After removal from office as prime minister, Mohammed Khan Junejo did not leave the PM House immediately, nor did he express his anguish. He remained calm, as though he was aware of what was transpiring while a number of friends and associates called on him.
On May 30, Junejo called a meeting of his former ministers and close friends who expressed profound regret. He recalled all the advice that he had received from them as the former premier. As he sat quietly, his mind raced over matters of the past and he couldn’t decide where exactly he had gone wrong.
Apparently, there were many factors for his dismissal. Some people close to Gen Zia believed that Junejo would have struck if Gen Zia had not hit first. At the same time there were indications that Gen Zia had planned to dismiss Junejo as early as February, much before the Ojhri Camp disaster, since Junejo had become unbearable for him.
It may have been on the general’s mind for some time, but the final decision came in the wake of the Ojhri camp explosion. Before leaving for Philippines and South Korea — his last official visits — Junejo had presented the report prepared by Aslam Khattak to Gen Zia saying: “Saeen, keep the report. We can take a decision after my return.” Gen Zia had actually received the report even before it was presented to the prime minister, a fact that was never discussed during assessment of the causes of Junejo’s dismissal.
Junejo became the first prime minister of Pakistan to leave the capital in an honourable manner post dismissal
Besides the above mentioned report, Junejo had also remarked that the Ojhri camp had been unlawfully used as a passage of arms and ammunition although there was a system to record where the arms and ammunition needed to be used. There had been reports in the press that Stinger missiles were being used by Iran then at war with Iraq, and since Iran did not have any channel for receiving them it was suspected that the missiles had been stolen or sold to Iran from the Ojhri camp.
Another factor for Gen Zia’s action is said to have been his own behaviour in the final deal on Afghanistan in Geneva. Gen Zia wanted an interim government that represented all factions of Afghanistan after removal of Najibullah’s government. Suspecting that Gen Zia wanted a fundamentalist pro-Islamic government reflecting his own political perception, the US considered it to be a dangerous move and thought it necessary to go ahead with the removal without accepting Gen Zia’s demand. Ziaul Islam Ansari says that in mid-April, the general had told a group of his men that the US wanted to replace him for not toeing American policies anymore.
Many close observers believe that Gen Zia also wanted to teach Junejo a lesson for his ‘austerity campaign’ that prohibited the use of big cars by civilian and military officials, forcing them to use small local cars which, many believe, was humiliating for the military commanders.
Junejo’s dismissal was also attributed to a more pertinent domestic move. Some National Assembly members had been pressing Junejo to present the Ojhri camp inquiry report for debate in the house. Zia’s supporters later claimed it was planned that when Gen Zia would proceed on his US visit in June, the report would be presented to the National Assembly with the aim of approving a resolution by calling upon Gen Zia to: a) punish those found responsible for the tragedy and, b) calling upon Gen Zia to step down as chief of army staff (COAS). The general had already been voted through a (farcical) referendum to stay as president till 1990. Moreover, stepping down as COAS would have brought an unsung end to his career.
However, Junejo did not accept this charge. In the midst of claims and counterclaims, he said it was the brainchild of Gen Rafaqat, Gen Zia’s staff officer, and Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman to save himself from the criticism in the National Assembly against him. Of course, Gen Zia was there to outplay Junejo and save Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman, at all costs.
All these reports, mostly contributed by Zia’s intelligence, put the general in a defensive position, and he decided to take a quick pre-emptive shot at the Prime Minister House.
In the capital, political circles were trying to visualise the new situation while the general wanted to clarify things with the prime minister. After addressing the nation on May 30, the general went to Junejo’s residence and told him that the caretaker government should include Muslim League workers. To this Junejo said that they should be staunch supporters of the Muslim League.
Meetings with various political leaders, including Hamid Nasir Chattha followed, with the aim to make Junejo quit as Pakistan Muslim League president and hand over the party to some appropriate person. Chattha also told Junejo that Pir Pagara had agreed to visit Islamabad the following week where he would probably hold talks with Gen Zia and other important people.
While efforts were being made to make Pakistan Muslim League a functional party, at Gen Zia’s insistence, Nawaz Sharif took the responsibility to try to make the party an active political force. Before Pir Pagara’s arrival in the capital, Mian Nawaz Sharif announced that the PML would think about joining the government at an appropriate time.
Meanwhile, on June 1, Junejo finally bid farewell to friends and staff members. He was allowed to use the VVIP room at the airport for the last time. There was a rush of his friends but the VVIP attendants did not allow anybody to enter. In Pakistan’s history he was the first prime minister to have been allowed to leave the capital in an honourable manner after dismissal.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, March 6th, 2016