January 03, 2018

Game of thrones: disclosures of Dr Ishratul Ebad — I

DUBAI: On Wednesday, December 18, 2002 a phone rang at the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) International Secretariat, London. Mohammad Anwar, a trusted lieutenant of Altaf Hussain (commonly called Altaf Bhai), pushed the speaker button of the main desk phone. “I am Maj General Ehtesham Zamir, from the Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI) Political Section,” someone said, grabbing attention of the people sitting in the room.

After exchanging courtesies, the ISI’s Head of Political Section told Anwar that he sought three names for the slot of the Sindh governor, as approved by then-president Gen Pervez Musharraf. Anwar responded that he would get back to him after getting the names from Mr Altaf Hussain, his party’s chief.

Anwar was about to call his party chief, who lived near the London Secretariat when suddenly, the phone rang again. As per the procedure, Anwar pushed the speaker button to receive the call. This time it was Mr Altaf Hussain himself, wanting to know what was going on. Anwar told his leader about the call of Maj Gen Ehtesham Zamir, seeking the names for the slot of governor Sindh. Altaf Hussain asked him to write down three names and then dictated those: Altaf Hussain (himself), his one-year-old daughter Afza Altaf and Dr Ishratul Ebad, who at that point of time was sitting on the same table with Mohammad Anwar.

Everyone sitting in the room knew that Altaf Bhai was actually naming Ishratul Ebad for the governor’s slot. But the man who had been approved for the throne wanted to discuss the matter with his wife and children before making any decision. Ebad went to his home to his wife Shaheena Jabeen and his four children, seeking their opinion about him becoming the governor. It was not the first time he was having the government portfolio, back in early '90s, he had served asstudent, advises his husband not to accept the slot, as their life is already in misery since they left the country for exile in 1993. She and her children are fed up with living and working in a constantly uncertain situation. However, they are unable to share with any member of the party, for their own security. Shaheena wanted Ebad to leave the party and concentrate on his family and medical profession in London.

The entire family unanimously rejects the idea. While they are sitting, their landline phone rings up. Ebad picks up the phone; Altaf Bhai is on the other side. Ebad informs his party chief about the decision of his family.

Altaf Bhai refuses to accept the decision and talks to the entire family on speaker of the phone while convincing them to accept the slot. The family reluctantly accepts and the same day Ebad’s profile is sent to ISI for security clearance and Ishratul Ebad starts preparations to leave for Islamabad in the next couple of days.

Here begins the journey of Ebad on the throne which he kept successfully for the longest 13 years, 11 month and 13 days. We are sitting at a corner of Dubai’s five star hotels where Ebad is sharing some incidents of the past with this journalist.

Politicians often declare that holding power is the greatest achievement. If holding power is an acknowledged measurement of the success of a politician, then Ebad is undoubtedly the most successful politician in the history of this country who held the throne for longer even than the military dictators. He worked with four presidents (including one military dictator), seven prime ministers, six chief ministers and three army chiefs; no other politician or even a military dictator has this honor.

The story continues. Despite the official vacation on Saturday 21st of December, 2002, Pakistani High Commission issues a passport to Ebad as he had his passport already expired and was living on asylum. Ticket was arranged and on the same day Ebad lands at the Islamabad International airport from where he is received by the ISI’s deputy and later taken to the Sindh House, his official residence.

After two days, ISI’s deputy Major General Ehtisham Zamir drives him to Army House , Rawalpindi where General Musharraf is sitting with his ISI Chief Lt Gen Ehsan ul Haq , his chief of staff General Hamid Javed, MI chief Maj Gen Nadeem Taj and of course Tariq Aziz, his principal secretary. Both join the meeting where Musharraf welcomes Ishratul Ebad and the gathering starts interviewing him about his past and personal life too.

“In that meeting besides some other questions General Musharraf sab asked me what my role in Major Kaleem’s murder case in Sindh; I told him I had nothing to do with that. Then he said I was told about that. I told him that you may check in that case some other people are nominated, I even don’t know him,” Ebad shares while recalling that very interview.

In the same meeting Musharraf asks Ebad that his party is very popular and represents the middle class, why your party guys got involved in violence?

Ebad listens the question and responds that when a party gets popular then it happens.

“I told Musharraf sab in a lighter way that

(Translation: When God gifts you the beauty then delicacy naturally comes to you), everyone in the meeting including Musharraf sab laughed after listening to me,” recalls Ebad while puffing a cigarette. This was his first meeting with the military officers who are going to play key role in the next couple of years. He wins their hearts.

In the same chilly evening of December 26 Maj Gen Ehtsham Zamir takes Ebad in his vehicle to Islamabad and they have dinner at a restaurant. Suddenly Zamir questions Ebad, if he has traditional Shirwani or not for the oath-taking ceremony tomorrow? Ebad says no he did not know that it was necessary or not. Then ISI’s deputy chief takes Ebad to his tailor shop in Islamabad, that late night, which was almost closing.

Zamir tells shopkeeper to find him a Shirwani or stitch it that night as he was going to have an oath-taking ceremony next day. The shopkeeper says that tailor has gone home, so there is no possibility to stitch that, however, he finds a solution that he brings a Shirwani of one of his client telling if that gets him (Ebad) fit then it’s okay otherwise he has no solution to that. Ebad tries that Shirwani, his luck sides him again and Shirwani fits his body as if it was tailored and stitched for him.

Next day Ebad takes the oath as the 30th youngest governor of Sindh while wearing a Shirwani of someone whom he did not know even. His journey in the power house formally starts that day. In the days to come he is walking on a tight rope between his party policy line and the line of given by the military leadership who was actually running the country. He has already won the both.

As Ebad has been sworn in the governor house he also becomes a frequent visitor of Rawalpindi’s Army House, where he starts a close relationship with General Musharraf and his fellow military men. Soon he becomes probably the only trust worthy civilian for the Rawalpindi as military formally start inviting him in some of very close meetings only attended by the military officers.

In one of those meetings held in February 2003 attended by the already mentioned top military officers and headed by General Musharraf, a brainstorming session for the reforms in the country is going on where the intelligence reports pertaining to performances of Prime Minister Jamali and the then Sindh Chief Minister Sardar Ali Mohammad Mahar comes under discussion. The participants of the meeting are fed-up with the performance reports of both the top public office holders. Everyone gives his opinion to handle the situation; some even say to wrap up the political system. Then General Musharraf directs young and only civilian present in the meeting Dr Ishratul Ebad to give his view.

“Sir, the problem with you people is this that you don’t let the system run, you get fed-up quickly even from the system you have created yourself,” says Dr Ishratul Ebad to the officers. He added, “Political stability depends upon the appropriate political dispensation of the people, artificial representation leads to problems we are facing today.”

General Musharraf and rest of the officers listen to him quietly and the sitting room of the Army House dominates silence only once Ishratul Ebad takes a pause for his next argument. Here Dr. Ishratul Ebad suggests, ”If the public office holder is not performing well, the entire system should not be punished, the person with the problem should be expelled.”

Musharraf quickly says, “yes , we should do it,”. DG ISI Lt Gen Ehsan, DG MI Maj Gen Nadeem Taj and Musharraf’s chief of staff all nodes in affirmative. Ebad suggests that these reports must be shared directly to the relevant while giving them an opportunity to respond. By the mid of next year both were gone and a new principle was set, “remove the problem guy instead of removing the democracy,”, to date many faces have changed and principle continues to work.

During Musharraf’s tenure the in house structure within the system remained the same. President and Army Chief Musharraf would always call a consultative meeting with his ISI and MI chiefs, his principal secretary Tariq Aziz along his chief of staff and governor Sindh Dr Ishratul Ebad would be a participant in almost all the key meetings. Mostly the meetings would take place at Army House.

CJ’s removal by the Gen Musharraf

On March 9th, 2007 Governor Sindh Dr Ishratul Ebad received President Musharraf at a Naval ceremony. General Musharraf was coming straight from Rawalpindi, looking a bit tired after hands shake both sit together along other officers. Soon after sitting Musharraf shares he has removed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, and a reference has been sent against him.

Dr Ishratul Ebad looks at him but they don’t talk much as others are also present around. After the ceremony both leave for Governor House. The news about the removal of the chief justice (CJ) was no new as Musharraf has already shared this to Dr Ebad back around the beginning of December 2006.

“At that time Musharraf sab had shared that provincial and central governments all are complaining against the CJ,” remembers Ebad. At Governor’s House, Dr Ebad and Gen Musharraf again discuss the issue of deposed CJ Iftikhar Ch. Ebad tells him that it should not have happened. Musharraf says now all has happened and then he leaves back for Islamabad. By that time news of Iftikhar Chaudhry’s removal had touched the headlines of the private news channels.

On the same evening Governor watches the TV channels and finds out that deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has been confined at his home. He speaks to Musharraf by phone telling him that he wants to visit him. After couple of hours he is sitting in front of Gen Musharraf the powerful man of that time. He tells Musharraf, “Sir, whatever reference you have filed against the deposed chief justice but confining him at his residence along his family is not good.”

“What, I did not give any such order,” Musharraf’s answer reveals that he has not ordered anybody to keep the deposed CJ confined. Young Governor observes that Musharraf is kept in dark. Musharraf immediately picks up the phone and directs that there should be no restriction for Iftikhar Chaudhry. The Sindh governor returns back with the satisfaction that now things would move positively despite the fact that damage has already been done.

“I was confident that orders of Gen Musharraf would be followed but to my disappointment, the president's orders could not be implemented because of the tides and situation was already gone from bad to worse,” recalls Ishratul Ebad.

To be continued.


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