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Pakistan’s political history in the words of Abida Hussain

January 13, 2015

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Syeda Abida Hussain speaks at the launch of her book Power Failure: The Political Odyssey of a Pakistani Woman at the PNCA in Islamabad on Monday. — Photo by Ishaque Chaudhry
Syeda Abida Hussain speaks at the launch of her book Power Failure: The Political Odyssey of a Pakistani Woman at the PNCA in Islamabad on Monday. — Photo by Ishaque Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: When Nawaz Sharif was Punjab Chief Minister in the 1990s, he was in a meeting in Quetta with people like Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan and Syeda Abida Hussain when he abruptly announced that he had to make an urgent phone call and left the room.

When he did not return for a long time, Abida Hussain was requested to go and look for him. When she finally located Sharif, she found him singing a song into the phone.

This is just one of the many interesting stories Abida Hussain narrates in her book Power Failure: The Political Odyssey of a Pakistani Woman published by Oxford University Press (OUP), which was launched on Monday at Pakistan National Council of the Arts.

Abida Hussain is a politician, a diplomat, an agriculturist and a breeder of horses and cattle.

She has the distinction of being the first woman to chair the District Council of Jhang and the first woman to be popularly elected as a Member of the National Assembly.

She served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 1991 to 1993 and as minister for education in 1996, minister for food and agriculture in 1997, minister for population and minister for environment in 1999.

Speaking at the book launch, OUP Managing Director Ameena Saiyad said Abida or Chandi is a well known political figure and this book is a rich collection of episodes of history, she witnessed personally.

Narrating more incidents from the book, Abida Hussain quipped that even though changes are occurring in Pakistan, Washington’s information on these changes is two steps ahead of the rest of the world and four steps ahead of Pakistan. “They know when a government will be sent packing and which one will come next,” she said.

She said in 1993, President Ishaq Khan dismissed Nawaz Sharif’s government but the Supreme Court restored it.

“I went to the United States and had a meeting with a security adviser of the US government. I said to him that it was the remarkable achievement that the judiciary has restored the government.

The US adviser suggested that Nawaz Sharif should hold fresh elections and after a month we had to go for new elections,” she said.

The representative of Islamabad Green, a non-governmental organisation, Dushka Syed asked Abida Hussain about the meeting between of the then chief of army staff General Asif Nawaz Janjua, and US defense secretary Dick Cheney in 1992.

Abida Hussain said that she was Pakistan’s ambassador to the US at the time. General Janjua came to Washington during a time when there was a lot of pressure to rollback the nuclear programme. She said in the meeting, Cheney asked his staff to leave the room and she was hoping the General Janjua would not ask her to leave as well. “The general said I should leave because it would be discourteous. After the meeting, I said to General Asif let me guess, Cheney offered his support to help you come to power. The general was shocked. He asked me if Cheney told me,” she said.

When asked about Benazir Bhutto, Abida Hussain said that Benazir was courageous woman. “She was very young when she became prime minister at the age of 35 and later at 39. When she went into exile, she learnt a lot and came back to Pakistan a more mature political leader. It is unfortunate that we lost her,” she said.

She said that she won the election against Haq Nawaz Jhangvi but after the murder of Haq Nawaz in 1990 Jangvi group was formed and it declared her Kafir and wajibul qatal.

While talking about Mian Sharif, father of Nawaz Sharif, Abida Hussain said that Mian Sharif knew how to deal with a person.

“His greatest quality was that he was never shy about saying that he was a self made man. He brought an agriculture revolution by introducing effective tube wells,” she said.

In response to a question by Lawyer Naeem Bokhari, Abida Hussain said she has discussed interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan seven times in her book. She said that Mr Khan enjoys the record of never losing an election.

Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2015

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