For the jiyalas of Lahore, April 10, 1986 was a celebration: after over two years in exile, having left Pakistan on January 10, 1984, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Benazir Bhutto was returning to Pakistan and landing in their city. Amidst the tussle between President General Ziaul Haq and Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo, an old foe was back.

Before departing London for Lahore, Benazir had already sent a message to the Pakistani leadership through a statement issued in the Times of London. She said that she did not believe in the politics of revenge; rather, she was returning to have democracy restored and to work towards building the country afresh.

But her arrival in Lahore drew a huge crowd of PPP supporters to receive her. After staying in Lahore for a day, she travelled to various towns in Punjab and addressed large gatherings. This sent a clear message to Gen Zia, who did not want any political activity at that point since he had already held polls on non-party basis and was locked in a battle with PM Junejo over the restoration of political parties.

Soon enough, the general began consulting colleagues on how to deal with two opponents at the same time: PM Junejo and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

A month after arriving in Lahore, Benazir arrived in Karachi on May 3, 1986 to a rapturous response. Her reception procession took eight hours to reach the public meeting venue near Quaid-i-Azam mausoleum from Karachi airport. The general did not waste any time and issued a statement warning the PPP leadership that if any confrontation took place, he would clamp down with another martial law that would be stiffer than the previous one.

Soon enough, the general began consulting colleagues on how to deal with two opponents at the same time: PM Junejo and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

From the next day, Benazir began meeting party leaders. It appeared that she wanted to reorganise the PPP on a pattern that met the demands of the new political atmosphere and infused people with a sense of confidence in democracy. She knew that her workers were the asset of the party, but she was also aware of the ‘uncles’ who wanted her to toe their line.

Nonetheless, this was a changed Benazir, who knew perfectly what to do and which end to meet. The trials and tribulations of the past decade had taught her much. She knew the way to struggle and how to survive.

Benazir decided to celebrate Independence Day on August 13 and 14 in a befitting manner. The Sindh government received reports that she might undertake a detailed tour of the province, and it subsequently banned her movement while she was still in Karachi.

Nonetheless, Benazir had made alternative plans to address a public meeting on August 14 at the Kikri Ground in Lyari. That too was banned under Section 144; in fact, any meeting of more than five people was prohibited in Karachi and many other districts of Sindh.

Meanwhile, PM Junejo was making his efforts to manage various government departments. He sought details of the ongoing talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan through United Nations. Till then, the Afghanistan issue was being handled solely by Gen Zia, who considered it a great personal service to Islam.

On the insistence of the United States (US), the United Nations (UN) had passed a resolution condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and called for the withdrawal of Soviet troops and return of democracy. In June 1982, Diego Cordovez was appointed as the personal representative of the UN secretary-general, with the sole purpose of pushing through talks about Afghanistan.

Discussions began the same month in Geneva. Indirect talks between Pakistan and Afghanistan were also held at various intervals. To facilitate the talks, an office of the UN was established, called the United Nations Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan (UNGOMAP).

During the process, the more serious elements of the talks were handled by Nawabzadah Yaqoob Ali Khan. But after Junejo took over as prime minister, he was relieved and Zain Noorani was appointed the minister of state for external affairs. Since Junejo wanted to have his hold on defence and foreign ministries, he took complete charge of both.

Before Junejo’s entry, the general had made Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lieutenant-General Akhtar Abdur Rahman as the head of the Afghan issue. But Junejo did not try to interfere in technical issues such as guerrilla training to Afghan Mujahideen or arms supply from the US and other sources — these matters continued to be handled by the ISI chief. The prime minister, however, kept himself abreast of all developments and the flow of financial assistance received for waging armed struggle against the Soviet Union.

Till the end of 1986, talks were moving in the right direction. Junejo wanted a quick withdrawal of Soviet troops, as he hoped that it would satisfy the US and its allies, Saudi Arabia, and other friendly countries. During the process, he had developed a kind of confidence that if he succeeded in brokering Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, it would also grant him support to continue in power for another term.

Gen Zia could read Junejo well, but he also wanted his name to be written in the annals of history if the accord was reached at according to his wishes. The general believed that any Soviet exodus would lead to him being remembered as a true mujahid.

In late 1987, a year before Junejo’s dismissal, Junejo was informed by the Soviet Union that they wanted to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan and complete the process in the next year. Similar information was also received from the US.

This was a welcome development and all stakeholders began preparations to finalise the terms and conditions of withdrawing that were to be placed before the Soviet Union. This is where Gen Zia and PM Junejo held opposing views— not on the very point of withdrawing all troops, but on what measures should be taken next to ensure that a peaceful Afghanistan emerged out of a devastating war.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 4th, 2015

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