An indomitable man
Part – II
In my last column I mentioned my close association with Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) for more than 25 years, 17 years of which he was in charge of our nuclear programme. It would take a thick book to describe his exemplary character and this column is but a drop in the ocean.
Much of the information found on various websites is incorrect. One of these even mentioned that he had an MSc in Nuclear Chemistry! He was born in Bannu District, went to school there and obtained a BSc in Chemistry and Botany from Peshawar University. In 1940 he joined the provincial civil service. In 1955 he became secretary agriculture. Before that he had held the posts of deputy commissioner, sugarcane commissioner, principal secretary to the chief minister, home secretary, secretary of food, etc. Being very intelligent, he learnt a lot from these assignments. In 1961 he became chairman Wapda in Ayub Khan’s government and he played a key role in the construction of Tarbela, Warsak and Mangla Dams, without which this country would have been in an even more precarious position today than it already is.
From 1966 to 1970 Ghulam Ishaq Khan was finance secretary and Bhutto then made him governor State Bank. In 1975 he was made Secretary Defence. When I came to Pakistan in 1976, he was secretary general defence. After Gen Zia’s coup he was made secretary general-in-chief, the de facto PM. At that time Agha Shahi was secretary general foreign affairs and A G N Kazi was secretary general finance. The sole responsibility of supervising our nuclear programme lay with him. The sincerity and honesty with which he supported us is known to me but to very few others. While our internal situation was efficiently run and controlled by Gen K M Arif, our economic policy was run by GIK. In 1977 he was made finance minister. Somewhat on the conservative side, he was more efficient than many who followed.
It may be mentioned here that my director finance (later member finance) – Imtiaz Ahmed Bhatty, was secretary of the Coordination Board. I had been given free access to everyone, from president and ministers to administrative officers. H U Beg (finance secretary) and Kallse Abbas (personal secretary of GIK) were always extremely helpful in this. Agha Shahi had deputed a very competent and fine officer – Brig M Ibrahim Qureshi, DG administration – to look after all our travel arrangements and requirements. In 1985, Ghulam Ishaq Khan was elected chairman Senate but he remained in charge of our programme. Whenever Gen Zia travelled abroad, GIK acted as president.
When one of my close and very able colleagues – Dr F H Hashmi – fell ill on an official visit to London and required surgery, I requested our Procurement Officer in London, Abdul Jamil, to take him to Cromwell Hospital and arranged for his wife to be by his bedside. Fortunately he recovered well and continued to do an excellent job. When I went to GIK for getting the bills sanctioned, he was not sure whether or not he could do that as chairman Senate and advised me to see him when he was acting president. In that capacity he later sanctioned all the bills.
Ghulam Ishaq Khan was very protective of our programme and no pressure or embargoes from anywhere could make him budge. He earned the ire of the Americans by literally showing Secretary Bartholomew the door. After the accidental demise of Gen Zia on August 17, 1988, GIK became president and the nuclear programme remained his baby.
Some people have opined that GIK had a role in Gen Zia’s coup, but this is not the case. He himself told me how, while he was taking a shower on the morning after the coup, an operator from GHQ called on the green line saying that Gen Zia wanted to talk to him. He was given the message by Begum GIK after coming out of the bathroom. When he returned the call, he was asked to go to the GHQ where he was informed by Gen Zia that he had taken over. He told Gen Zia that he felt that it would harm the country, but since it couldn’t be undone, efforts had to be made to salvage the situation.
He was then made the de facto PM, at which he did an excellent job, without fear or favour. He was highly patriotic and always put the country’s interests before his own. He had a vast knowledge of history and literature and could compose excellent poetry in Persian. He always encouraged his colleagues to express their opinions and he himself never minced words.
My close and able colleague – Muhammed Faheem – member finance, also had a long association with GIK as finance ministry CSP officer and he told me some anecdotes about him, which I would like to share.
“On becoming president immediately after the East Pakistan debacle, Bhutto removed Shakirullah Durrani and posted Khan Sahib as governor State Bank, which post he held until November 1975. On January 1, 1972 Bhutto, as per PPP party manifesto, nationalised 31 heavy and small industries under the name ‘Industrial Reorganization’. Dr Mubashar Hassan was the finance minister and was reported to be the brain behind the folly. All industrialists and investors became scared, some leaving the country, some being jailed on flimsy pretexts. Investment fell to a negligible level.
“Alarmed by the consequences, Dr Mubashar called a meeting of all important government officials, of which Ghulam Ishaq Khan was the most important participant. Dr Mubashar addressed the participants and, while specifically looking at GIK, told them to ask investors to put money into those industries that had not been nationalised. Khan Sahib, in no mood to listen to any nonsense, retorted: ‘Due to this illogical, useless nationalisation policy, the government has lost the confidence of investors and under the present circumstances it is not possible to get new investments. As a matter of fact, people are disinvesting’.
‘Where are the faults you are talking about’, Dr Mubashar asked, not expecting any detailed reply. However, GIK took the wind out of his sails by pointing out that both Valika Steel Mills and Valika Chemicals were still under construction. By nationalising them, you have taken over the financial and technical responsibilities. Similarly, Modern Steel Mills in Lahore have been nationalised, while this is just a name on an empty plot. Nationalising it at this juncture will kill the project. Then he added: ‘I belong to the Frontier Province and I personally know the owner of Karimi Chemical Industry, Naushera – Gul Badshah. The factory is under heavy debt and now the government will have to bear that loss’.
Dr Mubashar, after a few moments thoughtful silence, quipped: ‘Khan Sahib, we have included Karimi Industries to at least show that we have not ignored the Frontier Province in our nationalisation policy’, at which there was much laughter.”
To be continued