Return of the ‘Midnight Jackal’?
By Shahzad Raza
Wednesday, 08 Apr, 2009
ISLAMABAD, April 7: Major Amir, who allegedly conspired and collaborated with others to topple the first Benazir Bhutto government, is said to have developed close relations with the Pakistan People’s Party top leadership. Party sources told Dawn that Major Amir, a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) operative, had held a few meetings with President Asif Ali Zardari. However, what was discussed in the meetings remains unclear.
The sources said that Major Amir was part of the president’s entourage that accompanied him on his visit to Saudi Arabia in November 2008.They added that some PPP leaders were quite surprised to see him around.
Major Amir confirmed the recent thaw in relationship between himself and the PPP top leadership.“Let it be no surprise that I have had a cordial relationship with the PPP leadership for the past few years,” he asserted.Asked what he discussed during his meetings with the president, he said, obliquely, that they had exchanged views on the issues of mutual interest.However, the presidential spokesman, Farhatullah Babar, denied reports of meetings between Major Amir and President Zardari.“I have never seen Major Amir in the Presidency during my stay. Moreover, I have not seen his name in any of the scheduled meetings of the president,” he said. But Mr Babar could not explain why Major Amir had been included in President Zardari’s entourage to Saudi Arabia.
Major Amir and Brigadier Imtiaz were the two main characters of “Operation Midnight Jackal” that was reportedly launched to topple the first Benazir Bhutto government in 1989.The ISI had reportedly launched the operation to make Pakistan People’s Party MNAs support a no-confidence motion against their own prime minister.According to the then director-general of the Intelligence Bureau, Masood Sharif Khattak, Major Amir and Brigadier Imtiaz were caught on video and audiotapes influencing some PPP parliamentarians.
But in an earlier interview with DawnNews, Major Amir and Brig Imtiaz had contradicted the reports of their involvement in the conspiracy.Major Amir claimed he was acting on the specific directives of the then ISI director-general, Shamsur Rehman Kallue, who was an appointee of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.He claimed that he was acting to identify the black sheep within the ranks of the PPP. He offered the same version of events to the board in the GHQ which heard his case during court martial proceedings. The former ISI operative conceded that he kept a watchful eye on the treasury MNAs who were expected to support the no-confidence motion against the then prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.
Sources said Major Amir would never have been able to find a place close to Benazir Bhutto. They added that some close aides of President Zardari helped Major Amir make his acquaintance.The former ISI operative used to be a special adviser to former NWFP chief minister Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, a close aide of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. By then, Major Amir was said to be in the good books of the PML-N top leader. But this is not what the PML-N spokesman thought.“He was just an adviser to Sardar Mehtab. But he did not have any close contact with Mian Nawaz Sharif,” PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq claimed.
A political pundit, who has access to some important drawing rooms in Islamabad, did not rule out the possibility of the former ISI operative being given an important political assignment to deal with right-wing media or fundos or both.
Major Amir liked Nawaz Sharif as Political Leader and was part of his Political Camp !!
Daily Times’ report of 22nd April, 2007
Establishment doesn’t like public-backed leaders’
Daily Times MonitorLAHORE:
Major Amir, the alleged architect of the notorious Operation Midnight Jackal, says Pakistani establishment likes the leaders who are not backed by the public.In an interview with the Geo television on Saturday, Amir said the establishment was against every leader who had people’s mandate behind them. “Pakistani establishment likes leaders like Malik Maraj Khalid, Moeen Qureshi, Sardar Balakh Sher Mazari and current Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz,” he said.
Amir said he liked Sharif as a political leader and was a part of his political camp. He said Sharif was more acceptable to the army than Benazir Bhutto.
The former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) officer said the ISI principally acted on the orders of the prime minister. But, he said, in case of lack of coordination between the prime minister and the army chief the agency preferred to seek directives from the army chief. Amir said he acted on the orders of the then ISI chief in the Operation Midnight Jackal, adding that the objective behind this operation was not to remove the Bhutto’s government. “I was court-martialled and removed from the army even though I proved my innocence before the inquiry committee,” he said.He said Jonejo’s government was removed because the US was against it. “The US thought that Jonejo had failed to deliver on Iran,” he said, adding that Mullah Omar was loyal to Pakistan compared to Hamid Karzai.
How the ISI Subverts the Political System
The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 marked the beginning ofa new period of intense political activity for the Pakistani intelligence agencies.Both the MI and the ISI worked hard to implement the military’s political agenda, and they have played an active role in every general election since. They have been used to support, oppose, or eventually suppress particular political groups and to aid domestic adversaries of civilian governments with which the military had grown dissatisfied.
Intelligence quickly became and remains central for senior commanders pursuing behind-the-scenes political interventions.The army chief brings information collected by the agencies to the president and the prime minister in a discretionary manner. The president has in the past relied on political intelligence gathered by the agenciesto formulate the charges against governments he wanted to dismiss.
The army chief therefore controls a very powerful instrument—an instrument that can be used indirectly through the president when civilians are in power, or directly when the military is in power.
The latter was the case under Musharraf, to whom the army chief reported.
Funding political parties.
The military ultimately managed to have Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto dismissed in 1990, and the ISI again became active in the general elections, during which it supported a number of her political opponents. Allegations of the ISI’s interference in domestic politics went public on March 24, 1994, when Mehran Bank president Yunus Habib was arrestedfor siphoning money from the bank. On April 20, the issue was brought tothe floor of the National Assembly by Interior Minister Nasrullah Babar.
In 1997, retired air marshal Asghar Khan, former chief of the Pakistan AirForce, filed a Supreme Court petition challenging the legality of a “donation”by the Mehran Bank, a nationalized institution, of some approximately $6.5 million to the then-COAS, General Mirza Aslam Beg, in 1990. The chief justice, Sajjad Ali Shah, called a hearing on ISI’s role in domestic politics. General Aslam Beg, who admitted he had put the money at the disposal of the ISI and MI through a secret service account, had earlier declared that “it was a practice with the ISI to support candidates during the elections under the direction of the chief executive.” The money was then used by the MI and ISI for “duly authorized purposes.” It was used in particular to fund the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), which received a little less than half the total sum. Beneficiaries also included the future prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. A substantial part of the money was also used as “special funds,” destined to finance covert operations.
The 1990 election was not the first instance of ISI involvement in Pakistani politics. Manipulation of elections has been the norm since the creation of the country, particularly under military regimes trying to compensate for their lack of legitimacy. Millions of rupees were embezzled from secret funds for that purpose in 1970 by General Umar, a close associateof Ayub Khan, and N. A. Rizvi, who directed the IB at that time.
Besides the PPP, the only victim of the scandal was the banker, YunusHabib, who was arrested and jailed. The COAS suffered no judicial consequencesand went on the offensive, demanding that legal action be takenagainst the former chief of the Pakistan Air Force and General NasrullahBabar for violating the provision of the Official Secrets Act and bringing thearmed forces into disrepute.
Although technically still pending before the Supreme Court, the case was de facto suspended by the October 1999 coup d’état of PervezMusharraf. Almost eight years later, in February 2007, Asghar Khan, one of the main protagonists of the scandal, was still asking the SupremeCourt to “determine the role of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in national politics.”
Support for particular political groups or parties is not primarily the result of ideological sympathies. Like all individuals, intelligence agents have their own ideological inclinations and political preferences, but these pale in comparison with the military’s institutional interest in its own domination of the political landscape. Therefore, support or opposition to any given organization varies over time, the latter being eventually as viciousas the former can be generous.
Setting up alliances.
In 1988, the ISI, led by Lieutenant General HamidGul, set up the IJI, an alliance of right-wing and religious political parties,to prevent Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from sweeping the polls. The ISI arranged the reunification of Pakistan’s two Pakistan Muslim League factions, which were then joined by smaller organizations, and helped them campaign against the PPP.
Imtiaz Ahmed, who was then additional director general of national security at the ISI and as such was involved in all ISI political dealings, launched a campaign to discredit Benazir Bhutto for allegedly working against Punjabi interests. The military opposition failed to prevent a PPP victory in the elections, but ISI manipulations led to greater electoral success for the religious parties, which obtained, collectively,12 percent of the vote in the 1988 national election, a score they never again reached, including in 2002.
The military high command did not even bother denying its own involvement,nor that of the intelligence agencies, in the process, cynically describing it as “helping to restore democracy.” When asked what would have happened if Benazir Bhutto had won the 1988 elections with a greater majority, former COAS General Aslam Beg declared:[T]he army perhaps would not have allowed the transfer of power to Benazir Bhutto. There is a strong feeling in the army that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was responsible for the East Pakistan debacle and that he maligned the army…. So, to ensure that power was smoothly transferred to Benazir Bhutto and democracy restored, the IJI was formed by the ISI.This was done with the clear knowledge that that it would not stop thePPP from forming the government…. I set up a fake competition by creating the IJI to ensure that a democratic government would be formed….Let me categorically state that the decision to hold on to or relinquish power rests squarely with the army.”
Nonetheless, after the PPP’s victory, the ISI never ceased trying to unseat Benazir Bhutto. In October 1989, at the instigation of Hamid Guland in an operation named Midnight Jackals, the ISI tried to sway PPP members of the National Assembly to back a no-confidence vote against Bhutto and managed to convince the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM; itsname was changed later to Muttahida Quami Movement) to switch its supportfrom the PPP to the opposition.
Source: Reforming theIntelligence Agencies in Pakistan’s Transitional Democracy
By: Frédéric Grare
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace