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QK Archives: Reminiscences of His Frontier Visits

Reminiscences of His Frontier Visits
by Farhatullah Babar - April 4, 2000

Over a quarter century ago I was posted at Peshawar as Director Information of Frontier government and worked there during 1974-75. An upright octogenarian Sayed Ghawas hailing from Mardan was the provincial governor. Donning a felt and always immaculately dressed the retired Major General and an Ex-ISI Chief Ghawas had retired from active public service nearly 20 years ago. He was leading a quiet life in his hometown until unexpectedly picked up by Bhutto and catapulted into public life as governor. With dignified bearing and a firm gate despite old age Ghawas was an inspiring person. Bhutto appeared to hold him in genuine respect witnessed by many during the Prime Ministers numerous visits to Frontier Province. On more than one occasion I noticed that General Ghawas would enter the meeting room of the Governor House when Bhutto would be already seated and the proceedings commenced. As the governor entered the room, Bhutto would rise in his seat and as though by an instinctive command every body present did the same. An embarrassed Ghawas would hurry to the empty chair by the side of Prime Minister, apologise and wonder aloud whether the meeting had actually started ahead of schedule.

Sayed Ghawas was not personally known to Bhutto prior to his selection as governor and one day narrated to me how he was picked up for the job. During one of Bhutto's visits to Peshawar, Syed Ghawas living in his house in Mardan received a telephone call from the ADC to Prime Minister and told that his appointment with Bhutto had been fixed for 5.00 p.m. that evening. Ghawas was puzzled as he had never sought an appointment and told the ADC that there appeared some mix-up as he was not keen for a meeting with the Prime Minister. The ADC rechecked and informed him that it was the Prime Minister who wanted to see him that day. "That is a different matter and I will come if he wants to see me", Ghawas told the ADC. In the meeting lasting less than half an hour, Bhutto told him of his decision to appoint him as provincial governor. Ghawas had always been wondering what prompted Bhutto whose path he had never crossed before and for whose radical politics he had no great admiration either, had chosen him.

Sardar Inayatullah Gandapur, a greater Pakhtoon by code of conduct than many Pakhtoons by birth, hailing from the southern waterless district of Kulachi was the Chief Minister. Hayat Muhammad Khan Sherpao, brother of Aftab Sherpao was Senior Minister in the Provincial Cabinet. Being also the PPP provincial President, a founder member of the Party considered close to Bhutto and already having served as provincial governor and a federal minister, Hayat Sherpao was the de-facto Chief Minister. Bhutto used to visit Frontier Province regularly and as Director Information I came in contact with him at various official and public functions in Peshawar and elsewhere in the province which were quite often.

One day Bhutto's Military Secretary Brig. Imtiaz called up to say that I should immediately come over to the Governor House. There I was made to sit in a room, given a pen and paper and asked to write in 10 minutes for the information of Prime Minister a one-page report about a certain journalist. I was also asked to suggest whether I recommended assistance to the journalist. I wrote a favourable report.

As I was leaving the Governor House. I saw the Director of Radio Pakistan Peshawar Kazi Sarwar also going out. A senior officer of the Federal Information Ministry and one who used to act as stage secretary during Bhutto's visits to the province. Kazi Sarwar was well known to Bhutto. It transpired that the Prime Minister had directed that both of us should separately give their assessments spontaneously and without either knowing what had been asked of the other. We felt relieved when we realised that the main thrust of our separate reports was identical. Thereafter the journalist received liberal assistance and also was included in the delegation during visits abroad.

One summer afternoon the Prime Minister was interviewed by a foreign correspondent in the Governor House. At the outset Bhutto ordered the recording gadgets be removed. The journalist was very upset but said nothing. But before Bhutto settled in question-answer session he asked that the interview may be recorded only by an official agency and a copy be given to the journalist. The Radio Pakistan's outfit did it. Bhutto was provoked in the interview and he used some very harsh words and made uncomplimentary comments about Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. After the interview when the correspondent had left, Bhutto called his Military Secretary and asked him to personally seal the cassette. Bhutto ensured that the cassette was sealed in his presence. He then ordered that it be got personally delivered by one of his staff officers to Adviser Information Yousaf Buch in Islamabad who had already been instructed to edit it before giving it to the correspondent and releasing to the press.

On February 8th 1975, Hayat Sherpao, the elder brother of Aftab Sherpao and the then senior minister in Frontier cabinet, was assassinated in a bomb blast at a students union function the Peshawar University. That day Bhutto was scheduled to arrive in Romania from New York, on a state visit. On learning about Sherpao's murder Bhutto cancelled visit to Romania and headed straight to Islamabad. Noted journalist H K Burky who was in the Prime Minister's entourage has recalled that Bhutto called him to his cabin and poured his grief stricken heart before him on the tragic death of Hayat.

When Bhutto returned home, he came to Peshawar the next day to visit the hall of the History department where a bomb blast had blown Hayat and four students to smithereens. He also went to Hayat's native village Sherpao to offer fateha on his grave. Subsequently he called a meeting of the Cabinet, the governor and all MPAs in the Governor House. Before mid day I was called to the Governor House and asked to come over with a typewriter but without a typist. I was expected to do some important typing work myself. Luckily I knew how to type and did not feel handicapped.

I was given some hand-written notes and told to prepare and type out a press statement. The statement was about the dismissal of Gandapur Ministry and the appointment of new Chief Minister Nasrullah Khattak. I was duly warned against leaking the news to any one until it had been mad public by the Prime Minister himself later in the evening. I was closeted in a room to work on the most fateful draft for the Provincial Cabinet. Throughout the day Minister's flying national flags and high officials came in and went out of Governor House for meetings with the Prime Minister without any one having the slightest idea about what was in store for the cabinet before the night fell. Being privy to a crucial piece of information I felt thrilled as seldom before.

Before sunset I showed the draft to Bhutto. His reading speed was fantastic. He barely took half a minute to read a foolscap typed page, changed the word 'interested' to ''inimical' in his own hand and asked me to write in full the name Nasrullah Khan Khattak (later the new Chief Minister) instead of simply Mr. Khattak which he said confused the identity of Nasrullah Khattak with that of Mr Aslam Khattak. Then he asked me to release the statement to the press only and not to radio and television that night after he had addressed the Cabinet and MPAs in the evening. I ventured to suggest that with piecemeal release the punch in the news would be diminished. "That is exactly what I want", he retorted.

After the dinner, Bhutto called the Cabinet, the governor and MPs for a meeting in the darbar hall. Government servants were ordered out. Governor Ghawas and Chief Minister Inayatullah Gandapur flanked him. Bhutto began his speech by recalling the tragic murder of Hayat Sherpao, how Frontier was ripped by bomb blasts and the law and order was in shreds. He was heard in hushed silence. Then he proceeded to announce the removal of Gandapur Ministry and replacement of Chief Minister with Nasrullah Khattak. A not a so veiled threat also marked his speech.. You have always co-operated with me in difficult times, he said' but went on to caution them in the same breath that he also knew how to deal with difficult people who caused trouble and violated party discipline. Saying this his eyes glowered over the stony faced members of the Assembly.

As the members came out of the hall a watery eyed Chief Minister Gandapur blurted and protested to Governor Ghawas that by keeping him in the dark about the decision he felt humiliated. He thought that the governor was privy to the decision but had kept him in the dark. Ghawas raised his drooping head , stood still and placing his hand on the shoulder of Gandapur, he said "I swear upon my God that I was also not privy to the decision and that the announcement has also shocked me". Gandapur left the governor house in a jiff. Before leaving he told me that he was vacating the chief minister house the same night and would shift to his hometown Kulachi. It was no empty threat. He meant what he said, called for a truck and hurriedly packed his modest personal
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