Mohammed Khan Junejo taking oath as prime minister on March 23, 1985 soothed some anxieties in the minds of the democratic forces, yet martial law was not lifted for which they had to wait till December 30 — the date proposed by General Ziaul Haq for lifting martial law — which was by then the longest in the country’s history. Though the general had pledged 90 days, it took him more than eight years to fulfil his promise. On Dec 30, the president addressed the Assembly and announced the lifting of martial law. This was the only fulfilled promise out of the many that the general had made.
In the background of events of the last eight years, lifting of martial law and return to democracy (in whatever form it was restored) was a welcome development, but doubts persisted in the House and outside: Gen Zia was still the President and Chief of Army Staff, armed with a draconian law i.e. Article 58 (2) b. The fears proved to be true when Junejo’s government was dismissed later. In his address, Gen Zia spoke about various aspects of governance he had learnt during his dictatorial rule, and asked the members to retain their independent character. Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo in his address called upon the members to create unity so that a democratic system could take firm roots.
Many had thought that Mohammad Khan Junejo, after being appointed prime minster, would act in a manner typical of a feudal lord as he belonged to the feudal class. However, Junejo’s approach and dignified attitude proved them wrong.
He was a man of integrity and clean politics, and a democratic person; he had entered politics at the age of 22, influenced by his family which had been in local politics for long. As a young man, Mohammad Khan Junejo had a broader vision and, unlike politicians belonging to the feudal class, he wanted to be a reformer and pioneer of social change. He had joined Pakistan Muslim League, a party to which he continued his association till his last. In the 1960s he had held important portfolios under Ayub Khan and served with honesty — a virtue rarely found in Pakistan’s political culture.
Washington secures assurance on nuclear arms and Afghan issue
Much later, when Gen Zia visited Pir Pagara, whom he considered his spiritual mentor, to discuss the future premier, Junejo’s name was on his list along with one other name. Pir Sahib frankly told the general that if the prime minister had to be from Sindh, it would be his man, thus Junejo became his final choice.
From the first handshake Gen Zia felt the difference. Mohammad Khan Junejo asked for everything he felt was for a prime minister, including the Falcon, the aircraft Bhutto used for his official visits. By taking over ministries of defence and foreign affairs, Junejo made it clear to the president that he wanted to make democracy a functional mode of governance. He even made it clear to the foreign office that foreign visits were not the task of the president but the prime minister and virtually had many foreign visits cancelled which were to be undertaken by Gen Zia.
In this regard, the US visit presented Junejo a great opportunity to prove his statesmanship. The US government was looking forward to new vistas of talks and mutual cooperation for its own agenda. On July 14, 1986 Junejo led a team of officials and experts on various subjects to the US.
After receiving a state welcome, Prime Minister Junejo and President Reagan had a detailed discussion. At the State reception in the White House, Reagan announced that his conversation with Junejo was upbeat, cordial and productive.
The US government wanted an understanding on two other important issues which were accomplished as desired. Junejo made it clear that Pakistan did not have any nuclear devices but wanted to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. More pertinent expression came at the State dinner where Prime Minister Junejo said that Pakistan had offered many ideas to solve this issue. Most important being that Pakistan was prepared to renounce all nuclear weapons in the region if India also did the same. Since the US was aware the Indian stance on nuclear issues therefore Junejo’s approach was appreciated.
His week-long visit was quite hectic. Talks were held on important issues, including Afghanistan and Pakistan’s role in ousting the Russians being of the central importance; perhaps the US government wanted to show that its first priority was the establishment of a civilian government in Pakistan. In a diplomatic manner Junejo made it clear to President Reagan that the ties needed two-way system which was accepted without reservation. In the light of past experience, the US wanted an assurance that Junejo government would not take any such decision which could hurt US-Pakistan ties. The most important achievement was the US support for Junejo government and emphasis on strengthening of ties even after the anti-Russian operation, including economic assistance that had been affected by war in Afghanistan and the expenses to retain millions of Afghan refugees.
Apart from a major meeting between Junejo and Reagan, many other meetings were held by officials from both sides to sort out development programmes and assistance, and the drug route through Pakistan, which he clarified, was the result of the Afghanistan issue and Pakistan was the worst victim.
On its return, the Pakistani team appeared satisfied. Gen Zia who was following the visit in detail was not happy to find Junejo triumphant and could not help making a sarcastic remark: “Ye daura kahin us ka sar na ghumaday.” (Hopefully this visit would not get to his head). No doubt Junejo had made a calculated visit for political gains but perhaps he had forgotten the Eighth Amendment which was still there. And the general’s reaction was evident when he remarked that someone should tell him that he could no longer stay as prime minister till he earned the generals’ support.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 1st, 2015