WASHINGTON DC, Nov 1, 2004 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

The First Book based on Articles and Forum Discussions of South Asia Tribune has been published in Pakistan. It is a compilation of articles written for the SAT by Dr. Zafar Altaf, former Federal Secretary and Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board. It includes most of the Messages and Comments posted on these articles on SAT Forums. The Book will soon be available through the Internet Book outlets. It is already on sale in Pakistan.

 

Mian Mohammed Sharif is buried in Raiwind as family stays in Jeddah

Thousands attended the funeral of Mian Sharif in Raiwind on Nov 1

The Talking Pillars of Raiwind Will Never Speak Again

Note: This article was written by me for Dawn on August 13, 2000 after meeting Mian Mohammed Sharif at his Raiwind Estate. It was the first time the elder Sharif had spoken in detail about many sensitive and secret issues. This article annoyed General Musharraf so much that he publicly objected to its contents at a news conference in New York in September 2000 in which he addressed me by name and asked me to "check my facts before I write them." This direct attack compelled me to respond by asking him instantly to "give us the facts, now, as I am always ready to have my facts corrected." Musharraf did not know what to say. There was a long pause as everybody was waiting for a reply. Then people started whispering and almost laughing. The episode embarrassed Musharraf to no end. He was mad at me and the entire Pakistani Press and in his speeches in New York accused the entire Pakistani Press of receiving 'Lifafas' (envelopes of money) from politicians. He was adequately rebuffed. This piece is being reproduced in memory of Mian Mohammed Sharif, the late Abbaji. Click Here for Original Dawn Article

By Shaheen Sehbai

RAIWIND, Lahore: Abbaji, the mysterious patriarch of the Sharif family, is an icon of sorts, in many roles and characters. He is a icon of political and financial opportunism for the military and civilian establishment; an icon of corruption, loot and plunder for the intelligentsia; an icon of strength, determination and defiance for the family; a religious icon or dervish as his daughter-in-law Kulsoom calls him; an icon of entrepreneurship, business skills and trading excellence for the bazaar.

Yet the 80-plus old steel nerved man, living an almost secluded life in this Raiwind Family Estate, perfectly alert with a razor sharp memory and busy in prayers and wazeefas most of his time, is a man with a strong political mission and a goal – to regain the kingdom that his family lost on October 12, 1999, to avenge the humiliation and torture caused by the Establishment he always worked with, and worked for, and to regain his financial and political prowess that he once enjoyed.

Mian Mohammed Sharif never meets journalists, except one or two Lahore-based Press barons, and shuns the media like an HIV virus, but surprisingly agreed to see me, not knowing that I never was a Sharif family fan and had never been close to either of his politician sons, whether in or out of power. Probably daughter-in-law Kulsoom Nawaz put in a good word for me as I had done a not-so-hard piece on her after meeting her in Murree late last month.

He also agreed on the condition that I meet him as a private citizen and not as a newsman, although when I introduced myself to him I only gave my journalistic background and credentials. Moreover, most of what he would say would not be attributable to him and would be off-the-record.

I agreed to all the conditions because for an independent-minded journalist, even meeting such a person who almost dictated history for more than one-and-a-half decades and was a key witness to the power play, intrigues and machinations of powerdom, would be a major news scoop. I also believed that private citizens also have the right to ask questions, and, in the interest of other private citizens, try and get the word out. After all, the lives of these very millions of private citizens have been held hostage to men like Abbaji for years — during which we saw him grow from an ordinary steel merchant to an industry owner, to a multi-dimensional tycoon, to a power broker, to a power manipulator, to a virtual master of the country’s destiny, dictating events of its troubled political history, for good or for bad.

When I arrived at the sprawling Raiwind Estate of the Sharifs at 10 am on Monday, August 7, 2000, I was in for some shocks and surprises. The Estate appears like a whole city in itself, with unending driveways, helipads, farms, playgrounds, pools, all surrounding the “Fortress Sharif” where Abbaji spends his days and nights.

A horde of armed and tough-looking men surround the car when you enter each of the many giant steel gates crossing one security zone into another. The mark of royalty is stamped all over the place and I am told that in the good old days there were beautifully decorated horse-driven carriages which would take guests from the main gate to the living quarters. The place looked to me like the ultimate dream of any oil rich Arab ruler or any billionaire American tycoon with a flair for rural life.

I had mixcd feelings about meeting the man who was now under tremendous pressure — his family business ruined, his sons and grandson in jail, his daughters and daughters-in-law forced to fight the army they had always relied upon, his own role in some matters under probe and the world having almost collapsed on his head.

How would this strong-willed, autocratic man, who always claimed to be the pioneer of every success in the Sharif family -- from setting up schools, hospitals and mosques, erecting the business and steel empire from scratch, expanding family trade to unknown frontiers and turning his sons into provincial and then national leaders -- be reacting to the sudden and devastating collapse of his economic and political fortunes.

I was somewhat angry at looking at the repulsive riches made obviously possible only through massive manipulation and misuse of political and financial authority that his sons had acquired. Had the playfield been even, some others could also have matched his skills and achievements. Or the Sharifs may not have done so well. After all, Pakistani business talent is not confined to just one family.

In typical General Zia-ul-Haq style, Abbaji tried to disarm me at the very first sight by waiting outside in the porch to receive me alongside Kulsoom, and later seeing me off right up to the car by closing the door himself. He gave me big hugs which immediately revealed to me that he was having some back problems as he was wearing a big waist belt under his long blue-striped shirt. I also heard someone say he was unable to say his prayers in the normal way and would do so on a chair, although this was not confirmed.

We sat down in the huge oval-shaped guest room which had sofas lined all along the walls and many pillars, also with striped fancy wall paper, rising in the middle. It was a huge hujra where it seemed Abbaji received all his guests. Kulsoom Nawaz, Saira, the young British-born and educated wife of incarcerated grandson Hussain Nawaz, also sat down with us, duly draped in a dupatta covering her head. Soon a little later, son-in-law Capt Safdar also joined in and so did a lawyer I could not recognize.

Then began a 90-minute session in which the walls and the pillars of the hujra heard details of many historically critical moments in Pakistan’s recent and not-so-recent history, related in one way or other to the Sharifs and the fortunes and failures of the family. In most of these events Abbaji had a definite role, but he would not come on record about any of these.

But, as they caution in folk tales, even walls can hear. And, so, I learnt in the Raiwind Estate of the Sharifs that, when desperately needed, pillars also can talk. Unlike the oft-repeated cliche “Himalayas would cry” in the momentous aura of that huge room where these pillars were witness to history being made around them, it was but natural that when Abbaji was silent, the pillars around him were talking, as they would not very often see a rare breed of visitors, a journalist.

For instance one of the pillars recalled a meeting not long ago when General Pervez Musharraf (then Army Chief) and his wife came and talked to Abbaji, complaining about his son Nawaz and discreetly suggesting that instead of him, younger son Shahbaz be given the country’s top elected slot. The suggestion was not immediately well received, but could have been seriously considered had events not rushed on and overtaken everybody.

The room we were sitting in had received almost every top general or C-in-C of the army, and most of the time these generals were either seeking Abbaji’s help to sort out matters with his son or discussing some crucial national or international matter, knowing fully well and realizing that it was this room from where real power and wisdom flowed.

These generals would call on him regularly in the midst of crises, and Abbaji would bring them together to patch up matters. But even the talking pillars did not like some of them, or their stiff necks, as one of them put it. For instance, one complaint was that the late General Asif Nawaz acted like a pharaoh. He would not salute Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister. And to avoid that he would take off his military cap before he would face Nawaz. He wanted General Hameed Gul to be removed and Nawaz Sharif did not like the idea, but obliged him. Yet, he and his folks were unkind to the Sharif family and even in his death tried to pin the blame on the Sharifs, even to the extent of exhuming his body.

Then came General Waheed Kakar. He acted funny and got in league with (President) Ghulam Ishaq Khan. When Nawaz Sharif talked about repealing the 8th Amendment, G1K and Kakar got together and planned his exit. Abbaji got them all together and a pact was reached that Nawaz would not talk of the 8th Amendment any more. Yet one day Kakar told NS they had decided that they would dissolve the NA and nominate NS as interim prime minister to hold elections. The surprising thing was that Nawaz Sharif, in his sweet political naivety, agreed to the Kakar plan. But Abbaji put his foot down as it was a simple fraud being played on the family. Nawaz then called Kakar and told him this was not acceptable. Kakar said he had already informed the Corps Commanders and nothing could be done. So Nawaz went down and made his “no dictation” defiant speech before he was removed.

The pillars of Raiwind believe General Jehangir Karamat was a good man, but they are sure that his exit was not just because of the statement he made on the National Security Council issue, but it was something big and fishy in the back. Karamat, they believe, fell out with Nawaz on some gas business deal in the UAE and started trashing Nawaz who then got the opportunity when he spoke on the Security Council issue and kicked him in the back.

General Musharraf, the pillars reveal, was picked because he was Urdu-speaking and appeared to be non-partisan, something close to the ultimately tragic saga of ZA Bhutto and General Zia-ul-Haq. Musharraf opposed the policy to make peace with India and refused to salute Vajpayee when he came to Lahore That was a major crisis, but was overcome. The Raiwind pillars are full of praise for Vajpayee and say be had promised Nawaz Sharif that the Kashmir issue would be resolved “in eight months” after his bus arrived in Lahore. That was not to be as Vajpayee’s bus crashed in Kargil.

Vajpayee is remembered as a good and seasoned man, with a vision to resolve issues with Pakistan. He came to Minar-i-Pakistan and signed that he accepted Pakistan which was a reality. What else does anyone need to begin talking to him seriously on issues. But when he learnt of Kargil, he called Nawaz Sharif and asked why had he been stabbed in the back. Nawaz told him he did not know and would order an inquiry. The old Indian wizard said there was no need for an inquiry as he knew who was behind it. He then said my man Brijesh Mishra would come to Islamabad and meet Nawaz. The next day Mishra brought the secretly recorded rapes of General Musharraf and General Aziz on Kargil and told Nawaz who was behind Kargil.

Nawaz called a meeting of his services chiefs and asked them why Kargil had been done. The PAF chief said he did not know as, according to him, the PAF would not have preferred a long
air war. Nawaz asked then why did they start Kargil. Musharraf then said Nawaz should provide them political cover and Pakistan should withdraw from Kargil. In the national interest and to save the army from embarrassment, Nawaz Sharif went along with their plan and even went to the front lines and praised the men, the pillars say.

Then misunderstandings arose between Musharraf and Nawaz, and the pillars of Raiwind are a witness to a meeting in which Abbaji resolved the matter, assuring General Musharraf that he would not be fired and he was even given the concurrent charge of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Around that time Musharraf sent a message in London to Abbaji through Ambassador Qidwai of the Mehran Bank fame, that he wanted Shahbaz Sharif to take over as things with Nawaz were not working.

The breaking point came when Musharraf fired TP, or Tariq Pervez, the Corps Commander of Quetta, who was brother of a political colleague of Nawaz. Then it was decided that Musharraf would be fired and that he and Nawaz could not coexist.

The pillars tell another story of how General Musharraf was persuaded by Nawaz Sharif to proceed to Colombo although he had argued that his presence was not necessary because the Indian army chief was not coming and it would not be appropriate protocol-wise. Nawaz insisted and that made Musharraf suspicious. He talked to his folks in the GHQ before flying off. Everybody seemed to know that there was more to it than a mere visit to Colombo.

Abbaji shuts himself out when asked key questions about his role in these depressing times for the Sharif family. But he says one thing on record: “I believe in God, these difficult times will be over. I tell my family they should thank God that the coup was peaceful. It could have been dirty and even bloody. We could have been killed.”

Other than that he seems resigned to the fate and fortunes and believes strongly in God, and prays endlessly.

Those around him and the talking pillars, however, say he is a great fighter and now firmly believes the army has to be stopped from overthrowing elected governments again and again. The Sharifs are ready to work with all political forces, including Benazir Bhutto and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, to admit all their excesses and mistakes and to ensure that the power to overthrow is taken away from the army. Pakistan has lost its face many a time and it can afford no more of the same.

Finally, when I am about to take leave, I ask him whether he is under tension and whether he sleeps well. He says something which I don’t believe could be off-the-record: “I sleep peacefully and have no tensions. In life there are ups and downs and one has to face both and be prepared. We were very poor and we built ourselves. We will build ourselves again. One should have faith and “niyyat saaf honi chahiye.” His cool and resigned face does not betray his inner commotion and feelings. Abbaji is a cool cooky, as they say in the US.

The hold on family Abbaji has is evident from every move made or every word spoken by anyone in his presence. Kulsoom and Saira look at him in awe when he speaks. They listen to him in pin drop silence. Nobody questions his wisdom and everything he says is the last word.

Abbaji has brought the Sharif family from rags to riches and he is also responsible for its slide from the top of the political power hill to the bottomless pit that his sons and grandson find themselves in. But he is still considered the vital source of power and strength who will, through his prayers and wazeefas, as well as experience and foresight, bring this ordeal to an end.

The talking pillars do not forget to give the final message before I leave: “Everyone comes and goes. General Musharraf will not be there for ever. We will again have scent of power filling this room. We are here to stay. We are the pillars of strength, and steel.”

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