrassment for Pakistan. He went in and got clearance from his higher up.

Having seen her off I rushed to Amna Paracha and late Barrister Zulfiqar Khan — friends like younger brother and sister and also close friends of Bhuttos. Both were flabbergasted on Legari’s action despite the fact that both Bibi and Asif had gone out of the way to get him elected as head of the state when there were many better candidates available. We were worried about Bibi as Prime Minister House had been surrounded by the military and she had been totally incommunicado.

By the evening of 5th November she was allowed to see a limited number of visiters on clearance of the military. Amna, Salim and I were among the few who had rushed to see if she is OK. Seeing me she again advised me to go back to London. There was no news where and how AAZ was kept. When alone we discussed what could possibly be in store for her. I found her hurt over Farooq’s anti-democratic step.
Looking back I was of the view that it was a colossal misjudgement to make him president. I reminded her that he had given a glimpse of his shaky loyalty by his masterly inactivity following Bhutto Sahib’s arrest by General Ziaul Haq. She agreed. She confessed she should have suspected him when DG ISI Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi strongly recommended his presidency.   I believe—especially in Pakistan—that intelligence agencies have their Quislings and Trojan horses in every political party to use them at a critical juncture when they want to subvert a government from within.

Being a prime minister from Sindh like her father Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the shabby treatment given to her following her ouster in 1990—I naturally had serious apprehension for her. I told her “instead of making arrangements for me to leave the country, you should think of yourself too”. Brave lady that she was, she shrugged her shoulders—“Wajid Bhai, we have to face what has to come. We can’t leave Quaid and Bhutto Shaheed’s democratic mission half way”.

As predicted by her I was arrested in mid November and tortured for months to force me to commit perjury against her.  FIA failed and I remained steadfast. Nawaz Sharif won election and as prime minister one expected he would be fair. Instead his Gestapo Chief Saifur Rehman-besides keeping me in and torturing me for days went after Bibi and Asif like blood thirsty hound to the extent a senior judge was forced by him to convict both in April 1999.

I don’t remember the number of red warrants issued against her by Saifur Rehman and later equally vicious dictator. Eight years is a long time in exile but she kept the struggle on for democracy. Indeed only a leader of her grit, determination and courage could sustain. It was a do and die battle. And she gave her life for it.

Notwithstanding what was done to her by her callous political adversaries this piece is to remind all Quislings and Trojan horses of inevitability of divine retributions. One has to pay for one’s sins somehow.

I remember how Bibi appointed Justice Sajjad Ali Shah CJP believing him to be strong supporter of democracy. His judgment upholding Bibi’s dismissal by Leghari on charges of corruption based on newspapers clippings taken by CJP as gospel truth in the absence of hard evidence and his announcement of the court decision just on the eve of elections—was a clear message as to who dictated the judgment.

Power drunk Leghari too as president and Supreme Commander of armed forces–misconceived himself to be a victor with an assured long innings. With powers under 58-2-B he had decided to play games with Nawaz Sharif too. He did not realise that he was used by the invisible players. He wanted Nawaz to have simple majority, they got him two/third. After browbeating CJP home, MNS removed 8th Amendment and forced Farooq to resign on threat of impeachment. Soon came Shariah Bill, Kargil misadventure and GPM’s sack that rebounded on him by yet another institutional decision, taking him lock, stock and barrel to comforts of Saroor Palace only to return him home, courtesy Benazir Bhutto.

Farooq Leghari and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah’s pathetic ending was much more similar to the fate of General Ziaul Haq, Justice Mushtaq,  Supreme Court judges who ordered hanging of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and now critically ill General Pervez Musharraf, main accused in Benazir Bhutto and Nawab Akbar Bugti murder cases. We mortal beings should bow our heads and seek Allah’s infinite mercy and compassion to be forgiven for all our sins of omission and commission. We must remember Courts can play foul, there could be delay too but justice is never denied from the Lord above.

(Author is the former high commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)