Mohammed Sharif is buried in Raiwind as family stays in Jeddah
attended the funeral of Mian Sharif in Raiwind on Nov 1
Talking Pillars of Raiwind Will Never Speak Again
This article was written by me for Dawn on August 13, 2000 after
meeting Mian Mohammed Sharif at his Raiwind Estate. It was the
first time the elder Sharif had spoken in detail about many sensitive
and secret issues. This article annoyed General Musharraf so much
that he publicly objected to its contents at a news conference
in New York in September 2000 in which he addressed me by name
and asked me to "check my facts before I write them."
This direct attack compelled me to respond by asking him instantly
to "give us the facts, now, as I am always ready to have
my facts corrected." Musharraf did not know what to say.
There was a long pause as everybody was waiting for a reply. Then
people started whispering and almost laughing. The episode embarrassed
Musharraf to no end. He was mad at me and the entire Pakistani
Press and in his speeches in New York accused the entire Pakistani
Press of receiving 'Lifafas' (envelopes of money) from politicians.
He was adequately rebuffed. This piece is being reproduced in
memory of Mian Mohammed Sharif, the late Abbaji. Click
Here for Original Dawn Article
Lahore: Abbaji, the mysterious patriarch of the Sharif family,
is an icon of sorts, in many roles and characters. He is a icon
of political and financial opportunism for the military and civilian
establishment; an icon of corruption, loot and plunder for the
intelligentsia; an icon of strength, determination and defiance
for the family; a religious icon or dervish as his daughter-in-law
Kulsoom calls him; an icon of entrepreneurship, business skills
and trading excellence for the bazaar.
the 80-plus old steel nerved man, living an almost secluded life
in this Raiwind Family Estate, perfectly alert with a razor sharp
memory and busy in prayers and wazeefas most of his time,
is a man with a strong political mission and a goal – to
regain the kingdom that his family lost on October 12, 1999, to
avenge the humiliation and torture caused by the Establishment
he always worked with, and worked for, and to regain his financial
and political prowess that he once enjoyed.
Mohammed Sharif never meets journalists, except one or two Lahore-based
Press barons, and shuns the media like an HIV virus, but surprisingly
agreed to see me, not knowing that I never was a Sharif family
fan and had never been close to either of his politician sons,
whether in or out of power. Probably daughter-in-law Kulsoom Nawaz
put in a good word for me as I had done a not-so-hard piece on
her after meeting her in Murree late last month.
also agreed on the condition that I meet him as a private citizen
and not as a newsman, although when I introduced myself to him
I only gave my journalistic background and credentials. Moreover,
most of what he would say would not be attributable to him and
would be off-the-record.
I agreed to all the conditions because for an independent-minded
journalist, even meeting such a person who almost dictated history
for more than one-and-a-half decades and was a key witness to
the power play, intrigues and machinations of powerdom, would
be a major news scoop. I also believed that private citizens also
have the right to ask questions, and, in the interest of other
private citizens, try and get the word out. After all, the lives
of these very millions of private citizens have been held hostage
to men like Abbaji for years — during which we saw him grow
from an ordinary steel merchant to an industry owner, to a multi-dimensional
tycoon, to a power broker, to a power manipulator, to a virtual
master of the country’s destiny, dictating events of its
troubled political history, for good or for bad.
When I arrived at the sprawling Raiwind
Estate of the Sharifs at 10 am on Monday, August 7, 2000, I was
in for some shocks and surprises. The Estate appears like a whole
city in itself, with unending driveways, helipads, farms, playgrounds,
pools, all surrounding the “Fortress Sharif” where
Abbaji spends his days and nights.
horde of armed and tough-looking men surround the car when you
enter each of the many giant steel gates crossing one security
zone into another. The mark of royalty is stamped all over the
place and I am told that in the good old days there were beautifully
decorated horse-driven carriages which would take guests from
the main gate to the living quarters. The place looked to me like
the ultimate dream of any oil rich Arab ruler or any billionaire
American tycoon with a flair for rural life.
I had mixcd feelings about meeting
the man who was now under tremendous pressure — his family
business ruined, his sons and grandson in jail, his daughters
and daughters-in-law forced to fight the army they had always
relied upon, his own role in some matters under probe and the
world having almost collapsed on his head.
would this strong-willed, autocratic man, who always claimed to
be the pioneer of every success in the Sharif family -- from setting
up schools, hospitals and mosques, erecting the business and steel
empire from scratch, expanding family trade to unknown frontiers
and turning his sons into provincial and then national leaders
-- be reacting to the sudden and devastating collapse of his economic
and political fortunes.
was somewhat angry at looking at the repulsive riches made obviously
possible only through massive manipulation and misuse of political
and financial authority that his sons had acquired. Had the playfield
been even, some others could also have matched his skills and
achievements. Or the Sharifs may not have done so well. After
all, Pakistani business talent is not confined to just one family.
In typical General Zia-ul-Haq style,
Abbaji tried to disarm me at the very first sight by waiting outside
in the porch to receive me alongside Kulsoom, and later seeing
me off right up to the car by closing the door himself. He gave
me big hugs which immediately revealed to me that he was having
some back problems as he was wearing a big waist belt under his
long blue-striped shirt. I also heard someone say he was unable
to say his prayers in the normal way and would do so on a chair,
although this was not confirmed.
sat down in the huge oval-shaped guest room which had sofas lined
all along the walls and many pillars, also with striped fancy
wall paper, rising in the middle. It was a huge hujra where it
seemed Abbaji received all his guests. Kulsoom Nawaz, Saira, the
young British-born and educated wife of incarcerated grandson
Hussain Nawaz, also sat down with us, duly draped in a dupatta
covering her head. Soon a little later, son-in-law Capt Safdar
also joined in and so did a lawyer I could not recognize.
began a 90-minute session in which the walls and the pillars of
the hujra heard details of many historically critical
moments in Pakistan’s recent and not-so-recent history,
related in one way or other to the Sharifs and the fortunes and
failures of the family. In most of these events Abbaji had a definite
role, but he would not come on record about any of these.
as they caution in folk tales, even walls can hear. And, so, I
learnt in the Raiwind Estate of the Sharifs that, when desperately
needed, pillars also can talk. Unlike the oft-repeated cliche
“Himalayas would cry” in the momentous aura of that
huge room where these pillars were witness to history being made
around them, it was but natural that when Abbaji was silent, the
pillars around him were talking, as they would not very often
see a rare breed of visitors, a journalist.
For instance one of the pillars recalled a meeting not long ago
when General Pervez Musharraf (then Army Chief) and his wife came
and talked to Abbaji, complaining about his son Nawaz and discreetly
suggesting that instead of him, younger son Shahbaz be given the
country’s top elected slot. The suggestion was not immediately
well received, but could have been seriously considered had events
not rushed on and overtaken everybody.
The room we were sitting in had received
almost every top general or C-in-C of the army, and most of the
time these generals were either seeking Abbaji’s help to
sort out matters with his son or discussing some crucial national
or international matter, knowing fully well and realizing that
it was this room from where real power and wisdom flowed.
generals would call on him regularly in the midst of crises, and
Abbaji would bring them together to patch up matters. But even
the talking pillars did not like some of them, or their stiff
necks, as one of them put it. For instance, one complaint was
that the late General Asif Nawaz acted like a pharaoh. He would
not salute Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister. And to avoid that he
would take off his military cap before he would face Nawaz. He
wanted General Hameed Gul to be removed and Nawaz Sharif did not
like the idea, but obliged him. Yet, he and his folks were unkind
to the Sharif family and even in his death tried to pin the blame
on the Sharifs, even to the extent of exhuming his body.
came General Waheed Kakar. He acted funny and got in league with
(President) Ghulam Ishaq Khan. When Nawaz Sharif talked about
repealing the 8th Amendment, G1K and Kakar got together and planned
his exit. Abbaji got them all together and a pact was reached
that Nawaz would not talk of the 8th Amendment any more. Yet one
day Kakar told NS they had decided that they would dissolve the
NA and nominate NS as interim prime minister to hold elections.
The surprising thing was that Nawaz Sharif, in his sweet political
naivety, agreed to the Kakar plan. But Abbaji put his foot down
as it was a simple fraud being played on the family. Nawaz then
called Kakar and told him this was not acceptable. Kakar said
he had already informed the Corps Commanders and nothing could
be done. So Nawaz went down and made his “no dictation”
defiant speech before he was removed.
pillars of Raiwind believe General Jehangir Karamat was a good
man, but they are sure that his exit was not just because of the
statement he made on the National Security Council issue, but
it was something big and fishy in the back. Karamat, they believe,
fell out with Nawaz on some gas business deal in the UAE and started
trashing Nawaz who then got the opportunity when he spoke on the
Security Council issue and kicked him in the back.
Musharraf, the pillars reveal, was picked because he was Urdu-speaking
and appeared to be non-partisan, something close to the ultimately
tragic saga of ZA Bhutto and General Zia-ul-Haq. Musharraf opposed
the policy to make peace with India and refused to salute Vajpayee
when he came to Lahore That was a major crisis, but was overcome.
The Raiwind pillars are full of praise for Vajpayee and say be
had promised Nawaz Sharif that the Kashmir issue would be resolved
“in eight months” after his bus arrived in Lahore.
That was not to be as Vajpayee’s bus crashed in Kargil.
is remembered as a good and seasoned man, with a vision to resolve
issues with Pakistan. He came to Minar-i-Pakistan and signed that
he accepted Pakistan which was a reality. What else does anyone
need to begin talking to him seriously on issues. But when he
learnt of Kargil, he called Nawaz Sharif and asked why had he
been stabbed in the back. Nawaz told him he did not know and would
order an inquiry. The old Indian wizard said there was no need
for an inquiry as he knew who was behind it. He then said my man
Brijesh Mishra would come to Islamabad and meet Nawaz. The next
day Mishra brought the secretly recorded rapes of General Musharraf
and General Aziz on Kargil and told Nawaz who was behind Kargil.
Nawaz called a meeting of his services
chiefs and asked them why Kargil had been done. The PAF chief
said he did not know as, according to him, the PAF would not have
preferred a long
air war. Nawaz asked then why did they start Kargil. Musharraf
then said Nawaz should provide them political cover and Pakistan
should withdraw from Kargil. In the national interest and to save
the army from embarrassment, Nawaz Sharif went along with their
plan and even went to the front lines and praised the men, the
Then misunderstandings arose between
Musharraf and Nawaz, and the pillars of Raiwind are a witness
to a meeting in which Abbaji resolved the matter, assuring General
Musharraf that he would not be fired and he was even given the
concurrent charge of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Around that time Musharraf sent a message in London to Abbaji
through Ambassador Qidwai of the Mehran Bank fame, that he wanted
Shahbaz Sharif to take over as things with Nawaz were not working.
The breaking point came when Musharraf
fired TP, or Tariq Pervez, the Corps Commander of Quetta, who
was brother of a political colleague of Nawaz. Then it was decided
that Musharraf would be fired and that he and Nawaz could not
The pillars tell another story of
how General Musharraf was persuaded by Nawaz Sharif to proceed
to Colombo although he had argued that his presence was not necessary
because the Indian army chief was not coming and it would not
be appropriate protocol-wise. Nawaz insisted and that made Musharraf
suspicious. He talked to his folks in the GHQ before flying off.
Everybody seemed to know that there was more to it than a mere
visit to Colombo.
Abbaji shuts himself out when asked
key questions about his role in these depressing times for the
Sharif family. But he says one thing on record: “I believe
in God, these difficult times will be over. I tell my family they
should thank God that the coup was peaceful. It could have been
dirty and even bloody. We could have been killed.”
Other than that he seems resigned
to the fate and fortunes and believes strongly in God, and prays
Those around him and the talking
pillars, however, say he is a great fighter and now firmly believes
the army has to be stopped from overthrowing elected governments
again and again. The Sharifs are ready to work with all political
forces, including Benazir Bhutto and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, to admit
all their excesses and mistakes and to ensure that the power to
overthrow is taken away from the army. Pakistan has lost its face
many a time and it can afford no more of the same.
when I am about to take leave, I ask him whether he is under tension
and whether he sleeps well. He says something which I don’t
believe could be off-the-record: “I sleep peacefully and
have no tensions. In life there are ups and downs and one has
to face both and be prepared. We were very poor and we built ourselves.
We will build ourselves again. One should have faith and “niyyat
saaf honi chahiye.” His cool and resigned face does
not betray his inner commotion and feelings. Abbaji is a cool
cooky, as they say in the US.
The hold on family Abbaji has is
evident from every move made or every word spoken by anyone in
his presence. Kulsoom and Saira look at him in awe when he speaks.
They listen to him in pin drop silence. Nobody questions his wisdom
and everything he says is the last word.
Abbaji has brought the Sharif family
from rags to riches and he is also responsible for its slide from
the top of the political power hill to the bottomless pit that
his sons and grandson find themselves in. But he is still considered
the vital source of power and strength who will, through his prayers
and wazeefas, as well as experience and foresight, bring this
ordeal to an end.
talking pillars do not forget to give the final message before
I leave: “Everyone comes and goes. General Musharraf will
not be there for ever. We will again have scent of power filling
this room. We are here to stay. We are the pillars of strength,