Hamid Gul, Aslam Beg, Roedad Khan, Akhtar Abdur Rehman, Zia-ul-Haq, Rafiq Tarar, the long list of criminals of ISI … By Ardeshir Cowasjee
We never learn from history
By Ardeshir Cowasjee
The indefatigable old warrior of our skies is wounded, as sorely wounded as any father of 81 years of age who has tragically lost his eldest son, himself a father, under the most mysterious and peculiar of circumstances, a son endowed with much talent and intelligence with a future before him even brighter than his past. For this great tragedy that has struck him, his endearing wife, and his family, we can but express our most sincere condolences.
As an old-time officer and a gentleman to his fingertips, as an honest man of moderate means, and as a man who genuinely wished to do good by the poverty-stricken, uneducated of this country, there was no way, no way at all, that Air Marshal Asghar Khan could succeed as a politician of Pakistan, given the environment, the atmosphere that prevails and the mindset of the majority.
On July 15, The Nation printed a column written by the air marshal on ‘The anatomy of politics’, the first of a series he intends to write on the subject. He recounted how in the era of Field Marshal Ayub Khan he spearheaded a movement with the intent to have Zulfikar Ali Bhutto released from jail. When he was released, Bhutto suggested that Asghar join him in his campaign to destroy Ayub Khan. What would be Zulfikar’s programme and policy once Ayub was removed, Asghar asked. Zulfikar, unabashed and completely frank, answered ‘My programme is to fool the people. They are fools, and I know how to make a fool of them. Join me and we will rule for twenty years. No one will be able to remove us.’
Not being familiar with politics and politicians in those early years, a naive Asghar was genuinely shocked and his response was that he would oppose Bhutto and his politics as best as he could.
But the main thrust of his column was the human rights petition filed by him in the Supreme Court (HRC 19/96) against the retired COAS General Mirza Mohammad Aslam Beg, the former ISI chief retired Lt General Asad Durrani and Younis Habib of Habib and Mehran Banks, relating to the disbursement of public money and its misuse for political purposes, which is still pending hearing by the court. The case was initiated by the air marshal after Benazir Bhutto’s interior minister, another retired general, Naseerullah Babar, had disclosed in the National Assembly in 1994 how the ISI had disbursed funds to purchase the loyalty of politicians and public figures so as to manipulate the 1990 elections, form the IJI, and bring about the defeat of the PPP.
The old warrior has amazingly still not lost hope. He somehow feels that ultimately justice must prevail. The matter of the involvement of the Inter-Services Intelligence and other intelligence agencies in the manipulation of politics and the disbursement of the people’s money for that purpose is by no means over nor has it, apparently, even abated.
Nothing, with regard to the dubious activities of our so-called agencies has changed since 1994 and I now relate a story of those days. The ISI is, right now, at its old games, spending our money and ‘fixing’ our future, particularly in the province of Sindh where its interference and placements bode ill.
In September of 1994 Kamran Khan of The News and The Washington Post came calling. He told me how earlier that year he had asked for an appointment with the then leader of the opposition, Nawaz Sharif, to interview him on his relationship with the army and the security services whilst he was prime minister. He was asked to go to Lahore and meet the Mian.
When on May 16 Kamran arrived at Nawaz’s Model Town house, there was an army of men equipped with bulldozers demolishing the security fences and structures Nawaz had built on adjoining land, not his to build upon (akin to those built around Karachi’s Bilawal House). The breakers had been on the job since dawn.
Kamran found Nawaz angry but composed. He was amply plied and refreshed with ‘badaam-doodh’ and Nawaz, his information wizard Mushahid Hussain and he settled down to talk and continued to do so until late afternoon when Kamran left to fly back to Karachi.
Nawaz opened up by congratulating Kamran on his Mehrangate exposures which had recently appeared in the press, asking how the inquiry was progressing, and giving his own views. They exchanged information, each believing the other was being informed. They talked about how COAS Aslam Beg (sporter of shades in the shade) managed to get Rs 14 crore (140 million) from Yunis Habib, then of Habib Bank. This was deposited in the ‘Survey Section 202’ account of Military Intelligence (then headed by Major-General Javed Ashraf Kazi). From there Rs 6 crore was paid to President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s election cellmates (General Rafaqat, Roedad Khan, Ijlal Hyder Zaidi, etc.), and Rs 8 crore transferred to the ISI account.
After lunch, Nawaz brought up the subject of how Aslam Beg early in 1991 had sought a meeting with him (then prime minister) to which he brought Major-General Asad Durrani, chief of the ISI. They told him that funds for vital on-going covert operations (not identified by Nawaz) were drying up, how they had a foolproof plan to generate money by dealing in drugs. They asked for his permission to associate themselves with the drug trade, assuring him of full secrecy and no chance of any trail leading back to them.
Nawaz remarked that on hearing this he felt the roof had caved in on him. He told them he could have nothing to do with such a plan and refused to give his approval.
The Washington Post had just broken Kamran’s story and when I asked why it had not broken earlier, he told me how they check and recheck, and that in the meantime, he had been busy with the Mehrangate affair on which, between May and August, he had filed seven stories.
We must again ask: was Nawaz capable of saying what he did? Yes. Did Kamran invent the whole thing? Not likely. Is The Washington Post a responsible paper with credibility? Yes. Everybody who is anyone in Washington reads it over breakfast. Has it ever made mistakes? Yes.
What is so earth-shattering about using drugs to make money? Drugs have been trafficked and used for covert operations for ages, by warlords, statesmen, chieftans and generals, used to gain territory, to buy or to harm the enemy. Remember how the staid Victorians of the British empire used opium to China’s detriment. Remember the Americans and how they traded drugs in Vietnam, and the Iran-Contra affair.
Can we believe Aslam Beg? Judging by his behaviour and record, no. Are we expected to believe Asad Durrani, a clever professional spook? Of course not.
Have all our generals been upright men and played it right? Of course, yes. Otherwise would they have ended up the way they did? Ziaul Haq? Governor, rich General Fazle Haq? How about dubious politician, rich General Aslam Beg, Lt General Javed Ashraf Kazi first chief of the MI and then of the ISI, Nawaz’s ISI chief, General Javed Nasir, sacked by General Waheed Kakar, General Asad Durrani of MI and ISI fame, summarily sacked by General Kakar, rewarded and re-employed by Benazir as her ambassador in Bonn, and dangerous politician, the firebrand fundo General Hamid Gul.
How did Ejazul Haq, son of the pious General Ziaul Haq, and Humayun Akhtar Rahman, son of the powerful General Akhtar Abdul Rahman, become tycoons overnight?
The story related above was printed in Dawn in my column of September 23 1994, and was never repudiated by any of the honourable gentlemen mentioned. Kamran Khan is still writing and when Nawaz Sharif returned as prime minister in 1997, Kamran was awarded the presidential Pride of Performance medal for journalism which was pinned upon his chest by none other than Rafiq Tarar, former justice of the Supreme Court and then head of state.