A President, A Prime Minister and A Party: Interactions with Farooq Leghari, Meraj Khalid and the Millat Party
By Javed Jabbar
Paramount, Karachi
ISBN: 978-9692103213
303pp.

Over the last 75 years, Pakistan has had hardly any respite from turmoil in its chequered political history. Even during the three prolonged military regimes — which would tend to discourage political activity — discontent among agitated politicians and disappointment among people in general continued to prevail.

In his latest memoir, A President, A Prime Minister and A Party: Interactions with Farooq Leghari, Meraj Khalid and the Millat Party, author Javed Jabbar focuses on the period 1986-2004, during which assemblies were dissolved and governments dismissed: in 1988, 1990, twice in 1993 and then again in November 1996.

These included the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s PPP governments in 1990 and 1996 and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N government in early 1993, although the Supreme Court of Pakistan restored it in May 1993.

Consequently, six caretaker cabinets were established between 1988 and 1996, to arrange for the holding of general elections in the country to elect new governments.

Javed Jabbar’s latest memoir is a recounting of a turbulent period in Pakistan’s chequered political history and a now mostly forgotten political party

As well as being a prominent and prolific writer, author Jabbar has acquired distinction in diverse fields. He is an advertising executive, politician, intellectual, scholar, artist, social worker and expert in mass communications. He was an elected member of the Senate from 1985 to 1991 and served in three federal cabinets. Possessing so many traits, Jabbar has always remained in the limelight and been the favourite of top leaderships of governments over the last more than four decades.

Jabbar’s book is sectioned into three parts. The first narrates the profile and political engagements of Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, who served as president of Pakistan from 1993 to 1997, and with whom the author enjoyed close affinity and rapport.

Born to the chief of a large Baloch tribe that had settled generations ago in Punjab’s district of Dera Ghazi Khan, Leghari was educated at Aitchison College, Lahore, and went on to study politics, philosophy and economics at the University of Oxford. Unlike conventional tribal sardars, he was neither conservative, nor orthodox in his approach.

On returning to Pakistan, Leghari took the competitive examination of the Central Public Service Commission. When his father passed away in 1973, Leghari resigned from the Civil Services and entered politics as a member of the PPP. He was later elected to the Senate and then, in March 1977, was elected to the National Assembly by a huge margin. This was followed by a brief stint — April-July 1977 — as federal minister for production.

In 1993, Leghari took oath as president during Benazir Bhutto’s second spell as prime minister. A year later, he was allegedly found involved in the ‘Mehrangate’ scandal, which tarnished his image of a clean and upright politician. The allegations claimed that Leghari had sold a small part of his vast landholdings for an amount of over 17 million rupees. The purportedly arid, unirrigated tracts were purchased by six individuals personally unknown to Leghari.

Mehran Bank had been used as the financial intermediary in a series of transactions that resulted in bad loans. The incident was portrayed as a blatant example of buying influence over government actions through the president. Nevertheless, the Commission of Inquiry constituted by the Supreme Court to investigate the matter exonerated Leghari of all accusations.

Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari taking oath as president. Three years later, with a heavy heart, he would dismiss his own party leader Benazir Bhutto’s government | Dawn file photo
Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari taking oath as president. Three years later, with a heavy heart, he would dismiss his own party leader Benazir Bhutto’s government | Dawn file photo

Countering this sordid episode is Jabbar’s recounting of Leghari’s support for Baanhn Beli, a volunteer-led, public service organisation, whose fundamental goal is to promote gender equality and equity.

In February 1994, Jabbar arranged a presidential visit to the vast, underdeveloped and arid region of Tharparkar in south-eastern Sindh, close to the Indian border. The area is 560 kilometres from Karachi and was then unconnected to the rest of the country by plane, train or metalled road.

President Leghari was greatly impressed by the organisation’s goals and declared that “female literacy and education is the single most important requirement for national development.” He authorised a donation of 10 million rupees to help advance Baanhn Beli’s efforts and exactly one year later, in February 1995, the organisation began grassroots developmental work in Tharparkar.

In the second part of his book, Jabbar pays glowing tribute to Malik Meraj Khalid, who co-founded the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1967. The author considers Khalid a role model in politics, having personal characteristics of honesty, hard work, humility and integrity that are rarely to be found among politicians.

Over the course of these two sections, Jabbar lays out the cause-and-effect that led to the creation of the Millat Party.

President Leghari had grown deeply disillusioned with the state of affairs during Benazir Bhutto’s second government, primarily on account of the PPP’s nepotism, alleged corruption and violation of administrative rules in various government entities. Exercising his presidential powers with a heavy heart, Leghari dismissed his own party’s regime in November 1996.

The author, meanwhile, resigned from formal membership of the PPP in August 1996, when he was federal minister for petroleum and natural resources. A rift had developed between him and Benazir, when the prime minister misused her executive powers to create a perpetual monopoly in private electronic media, which Jabbar challenged in the apex court.

In November 1996, Khalid was appointed caretaker prime minister of Pakistan. It was a very short incumbency, running for only 107 days, until February 1997. Despite the brief duration, though, the government went into overdrive, promulgating an astonishing 51 ordinances.

These included the Freedom of Information Ordinance, 1997, and the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance, 1997. As the author was closely and directly involved in the framing of both, he wanted them to become laws. The succeeding PML-N government did convert 35 of the 51 ordinances into acts of parliament, but deliberately omitted action on the above mentioned two, which would have fundamentally changed the information and electronic media sectors.

Nevertheless, Jabbar writes that he eventually managed to get both made into laws when he later served in the cabinet of Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Part three of the book looks at the journey of the new-born Millat Party. After Leghari resigned from the presidency in December 1997, he — along with the author and some more dissidents from the PPP as well as other political parties — launched the new political outfit in Lahore on Pakistan’s 50th anniversary: Aug 14, 1998.

Jabbar writes that at the launch, party president Leghari spoke with conviction and fluency, identified the party’s guiding principles and explained why several hundreds of citizens could well be considered its founder-members.

Leghari offered Jabbar the position of secretary general, which the author accepted. In this capacity, he prepared a comprehensive vision and manifesto for the Millat Party. These comprised 23 guiding principles as well as fundamental and structural reforms, which the party aspired to achieve.

Millat’s leadership organised several events across the country, in both urban and rural areas, to let the people know about the policies as recorded in the party’s manifesto and constitution, and the reforms its leaders intended to carry out. As well as the general public, they addressed local bar councils, farmers’ groups and chambers of commerce and industry.

In the general elections held in October 2002, Millat Party joined the National Alliance comprising Ajmal Khattak’s Awami National Party (ANP), Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi’s Peoples’ Democratic Alliance (PDA) and Arbab Ghulam Rahim’s National Peoples’ Party (NPP). The National Alliance won a total of 13 seats, of which eight were won by Millat.

In 2004, Millat died a premature death when Leghari decided to merge it with the PML-Q. Jabbar writes that this decision came as quite a shock to him. At the time, he was the party’s senior vice president.

In the book, Jabbar reproduces three articles he wrote for Dawn, and four that were published in The News, on the events of the period 1997-2003. Although relevant to the context, they duplicate content at some places and also disrupt the book’s continuity of information and description of events.

Nevertheless, Jabbar’s book is a vivid and in depth account of the turbulence and upheavals that had become a hallmark of Pakistan’s politics in the 1990s.

The reviewer is a consultant in human resources at the Aga Khan University Hospital

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, September 18th, 2022

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