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)
Short Url
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.”

Pakistan’s rupee gains by 0.76% on hopes of IMF relief, declining price of commodities worldwide 

Updated 05 October 2022

Pakistan’s rupee gains by 0.76% on hopes of IMF relief, declining price of commodities worldwide 

  •  Dollar closes at Rs223.94, up by Rs1.70— State Bank of Pakistan 
  • Finance Minister Dar has vowed to bring dollar to under Rs200 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s rupee continued to gain in value against the US dollar on Wednesday, appreciating by 0.76 percent with analysts crediting it mainly to hopes that the country will secure relaxations from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and declining prices of commodities worldwide. 

Pakistan’s rupee has been on an upward trajectory against the greenback ever since a change in the finance ministry, with former finance minister Miftah Ismail resigning and ruling party senator Ishaq Dar taking his place. 

The greenback closed at Rs223.94 on Wednesday, October 5 with the Pakistani rupee gaining by 0.76 percent, as per figures by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). 

“[The rupee gaining value] is due to relaxations that the market expects Pakistan will get from the Asian Development Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank due to floods,” Samiullah Tariq, director research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment Company, told Arab News. 

Tariq said prices of international commodities had also decreased in the global market, which had also eased pressure on the rupee. “In my opinion, the [greenback] will come down to the Rs210-215 level in the coming days,” he added. 

He said a “change in sentiment” had also been observed in the currency market since Dar has taken over the finance ministry. 

Earlier this week, Dar said the country’s currency will strengthen to under 200 rupees to the US dollar. He said the rupee would be strengthened through government “policies” as the current rate was inflated due to speculation. 

Dar, who was sworn in last week as finance minister for his fourth stint in the role, has strongly favored intervention in currency markets in the past. 

Khurram Schehzad, CEO of an investment banking and advisory outlet Alpha Beta Core, told Arab News the rupee had gained in value due to “better surveillance” of currency markets by the SBP and the finance ministry. 

However, he warned the rupee may decline in the coming days. 

“Our economy is weak and with the floods, it’s a challenging situation,” Schehzad said. “There are chances of imports rising due to which the rupee may decline again.” 

He said Pakistan’s reserves were low and with the rupee appreciating, Pakistan’s exports may not be sustainable in the long run. Schehzad said the value of the US dollar against other currencies was also on the rise, which could mean the rupee may further weaken in the coming days. 

Sarah Inam’s family says won’t return to Canada without justice in alleged killing by husband

Updated 05 October 2022

Sarah Inam’s family says won’t return to Canada without justice in alleged killing by husband

  • Sarah Inam, 37, was allegedly murdered by husband Shahnawaz Amir last month
  • Family is based in Canada and arrived in Islamabad last week for last rites, to pursue legal case

ISLAMABAD: The father of Sarah Inam, a Pakistani-Canadian who was allegedly beaten to death by her husband last month, said on Wednesday the family would stay in Pakistan until the case was solved, calling on the government and judiciary to dispense speedy justice.

Inam, a 37-year-old economist who worked in Abu Dhabi, was murdered with dumbbells, according to police, by her husband Shahnawaz Amir at a suburban Islamabad home on September 23. Inam got married to Amir of her own choice on July 18 in his hometown of Chakwal. The parents of the couple were not present at the event.

Amir is currently under arrest and being investigated by police.

Inam’s parents and two brothers arrived from Canada and the United States respectively last week to perform Inam’s last rites and pursue the legal case.

“We are still traumatized and shocked, but strongly believe that we will get justice,” Inam Rahim, the victim’s father, told media in Islamabad.

“It was all planned. He [Amir] was a predator from the start, and my daughter was so naive to believe him,” he said, adding that the family would stay in Pakistan to pursue the case till its end.

Rahim said Amir seemed “sensible and convincing” when they had interacted over the phone after the marriage and the family never suspected he was a “beast and killer.”

“We had no negative information about Shahnawaz before the incident,” he said, adding that his daughter informed the family about the marriage over the phone after it was contracted.

“We were planning a formal wedding reception for our daughter in the first week of November,” Rahim said. “It never occurred to us that our daughter, who was a genius and accomplished professional, could be killed like this.”

The father expressed confidence in the police and the investigation process and said he hoped “justice will be served in the minimum possible time.”

The police have so far verified the couple’s nikah, seized a Mercedes car bought by the deceased, and investigated at least five people who attended the couple’s marriage in Chakwal. The police have yet to recover the deceased’s Canadian passport to get exact details of her travel history and have also sought court permission to access the victim and suspect’s bank accounts to investigate accusations of extortion against Amir.

Inam’s murder is reminiscent of last year’s headline-grabbing murder of Noor Mukadam, 27, which drew an outpouring of anger over femicides in the South Asian nation.

In March this year, a Pakistani court sentenced to death Pakistani-American Zahir Jaffer, a childhood friend of Mukadam, for beheading her. Mukadam and Jaffer were widely believed to have been in a romantic relationship, which they had broken off a few months before her murder.

The Islamabad High Court on Wednesday took up appeals in the Mukadam case and regular hearing will start from October 26, which lawyers say would conclude within ten weeks.

Speaking on the occasion, Inam’s brother Farrukh Inam, an employee at a tech company in the US, said his sister had been killed in a “premeditated act,” calling for the culprit to be hanged at the earliest.

“Our lawyer says we have a strong case to plead against the culprit and we’ll take it to the logical conclusion,” he said. “We haven’t been able to sleep peacefully since her murder.”

Inam’s two uncles, aunts and several first cousins were also present at the press conference.

“She was a brilliant, intelligent and kind person,” one of her uncles, Col (retired) Ikram Rahim, said. “She has left a void in our family that can’t be filled.”

‘Mindboggling’ how Babar Azam handled relentless pressure, criticism — Shadab Khan

Updated 59 min 53 sec ago

‘Mindboggling’ how Babar Azam handled relentless pressure, criticism — Shadab Khan

  • Pakistan vice-captain Shadab Khan backs Babar Azam ahead of triangular series
  • Pakistan to play New Zealand, Bangladesh in coming days before T20 World Cup 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cricket team’s vice-captain Shadab Khan on Wednesday threw his weight behind skipper Babar Azam, praising him for handling “relentless pressure” and “sometimes unfair criticism” as the green shirts prepare for their triangular series against New Zealand and Bangladesh. 

Azam, widely regarded as the best T20I batter in world cricket today, has been criticized by fans over Pakistan’s recent losses in the Asia Cup 2022 and in the home series against England. At times, fans have questioned Azam’s captaincy decisions, his playing XI choices and blamed him for the team not batting aggressively. 

Pakistan have a hectic T20 schedule ahead of them in the coming days and weeks. Azam’s team are scheduled to play Bangladesh on Friday and New Zealand on Saturday for the triangular series. On October 23, they kick off their T20 World Cup campaign with a clash against arch-rivals India.

Khan, in a blog published on the Pakistan Cricket Board’s website, said the more he learns from Azam, the more his admiration for the 27-year-old grows. “The way this 27-year-old, who is relatively new to the leadership role, has handled relentless pressure and sometimes unfair criticism while ensuring his own performance doesn’t slip, is simply mindboggling,” he wrote. 

“He has stood like a rock for his players and fully backed them. This is the hallmark of a leader, this is how you earn respect from your players and this is how you develop your team,” Khan added. 

Khan said Azam had thrown his weight behind every member of the team, adding that it is up to them to rise to the occasion. “If we have to make our captain stand tall and be proud, then we have to convert our potential into performances,” he added. 

Khan responded to the backlash after Pakistan’s 4-3 loss at home to England, saying the team had “only two poor days in the office” if the series was properly analyzed. 

“But we understand and accept the anger and frustration of the fans and public: they’ve once again started to pin hopes on us after what we have achieved as a team in the past 12 months,” he added. 

In a first, women avail free-of-cost bus service in Pakistan’s north

Updated 48 min 20 sec ago

In a first, women avail free-of-cost bus service in Pakistan’s north

  • Three 44-seater buses will cover routes in Gilgit and Skardu, official
  • GB government says will triple number of buses by January or February 2023

KARACHI: In a first, women in Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region availed a free-of-cost bus service on Wednesday, dedicated exclusively for women’s transport. 

GB Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid launched the ‘Pink Bus Service’ on Tuesday, October 4 to ensure women could avail free and safe transport in the region. 

“It’s a first in the history of Pakistan that a free-of-cost bus service has been launched for women in Gilgit-Baltistan,” Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani, GB chief secretary, told Arab News in a telephonic conversation on Wednesday. 

Wani said it took him only 10 days to launch the service, from conceiving the idea to its execution. “We renovated the buses we already had, but I plan to buy new ones in the future,” he added. 

Wani recalled how he disliked seeing young women suffer as they waited for transport on various roads in GB to commute in the mornings. He said males were forced to drop women at various locations and as a result, had to pay fares for multiple people. 

“The Pink Bus Service improves access, reduces financial burden and provides security,” he explained. “It is spacious with 44 seats and covers 80 percent of the routes while it will be operating in rush hours,” Wani added. 

Delving into the details of the project, Wani said three buses will travel in the Gilgit and Skardu regions. He said the government plans to expand the service to more areas in the region. 

Buses will travel twice a day and between four routes. The Pink Bus Service timings are 06:00 am to 09:00 am and then from 01:00 p.m. to 03:00 pm. 

“Students, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and women from various fields of work will benefit from the service,” Wani said. “I have directed the traffic police to facilitate these buses on the roads and I am gathering feedback from women using the service to be able to expand the service,” he added. 

“I will triple the number and routes by January or February 2023,” Wani said. 

He said women who attended the inauguration and used the buses felt comfortable and secure. 

“There has never been such an initiative or a bus service for the general public [in Gilgit Baltistan], let alone women,” Muheen Zaman, a 23-year-old journalist, told Arab News. 

“Women in GB used taxis or Suzuki [vehicles] to commute which is quite unsafe and expensive. It’s a good initiative from the GB government,” Zaman added. She hails from GB’s Ghizer District. 

Journalist Kiran Qasim, 29, told Arab News women often faced harassment while commuting in vans as two women often had to share the front seat with the driver. 

Qasim, who is from Gilgit, said while no action was taken against harassment complaints, it is a relief that women can now travel safely in spacious buses. “The routes are also quite good as women have long commutes for work so they can have a comfortable ride,” she added. 

While the bus was launched officially yesterday, the service has begun its operations from today, Wednesday. 

Shereen Karim, 27, a freelance journalist based in GB, appreciated the initiative. However, she said the timings aren’t suitable for professionals other than teachers. 

“The timings aren’t suitable for working women; these timings, I suppose, are fixed for college and university students,” Karim told Arab News. 

“So, it’s a good facility for students who cannot afford transport but not for working women. It would be good if the timings can be extended,” she added.

For Pakistan children who survived floods, teachers turn tents into schools

Updated 57 min 16 sec ago

For Pakistan children who survived floods, teachers turn tents into schools

  • Floods destroyed 3,000 schools in Balochistan, locking nearly 390,000 students out of the classroom
  • 400 children of Government Boys School in Hanna Urak are attending classes in makeshift tents

QUETTA: As they stood up when their white-bearded maths professor entered a tent on Teacher’s Day on Wednesday, students in flood devastated Urak valley showed their respect not only for his role in their education, but in getting them back to class. 

The sole Government Boys School in Hanna Urak, some 40 km from Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, was destroyed when the floods, caused by abnormal monsoon rains and glacial melt, have submerged huge swathes of the South Asian country since mid-June. 

The southwestern province was one of the worst hit by the deadly floods, which destroyed homes and more than 3,000 schools, locking nearly 390,000 students out of the classroom. 

In Urak, children could not return to their damaged school when floodwaters subsided. And as the building is no longer usable, many parents gave up on their education, asking them to help rebuild their ruined households instead. 

Students are learning at a makeshift tent classroom in Hanna Urak, Balochistan, Pakistan, on Oct. 5, 2022. (AN Photo)

As concerns are already rising of a lost generation of Pakistani children, who again are unable to reach the classroom after already missing out on schooling during the coronavirus pandemic, the maths teacher, Abdul Aleem, reached out to their parents to allow them to attend classes in tents. 

“I believe education in bad circumstances is better than stopping the children from school,” he told Arab News. 

“We have met the parents and students to convince them to education, and resumed the classes.” 

A teacher attends to his students at the Government Boys High School in Hanna Urak, Balochistan, Pakistan on Oct. 5, 2022. (AN Photo)

As most of the parents have agreed and classes resumed last month, Aleem who has been teaching for the past four decades, said it kept his “hopes alive for the educational future of our country.” 

Nadeem Shair Tareen, the school’s principal said he knows that it is hard now for the students and was doing his best to make sure they do not drop out. 

The children know it and they appreciate the efforts. 

A teacher attends to his students at the Government Boys High School in Hanna Urak, Balochistan, Pakistan on Oct. 5, 2022. (AN Photo)

“The teachers in this school are concerned about the students,” Sohail Khan, a Grade 10 student, one of the school's 400 pupils, told Arab News. 

“Despite the lack of classrooms, we have been getting an education.”