As rumours swirl about veteran politician Javed Hashmi rejoining the PML-N, Railways Minister Saad Rafique on Monday said the party and the political stalwart have agreed to "fight together for democracy".
Rafique made the announcement at a press conference in Islamabad after a meeting between former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Hashmi, in which other senior PML-N officials also participated.
A source with knowledge of the meeting claimed that Hashmi had, during the meeting, agreed to rejoin the PML-N.
Rafique, however, when asked to confirm the development after the meeting, said: "In the next phase of discussions, this will also be announced."
A PML-N leader in Multan told Dawn that Rafique was on the forefront in convincing the leadership to bring the old guard back into the party fold.
"Rafique was the one who was very close to Hashmi when the latter chose to part ways with the Sharifs for not acknowledging his political struggle during the Musharraf era. Rafique also stayed in contact with Hashmi even during his two-and-a-half-year stay in the PTI," he said, adding that Rafique told the leadership about the importance of Hashmi in the current political scenario as the PML-N was in dire need of true democrats like him.
Some PML-N leaders from Multan, including the city mayor, are against Hashmi’s comeback because it might affect their political clout in the area.
Hashmi's run with the PML-N
Hashmi, a former PML-N leader, had grievances with the party, which contributed to his decision to part ways with the PML-N and join Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in 2011, citing ideological similarities with the PTI. He stayed in Khan's party for about two and a half years.
The politician from south Punjab has gained as reputation as a brave politician because of his steadfast opposition to military rule.
Sources had, at the time, said that the friction between Hashmi and the Sharifs began when the former ignored Nawaz Sharif’s advice to retain his National Assembly seat from Rawalpindi after the Feb 2008 elections, and instead decided to retain the seat he had won in his native Multan.
Ironically, Hashmi's reputation as a bold man acted against him as the PML-N leadership baulked at his nomination for Leader of Opposition in National Assembly, fearing that it might not be helpful in rebuilding its relations with the military establishment. He was even described as a "compulsive agitator" by a PML-N office bearer.
The political stalwart has, even in recent times, stuck to his guns, calling for greater accountability for the army and judiciary.
Profile: Javed Hashmi, the perennial rebel
In early 1972, a group of youngsters barged into Governor House in Lahore.
They were agitated because two girls had been kidnapped in the city’s Samanabad neighbourhood, allegedly by a senior government functionary.
The crowd came face to face with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, at the time the president of the republic, accompanied by a visiting British minister.
The leader of the protesters was one Javed Hashmi who had just won a hard-fought student union election at Punjab University with support from the Islami Jamiat Talaba.
Two years later, Hashmi made a similarly daring move while leading a protest against recognising Bangladesh as a separate state.
Lahore was then hosting a historic summit of the heads of state and government of Islamic countries.
He led a group of youngsters raising anti-government slogans and breached all security arrangements, to appear right in front of the motorcade of the then Saudi King Shah Faisal.
Given these two incidents, both narrated by Hashmi in his autobiography Haan Mein Baghi Hoon (‘Yes, I’m a rebel’), it is ironic that he disagreed with his own party’s chief.
How is Parliament House different from Governor House in Lahore as a symbol of the state, and how is the security cordon for a foreign dignitary less important than the one around Prime Minister House?
Hashmi could not care less about such distinctions or lack thereof as far as he believes in the cause.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and several other senior members of the ruling PML-N can testify as to how Hashmi would say whatever he wanted in party meetings without bothering about how it would affect his relationship with the party leadership.
He believed that he needed to challenge the high-handedness of the Bhutto regime through whatever means he could employ; he believed that Pakistan should not recognise Bangladesh, come what may.
He also narrates in his book how, a few months before the Islamic summit, he and his political associates successfully sabotaged Bhutto’s rally in Rawalpindi for the same reason.
So, clearly, he ceased to believe in what Imran Khan claimed to be trying to achieve. And this is in accordance with the ideology that Hashmi has come to espouse over the past four decades of being in politics.
That ideology is based on three foundations: the supremacy of electoral democracy over a military dictatorship, dissent, and utter disregard for the consequences of his political actions.
There are, however, some exceptions to these political rules that Hashmi has devised for himself.
The most obvious example of his courageous defence of civilian supremacy over military power is his arrest in 2003 on the accusation of trying to create divisions within the army.
For the next three and a half years, he remained behind bars, his trial taking place inside jail.
The Musharraf government put him on trial because of a letter that Hashmi had made public, reportedly written by some junior officials to highlight alleged corruption on the part of some senior members of the then military regime.
He never retracted from his stance, nor did he regret his decision to make the letter public.
Similarly, his readiness to work as the president of the PML-N after the Sharifs went into exile and many of their prominent lieutenants joined the Musharraf camp in the 2000s also proved his mettle for working for democracy at the most difficult of times.
Hashmi has built a strong reputation as the perennial rebel. He will speak his mind no matter what the circumstances or consequences.
He’s taken a confrontational stance whenever he has thought that those in authority aren’t doing the right thing, notwithstanding whether the people in authority were his own political bosses.
This is not to say that Hashmi has never made mistakes.
In 1978, at the age of 29, he became the youngest minister in General Ziaul Haq’s military cabinet.
He later regretted the decision; much space is taken up in his book describing how he was never comfortable in the ministry and how he wanted to resign as early as he could.
In 1993, his insistence on running in elections from his home constituency in Multan, while he was being offered safe seats from Lahore, resulted in Shah Mehmood Qureshi leaving Nawaz Sharif to join the PPP.
His biggest mistake, perhaps, is to have accepted money from an advocate named Yousuf.
The source of the money, Yousuf later claimed, was Younus Habib who, as the head of Mehran Bank, was tasked by intelligence operatives to finance the election campaign of certain anti-PPP politicians in 1990.
Hashmi made a serious effort in his autobiography to reiterate that he has never made any financial gain from his politics; he has, on television talk shows, claimed that he had received the money as a loan to set up business, and that he had returned it.
The allegations, however, refused to go away.
When he left the PML-N in Dec 2011, and joined the PTI, some of his old political colleagues alleged that he was disgruntled because the PML-N had refused to nominate one of his close relatives as an election candidate.
Some say he was unhappy because he wanted to become the leader of the opposition after the 2008 election but that post went to former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
His supporters say he deserved the slot because of his services to the party during the Musharraf regime, when very few politicians were willing to represent the PML-N at any political level.
Hashmi seems to have lost none of his political uprightness and the ability to call a spade, a spade.
He retains his ability to say what he believes in (as Imran Khan has found) and he continues to cherish democracy and the institutions it represents.
He also remains oblivious of the political consequences of his actions — nobody knows what his political future will be after his expulsion from the PTI.
It is difficult to imagine that he will rejoin the PML-N, of which he remains extremely critical.
The option of joining the PPP remains even more remote as he has opposed that party throughout his career.
On the first page of his book, Hashmi recalls a quote from Caliph Hazrat Umar: “When did you start enslaving people when their mothers delivered them as free [people]?” He remains as free as he ever was.
No political imperative can keep him captive to a party or an ideology that he cannot believe in. Khan should have known that before accepting Hashmi into his party.