Ever since Mohammad Khan Junejo took over as prime minister, reports of differences between him and president Gen Ziaul Haq trickled in. On the very first introduction, on March 20, both had a brief but bitter argument when Gen Zia said: “I have decided to appoint you as prime minister of the country,” to which Junejo replied: “When are you going to lift martial law, Mr President?”

This caused the first crack and the differences increased with the passage of time.

Donning the army chief’s uniform and armed with Article 58 2(b), Gen Zia enjoyed a strong position. It is not known when the general decided to send the prime minister packing, whether it was an instantaneous decision taken on May 29, 1988, or had been in the general’s mind for quite some time.

“Rafaqat, this is it, but may I tell you that I have decided to pack them up”

There were many factors for Gen Zia being displeased with Junejo; the most important among them was the removal of three ministers: Dr Mahboobul Haq, Dr Attiya Inayatullah and Dr Asadullah, who were especially summoned from the United States. Even more pertinent was Junejo’s refusal to give an extension to Gen Arif and Gen Rahimuddin. Junejo’s intention to act as an independent prime minister could be seen in the fact that the day he relieved Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan, he also issued formal instructions to the foreign ministry that in future no file regarding the Foreign Office should be sent to the President House.

Ziaul Islam Ansari, a journalist who was close to and admired the general, summed up his opinion in General Ziaul Haq: shakhsiyat aur karnamay (1998). According to him, “… the people knew well that … there were no major differences between them; the only thing was that Gen Zia wanted all powers in his hands.”

It is said that serious differences existed between Junejo and the Punjab chief minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was pampered by Gen Zia. Ansari mentions that while on his visit abroad, Gen Zia had asked the editor of an Urdu newspaper to speak to the prime minister about sorting out their differences. Subsequently, the editor spoke to Junejo in Manila but the latter denied having any differences with the general or with Nawaz Sharif. Junejo believed that his differences with Sharif were of an insignificant nature. However, a meeting between the two was arranged at Manila but no reconciliation came through. After the meeting, Nawaz Sharif telephoned Gen Zia from Manila which perhaps set the final course.

On May 29, when the prime ministerial entourage was preparing to return to Islamabad, Gen Zia pondered over his future relationship with Junejo and his team. In the afternoon, he summoned his staff officer, Gen Rafaqat, who brought some files with him, which were to be sent to the prime minister’s office after being signed. After signing the files, Gen Zia asked for some writing paper and a pen and wrote the dismissal order for Junejo’s government and the dissolution of the assemblies. In a brief conversation between them, Gen Zia said: “Rafaqat, this is it, but may I tell you that I have decided to pack them up.”

After landing, the prime minister held a brief press conference in the VIP room at the Islamabad airport, about the expected result of the visit and then drove straight to PM House. Until then, there were rumours among the reporters about an important press conference at President House. A small press room had been quickly set up at President House where during the introduction, a reporter commented: “Janab aaj to lambi daurr lag gayee,” (Today we had a hectic day). To this Gen Zia replied, “Daur to abb lage gi, main aap ko bahut barri khabar de raha hoon” (Little do you how hectic the day is going to become, as I am now giving you a huge story.)

It is not known when the general decided to send the prime minister packing, whether it was an instantaneous decision taken on May 29, 1988, or had been in the general’s mind for quite sometime.

In his introductory remarks Gen Zia emphasised that he had given much freedom to the democratic team which had failed to run the business. “It appears that they are not capable of running the administration. I had been repeatedly telling them but either they do not want to take anything seriously or they do not intend to do anything. They have failed to implement the Islamic system and control the law and order situation. Despite my constant efforts, they have failed to bring improvement. I have therefore decided to use my constitutional powers, dismiss the prime minister and his cabinet, and dissolve the assemblies.” He then read out the text of the proclamation, which was as follows:

“Whereas the objects and purposes for which the National Assembly was elected have not been fulfilled.

“And whereas the law and order in the country have broken down to an alarming extent resulting in tragic loss of innumerable valuable lives as well as loss of property.

“And whereas the life, property, honour and security of the citizens of Pakistan have been rendered totally unsafe and the integrity and ideology of Pakistan have been seriously endangered.

“And whereas public morality has deteriorated to unprecedented levels.

“And whereas in my opinion a situation has arisen in which the government of the federation cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and an appeal to the electorate is necessary.

“Now, therefore, I Gen Ziaul Haq, President of Pakistan in exercise of the powers conferred on me by Clause (2) (b), of Article 58 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan hereby dissolve the National Assembly with immediate effect and in consequence thereof the cabinet also stands dissolved forthwith.


(M. Ziaul-Haq).

May 29, 1988.”

The order was moved at 06.30pm. Ignorant of this development, Junejo was in his study when his ADC sought permission to visit him. He was asked if there was anything special. To this he told Junejo that his government had been dissolved and he was no more the prime minister. This was immediately confirmed by his personal secretary, Capt Issani. When he tried to contact some friends Junejo was told that all offices of the PM House had been sealed.

For some time there were rumours that some kind of action was in the process but it appeared that Junejo could not understand the importance of the Eighth Amendment. Initially unmoved, Junejo was not shocked. He knew that Gen Zia was not in a hurry to use the powers he was armed with. Zia had made up his mind when the members of the assembly persistently demanded an inquiry report of the Ojhri disaster and to punish those found responsible for the tragedy.

Junejo spent the next two days bidding farewell to all who came to see him. He appeared prepared to spend the last night at the official residence peacefully.


Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, February 21st, 2016