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Jamali: ever the yes-man of Pakistan's rulers

By B Raman
May 12, 2003 20:01 IST
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After the election of Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali as the 20th elected and first Balochi prime minister of Pakistan, well-known columnist Ayaz Amir wrote in Dawn, the prestigious Karachi daily, on November 22, 2002: "What will he [Jamali] make of the greatness thrust on him? He's a nice soul -- the last description of the spineless -- and he shouldn't be expected to rock any boat. In Balochistan the Jamalis have never been known as rebels, swimming always with the tide, a quality PM Jamali now brings to Islamabad. This should endear him to the Republic's uniformed President."

In the election to the Pakistan National Assembly held in October last, Mian Mohammad Azhar, a Punjabi blue-eyed boy of the military who had staged a revolt against former prime minister Nawaz Sharief and split the Pakistan Muslim League to form the PML-Quaid-e-Azam to carry out the military's wishes, was, to Musharraf's embarrassment, defeated from the constituencies he had contested.

Shujaat Hussain, a Punjabi close to the Punjabi generals, was elected by the PML-Q as leader of its parliamentary party. In normal circumstances, he should have been invited by Musharraf, the Mohajir, to form the new Cabinet as prime minister after securing the support of a majority of elected members. Musharraf did not do so. Instead, he suggested to the PML-Q that it should designate Jamali as the prime minister and he should seek the vote of confidence of the elected members.

Jamali suffered from two disqualifications. A case was pending against him in a local court and he had previously held charge as chief minister of Balochistan for two tenures. Musharraf ordered withdrawal of the case against him and amended the Legal Framework Order after the elections to lay down that the fact that a person had held charge twice as a provincial chief minister would not debar him from being elected the federal prime minister.

Jamali's selection for the post took everybody by surprise. He was always seen as a non-entity at the state as well as federal levels. His main qualification for holding this office was that he belonged to a Balochi tribe that had fiercely opposed Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress during the independence struggle and supported Jinnah's two-nation theory and demand for the creation of Pakistan.

Another qualification was that his is one of the few pro-US tribes in Balochistan. Jamali is a blue-eyed boy of not only the army and Musharraf, but also of the American intelligence community. He is close to Richard Armitage, the US deputy secretary of state, Christina Rocca, Armitage's deputy in the state department, Wendy Chamberlin, US ambassador to Pakistan till last year, and Nancy Powell, the present US ambassador in Islamabad. All four had served in Pakistan or been closely associated with the joint operations of the Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence during the jihad of the 1980s against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Jamali was one of their active collaborators and they, therefore, know him well and feel totally comfortable with him.

What is the background of the Jamali tribe and of Prime Minister Jamali himself?

During the independence struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, large sections of the Pashtun and Balochi tribes of the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan, under the leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, Abdus Samad Khan Achakzai, the Balochi Gandhi, and the traditionally pro-Gandhi Balochi tribal sardars of the Mekran coast of Balochistan strongly opposed the two-nation theory propagated by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League, and refused to support Jinnah's demand for the partition of India.

Amongst the few Balochi tribes that did oppose Mahatma Gandhi and support Jinnah were the Jamalis, whose then sardar, Mir Jafar Khan Jamali, was embroiled in a land dispute involving his purchase of 150,000 acres of land for Rs 40,000 from the khan of Kalat. The British authorities refused to authorise the purchase and register the purchase deed in Jafar Khan Jamali's name. He went in appeal to the high courts in Bombay and Delhi, both of which upheld the British order. He then took the case to the Privy Council in London, which held the British order null and void and declared him the lawful owner of the land.

Jafar Khan's case was argued by a team of three lawyers consisting of Jinnah, Bhulabhai Desai and Chaudhry Mohammed Ali. In return for his help in enabling Jafar Khan Jamali win ownership of the land, Jinnah sought the assistance of the Jamali tribe for countering the strong influence of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress in Balochistan and the NWFP. Jafar Khan and his family joined the League and were in the forefront of the anti-Gandhi and anti-Congress forces in Balochistan till the creation of Pakistan on August 14, 1947. Jafar Khan instigated the mullahs of Balochistan against Gandhi and the Congress and managed to secure the endorsement of a tribal jirga (council) for Balochistan joining Pakistan.

When Jinnah visited Jacobabad in the tribal belt (on the Sindh-Balochistan border) for the first time on October 16, 1938, the tribals of the region, overwhelmingly pro-Gandhi and pro-Congress, boycotted him. He could not even get a place to stay. The local administration, controlled by the Congress, saw to it that even the waiting room of the local railway station was locked up. On hearing this, Jafar Khan rushed to Jacobabad, rallied his Jamali supporters, got the Congress workers beaten up, and forced the local mullahs to hold a reception in Jinnah's honour at the local Eidgah.

After this embarrassing experience, Jinnah did not venture into the tribal belt again till June 1943, when Jafar Khan organised an incident-free visit to Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, by Jinnah and his sister Fatima. Jinnah described the Jamali tribe as the League's "gateway to Balochistan".

After Pakistan became independent and the death of Jinnah and the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, Jafar Khan and his tribe remained staunch supporters of Fatima Jinnah and critics of Ayub Khan and his military regime. They opposed the merger of Sindh, Balochistan, the NWFP and Punjab into one unit called West Pakistan. He was imprisoned a number of times by the Ayub regime.

After his death on April 7, 1967, at Karachi, the Jamali tribe under the leadership of his brother Haji Shah Nawaz Khan Jamali and then his son, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, ingratiated itself with the political and military leadership. Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, not known to be a man of principle and widely reputed to be an opportunist, kept switching sides between the Pakistan Muslim League and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, depending on who made the highest bid for his services.

The elections of 1970 saw the Bengali nationalists of the then East Pakistan under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League and the Balochi nationalists under the leadership of the sardars of the Bizenjo, Marri, Mengal and other tribes sweep the polls under the guidance of Ghaus Bux Bizenjo, leader of the National Awami Party. The refusal of General Yahya Khan, at the instigation of Z A Bhutto, to allow the Awami League to assume office in Pakistan set in motion a train of events that ultimately led to the birth of Bangladesh, with Indian help.

A similar refusal by Bhutto to let the Balochi nationalists assume office led to a revolt by the Bizenjo, Marri, Mengal and other tribes. During the next four years (1973-77), on the orders of Bhutto, the Pakistani armed forces crushed the Balochi revolt, killing thousands of Balochis. Bhutto ruthlessly used the air force to crush the revolt.

The Jamali tribe led by Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali colluded with Bhutto and the military to crush the nationalists. The nationalist leaders appealed to Indira Gandhi, then prime minister, to come to their assistance just as she had gone to the help of the Awami League in erstwhile East Pakistan.

Though her sympathies were with the Balochi nationalists, who had always stood by Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress in the past, Indira Gandhi could not assist them for operational and political reasons. First, India does not have a common border with Balochistan. Second, India's well-tested covert action capability, which served it so well in East Pakistan, was land-based, not sea- or air-based. Third, the Indian Navy's reach, overt or covert, did not extend beyond Karachi. Fourth, in East Pakistan, India had a valid reason for intervention in the exodus of millions of refugees into India. There was no such valid reason in Balochistan. There was a large-scale exodus of refugees, but they went into Afghanistan. Fifth, Bhutto, the army and the ISI had succeeded in creating a wedge between the Pashtuns and the Balochis by settling a large number of Pashtun ex-servicemen in Balochistan, including Quetta. Sixth, the Shah of Iran had made it clear that he would not allow an independent Balochistan to come into being as this could lead to a demand for the merger of the Balochi areas of Iran into the new state.

The hatred of India is a typical characteristic of the converts to Islam from the so-called backward classes of the Hindu community and their descendants. The Balochis and Pashtuns, who were descendents of Muslim migrants into India from Afghanistan, Iran, and the central Asian republics, did not share this hatred. Compared to Sindh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal, from where most of the Hindu converts migrated to Pakistan, the Pashtuns and Balochis were economically backward and ill-educated, but in their thinking they were secular and cosmopolitan. It was for this reason that after Pakistan was born in 1947, the only substantial leftist and Marxist pockets in erstwhile West Pakistan were seen mainly in the tribal belt.

After Bhutto, the army and the ISI crushed their revolt, the survivors of the revolt led by leaders such as Ataullah Khan Mengal, Khair Bux Marri, and Sheroo alias Tiger Marri crossed over into Afghanistan and took shelter there. The leftist government in Kabul welcomed them with open arms, trained and armed them, and used them against the Afghan mujahideen backed by the CIA and the ISI. Many of the Balochi youth were taken by the Soviet troops to Moscow for higher education in Lumumba University and other places. They all came back to Afghanistan converted to communism.

Worried by the spread of communism and the assistance rendered by the Balochis to the Soviet and Afghan troops in their operations against the surrogates of the CIA and the ISI, the US and Pakistan mounted a campaign to decimate the Balochi nationalists operating from Afghan territory. Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali and his tribes placed their services at the disposal of the CIA and the ISI.

As a reward for his services, the CIA suggested to Gen Zia-ul-Haq that Jamali be made prime minister after the 1985 election. Zia instead made Mohammad Khan Junejo, a Sindhi, the prime minister to counter the growing influence of Benazir Bhutto, also a Sindhi, in Sindh and the Seraiki areas of southern Punjab. Junejo, like Jamali now, was also considered a non-entity who would meekly carry out the military's dictates.

Initially, he did, but subsequently Junejo grew in stature and started resisting Zia's orders. It was the differences between them over the way Junejo handled the Afghan proximity talks in Geneva and over the enquiry into the blasts at the army arsenal at Ojehri, which reportedly killed more than 300 civilians, which led to the prime minister's dismissal by Zia in 1988 and the ordering of fresh elections. But before the elections, Zia was killed in a plane crash.

Jamali has been luckier this time. There has been a convergence of interests between Musharraf and the US over his being made PM -- first, to protect the US oil and gas interests in Balochistan, about 30 per cent of which are controlled by Texas-based companies; secondly, to protect the US air bases in Balochistan, which play an important role in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda and which might play an even more important role if the US decides to make a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear establishments; and to counter the spread of the influence of the fundamentalist parties from the Pashtun to the Balochi areas.

Jamali has till now been carrying out the wishes of Musharraf and the US. He calls Musharraf his boss. Next to Musharraf and his Cabinet colleagues, the other person he meets most frequently is Nancy Powell. There are already some indications that Musharraf has been disappointed by his failure to browbeat the opposition into accepting the amendments to the Constitution introduced by him in the form of the LFO and into giving up its opposition to his continuing as chief of army staff. Musharraf has also been worried over Jamali's failure to prevent repeated attacks by unidentified elements on the pipelines carrying gas and oil from Balochistan into Punjab and Sindh.

There are also indications that Jamali himself is unhappy about Musharraf's reluctance to share with him the responsibility for foreign policy; for control of the nuclear command; and for implementation of economic reforms. While Jamali has been doing all the talking on India's proposal for the resumption of bilareral talks, the directions are coming from Musharraf.

How effective and dependable will he be as the Indian prime minister's interlocutor? Or will Musharraf take over as interlocutor, pushing Jamali to the sidelines? If he does, what will be the impact on the relations between the self-appointed president and the elected prime minister? These questions, difficult to answer currently in any definitive manner, will assume increasing relevance in the weeks and months to come.

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B Raman