Ex-prisoner and man of ‘honour’ Gillani set to rule Pakistan

March 24th, 2008 - 4:28 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Benazir Bhutto
By Devirupa Mitra
New Delhi, March 24 (IANS) When he first met Benazir Bhutto, Makhdoom Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani called himself a lover of “honour”. Three months after her killing, the journalism student-turned-politician who spent five years in jail is set to rule the world’s only nuclear Islamic power: Pakistan. That he took charge as Pakistan’s 20th prime minister on a day the eldest of his four sons got married has only made the occasion doubly joyous - and hectic.

But Gillani, 56, has seen more frenetic days since he took to politics in 1978 when Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator, Zia ul Haq.

Years later, in 2001, another military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, the present president, had him jailed on corruption charges. A Sufi at heart, Gillani spent five years in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail.

The distance from the prison to the Mughal-architecture inspired Prime Minister’s Secretariat in Islamabad may not be far. But it has been a long, long journey.

When his father was a minister in the 1950s, Gillani - his mother tongue is Seraiki, a language spoken by 14 million in Pakistan - studied in a school in Multan in Punjab. He earned a Masters in journalism from Punjab University in 1976. He went to England to study further.

Now a father of four sons and a daughter, Gillani entered politics by joining the Pakistan Muslim League in 1978. He was the housing and railway minister in the Mohammad Junejo government. But he had a run in with Junejo and was out of the cabinet.

Later, in a book he wrote in jail, Gillani spoke out about his anger those days: “I was furious, and helpless at the same time… and then I made up my mind.”

He joined the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1988 after meeting Bhutto. “I said to her, there are three types of people in this world: lovers of honour, of wisdom and of wealth. I am of the first type, and that is all I want.”

And honour he got.

President Zia died in an air crash and the PPP returned to power in elections in which he created history by defeating Nawaz Sharif, the strongman of Punjab who is today propping him up as the prime minister.

Gillani became a minister in the first Bhutto government from 1988 to 1990. His reputation as a man of principles was secured in the second Bhutto term, from 1996, when he was the National Assembly speaker.

Though a loyalist, Gillani twice defied the Bhutto government to preserve what he said was the dignity of parliament. In 1994, he prevailed upon a reluctant interior ministry to produce jailed opposition members. Again in 1995 he refused the Attorney General’s demand to slap cases against opposition MPs over bedlam in parliament.

Gillani refused to back Musharraf after he seized power in 1999. On Feb 11, 2001, the National Accountability Bureau arrested him over charges of illegal appointments when he was the parliament speaker.

Gillani was to later say: “Since I was unable to oblige them (government), they decided to convict me so that I could be disqualified and (shown as) an example for other political leaders (to be) good boys.”

He was released in October 2006. During his imprisonment, his mother and sister died.

Where did he get the courage to withstand the years in jail?

Gillani supporters credit it all to the family, which claims to be descendants of Sufi saint Syed Musa Pak, who originally hailed from Iran.

The family also fought for Pakistan. His grandfather and granduncles were signatories to the Lahore Muslim League resolution in 1940 that called for the creation of a separate state for Indian Muslims.

It is that country Gillani will preside over now.

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