Sartaj Aziz: Jinnah’s ‘selfless soldier’ with a front-row seat to Pakistani democracy, history

Veteran politician Sartaj Aziz speaks to Arab News in Islamabad on August 4, 2022. (AN Photo)
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Updated 14 August 2022

Sartaj Aziz: Jinnah’s ‘selfless soldier’ with a front-row seat to Pakistani democracy, history

  • Says prevalence of “military-managed system,” politicians providing civilian facade to army rule a major failure of Pakistani history
  • Due to participation in campaign for 1946 elections, Jinnah awarded Aziz the Mujahid-e-Pakistan (Soldier of Pakstan) certificate

ISLAMABAD: Sartaj Aziz, a veteran politician, bureaucrat and longtime observer of the vicissitudes of Pakistani history, said on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the country’s birth, that a major failure of the new nation’s democratic transition was the prevalence of a “military-managed system” in which political leaders had willingly provided a civilian facade to army rule.

Since its birth in 1947, Pakistan has spent several decades under military rule: 1958 – 1971, 1977 – 1988, 1999 – 2008. And even when the army has not ruled directly, it has retained an outsized role in the country’s politics, foreign policy and national security.

Aziz, 93, passionately championed the cause of Pakistan as a student activist and was part of the election campaign for India’s 1946 provincial polls, which were won by the All-India Muslim League and are believed to have laid the path to Pakistan’s independence.

“Pakistan was created through a democratic process because of the vote that we won in 1946, but unfortunately, we could not sustain the democratic process,” Aziz, who has a storied career as a civil servant and politician, told Arab News in an interview earlier this month.




Veteran politician Sartaj Aziz speaks to Arab News in Islamabad on August 4, 2022. (AN Photo)

“The first general election took place 23 years after Pakistan was born in 1970 … in the first 28 years, there were only five years of civilian rule,” the former head of the planning commission and an ex-national security adviser said. “That is our main structural fault, that we have not been able to sustain democracy.”

Aziz lamented that political leaders in Pakistan were a “product of a military-managed system” and had provided the army a “civilian facade.”

“Obviously when you don’t have democratic institutions working, then the political parties or the political process does not take root,” the nonagenarian said, adding that no civilian prime minister or government had been able to complete its tenure in a “military-managed system” and Pakistan’s economic potential was subsequently “sacrificed.”




A picture taken on August 4, 2022 in Islamabad, Pakistan, shows a framed group photo of Islamia College Lahore students with Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. (AN Photo)

Another problem was a leadership vacuum in the country’s early years, including that the nation’s founder and first governor general Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah died a year after independence and Liaquat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, was assassinated in 1951.

“So, India made their constitution in 1950 but we could not agree on certain basic issues — how much provincial autonomy, parliamentary system or presidential system, and what’s the role of Islam — and it took us several years and in 1956 we got the first constitution,” Aziz said.




A picture taken on August 4, 2022 in Islamabad, Pakistan, shows a framed photo of a young Sartaj Aziz (left) is receiving Mujahid-e-Pakistan award from Pakistani founder Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah (right) in 1946. (AN Photo)

But in 1958, President Iskander Mirza declared martial law in Pakistan and abrogated the constitution of 1956. In March 1969, General Yahya Khan took over from Ayub Khan.

General elections were held in December 1970, with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto winning in West Pakistan and the Awami League taking nearly all seats in East Pakistan, giving it an overall majority. However, Yahya and Bhutto refused to allow the Awami League to form a government and subsequently in December 1971, India and Pakistan fought a war over East Pakistan, leading to the creation of Bangladesh.

Yahya then handed power over to Bhutto, who took over as prime minister in 1973. In 1977, another military official, Army chief General Zia-ul-Haq, seized power and Bhutto was hanged two years later on a disputed conviction for conspiring to commit a political murder.

“Bhutto’s hanging was a very big mistake … Zia-ul-Haq obviously knew that if Bhutto survived then he can’t survive,” Aziz said, counting off what he considered some of the major failures of Pakistani history. “And the judiciary also admitted later on that it was a biased decision.”

Another blunder was Pakistan’s support for the Afghan resistance after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

“That also is a question mark as to should we have done that or should we have not done that because we are still suffering from its consequences,” Aziz said, referring to Pakistan’s decades-old problem of militancy, which is believed to be a by-product of the Afghan war.

Speaking about the run-up to partition in 1947, Sartaj Aziz said the Pakistan movement was gaining steam when he joined Islamia College, Lahore, in 1944.

The new institute of learning had become a hub of politics and was frequently visited by Jinnah who wanted young students to help spread his demand for a separate Muslim homeland.




Veteran politician Sartaj Aziz speaks to Arab News in Islamabad on August 4, 2022. (AN Photo)

“He came to Lahore 15 times between 1937 and 1947 and 11 times he came to Islamia college in those 10 years,” Aziz, who became part of campaigning for Jinnah’s Muslim League in the 1946 provincial elections, said. “And I was lucky that three times out of those 11, I was present in the Islamia college.”

“The 1945-46 elections were very important because Quaid-e-Azam’s objective was to prove that All India Muslim League was the representative body of Indian Muslims,” Aziz added.

“We sent 1,250 students to different Punjab constituencies in the batches of 6, 8 and 10 to campaign for the Pakistan Muslim league. And as a result, we won almost 85 percent of the seats in Punjab and in the country, as a whole out of 484 seats, 87 percent of seats were won. So that election of 1946 proved that the All-India Muslim League was the true representative of Muslims.”

 

 

The victory led the path for Pakistan, Aziz said:

“After the 1946 elections, the British agreed that without dealing with the All-India Muslim league it will be difficult to find a solution.”

As a result of the successful election campaign, Jinnah awarded Aziz the Mujahid-e-Pakistan – or “Warrior of Pakistan” – certificate.

“Quaid-e-Azam said that you have received Mujahid-e-Pakistan, and now you become Memar-e-Pakistan, or builder of Pakistan, so that’s how I decided my future career.” Aziz said. “My father wanted me to become a lawyer but then I decided to become a development professional because Quaid-e-Azam wanted so. So, I went to Hailey College of Commerce, and my career was changed under Quaid-e-Azam’s instructions.”

“He [Jinnah] was very affectionate with the students and would sit on the grass with us,” Aziz recalled, smiling. “He had very informal contact with us and called us his selfless soldiers.”


Three million children may miss a semester in flood-hit Pakistan — officials

Updated 29 September 2022

Three million children may miss a semester in flood-hit Pakistan — officials

  • In southern Sindh province, Pakistan’s worst-hit area, flooding has damaged about 15,000 schools
  • Pakistan, UNICEF and other agencies have set up temporary learning centers in flood-ravaged areas

ISLAMABAD: Almost 3 million children in Pakistan may miss at least one semester because of flood damage to schools, officials said Thursday, following heavy monsoon rains likely worsened by climate change.

Unprecedented deluges since mid-June have affected more than 33 million people, inundated millions of acres of land and devastated infrastructure, including education facilities.

Local authorities have set up temporary learning centers in flood-hit areas to enable children to keep studying. However, officials say these measures are not enough, given the scale of destruction.

In southern Sindh province, Pakistan’s worst-hit area, flooding has damaged about 15,000 schools, where 2.4 million children were enrolled, according to the local education department.

It has raised fears that at least 2.8 million children across the country may miss a semester, officials at the Planning Commission and National Disaster Management Authority told The Associated Press. Pakistan, UNICEF and other agencies have set up scores of temporary learning centers, they said.

On Thursday, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal told journalists at the military-backed National Flood Response and Coordination Center that the deluges have caused so much destruction that relief and rehabilitation work will continue for two years.

The floods have killed 1,666 people, and damaged 643 schools in Balochistan, 109 in Punjab and 287 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. The majority of those killed or affected by the disaster are women and children, according to data released Wednesday by the National Disaster Management Authority.

A World Bank report released Wednesday said the flooding had heavily impacted schools. The Government High School Ahmadani, in Punjab’s Dera Ghazi Khan district, had served generations of students since 1916. But it was no longer functional because of flood damage, it said.

“An estimated 3.5 million children have had their schooling disrupted,” the World Bank report said.

It quoted Gohar Abbas, an education activist, as saying many schools have been transferred to emergency shelters where families have temporary accommodation.

The new government data comes as UK-based charity Save the Children estimates that almost half of flood-affected families are sleeping outside in tents or makeshift shelters.

It surveyed 1,200 households in the four worst-hit provinces. Most of the families surveyed had lost their homes and were living in squalid conditions near roadsides, using pieces of cloth or tarpaulin for shelter from monsoon rains.

Save the Children’s country director in Pakistan, Khuram Gondal, said Pakistan was now in the grip of a major health emergency.

“In Sindh province, I saw hundreds of thousands of people living in filthy conditions in makeshift camps – some with only a plastic sheet to protect themselves from the heavy monsoon rains,” Gondal said. “We’re seeing children dying from waterborne diseases every day, and things will only get worse the longer they go on sleeping outside without shelter, food or water.”

He said teams on the ground were doing everything they can to ensure people have food, shelter, and clean drinking water. “But the reality is, there aren’t nearly enough funds to meet the desperate level of need.”

The charity has so far reached over 28,000 people, including more than 14,000 children, he said.

On Aug. 31, the United Nations and Pakistan issued an appeal for $160 million in emergency funding to help flood victims.

UNICEF last week renewed its appeal for $39 million to help the most vulnerable, saying only a third of the sum had been met so far.


Pakistani former prime minister's daughter acquitted in 'Avenfield Reference'

Updated 13 min 1 sec ago

Pakistani former prime minister's daughter acquitted in 'Avenfield Reference'

  • Sharifs accused of embezzling public funds to offshore accounts used to purchase four luxury Avenfield properties
  • Graft case also implicated Sharif’s sons, Hassan and Hussain, Maryam Nawaz and husband Safdar Awan acquitted

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday acquitted Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and her husband Muhammad Safdar Awan in a case popularly known as the Avenfield Reference that relates to the purchase of a number of upscale properties in London. 


The Sharifs were accused of embezzling public funds to offshore accounts that were used to purchase four high valued Avenfield properties, an apartment block on Park Lane in central London. The graft case also implicated Sharif’s sons, Hassan and Hussain.

The Sharifs say the case is politically motivated.

In July 2018, an accountability court sentenced former PM Sharif to 10 years in prison in the case and gave his daughter Maryam Nawaz seven years for abetment. Sharif’s son-in-law Awan got a one-year sentence for not cooperating with the investigation. 

Th ex-PM and his daughter subsequently filed an appeal against the jail sentence with the Islamabad High Court, asking it to annul the verdict of the accountability court.

"This is how lies come to end," Nawaz said after the acquittal hearing, lauding her legal team for fighting her case for four years.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, took to the Twitter:

“The edifice of lies, slander & character assassination has come crumbling down today,” he said.

“Maryam Nawaz's acquittal in the Avenfield Reference is a slap in the face of so-called accountability system that was employed to target Sharif family. My congratulations to Maryam Beti [daughter] & Safdar.”

 

 

 

Sharif was also sentenced in a separate case to seven years in prison in December 2018 and fined $25 million on corruption charges. An anti-corruption court in Islamabad ruled that Sharif was unable to prove the source of income that had led to his ownership of a steel mill in Saudi Arabia.

Sharif left the country to receive medical treatment in London in 2019 and has since not returned.


Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah tests positive for COVID-19

Updated 51 min 45 sec ago

Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah tests positive for COVID-19

  • Shah was discharged from hospital on Thursday after being diagnosed with pneumonia
  • Shah played only one game in 7-match series against England at Karachi before being rested

LAHORE: Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the remaining two Twenty20s against England, the Pakistan Cricket Board said on Thursday.

Shah was discharged from hospital on Thursday after being diagnosed with pneumonia and the PCB said the fast bowler was feeling “much better.”

“Shah is back in the team hotel where he will follow all COVID-19 protocols,” the PCB said in a statement.

Pakistan is due to leave for New Zealand next Monday to participate in a triangular Twenty20 series also featuring Bangladesh.

The PCB didn’t clarify whether the fast bowler will accompany the team to New Zealand.

Shah played only one game in the seven-match series against England at Karachi before being rested. He returned expensive figures of 0-41 off his four overs in the first match, which England won by six wickets.

He was admitted to hospital late Tuesday night in Lahore with a chest infection and fever.

Pakistan leads the series 3-2 with back-to-back narrow wins at Karachi and Lahore in the last two games as England couldn’t chase down below-par totals.

The remaining two matches will be played on Friday and Sunday at Lahore.


Given scale of flood damage, relief work to continue for two years — planning minister

Updated 52 min 56 sec ago

Given scale of flood damage, relief work to continue for two years — planning minister

  • Devastating floods engulfed large swathes of Pakistan this month, killing more than 1,600 people
  • Deluges swept away homes, crops, bridges, roads, causing an estimated $30 billion of damage

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, Ahsan Iqbal, said on Thursday devastation from recent floods was so severe that relief activities would have to carry on for at least the next two years.

Devastating floods engulfed large swathes of Pakistan this month, killing more than 1,600 people and sweeping away homes, crops, bridges, roads and livestock and causing an estimated $30 billion of damage.

“Rehabilitation activities in the flood-affected areas may continue for two years in view of the scale of the devastation caused by the calamity,” Radio Pakistan reported, quoting Iqbal at a media talk.

“Natural disasters are a result of climate change, however, we are coming up with plans to deal with them in future. For now, the government has allocated Rs40 billion for 20 underdeveloped districts.”

Iqbal added that the nation would have to unite to come in aid of flood victims, lauding the work of international charities, local non-governmental organizations and the armed forces.

In the wake of the floods, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has appealed to rich nations for immediate debt relief, saying what had been done was commendable, but adding, “It’s far from meeting our needs.”

Sharif, who was in New York last week to attend the UN General Assembly, told Bloomberg TV that Pakistan had taken up the debt relief issue with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and world leaders.

“We have spoken to European leaders and other leaders to help us in Paris club, to get us a moratorium,” he said, referring to rich nation creditors.

Sharif has said the country of 220 million would not be able to stand on its feet “unless we get substantial relief.” He said Pakistan would also seek relief from long-time ally China, to which it owes about 30 percent of its external debt.

Sharif and then finance minister Miftah Ismail said they had also taken up the relief issue with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Ismail said the IMF has “almost agreed” to the request for easing the conditions of Pakistan’s $7 billion program that was resumed in July after being delayed for months.

“They’ve said almost yes,” he told local Pakistani Dunya News TV in New York a day after Sharif met the IMF’s managing director.


Pakistan, UAE agree to start work on Mubarak Center construction project in Lahore

Updated 29 September 2022

Pakistan, UAE agree to start work on Mubarak Center construction project in Lahore

  • Dhabi Group signed agreement with Pakistan to invest Rs60 billion in construction project in February this year
  • Mabarak Center will have commercial, residential and entertainment facilities as well as a seven-star hotel

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates have decided to start work on a construction project called the Mabarak Center in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province, the office of the provincial chief minister said on Thursday.

The UAE’s Dhabi Group signed an agreement with Pakistan to invest Rs60 billion in the construction project in February this year. The center will include commercial, residential and entertainment facilities and is slated to be the tallest building in Lahore. It will include a seven-star hotel linked with Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium.

On Thursday, UAE ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi met Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, chief minister Punjab, to discuss the Mubarak Center initiative and other issues, including the promotion of bilateral relations and investment opportunities.

“Both agreed to start work on the Mubarak Center project on Ferozepur Road Lahore soon,” a statement from the chief minister’s office said.

“We welcome the billions of rupees investment in the state-of-the-art Mubarak Center project by the Dhabi Group and are deeply grateful to Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, UAE Minister [for Tolerance and Coexistence].”

“The construction project of the Mubarak Center will further promote mutual cooperation between the two countries,” the UAE envoy was quoted as saying in a statement.

During the meeting, Elahi also thanked the ambassador for UAE’s help for flood victims. Last month, the UAE began operating an air bridge to transport humanitarian aid to Pakistan. It has since sent 41 relief flights to support Pakistan where over 1,600 have died in cataclysmic floods.

The UAE is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and home to more than 1.6 million Pakistani nationals.