Why Pakistan love to treat their PMs like criminals?
In January 1962, the fifth PM of Pakistan Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was arrested. The only fault of him was that he refused to support Gen Ayub Khan’s military coup
The manner in which former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested in a corruption case by Rangers from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has shocked one and all. How can you arrest a national icon inside the court premises with utter contempt? The burly Rangers were taking him in their waiting van as he is a hardened criminal. After all, he was Prime Minister of Pakistan and still heads the biggest political party of his country. That he was a champion sportsperson is not important now. It is also not important that under his leadership Pakistan has become the 1992 World Cup cricket champion.
But, Pakistan has a track record of treating their Prime Ministers like petty criminals. Therefore, Pakistan watchers are not surprised that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief was taken into custody as part of the National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) investigation in the Al-Qadir Trust case ahead of his appearance before the IHC bench to seek bail in multiple FIRs registered against him.
If we scan through the pages of Pakistan’s history, then we find that in January 1962, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was arrested. The fault of the fifth PM of Pakistan was that he refused to support Gen Ayub Khan’s military coup. He was arrested on bogus charges of ‘anti-state activities.’ It may be recalled that Suhrawardy's tenure as premier of Bengal saw the great Calcutta killings in 1946. The Muslim League called a strike to press its demand for the creation of Pakistan. The strike degenerated into brutal and widespread Hindu-Muslim riots in which thousands were killed on both sides. The riots were seen by some as the last nail in the coffin for Hindu-Muslim unity in British India. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (8 September 1892 – 5 December 1963) was a barrister and politician. He served as the Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1956 to 1957 and before that as the Prime Minister of Bengal from 1946 to 1947. Suhrawardy is revered as one of the Bangladesh’s founding statesmen. There he is also remembered as the mentor of Bangladesh's founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In India, he is seen as a controversial figure; some hold him responsible for the 1946 Calcutta killings, for which he is often referred as the ‘Butcher of Bengal’ in West Bengal.
And after Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who served as the ninth Prime Minister, was taken into custody on the charges of conspiracy to murder a political opponent in 1974. He was sentenced to death and executed on April 4, 1979. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by General Zia-ul Haq's military regime, in what is often considered by legal experts a ‘judicial murder’. Zia, who was the former President of Pakistan and Chief of Army Staff from 1978 to 1988, had seized power from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the country’s first democratically elected Prime Minister, in a bloodless coup on July 5, 1977.
If you closely observe the political scene of Pakistan, you would realize that in Pakistan political leaders treat their rivals as sworn enemies. They hurl abuses on them and make extremely serious charges. There is no place for healthy debates and deliberations. So, they arrest each other when in power.
Meanwhile, Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto put under house arrest for 90 days in August 1985. She served as the premier twice from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. Later, she was arrested in 1986 for denouncing the government at a rally in Karachi on Independence Day. Benazir was sentenced to five years imprisonment for corruption and disqualified from holding public office and fined more than £5 million.
And it was the turn of her sworn political enemy, Nawaz Sharif to face the music. He was exiled during Gen Pervez Musharraf's government for 10 years. He was arrested when he returned to Pakistan and sent to Saudi Arabia to complete the remaining years of exile.
There was no end to the woes of Benazir Bhutto as she was again put under arrest for a week in a bid to stop her from leading a long march against Gen Musharraf's government. That was in November 2007. Sadly, she was killed in bomb blast in 2010.
In July 2018, Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to 10 years in jail along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz in a corruption case. The three-time Prime Minister was again handed over seven years in prison in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills corruption reference. Currently, he is in exile in London.
Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was arrested in connection with the LNG case by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for alleged corruption in July 2019. It may be recalled that Shahid Khaqan Abbasi served as the 21st Prime Minister of Pakistan from August 2017 to May 2018. Abbasi is the senior vice president of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), and secretary-general of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an anti-PTI coalition of political parties in Pakistan. He has been a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan since October 2018. Previously, he served as a member of the National Assembly for eight consecutive terms since 1988.
Interestingly, while Pakistan's first Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, was never arrested, he was assassinated on October 16, 1951, in the Company Baugh of Rawalpindi. Also referred to as Shaheed-e-Millat, the leader was killed while he was on stage during a public meeting of the Muslim League. The stage was later named Liaqat Bagh. But the mystery continues to shroud Khan’s death. A close aide of Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan was finance minister in the interim government headed by Pt Jawaharlal Lal Nehru in 1946. Who knows when sanity returns in Pakistan? Alas, things are very disturbing in our neighbour.
(The author is Delhi-based senior journalist and writer. He is author of Gandhi's Delhi which has brought to the forth many hidden facts about Mahatma Gandhi)