After Benazir Bhutto’s return from exile, General Ziaul Haq had assigned Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo the task of facing the PPP chief in her tirade against the government. But Junejo could not accomplish the assignment, and the general thought that perhaps Junejo too had joined forces with Benazir.
In truth, Junejo was struggling to assert himself as an elected prime minister — his mission to strengthen the roots of democracy was being compromised by the sheer disregard shown by the bureaucracy and military officers.
In the budget for 1987-88, for example, Junejo sought to introduce austerity in governance. He scrapped the head of purchasing new, big and imported cars for official use and for officers who had been entitled to them. Under the scheme of austerity, he ordered that all officers who were entitled to use cars would now use locally-assembled Suzuki cars instead of imported cars.
No doubt this decision brought huge savings to the national exchequer, but it angered the officers group. The army officers, showing disregard for Junejo’s wishes, preferred to use old jeeps instead. This summed up Junejo’s travails: a prime minister whose wings had been clipped by the Eighth Amendment.
With the Prime minister desperately trying to assert his authority, parliament too is rebuffed in its efforts to debate Gen Zia’s extension of tenure
Junejo came from a modest feudal family of Sanghar, Having experienced local politics for some time, he joined the mainstream in 1958 when the former military ruler General Ayub Khan appointed him as the federal communications minister. A thorough gentleman, he possessed a reputation of unquestionable integrity. A true disciplinarian, he retained this credit throughout his political career. A follower of Pir Pagara, he had no illusion about his ability to rid society of corruption.
Pir Pagara’ advice to appoint him as prime minister was based on Junejo’s past record, but unfortunately, Gen Zia did not subscribe to the PM’s views on restoring political parties within the house. Certain actions undertaken by Junejo had pointed to his intention of working independently, which in turn, earned him the general’s annoyance.
But Junejo was resolute on trying, again and again.
For the PM, the arrival of Benazir Bhutto was a political development that could be helpful in advancing the effort to restore democracy. But in the backdrop of the prevailing situation, it required concerted efforts else many feared that Gen Zia would send the parliament packing. Unfortunately for Junejo, his hope to secure Benazir’s support was also shattered as there were clear ideological differences between the two.
Meanwhile, Benazir continued meeting with political party leaders and some like-minded figures who wanted to exchange views about a future course of action. Most PPP workers poured in to extend their condolences on Bhutto’s demise, but simultaneously, they also rededicated their efforts to evolve a workable strategy in the changed political environment.
Junejo came from a modest feudal family of Sanghar, Having experienced local politics for some time, he joined the mainstream in 1958 when the former military ruler General Ayub Khan appointed him as the federal communications minister. A thorough gentleman, he possessed a reputation of unquestionable integrity.
On Aug 10, 1986, nine leaders of the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) called on Benazir at her Clifton residence. It was a meeting held after six years and there was enough to discuss. The foremost point on the agenda was national elections. They decided that whenever polls were held, the opposition would take part in them. It appeared that Benazir was prepared to extend her cooperation to other political forces in the form of a larger alliance if it became possible.
On Aug 14, Benazir slipped into Lyari, a bastion of PPP, for Independence Day celebrations. Her supporters thronged her from all over, and soon, a huge crowd turned into a public meeting. A large contingent of police interrupted the gathering and baton charged those present. Many were injured and over 1,000 arrested.
After the meeting was over, Benazir Bhutto was detained for one month. Rallies were immediately banned including in Sindh towns.
On the same day, PPP supporters also staged protest processions in Lahore and some towns of Sindh. After some pitched battles with the police, six protesters died in Lahore while another 16 lost their lives in Sindh. This turned the situation very ugly; as more deaths and injuries were reported in Sindh following protests in towns large and small.
On Aug 23, the government ordered registering a sedition case against her and nine other activists. However, she was released on Sept 9, 1986, after there was no letting up in protests.
Meanwhile, in the National Assembly, the Independent Political Group pushed a bill for debate in the house about the reported extension of the service of Gen Zia as army chief. But it was ruled out of order, as according to the 1984 referendum, the President had been elected for five years, till 1990, which included his service as chief of the army staff.
If it wasn’t clear before, it became patently obvious that since provincial chief ministers were direct nominees of the President, he was de facto master of the entire governance team. This is how the federation became subservient to one person; it took two decades to redress the balance.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 11th, 2015