Obituary: Muhammad Khan Junejo
Friday 19 March 1993
IN 1985 when Muhammad Khan Junejo, a virtually unknown landlord and politician, was picked to become Prime Minister of Pakistan by President Zia ul-Haq to give his martial law regime a democratic veneer, Junejo unleashed a battle of wills between the military and civilian politicians that still continues. Junejo lost that first round three years later, when he was unceremoniously kicked out of office by an angry Zia, but he had laid the foundations for the supremacy of democracy in Pakistan. He will always be remembered as the man who took on the army on the basis of principles rather than ambition.
Junejo was born in Sindhri, a small village in District Sanghar in rural Sind where his family were the largest feudal landowners and his father a chief of the Junejo tribe. He studied at St Patrick's School in Karachi and then joined the Agricultural Institute at Hastings, in England, where he got a Diploma in Agriculture. He began his political career at the age of 22 when he followed his father's footsteps and was elected president of the Sanghar District Council in 1954. He joined the Muslim League Party and remained a loyal member all his life. He was elected a member of the then West Pakistan Provincial Assembly and during the martial law of President Ayub Khan in the 1960s he held several ministerial posts. He was minister for West Pakistan railways from 1965 to 1969.
After Zia declared martial law in 1977 Junejo briefly became minister of railways again, but left the post in 1979. In 1985 Zia was coming under increasing pressure to give his authoritarian regime a figleaf of democracy. Zia, who had banned political parties, allowed non-party elections to take place in February 1985, when Junejo was elected from his home seat. Zia then chose Junejo to be his prime minister, presuming that such a nondescript politician, who had no charisma and was barely known, would provide little opposition to Zia in ruling the country.
Sworn in as Prime Minister on 23 March 1985, Junejo immediately insisted that martial law be lifted and political parties be allowed to function. Martial law was lifted on 30 December 1985 and Zia finally allowed political parties in the assembly. Junejo faced his biggest political challenge when Benazir Bhutto, leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP), returned from exile in London in 1986 and addressed massive rallies in which she promised to topple the government. Junejo handled the challenge with great skill, refusing to crack down on the PPP as Zia wanted him to do.
Differences with Zia and the army increased as Moscow announced its decision to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Junejo summoned all political parties to a Round Table Conference, throwing Pakistan's weight behind UN efforts to mediate a Soviet withdrawal, even though Zia opposed the plan and wanted to use the Pakistan army to secure a Mujahedin victory in Afghanistan. Despite Zia's objections, Junejo's government signed the UN-sponsored Geneva Accords on Afghanistan in April 1988. When Junejo then insisted that senior generals be held responsible for massive explosions at an ammunition dump near Islamabad, the army put pressure on Zia to dismiss him. On 29 May 1988 as Junejo landed in Islamabad from a trip to China, Zia announced that he had dismissed the government and dissolved the national and provincial assemblies. For a short time Junejo was held under house arrest.
After Zia's death in a plane crash in August 1988, fresh elections were held in which Junejo lost his seat in a humiliating defeat by a PPP candidate. However, he won his seat in the 1990 election and continued to head the Muslim League Party, despite attempts by the present Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, to take over the post. Junejo's faction of the Muslim League, which has always kept its distance from Sharif, is at the centre of the present political struggle between Sharif and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan over the controversial Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives the President the power to dismiss the Prime Minister. Politicians were waiting for Junejo's return from the US to see which side he would support. Junejo had gone to the US for treatment for leukaemia when he suffered a massive heart attack at a hospital in Baltimore.
Junejo was impeccably honest, a strict disciplinarian and a conservative Muslim who kept his wife at his village home and never allowed her to join him in public. He had five children and one of his sons was a cabinet minister in the present government.
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