Illustration by Sarah Durrani


Contrary to all expectations, Junejo rose in stature in the public’s eyes. He had demonstrated leadership to a brutalised nation and given it some hope.
Published March 24, 2024

After the 1985 elections, Gen Zia had to choose a prime minister. Given that a popular Sindhi leader of the stature of Bhutto had been hanged, (since the takeover by the military in the ‘70s) combined with the intensity of the MRD’s resistance revealed in Sindh, appointing a Sindhi to the post was considered a politically expedient move. The choice of prime minister came down to either Elahi Bux Soomro or Muhammad Khan Junejo.

Soomro was a bureaucrat, had been a member of Zia’s cabinet from the start, and was close to the establishment. Junejo had previously served as a minister in West Pakistan, almost 20 years earlier, and was highly recommended and supported by Pir Pagara.

Furthermore, Zia wanted a prime minister who would be beholden to him while providing a veneer of legitimacy to his regime and, in the end, he opted for Junejo. As subsequent events were to prove, Junejo was far more independent and assertive than Zia had anticipated.

The tug of war between Zia and Junejo began the day after the prime minister took his oath of office. Under the rules of business, the prime minister was the deciding authority on all matters and the position of the president was largely ceremonial, similar to that of the queen of England or the president of India.

It was reported that when this issue was raised by senior bureaucrat Roedad Khan before Junejo was sworn in, President Zia responded that he would be able to “control everything.” Perhaps this was possible because Zia had overriding authority as chief martial law administrator, but when Zia informed Junejo of his intention to appoint him prime minister, Junejo asked: “When are you going to lift martial law, Mr President?” From that point, their relationship went steadily downhill.

Early on in his premiership, during an address at the National Assembly, Junejo remarked that martial law and democracy could not coexist. Zia did not appreciate these early signs of defiance and Gen Mujeebur Rehman, his hand-picked information secretary, had these remarks expunged from the PTV telecast.

Junejo immediately replaced Rehman, who was considered one of Zia’s closest allies in the bureaucracy. Junejo also replaced Anwar Zahid, a civil servant whom Zia had posted as the prime minister’s principal secretary, with Captain Usman Ali Isani, with whom he was more comfortable.

During his time as a civil servant, Salman Faruqui was often referred to as a ‘super-bureaucrat’. Serving from 1962 to 2017, he had the chance to witness many important developments in Pakistan’s history from close quarters and to establish a relationship with some of the military and civilian rulers who determined its destiny. Eos presents, with permission, an excerpt from his memoirs “Dear Mr Jinnah…”: 70 Years in the Life of a Pakistani Civil Servant, about to be published by Lightstone Publishers. This excerpt focuses on the turbulent relationship between President Gen Ziaul Haq and his handpicked Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo…

It was while addressing a public meeting at Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore on December 1, 1985, that Junejo announced his decision to lift martial law.

Restrictions on political activity and the media were largely removed, fundamental rights restored, and the oppressive atmosphere that had prevailed began to lighten. This move strengthened Junejo’s confidence and he began to show signs of independence. He started to deal with files sent to him by the president by exercising his own judgement and priorities.

He asserted himself on matters relating to high-level promotions among officers of the armed forces, which required his endorsement; for example, Zia had recommended the promotion of a particular major general to lieutenant general, but Junejo sat on the file and ultimately a compromise had to be worked out.

Junejo was a stickler for rules. Salman recalls him often querying whether something was “within the rules” before acting, and he refused to bend them for anyone, no matter who the person was. He was also a man of habit and maintained a strict routine. Describing his strict regimen and some of his idiosyncrasies, Salman remembers that Junejo always had an afternoon nap before returning to work, where he would remain until late at night.

He was frugal when in his official residence and wandered around switching off the lights to save taxpayers’ money. In Islamabad, his eating habits were modest and there was a stark contrast between his lavish lifestyle in his hometown of Sindhri as a private citizen and the one he displayed at his official residence.

When at home in Sindhri, Junejo hosted lavish meals in the style of Sindh’s landlords at his own expense, but in Rawalpindi he was excessively conscious about spending taxpayers’ money. Lunch invitations were usually rather awkward for visitors, because the menu mainly consisted of chapatis and a meagre main entrée. When invited by Junejo to share in this modest repast, Salman would often excuse himself by saying that he had already eaten.

Junejo was in Skardu when he learnt that some young Turks in parliament were mustering support in order to defeat the vote scheduled for the June 1985 budget, although it was unclear whether they were instigated by President Zia or were acting on their own.

The prime minister spent the following two days on the phone with members of the National Assembly, identifying precisely which of the new taxes appeared to be causing problems. He then requested the finance minister to withdraw the most unpopular ones before the vote. The finance minister suggested announcing austerity measures to offset any losses in taxes. It was proposed to make it mandatory for members of the cabinet and the civil officers who were entitled to official cars to use locally assembled 1000cc Suzukis.

At that point, there was no suggestion that military officers too should be asked to use such Suzukis. However, when Junejo made the announcement in parliament in June 1987, perhaps in the heat of the moment, he added the generals to the list. The decision received widespread media coverage as well as editorial praise, and the budget was passed. Predictably, the decision made the military and civil bureaucracy hugely unhappy.

Junejo worked hard behind the scenes to build ties with members of parliament. Elected on a non-party basis, they had their own personal power bases and egos and it was an uphill task building working relationships with them. But Junejo managed to do so by attending every session of parliament and remaining accessible even after office hours.

He also kept a watchful eye on his MNAs and was particularly concerned about legislators misusing their office to obtain favours, especially from the nationalised banks — a concern that prompted him to issue an order through the Pakistan Banking Council, whereby no bank was authorised to sanction a loan to any political office-holder without first referring the matter to him.

This scrutiny was resented by some legislators and by some heads of banks, but Junejo did not waver. Khalid Mahmud Arif (the deputy chief of army staff), who was chief of staff in President Zia’s secretariat and ran the day-to-day administration of the country, became a regular visitor to Junejo’s chambers — something that did not sit well with Zia, who had everything to lose if Junejo developed direct contact with the army’s General Headquarters.

 Thanks to his farming background, Junejo was often able to foresee rough weather and gathering storms and would move to defuse a crisis before it proved too damaging | White Star
Thanks to his farming background, Junejo was often able to foresee rough weather and gathering storms and would move to defuse a crisis before it proved too damaging | White Star

Junejo’s zero-tolerance policy towards financial impropriety did not spare even people close to him. One victim of this hardline policy was Anwar Aziz Chaudhary, a local government minister who had deposited his MNA development fund monies in his own NGO account, pending a decision with respect to the projects. A committee was instituted under Gen Majeed Malik (MNA) to investigate the charges against Anwar Aziz Chaudhary. No evidence of corruption was found but, clearly, a procedural lapse had been uncovered.

Junejo acted swiftly and removed Anwar Aziz Chaudhary from his post and suspended the federal secretary in charge. Incidentally, the same secretary had worked closely with Junejo when he was a minister in the West Pakistan government, but old ties meant little to Junejo when it came to his distaste for such irregularities. Despite the harsh action taken against him, Aziz stood behind Junejo when an attempt was made to remove him from the position of president of the Muslim League, at the behest of President Zia.

Muhammad Khaqan Abbasi was removed as a minister over a minor procedural lapse, as was Islamuddin Shaikh, the former mayor of Sukkur and a minister, despite the fact that Shaikh had been a partner of Junejo in a ghee mill and a close friend. Junejo made no exceptions even for his benefactors.

Pir Pagara, who was responsible for bringing Junejo to Zia’s notice had requested a favour on behalf of a friend but which Junejo believed not to be in order. Pir Pagara was unhappy about this and, in that tense situation, Junejo turned to Salman for assistance.

Salman had a remote connection with Pir Pagara through his father who, as a minister in the early 1950s, had officially received the young Pagara scions when they had returned from exile in the UK. Junejo asked Salman to visit the Pir and explain the difficulties involved in doing what he wanted. After the meeting, Pir Pagara withdrew his request, but it was clear he was disillusioned with Junejo.

Gen Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan, the highly respected foreign minister and a close aide of President Zia, also found himself the victim of Junejo’s principles when he was removed from office over what Junejo perceived as backtracking on a promise.

Yaqub, who was both highly regarded and well-read, had decided to stand for election as director general of Unesco. Given his vast experience as a diplomat and contacts, he was convinced that he would easily win. Salman recalls that, when Yaqub informed Junejo that he was confident of victory, Junejo asked him: “What if you lose?” And then Junejo answered the question himself. “If you lose, you must step down as foreign minister.” He believed that the office of foreign minister would lose credibility if Yaqub were defeated.

As it turned out, Yaqub’s confidence was misplaced. As the campaign progressed, it became evident that some Muslim countries were not going to back his bid. Zia and Junejo were asked to intervene and personally approach several heads of state. Their efforts went in vain. Yaqub lost the election and returned chastened to Islamabad, to resume his duties as foreign minister.

The prime minister was not pleased by this turn of events, and about the fact that Yaqub had not informed him about this defeat. Soon after, Junejo invited Yaqub to his office and reminded him of their earlier conversation, ending with: “I’m very sorry but you must step down.”

Yaqub still had Zia’s backing and he left for the presidency at about quarter to seven in the evening to discuss the matter with the president. Fifteen minutes later, at seven o’clock, while he was still with Zia, the PTV news bulletin announced Yaqub’s resignation and his replacement by Minister of State Zain Noorani. The news came as a shock to both Yaqub and the president.

Junejo had an interest in foreign affairs and, since the beginning of his premiership, he planned to go on foreign visits to enhance his public profile. Salman recalls that at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Summit in Kathmandu in November 1987, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi expressed his reluctance at holding a one-on-one meeting with his Pakistani counterpart. Yet, when the meeting did take place, Gandhi’s attitude changed and the meeting helped to break the ice between the relatively hostile South Asian countries.

 After ousting Junejo, Gen Zia decided to have him removed as head of the Muslim League and a meeting was called at the Islamabad Hotel. Yet, despite Zia’s support towards his nominees — including Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif — he failed to displace Junejo | White Star
After ousting Junejo, Gen Zia decided to have him removed as head of the Muslim League and a meeting was called at the Islamabad Hotel. Yet, despite Zia’s support towards his nominees — including Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif — he failed to displace Junejo | White Star

Junejo may not have been erudite and bookish, but he had an abundance of common sense. Thanks to his farming background, he was often able to foresee rough weather and gathering storms and would move to defuse a crisis before it proved too damaging.

He was extremely cautious and rarely took a decision without giving it a great deal of thought. Salman describes him as placid and even-tempered, no matter how stressed he was. But he was also stubborn and unlikely to change his mind once he had come to a decision.

The Zia-Junejo relationship continued to deteriorate, as the prime minister began to assert himself further. In 1986, when Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from exile, Zia made it clear that her supporters would not be allowed to welcome her at the airport. Junejo disagreed.

At a meeting in Lahore chaired by the president, Junejo said the government should under no circumstances stop the crowds from greeting Benazir Bhutto. “There is democracy in the country,” he said. “We cannot prevent people from gathering to receive her.”

Junejo prevailed and Benazir Bhutto returned to an unprecedented welcome in Lahore. The streets of Punjab’s capital were filled with a sea of exuberant and chanting crowds with the PPP flag fluttering overhead. It was a homecoming Pakistan had rarely witnessed before. Junejo’s government had kept its nerve and allowed its arch-rival to stage a mammoth show of strength in the country’s political heartland without interference.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy was another major point of divergence between Gen Zia and Prime Minister Junejo. Zia was heavily invested in supporting the Mujahideen, whereas Junejo saw the policy as a hindrance to the peace and security of Pakistan. The turning point in the relationship between the two men took place in 1987, when a bomb exploded in Karachi’s crowded Bohri Bazaar, killing over 72 people and wounding 250.

Junejo and Salman were on an official visit in Japan when the news broke. Although no one claimed responsibility for the attack, intelligence reports attributed it to Khadamat-e-Aetla’at-e-Dawlati (KHAD — the secret service agency in Afghanistan) in retaliation for alleged Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan.

Junejo had just returned from an audience with the emperor of Japan when Salman gave him the shocking news. His reaction was instant. “We must return to Pakistan immediately. This is too big to ignore.” All further meetings in Japan were cancelled by Junejo.

The Bohri Bazaar attack strengthened Junejo’s resolve to end the fighting in Afghanistan. “We can’t go on like this. We must get out of this war,” he said. Back in Pakistan, he convened an All-Parties’ Conference, which Benazir Bhutto attended on the explicit condition that President Zia would not be invited, a turn of events that naturally angered Zia.

After the conference, Junejo held an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss sending Zain Noorani, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs to Geneva, where peace talks were taking place. At one point during the meeting, Junejo’s aide-de-camp (ADC) whispered in the prime minister’s ear that the president was on his way.

Zia showed up in his slippers — he had obviously left his residence in a hurry. Upset and agitated, he lashed out at the cabinet members present. The Russians had been brought to their knees, he declared, but all these efforts would be reversed if the war were halted.

Unmoved, Junejo and the cabinet went ahead and confirmed Noorani’s participation in the peace talks in Geneva, despite Zia’s opposition. Although the Soviet Union, the US and the Afghan rebels were not officially part of the negotiations, it was understood that they played an integral role in ending the war. For the US, pulling out of Afghanistan meant they would be able to concentrate on Eastern Europe, where the Iron Curtain was beginning to come down. The Geneva Accords were signed on April 14, 1988.

When another major explosion took place on April 10, 1988, in the Ojhri Camp in Rawalpindi, Junejo was in Karachi addressing the business community at the Governor House. His ADC informed Salman that the US ambassador in Islamabad was on the phone, asking to speak urgently to the prime minister. Salman took the call and the ambassador informed him that all kinds of missiles, rockets and projectiles were raining down in all directions in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

Hearing the news, Junejo wanted to fly to Islamabad immediately. However, as rockets were also hitting Islamabad Airport, for security reasons, the prime minister had to wait impatiently until the evening before he could fly back. Then, in mid-flight, the pilot announced that it would take another couple of hours to clear Islamabad Airport for a VIP flight to land and the flight had been diverted to Lahore.

While at Lahore Airport, Junejo was informed that the vehicle of Khaqan Abbasi (a former member of Junejo’s cabinet) had been hit by a missile and he had died. Junejo was shocked and refused to wait any longer.

Back in Islamabad, he was received at the airport by Acting President Ghulam Ishaq Khan (Zia was in Kuwait attending a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Countries), defence secretary Ijlal Haider Zaidi and Gen Imran Ullah Khan, corps commander Rawalpindi. No minister was present, but perhaps none had been informed about the prime minister’s return to Islamabad.

Taking Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s advice, Junejo appointed an inquiry commission under Gen Imran Ullah Khan to investigate and apportion the blame. The decision did not go down well with some ministers who feared a cover-up, and Junejo constituted another committee comprising ministers Aslam Khattak, Qazi Abdul Majeed Abid, Ibrahim Baloch and Rana Naeem — the Minister of State for Defence — to investigate the blast.

Junejo informed the media that he would present the committee’s report to the National Assembly and punish those found responsible. Although Gen Imran Ullah Khan submitted his report to Zia and Junejo, the contents remained secret and it was rumoured that several senior officers had been named.

Aslam Khattak, one of the prime minister’s nominees on the second committee formed by Junejo, later declared the disaster to be “an act of God” while Rana Naeem (who stood by Junejo) maintained that his office was raided and the briefcase containing the report had been stolen.

Junejo’s decision to hold the inquiry without consulting Zia was the final nail in the coffin. The strained relations between the president and his prime minister had reached a breaking point, and it was the beginning of the end of the Zia-Junejo relationship.

It was in this atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust that Junejo went ahead with a scheduled trip to South Korea and the Philippines. It would be his last official trip.

Returning from this trip and landing at Islamabad Airport, Salman immediately sensed that something was amiss. It was the evening of May 29, 1988, a date that Salman would never forget. Traditionally, prime ministers hold a presser at the airport after their return from an important overseas trip. Junejo’s press conference had been cancelled without his consent, and the media was informed that President Zia would be holding one instead prior to his departure for Beijing.

An even bigger shock awaited the prime minister. When Salman arrived home and switched on the television, he learnt that Junejo had been sacked. Zia had finally struck at his handpicked prime minister.

Salman went to Rawalpindi. Arriving at the Prime Minister House, his entry was barred by a large army contingent at the gate. Luckily, Salman managed to speak to a senior army officer and was granted permission to enter. Inside, Junejo was with his military secretary and ADC and unaware that the army had taken control of the Prime Minister House.

At that point, the ADC announced that Zia was on the phone. The call lasted about ten minutes, during which Zia assured Junejo that his staff and military secretary would continue working with him until his return to Karachi. He was given permission to fly in the president’s plane to Karachi. The next day, a farewell lunch was held for Junejo by the staff of the Prime Minister House. Junejo was the first prime minister of Pakistan to leave the capital honourably, so to speak, after being dismissed.

After ousting Junejo, President Zia decided to have him removed as head of the Muslim League and a meeting was called at the Islamabad Hotel. Yet, despite Zia’s support towards his nominees — including Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif — he failed to displace Junejo. It appeared that Junejo was seen by many as a man of integrity and enjoyed hard support among several Muslim Leaguers.

Salman met Junejo a few months after President Zia’s death later that year. It was to be their last meeting. Salman had gone to see President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. To his surprise, he saw Junejo in the president’s waiting room, along with a few other visitors. He was waiting to meet Ghulam Ishaq Khan and he looked very frail and cut a lone figure. Salman was surprised to see a former prime minister being made to wait. Soon after, Junejo left for the United States, where he passed away from cancer.

It was a sad end to the life of an unlikely prime minister. Contrary to all expectations, Junejo rose in stature in the public’s eyes. He had demonstrated leadership to a brutalised nation and given it some hope. He was widely acknowledged as an honourable leader, who conducted himself with integrity and dignity, caring for the poor and downtrodden.

Salman Faruqui is a former civil servant. His memoirs were narrated to and compiled by the late Talat Aslam and Mariam Ali Baig

Excerpted with permission from “Dear Mr Jinnah…”: 70 Years in the Life of a Pakistani Civil Servant, to be published by Lightstone Publishers

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 24th, 2024