Brigadier Imtiaz ‘Billa’ causes predictable dissension

War of words and lack of action

In the national interest

Monday, August 31, 2009
Kamal Siddiqi

The writer is editor reporting, The News

This week was dedicated to political statements and the fact that nothing ever gets done if you leave it to our present band of leaders. When her government was attacked for not being able to ensure the supply of wheat at the price it had announced only the previous day, Sindh information minister Shazia Marri retorted that the cheap wheat was not for the middle class – “only for the poor.”

But it is another set of statements that keeps us amused. This is the proxy war of our politicians being fought through the media. On one side is Mian Nawaz Sharif and on the other are the president and the MQM and other coalition partners. In the middle stands the ex-president, retired general Perwez Musharraf. In all this, Prime Minister Gilani stands nowhere.

The week started with Brig (retired) Imtiaz “Billah” (does he have a surname?) informing us that the map of Jinnahpur was a “drama” and its publication was meant to malign a democratic party. This disclosure took place in a TV programme, and it came out of the blue. Not so say some who saw it on TV screens installed conveniently in the streets of Azizabad.

Gen Naseer Akhtar, who was corps commander at the time of the operation, also candidly admitted in the same TV programme that he had no knowledge of the Jinnahpur map, and that is why it was withdrawn by the ISPR two days after its release. This is possibly the first time such an admission has been made.

The Jinnahpur map and the “revelations” around it led to the bloody operation in Karachi, which was inherited by then-general Naseerullah Babar. Hundreds of people died in it on both sides. The MQM was declared anti-Pakistan and this was enough to justify the strong-arm tactics that were used against the party and its supporters.

But what about those soldiers and officers who did all this in the genuine belief that they were saving Pakistan from disintegration? In the words of Brig Imtiaz, “people are used on and off – and they don’t even know when and why.”

The same scene is now being played out in Balochistan. Various Baloch outfits are being declared anti-Pakistan and the whole Baloch anger against the Centre is seen in this context. There is no talk of addressing the issues of the Baloch people. Only that such moves need to be put down with a strong hand. Possibly it is this strong hand that weakens Pakistan the most.

But why has Brig Imtiaz suddenly woken up? It would be interesting to find out why Brig Imtiaz and Gen Akhtar came on TV and made this statement and who asked them to. And why should we believe them?

As if on cue, the PML-N’s information secretary, Ahsan Iqbal (once known as Mister 2010), stated that the military had initiated the operation in 1992 without taking the government of the time into confidence. The plot thickens. If such an operation could have been started without the knowledge of the prime minister of the country, something must definitely be wrong somewhere.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif claims to this day that he was not aware of the details of the army’s Kargil operation in 1999 in Kargil, and that Gen Musharraf did not fully brief him on its extent.

In response to this media offensive, Mian Nawaz Sharif opened up the gates on Balochistan. The troubles in the province are seen as a result of misrule by Gen Musharraf, and the lowest point was the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti. Bugti has become a hero for the Baloch people and his death anniversary this week led to renewed calls for the trial of Gen Musharraf for his murder.

In this, Mian Nawaz Sharif invited Bugti’s grandson, Shazain Bugti, to Lahore where he was given an unusually warm reception. In a telling speech, Mian Nawaz Sharif said that Bugti’s death was one of the most brutal acts of the dictatorship, and that exemplary punishment should be given to those responsible for his murder. In other words: get Musharraf.

However, before this could sink in, another salvo was fired — this time by retired Justice Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui. He said in a TV programme that money was given to persuade politicians to join the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), including Mian Nawaz Sharif. The allegations by the former chief justice were substantiated by retired ISI chief Asad Durrani, who confirmed that the payments had been made. Syeda Abida Hussain, who was then a member of the PML-N, publicly acknowleged that she had received the political bribe. Now Ms Abida Hussain is with the PPP.

To be fair, this is not new information. The Mehran-gate scam, as it was known then, has been in the news in the past and all that Justice Siddiqui said was public knowledge. Again, the choice of messenger and the timing of the story was telling.

Gen Aslam Beg, the former COAS, told GEO TV that all the details of the case were public knowledge and candidly commented that the statement had been made to embarrass Mian Nawaz Sharif. It may be recalled that Justice Siddiqui played an important role in the judicial crisis that eventually led to the ouster of Justice Sajjad Ali Shah. Without going into the details of his role, as told by Justice Shah in his book Law Courts in a Glass House, we can safely assume that Justice Siddiqui is no supporter of the PPP. So why make a statement at this time?

While this test of wills and war of words continue, President Zardari trots around the globe with some of his closest advisers while Prime Minister Gilani spends time in Multan. The Zardari-Altaf Hussain meeting in London may lead to delay in the sacking of the local bodies. But it is a tough decision to take – since, besides the MQM, the other beneficiary of this move would be the PML-Q. Both PPP and PML-N members want the local bodies system to be done away with for the time being.

Amidst all this, there are also rumours that President Zardari may be meeting his predecessor as well in his tour abroad. This meeting comes at a time when the heat is being turned to bring him to book. Gen Musharraf also has some powerful allies and well wishers within and outside Pakistan. They have advised that it is not conducive for him to return to Pakistan. So far, Gen Musharraf has listened, but he is also convinced that nothing would happen to him if he were to return. However, his return would put the government in a fix.

With donors unhappy with the pace of government reforms and our prime minister insisting that the government will do its own accountability, we are unsure how we are to move ahead. Prime Minister Gilani promises that his government will set the example for good governance. What we see instead is exactly the opposite.

Why do we all talk so much – that too at the same time? On-ground realities do not seem to be on the radar of our politicians. We are more interested in showing the other person down than to work towards the uplift of Pakistan and its people. We will spend hours on TV to talk about issues that are done with and settled. But won’t have time to actually make a difference in the everyday lives of people? Will this ever change?

Email: (The News)


‘Billa’ causes predictable dissension

The PMLN Information Secretary, Ahsan Iqbal, has swallowed the bait and interpreted the “multi-directional” attacks made by ex-ISI and ex-IB officer Brigadier (Retd) Imtiaz Ahmad alias Billa and accused President Asif Ali Zardari of running a Dirty Tricks Special Cell in the Presidency to slander Nawaz Sharif and other PMLN leaders. But all is not what it seems to the PMLN.

What is the objective of this “slander unit”? To cut down Nawaz Sharif’s massive popularity, says Mr Iqbal. He added to the conspiracy one more unnamed element scared of “the impending two-thirds majority that the PMLN chief would get in the next parliamentary polls”. Other gains from this evil machination are: “distraction of public attention from the huge corruption in the rental power projects and demands for Musharraf’s trial on high treason charges and undoing of the 17th Amendment”. For good measure he has added to the uncanny Army-Zardari combine inside the Presidency a third party of conspirators: the PMLQ as the front for General Musharraf who wants to avoid being punished and may want to stage a comeback by maligning the PMLN. Mr Iqbal has also claimed that his party had “hundred times more” scandals of the PPP up its sleeve, “but it followed principled politics”.

But the fact is that Brigadier Billa has squirted his allegations around indiscriminately and his victims are an all-parties affair. The PMLN should have kept quiet as it did when Rehmat Shah Afridi was allowed his moment in the sun. The TV channels are trotting Billa around to sell their time, but the man will get nowhere in the end. Mr Iqbal should have listened to Prime Minister Gilani when he said Billa was out to discredit all politicians.

The unwitting distraction offered by Billa is from the “national consensus” on hanging Musharraf. But hanging Musharraf may not be the top priority all over the world. For instance, the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, who keep us economically alive, think that the demand to “hang Musharraf” is a distraction from the more urgent task of fighting terrorism. (Daily Times)