Cross-posted from Shahid Saeed’s blog
This is the first of a non-consecutive series of posts profiling the major coup attempts in Pakistan, both successful and failed. The series would not be chronological for a variety of reasons, primarily because of access to various source books that are spread over my home and current accommodation. Major coups i.e. 1958, 1977 and 1999 would necessitate posts that only discuss things normally avoided by people discussing them. The coup attempts in chronological order are:
- 1951 – Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case
- 1958 – Iskander Mirza’s Martial Law followed by Ayub’s coup
- 1969 – Yahya led overthrow of Ayub
- 1973 – Attock Conspiracy
- 1980 – Tajammul Hussain Malik Case
- 1983 – Attock Conspiracy II
- 1995 – Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi Islamic Coup
- 1999 – Musharraf’s coup
Agartala and Hyderabad did have some retired and serving officers involved as well but they can be dealt later on.
Whilst I shall try my best to divulge into details without profiling the service careers of the people involved, I hope anybody well versed in military history would point out important things about service careers that I might have over looked and would be important to the sequence of events.
At the end of the series I will try to analyze whether the successful coups were as spontaneous as they are normally claimed to be (by military apologists and many uninformed people) and the reasons behind the failure of all coups that were not lead by the army chief. Military historians have normally stuck to the logic of Pakistan Army’s stringent hierarchy and strength as an institution to substantiate their claims why middle rank officer led coups have failed to materialize, but I have other feelings as well.
So here goes the first one, the 1995 coup attempt that was aimed at establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan, named “Operation Khilafat” by the conspirators.
The plotters planned to raid the Corps Commanders Conference to be held at GHQ on September 30 and assassinate the army high command including the Army Chief, nine Corps Commander and four PSOs (Principal Staff Officers). They would then turn their guns (possibly through a different group of armed people) to hold hostage or either assassinate the President, Prime Minister and some members of the Federal Cabinet. An Islamic Caliphate would be imposed on the country, run strictly through Sharia Law, an Amir-ul-Momineen would be throned and they would declare their foreign policy objective to liberate Kashmir through the force of mujaheddin. They were arrested four days prior to their planned attack.
Video and audio cassettes of their statements that were to be broadcast on Radio Pakistan and PTV were discovered as well[i]. Dawn reported that an MI circulation notified that the arrested comprised two groups, the inner group of plotters who attempted to topple the government and the larger group of sympathizers who extended their moral/verbal support and were more or less motivated by their plan to extend complete support to the “mujahedeen cause” in Kashmir.
The plan allegedly included plotting to kill then President Farooq Leghari, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and some Cabinet members including then Federal Minister of Environment and Industries Mr. Benazir Bhutto aka current President Asif Ali Zardari.
The arrests had become public in the form of whispers and rumours but the government had refused to comment on it for weeks. It was not until October 14, that Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto commented on it after being asked by journalists at a press conference. She did not go beyond “Some individuals are under investigation, but it is premature to say anything. When the investigations are completed the nation will be taken into confidence.” (The first public official to say something about the arrests was Senator Tariq Chaudhary, three days earlier on October 12).
A total of 40 army officers, including one Maj Gen, one Brig and five Colonels and 10 civilians were rounded up. I’ll be talking only about three major players in this post namely Maj Gen Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi, the Tableeghi Jamaat faujis and Qari Saifullah Akhtar.
As it turns out, it is difficult to keep such plans hidden from prying eyes for long. Darra Adam Khel has been, and continues to be the center of perhaps the world’s largest illegal arms market. Known to everybody is the fact that the guns aren’t sold to any Umar, Ali and Usman either. FC troops usually man the roads leading to the main market and Customs personnel (especially Customs Intelligence from the DG I&I – Directorate of Customs Intelligence and Investigation) roam the area to keep a tab on unapproved sales of illegal arms (as funny as that sounds). If I were to have no connections and go and buy an AK, the shopkeeper himself would inform the LEAs and not only would my investment be taken away, I’d have to bribe myself out of trouble. The local force commanders are also in the loop and with the Afghan civil war in full gear, the XI Corps Headquarters was certainly overlooking the weapons flow in the region.
On September 23, 1995, Customs Intelligence personnel stop a Brigadier’s staff car that is escorting a truck from the region. The staff car belongs to Brigadier Mustansar Billah and one of the Colonels convicted in the plot is sitting in the truck which is being driven by no other than Qari Saifullah Akhtar. The Brigadier tells the CI personnel that the weapons cache is meant for “Kashmiri Mujahideen” and calls a Colonel in Lahore for substantiating this fabricated story as well. They are let go or even detained by another account[ii]. However, the customs guy informs his superiors and the XI Corps is informed of the event too. A Harkat-ul-Ansar militant privy to the plans of Kashmir jihad laid out by the conspirators spilled further beans when investigated by the MI after he was caught transporting some weapons across the LoC. The then Director General of Military Intelligence (MI), Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) Ali Kuli Khan pursued the tip-off (and the case) relentlessly and within days tipoffs lead to the arrest of the people concerned. Reportedly (I have read this somewhere but cannot find the source) the Army Chief was out of the country on September 23 when the leak occurred but the decision to arrest Abbasi, a serving two star general, was far too important to be taken over the phone and it was done after he returned on September 26. All accused were shipped off to Quetta at once for further investigations.
The arms seized from the group included 26 AK-47s, one Shoulder Mounted Rocket Launcher, 50 hand grenades, 63 AK-47 magazines, 60 pistols, 30 full commando uniforms, seven sets of walkie-talkies and some thousand rounds of ammunition[iii].
The Policitians’ Response
The plot was exaggerated in the form that claims were made that it was a very strong plot involving a large group of people and sympathizers, something that would remain unsubstantiated but it invited fair share of criticism from political circles. The government’s response was muted understandably.
All religious political parties jumped on the bandwagon of plot-to-please-amrika-by-westernized-benazir and issued statements condemning the government for bloating the attempt’s importance. JI did its fair share of sloganeering in the Parliament and condemned the government of being an American stooge and cleansing the military of Islamic minded generals and collaborating with the US to cleanse the government apparatus of religious people. Hafiz Hussain Ahmed lambasted the government of trying to rid the military of Islamic elements and stated that “Pakistan is not Egypt”[iv]. Sipah-e-Sahaba carried out a public protest in Islamabad deeming it a conspiracy to undermine religious groups in Pakistan. PML was less vicious in its claims with Raja Zafar ul Haq saying on the floor of the house that “Let a military court hear the case but proceedings should be open to public and press” and that they had “deepened doubts and confusion” about the events as told by the government[v].
The Field General Court Martial (FGCM) was constituted at Attock and was presided by Maj Gen Zahid Hasan amongst four other officers (two Brigadiers and two Colonels including then Brig (later Lt Gen) Javed Alam Khan). The suspects were charged under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 and Pakistan Penal Code for “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline”, “conspiring to wage war against Pakistan” and “attempting to seduce any person from his allegiance to the government”.
After investigations were completed, the FGCM started its proceedings on December 31, 1995 and the sentences were announced on October 30, 1996[vi]. They all employed defence counsels and at one time Abbasi’s lawyers did a press conference and “claimed that he was illegally arrested, tortured and is being denied his rights as an army general and as a citizen of Pakistan ….. the general was in “unlawful custody”, and was denied even his basic rights as a human-being [and] at one stage he was almost choked to death”[vii].
Qari Saifullah Akhtar became the approver for the prosecution, although some allege that he was defiant and merely let go (for those unaware of what an approve means, it means someone who becomes a prosecution witness in exchange for a plea bargain/deferred sentence). As I shall profile later, Qari Saifullah is a deadly militant and his acquittal is a mystery.
The trial was straight forward. A main conspirator had become a star prosecution witness. There was documentary evidence in the form of the tapes, arms and ammunition and none of the accused really denied the charges either. As simple a trial as it can get for a prosecution lawyer. 24 prosecution and 25 defense witnesses were examined over a period of nine months. The four main charged were court martialed and sentences handed out were as follows:-
- Maj Gen Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi – 7 years of rigorous imprisonment
- Brigadier Mustansar Billah – 14 years of rigorous imprisonment
- Col Inayatullah Khan – 4 years of rigorous imprisonment
- Col Muhammad Azad Minhas – 2 years of rigorous imprisonment
Azad and Inayatullah were not directly found guilty and charged for failing to report the conspiracy to higher authorities. The dozen or so officers besides the four important ones were convicted on various counts but since they were “serving a national cause” of aiding Kashmir mujahideen and not toppling the government, they received mild to no punishments at all (no punishment being no criminal punishment, quick forced retirements were the minimum that could be done).
To make matters somewhat more interesting, Abbasi’s wife had hired Justice (R) K.M. Samdani and filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging her husband’s trial and deeming it a violation of his fundamental rights (Mrs. Shahida Zaheer Abbasi v. President of Pakistan -reported as PLD 1996 S.C. 632). The Supreme Court has always maintained that it has no jurisdiction over the matters of a FGCM – as long as it is legally constituted and fundamental rights are not violated in which case civilian courts have no jurisdiction for trial, but the higher judiciary has a duty to overlook protection of rights (Col (Retd) Muhammad Akram vs State – FSC 44/I/1993 and adjoining petitions in the SC). She was joined by two other wives and the Supreme Court on January 28, 1996 issued a notice to the Army Chief to appear before the court and present his point of view on the date of the next hearing, February 4. Realizing the real state of power and authority in Pakistan, and its real position in that flow of authority (read auqaat yaad aa gayi), the Supreme Court next day issued a clarification that it had not summoned the Army Chief and had only demanded the Army Chief’s opinion which he should send through a lawyer of the Ministry of Defence.
The wife of another officer, (rank unknown) Muhammad Hamid who was to be a prosecution witness moved a petition in the court on February 1, 1996 claiming that the prosecution was “using illegal ways and means to make him [her husband] turn against the accused”, that her husband was forcefully abducted and “the whole purpose of abducting and torturing him was to force him into supporting a false and fabricated story, which appeared to be a brainchild of the intelligence agencies with the objective of establishing a case against the said army officers”[viii]. Both petitions were summarily dismissed, of course (although the SC case filed by Abbasi’s wife did address many other issues of SC’s jurisdiction but they are irrelevant here).
The Military Appellate Court that heard their appeals was a three member one headed by Lt Gen Saleem Haider. Abbasi outright challenged its formation and field a petition before the LHC which was dismissed. All appeals to the appeals court were dismissed.
Side note: Recently, the LHC had overturned the sentences awarded to two civilians by a FGCM not because they were civilians but because of a technicality. They were involved in illegally selling fuel in connivance with some PAF officers[ix]. The officers were tried for theft under the Pakistan Air Force Act, 1953 while the civilian contractors were tried for inciting mutiny. The court observed that “It leads us to quite an amazing, rather stunning situation that the same evidence and the same set of circumstances in one trial against the air force officers were treated as theft while against the appellants it was treated as mutiny”.
Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi
Maj Gen Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi had a very illustrious career before the coup attempt as well.
In 1986, then Brig Abbasi was posted as the Defence Attaché in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. Like all military attaches, he was either heading the intelligence desk or at least in the know of intelligence operations. In a classic move, he was caught by Delhi Police for “spying charges” on Nov 30, 1988 when he was meeting an alleged “contact”. In the words of the spokesman of the Indian Foreign Ministry, “The Indian security agencies [had] collected over a period of several months incontrovertible evidence including revealing photographs of Brig. Abbasi’s involvement in defence-related espionage”[x]. It was actually a sting operation and Abbasi expected to be handed over nothing other than the Indian Army’s Order of Battle[xi]. He alongwith an embassy official (most probably an IB or ISI operative) Muhammad Ashraf Khatib were caught red handed meeting their contact in an Old Delhi motel (Ranjit Hotel) and were exchanging the Order of Battle for a mere 50,000 INR. After being interrogated for several hours, they were let go considering diplomatic immunity. On December 1, 1988 both men were declared persona non grata and told to leave India within 24 hours or literally expelled from the country. While India and Pakistan have routinely expelled diplomats, often tit for tat moves, as far as I know, this was the most high profile and senior most diplomat expelled by either country.
Military historian A H Amin says that when he was GOC in Lahore (10th or 11th Div), Abbasi got into a tussle with Commander IV Corps, Lt Gen Alam Jan Mehsud who “thought that Abbasi should be posted to FCNA where he could catharisize his spirit of Jihad on the snowy rocky ice pinnacles of Siachen Glacier”[xii]. Abbasi, being the religious man he was, conducted regular recitation sessions under his command and had prohibited wearing shorts in the Polo Club (the military however continues to abhor shalwar qameez in its grounds/polo clubs). FCNA, Force Command Northern Areas, constituted the then paramilitary NLI (Northern Light Infantry – which was later absorbed in the Army mainstream post Kargil) and attached Infantry Brigades. FCNA came under the direct command of the X Corps situated at Rawalpindi which was being headed by Lt Gen Ghulam Muhammad Malik (commonly known as GM). When posted in 1991, GM and Abbasi hatched what they certainly thought was a cunning plan to thwart Indian troop deployment around Siachen by launching a light brigade attack in the Chulung sector. In the summer of ’92, the plan was carried out albeit disastrously with very heavy casualties. Brig Masood Anwari the brigade commander, was amongst the casualties when Indian troops responded swiftly to the attack and the helicopter was shot down by the Indians.
A H Amin writes that GM Malik had “a tacit understanding with Abbasi that in case he succeeds he was a part of the team and if Abbasi failed G.M did not knew about the attack ! A very typical and known phenomenon in all armies, organizations and bureaucracies all over the world”. He goes on to say that this event was “a sad reflection on how an operation was mounted by an overzealous divisional commander, with secret authorization of his direct superior corps commander, while keeping a so called professional army chief in absolute darkness ! A sad but logical end to the career of Abbasi who was a more upright and internally motivated general officer and shoulders above most of the general officers that I saw in my army service”[xiii].
(Shuja Nawaz’s book that is considered the most authoritative account on Pakistan Army makes the almost deliberate mistake of stating the year of attack to be 1990, not 1992 and blames Aslam Beg for having little operational control over his forces – perhaps because in 1992, his very own brother was the Army Chief).
Abbasi was called back to the GHQ, somewhat of a sacking but did not face the axe. Since Abbasi escaped without any punishment after taking such a rash, irresponsible and ambitious failed armed attempt, I personally do not accept the tale that the Army High Command or at least some in the top brass weren’t/wasn’t in on this stupid adventure in Siachen. And if they weren’t and it was solely accepted by Abbasi as his own independent stupidity, then it is more than enough of a proof to break down the myth of the military’s internal accountability since such big violations of military decision making hierarchy are tolerated. Also, how can we imagine that adventurism that leads to fatalities isn’t a trait common to most generals?
After the Siachen debacle, Abbasi was recalled to GHQ and posted as Director General Infantry. He was working at this post that the said conspiracy/plot was hatched. After his release, Abbasi formed his own political party called Azmat e Islam Movement. He passed away on July 30, 2009. He gave an extensive interview to Ghazi magazine (part of the Ummat publications) sometime in 2004. I have lost my copy and if anybody has access to that, please let me know.
Sidenote: A bunch of idiotic Indian authors claimed that Musharraf too was in on the plot since he had been with the FCNA before Abbasi. Imagining an adventurous Musharraf is not difficult seeing what transpired later, but Musharraf was an odd one out in the army high command, a very liberal general. Ambitions and adventures are one thing but Tableeghi religious folks don’t take Musharraf and his likes around for a ride. Nonetheless, seeing how Benazir Bhutto described then DGMO Maj Gen Pervez Musharraf’s Kashmir enthusiasm in her book, a conspiracy theory can be created out of it.
GM Malik and Tableeghi Jamaat
The entire thing becomes even more interesting due to the fact that most of the plotters were members of the “apolitical” Tableeghi Jamaat.
Khabrain at one point reported that out of the 40 arrested, two were posted in the ISI and was a former staff officer to DG ISI, Javed Nasir – yet another famous Jihadi general who faced the axe after immense international pressure post the WTC bombing. Javed Nasir – now a famous Tableeghi and like other jihadi generals a member of the inner circle of the Tableeghi Jamaat – had led ISI to what even the Army termed a disaster in the Afghan scenario. Nasir not only violated a UN arms embargo by airlifting anti-tank guided missiles to Bosnia[xiv] but got Pakistan into trouble when another ship load of arms were caught in the Adriatic Sea with 10 containers of small arms[xv]. He was involved in arming Muslim insurgents in China and Philippines as well (by some accounts Afghan War stockpile of Stingers was given to Islamic insurgents in Phillipines). The Chinese as can be expected did not like this very much (these were the days when China removed its visa free policy for Pakistan after we continued exporting our militant ideologies across the border). Interestingly Nasir was appointed in March 1992 replacing Lt Gen Asad Durrani by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while Army Chief Gen Asif Nawaz was out of the country. Nasir was an Engineers guy like Ziauddin Butt but had no experience of commanding Infantry Brigades and had no background in Intelligence. His removal therefore was not protested but rather welcomed by the Army.
As Javed Hasan noted in his book, Sufi Iqbal, a tableeghi from Taxila (and often working out of Raiwind) had become influential amongst the military ranks. Sufi Iqbal’s disciples had seniority ranks amongst them on the basis of taqwaand dedication to the cause of tableegh which “was frequently in conflict with their military ranks. This led to the ridiculous spectacle of Major Gen Saeed uz Zaffar, commandant of the Staff College, standing up in deference whenever Colonel Azad Minhas entered his officer”[xvi]. GM Malik was to retire from his post of Commander X Corps (hope everybody knows that the infamous X corps is in Rawalpindi) in October 1995, just three weeks after the date the plot was supposed to go into action and although no direct evidence was found amongst the conspirators’ plan and GM, the word remains that he was a key motivator and it is perfectly imaginable as well. GM was the second senior most general after the Army Chief Waheed and his close ties to Abbasi can lead to the assumption that he was in on the plot and possibly thinking of taking over. Ironically, he was never even investigated thoroughly and his court martial or simply a trial would have been too embarrassing for the military and too big a shock for the international powers who wanted us to crackdown on fundamentalist elements. The point has been noted by Hassan Abbas in his book “Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror” as well.
Abbasi later became a prominent Tableeghi Jamaat member, an organization trying hard to portray an “apolitical” image but stained with events such as the protection it provided to notorious sectarian terrorist Riaz Basra amongst other things including the fact that it’s inner circle or halqa-e-khwaas as it is called, has amongst its members a fair number of jihadi generals including Hamid Gul, Javed Nasir, Agha Masood Hasan, Aftab Ahmed, Mahmoud Ahmed and Karamat Niazi.
This overlap of Tableeghis, GM followers and HuJI activists surely is a major mess and it is difficult to make sense out of the whole thing. It is not unimaginable that GM was in the know of the whole attempt but being retired just weeks after the event, he could offer nothing but motivation and perhaps planning support unless he was a super crazy chap wishing to overtake.the country .GM and Abbasi’s relationship and antics I have already shed light upon and seeing how this weird groups of religiously motivated, jihadi mindset adventurous and politically ambitious generals tried to topple the government must have given the then military top brass stuff to ponder upon.
Qari Saifullah Akhtar
Qari Saifullah Akhtar is a mystery man, a famous Jihadi and aligned with Al-Qaeda these days. Yet, he is by any account, an establishment tool who is often used by the “intelligence agencies” His Al-Qaeda affiliation and recent reports that he might’ve been working with the deadly Brigade 313 as well should be shocking considering how close he was, and perhaps is to the security establishment. Unlike other famous militants (excluding non-operative leaders like charity chief Hafiz Saeed), his court cases have been openly reported by newspapers. I shall try to stick to important and related points here since Qari Saifullah demands a book itself to narrate his story.
By most accounts he was born in South Waziristan in 1958 and studied at Banuri Masjid in Karachi. He played a key role in bringing together Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar when Shamzai was trying to appease both sides. As a leader, or at least a top ranking member of various outfits including HuJI and HA, he was involved in militant activities in Kashmir throughout the ‘90s. After the arrest and trial, Qari Saifullah was let go without any major obstacles. Approvers of major cases and all other of his type (jihadis) are usually listed on the infamous Fourth Schedule. These chaps have to inform the Police wherever they live and obtain approval prior to leaving town. Special Branch’s job is to keep a tab on his type. However, Qari Saifullah went to Afghanistan just after being released in 1996 and was accommodated by Mullah Omar with some sort of a ministerial/adviser post as well. His outfit, HuJI was allowed to open around six to eight training and operational centers in Afghanistan, besides the ones in Kotli and surrounding areas of AJK. According to Amir Mir, three cabinet ministers and 22 judges in the Taliban government belonged to HuJI[xvii].
Later he had supposedly left his former activities and settled in UAE. I for one do not believe that Qari Saifullah had left his militant activities and supposedly returned to a peaceful life with a transportation business in Dubai. Career militants just don’t do that, especially when it becomes clear that they become operational after another few years.
In 2002, some of his former affiliates were linked to the attacks on Pervez Musharraf and finally in 2004 he was extradited by the Government of UAE. Not only that, HuJI was linked to the May 8, 2002 attack that killed 11 French naval engineers in Karachi. It should be noted here that HuJI is very much of an international outfit, with heavy established presence in Bangladesh and has operated in other countries including Myanmar, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and of course, Chechnya.
Qari Saifullah spent two years behind bars without any trial. A habeas corpus petition filed in the Supreme Court sought his production before the court but was dismissed on a technicality (petitioner should have filed in the Lahore High Court). Later, petitions for his release were sought in the sea of petitions for various missing persons. While everyday folk with little or no relation to militant outfits remained missing and the authorities never replied to the court’s questions regarding their whereabouts, the National Crisis Management Cell of the Ministry of Interior told the SC on May 5, 2007 that Saifullah was not under government detention and was “engaged in jihadi activities somewhere in Punjab”. Ultimately on May 22, 2007 Qari Saifullah Akhtar returned to his home in Mandi Bahauddin safely after being thrown out of a car near Chakwal. I have this theory that there was no evidence to suggest his involvement in the attacks on Musharraf but the involvement of his old mates in the French engineers attack coupled with the changing scenario in Afghanistan made the ISI force him to come back. From the forced extradition it seems that Saifullah might not have been willing to start a new relationship and that the re-involvement of his outfit in the FATA –Afghanistan area was the brainchild of our spooks.
Qari Saifullah was arrested by the ISI on February 26, 2008 alongwith his three sons. He was produced before an Anti-Terrorism Court on March 20, 2008 in relation to the Karsaz bomb attack. However, he was released on March 26, after the authorities failed to produce evidence linking him to the attack. The fact that Benazir named him as a hired assassin should have been enough for the state to put him under detention, PMO and various other ordinances allow them to put anybody under detention for 40 days. Benazir was ultimately assassinated and Amir Mir is just one of the many people who have stated that Qari Saifullah was at least in some way involved in the sequence of events.
Recently, the five Americans caught in Sargodha and later convicted were also hired by Saifullah and HuJI to wage “jihad” and the charge sheet submitted in that case cited emails and telephone recordings that established a relationship between Saifullah and the Americans. (See this charge sheet presented before the ATC in the case, I like to call, Sargodha 5)
Like Mullah Bradar, it appears that Qari Saifullah Akhtar is now in the “protective custody” of our honourable intelligence agencies these days. With Qari Saifullah running around the country for a long time and he or his former affiliates involved in various terrorist attack across the country, it is demonstrative of how sleeping with militants has turned out to be a nightmare for us.
(Read this extended overview of Saifullah by Yusuf Nazar )
Sometime after overthrowing Nawaz Sharif’s government, Pervez Musharraf had Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi acquitted, let go and he immediately went on an Umrah after being released. Mustansar Billah meanwhile was the only one remaining in prison since the other two had served their complete sentences already. In May 2000, Abassi’s wife filed another case demanding that the court-martial itself be declared illegal. One of the many other junior officers convicted also filed a similar petition. Jurisdictional matters came through and the SC stated its inability to deem any court martial proceedings as illegal. Around August 2001, Mustansar Billah had a petition filed before the LHC seeking release since Abbasi had been released too. The status of that case is unknown to me. Col Minhas is living in Lahore comfortably. I have no information about what Col Inayatullah Khan is doing these days.
What should we make of the coup attempt? Was it one group of renegade jihadi officers wildly imagining they could overtake the country? Or was it symbolic of the penetration of politico-religious motivation within the ranks of the military? How much were militant organizations like HA and HuJI involved? Does their involvement suggest that they have influence within the higher ranks of the military or is it just that this group was close to them?
The overlap of Jihadi organizations, open structural hierarchy within militant groups and large number of off-shoots besides breakaway factions is no secret. Harkat ul Jihad al Islami dates back to the mid ‘80s and was led by Fazl ur Rehman Khalil and Qari Saifullah Akhtar. It’s involvement in Afghanistan was very limited and focused itself towards Kashmir in the late ‘80s becoming a major militant organization. HuJI merged with Harkat ul Mujahideen (HuM), to form Harkat ul Ansar sometime in the early ‘90s but HuJI brokeway again in the late ‘90s. This criss cross of names is surely a headache, but the point to note is that HuJI – a known militant organization was involved. And unlike many of the favoured militant organizations, it did not take the word of the spooks appropriately and turned its guns towards the Pakistani state later.
No author besides some Indians hell bent on crafting a boogeyman Jihadi-Pakistan-Army narrative has ever stated that this was symbolic of how militant organizations might take over the country. The operational weakness of the plot itself showed that it was essentially flawed. However, it does show that while the military is an organization that takes jihadi organizations for rides whilst maintaining its control over them, there are elements within its ranks who get carried away. Just like the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy, Kashmir jihad played an important role, both as a motivational factor and an important goal of the plotters.
Another thing that was highlighted was that even with its thousands of spooks harassing politicians, journalists and average folks across the country, the ISI failed to discover the plot. If a two star general sitting in the heart of the military apparatus is hatching a plot to overthrow the government, is independently involved with militant organizations and gun running for his future plans and was still not caught by the omnipresent ISI, then it’s a pure intelligence failure. In fact, the Darra incident was first reported to the ISI which believed that it was a case of gun-running and weapons smuggling and handed over the case to MI to pursue. The MI scratched more than the surface of the facts to find out the reality. This doesn’t mean that an intelligence failure was somehow saved by a smaller agency since high ranking officers working in the heart of the military apparatus were plotting coups and that alone is a big intelligence failure if they were caught at the very end, that too by chance.
I have always had a feeling that this plot did not make much of a difference in the narrative surrounding the relationship between the military and it’s love, militant organizations. At the time of the trial, it was expected that countries like the US would take stringent notice and demand cleansing the military of militant associates. Post Javed Nasir’s forced resignation, the ISI was thoroughly cleanses by Javed Ashraf Qazi but that was limited to cleaning the mess that Nasir had created in the form of aiding Chinese, Phillipino, Indonesian and just about every self-styled Islamic insurgent movement across the globe. The Afghan and Kashmir operations remained unaffected. As time would tell, much like other inner workings of the military this too would be hidden under layers of secrecy and taken out of the national narrative. The military has always been vary of being linked with strong Islamist sentiments and even during Zia’s time when it proudly boasted Islamic values, Islamist sentiment was carefully identified as an unacceptable adventure. After Mahmoud Ahmed was found to be double crossing everybody in the post 9/11 world and secretly aiding the Taliban, the military’s Islamist association and close relations with “jihadi elements” came under the spotlight for another time. But even then, this attempt was never highlighted as proof that there is a Islaimist-jihadi nexus within the military that can pose threat to governments in Pakistan. A major reasons for that remains that this attempt was nipped in the bud in its conception and that the military’s association with Islamist and jihadi elements has been opportunistic whenever it utilizes them, not the other way around.
Coming back to the major theme here, the point is that Qari Saifullah was a well-known militant and the fact that he was directly involved in an attempted coup would suggest that the military establishment would stop courting him. From the facts available it seems that he continues to remain a tool for the establishment, one of those blue eyed boys who went AWOL and although the intelligence agencies do not have him or his activities under their complete control, they haven’t stopped courting him. There is no love-hate relationship here; it is a relationship of mere expediency. For anybody wishing to study how militants who were once controlled by the state have switched sides and possibly turned their guns toward us, Qari Saifullah is the poster boy.
How could the military establishment not once and for all decide that war by proxy in Kashmir, and courting jihadi outfits and militants was wrong after the coup attempt is beyond my comprehension. I would assume that rational thought would demand introspection and whatever the goals and thought process maybe; the decision would be that association with such dangerous semi-independent groups is dangerous and should be cut off at once. However, our military thinks otherwise. They not only continued their relationship with outfits, even if they chose to limit it to trusted leaders like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar (many of whose outfit, mind you went renegade) but chose to utilize jihadis-for-hire whenever they deemed it necessary. Such dangerous associations are not just mind boggling to me; they should scare the shit out of anybody who assumes our national security is in the hand of rational, capable men.
The next post, seeing how long this was would follow sometime later. I’ll try to write an account of the lowest profile, smallest, weakest and frankly the most pathetic coup attempt in our history – the 1980 Maj Gen Tajammul Hussain Malik plot.
PS: One man, Sultan David, writes some religious books online claims to have been involved in the plot. Supposedly he was serving as a Brigadier in the GHQ as Director Joint Services Operation and was sentenced to eight years. He was supposedly released in 2003 after serving his sentence. While I do not have access to the entire FGCM proceedings – which I did plan to acquire but after being notified that this specific request would lead to harassment by our savior spooks, I decided not to pursue further. I will try to contact one of the people who presided over the FGCM in this regard. However, there is no report whatsoever that mentions that someone other than these four served sentences and no one named Sultan David was ever mentioned and I have never heard of this man either. Perhaps Billah changed his name or that’s a psuedonym.
Disclaimer: Any errors in facts, dates or accounts are regretted. Please point them out and I’ll be glad to correct them.
Disclaimer 2: I am not throwing names, if that appears from the read-up. It just happens to be that I have a fascination for viewing history through the lens of the individuals who were part of the events rather than crafting a framework for the events.
ul-Haque, Ihtasham. “Probe Team Recommends Court Martial of Armymen.” Dawn [Karachi] 11 Nov. 1995. Print.
[ii] Bodansky, Yossef. Bin Laden: the Man Who Declared War on America. Roseville, CA: Prima, 2002. Web.
[iii] Senate of Pakistan Proceedings of Nov 16, 1995.
[iv] Deutsche Presse-Agentur, October 15, 1995.
[v] Agence France Presse – Nov 16, 1995
[vi] Xinhua, October 30, 1996.
[vii] Bureau Report. “Gen Abbasi Says He Was Tortured.” Dawn [Karachi] 7 Jan. 1996. Print.
[viii] Nadeem , Syed. “Justice On Trial.” Asiaweek, March 06, 1996,
[x] Reuters. November 30, 1988.
[xi] Parthasarathy, G. “Mole. Molehill. Mountain.” Outlook India, Jun 02, 2005.
[xiii] Review of Cross Sword by AH Amin
[xiv] Abbas, Hassan. Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2005. Print.
[xvi] Abbas, Hassan. Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2005. Print.
[xvii] Mir, Amir. “The Swelling Force of Jihad.” The News on Sunday. March 22, 2009.