ISLAMABAD: A clash in a hotel’s disco 31 years ago turned into a lifelong rivalry with former president Asif Ali Zardari, says business tycoon Sadruddin Hashwani in his recently published memoir, Truth Always Prevails.
This is just one of the many mentions of Mr Zardari in the 248-page book which contains some really harsh words and allegations against the former president, prompting the latter to serve a Rs1 billion libel notice on the tycoon.
The “playboy” is the first introduction of Mr Zardari in the book.
“What have you done and from where did you get the courage to do what you did to my son?,” Mr Hashwani quotes Hakim Ali Zardari, the father of Mr Zardari, as having said to him on telephone, a day after the clash at the Marriott’s “discotheque” in Karachi in 1983.
According to the book, the people who created disturbance had been thrown out of the hotel by the staff on the directive of Mr Hashwani, Chairman of the Hashoo Group which owns several five-star hotels in the country.
The author claims that it was through Hakim Zardari’s telephone call that he had come to know that Asif Zardari was one of the “hotheads” who had begun “arguments that turned into a gunfight” in the hotel.
Mr Zardari “still has the grudge for that incident”, according to Mr Hashwani who has narrated a number of incidents in his book, accusing Mr Zardari of not only victimising him but also plotting his assassination.
Mr Hashwani also believes that the 2008 Marriott bombing during the PPP’s last tenure in government was not carried out by Taliban or any militant group. Quoting an unknown “friend in the intelligence”, he claims that it was politically motivated and aimed at killing him. But he has not directly blamed the former president for the incident.
“In 2008 and 2009, there were five attempts on my life,” alleges Mr Hashwani, mentioning the period Mr Zardari spent in the Presidency after the 2008 elections. According to him, the period was not different from the first two terms of the PPP government under Benazir Bhutto.
“He (Mr Zardari) fraudulently converted the party into a fiefdom. A man who had not won a popular election, and probably never would, was presiding over the destiny of 200 million people. This time he has an alibi, all disturbances could be blamed on that omnibus word terrorism. In reality, the presidency was run like a cartel. In his motivation and methods, the Zardari of 2008 was not different from the Zardari of 1990. If anything, he was worse – Mr Ten Per Cent had become Mr Ninety Per Cent,” writes Mr Hashwani.
Giving account of the Marriott bombing incident on Sept 20, 2008, he writes that his decision to stop by at a mosque for prayers while on way to the hotel had actually saved his life.
He alleges that the dumper that had struck the hotel situated in a high security zone was escorted by a car. Later, he writes, through a “propaganda” campaign the president and his office started telling the international media that the president was the real target of the attack as he was scheduled to have dinner with some parliamentarians in the hotel.
He was presenting himself as a warrior against and a victim of terrorism, one who had lost his wife and now was in danger himself. “This was a great story to spread just before a visit to the US,” Mr Hashwani says, giving the reason for the government to launch the propaganda.
“It was clear to me and to most in the security establishment that Zardari was not even remotely the target of the bombing,” says the author.
He claims that a senior government official contacted him after the attack and asked him to tell the media that President Zardari was the target of the attack.
“I had to move from Karachi, the city of my birth, to Islamabad in 1990. This was not a planned migration or a business decision but an attempt to protect my family and me from criminal elements backed by political forces out to get me in Karachi,” he writes and alleges that the “person targeting me was none other than Asif Ali Zardari”.
“While Zardari had a personal score to settle with me given out past history in Karachi and a disco incident in 1983, he was also doing this with other businessmen and resourceful individuals because he saw his wife’s electoral victory as not just a political, but a commercial opportunity,” the tycoon writes while mentioning the ordeal he had gone through during the first term of Benazir Bhutto as prime minister.
“As soon as his wife came to power, Zardari and his cronies pushed government officials to investigate my companies to find any evidence that (Gen) Zia had done me favours,” Mr Hashwani claims.
He has also mentioned a telephone call and a meeting with Mr Zardari when the latter wanted to buy a piece of land from him that he had bought in Karachi from a Parsi family.
“When he came home to finalise the deal, I could tell that he wanted me to hand it over for free.….. I sold the plot at my cost price. The whole experience of meeting and selling that piece of land to Zardari was unpleasant,” he writes. “It gave me a good idea of his greed and character.”
Mr Hashwani says he was informed by some military officials, including Gen Asif Nawaz who later became army chief, about a plot to kidnap and kill him in Karachi’s Bath Island area after forcing him to transfer his properties, particularly hotels, to others.
“You have to leave. We have decided against sending you to Islamabad, as we can’t predict what Zardari will do? I suggest you leave for Lahore. I have already spoken to Nawaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister,” Mr Hashwani quotes Gen Asif Nawaz as having told him.
However, instead of going to Lahore, Mr Hashwani says, he went to Dubai amid army’s escort.
“In 1990, when Benazir was dismissed from office, there was relief that a very corrupt and very disappointing government, which had frittered away its goodwill fairly soon, has gone. Benazir’s government had proved unequal to the economic challenges that Pakistan faced,” he says of the performance of the PPP’s first government.
In his notice, Mr Zardari has termed the book “a false, derogatory and vexatious publication full of blatant lies” aimed at damaging his reputation.
Published in Dawn, November 18th , 2014