Partners in crime: Ex-Servicemen’s Association (the new face of ISI sponsored thugs) – by Amir Mir

Partners in crime

Amir Mir

Hardly a fortnight after Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani directed the officers of the Pakistan Army through an official letter not to indulge in politics and pay heed to their professional responsibilities, a group of prominent ex-servicemen – retired military officers including high profile retired generals, air marshals and admirals – have come down hard on President Musharraf for unnecessarily dragging the army into politics and have asked him to immediately resign as the head of the state and hand over power to the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

Since assuming the command of the 600,000-strong Pakistan Army from General Musharraf in December 2007, the 55-year-old career officer General Kayani has kept a relatively low profile, although he seems to be trying to keep the military out of politics, unlike his predecessor, Musharraf. The Pakistan Army, in the very first decade after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, became a politicised army – the power behind the throne in national politics and thus soon seized political control. Thereafter, the army intervened frequently to seize political power and imposed military rule for protracted periods; the military coups of Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan were followed by a pro-jihad Zia regime that lasted for 12 long years and an anti-jihad Musharraf regime. Therefore, having tasted political power, the Pakistan Army had ceased to be apolitical.

However, the unusual directive by the new chief of a highly politicised army has been widely welcomed as it represents the overwhelming public sentiment that the army should go back to the barracks permanently by withdrawing itself from the national political arena for the good of the country. The directive shows that the new army chief wants to systematically reverse some of the most significant policies of his predecessor, who had to take off his uniform in December 2007 under intense international pressure. Two months down the road since assuming the command of the army, General Kayani has issued two key directives: prohibiting army officers from meeting with politicians and ordering all those officers who hold posts in civilian agencies on deputation to resign from those positions.

Hardly a couple of weeks after General Kayani issued these directives, a group of retired military officers, formed an organisation of ex-servicemen, welcomed the initiative taken by the new army chief to depoliticise the army and urged their colleague, General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, to hand over power to the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. These developments reflect increasingly strong challenges Musharraf faces after taking off his uniform. The group of retired military men, including former army chief Mirza Aslam Beg, former ISI chief Lieutenant General (retd) Hamid Gul, former Air Chief Marshall (retd) Asghar Khan, a former Corps Commander Rawalpindi Lieutenant General (retd) Ali Quli Khan, a former Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator Lieutenant General (retd) Faiz Ali Chishti and many others asked Musharraf on January 31 in Islamabad to resign in the supreme national of the country.

An open letter signed by more than 100 retired military officers – all members of the All Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society, an organisation working for the welfare of retired military personnel, stated that all the four state pillars have suffered at the hands of Pervez Musharraf during his eight year rule, be it the judiciary, the executive, the media or the legislature and, therefore, he should quit the presidency in the supreme national interest. “Musharraf should step down and hand over power to Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who is still the constitutional head of the Pakistani judiciary,” said Air Marshall (retd) Asghar Khan while talking to newsmen at the gathering of the ex-servicemen. Speaking on the occasion, General (retd) Aslam Beg, who headed the military from 1988 to 1991, said Musharraf had tarnished the image of the armed forces and called on all ex-servicemen to help restore it. “We should work together to strengthen democracy by trying to remove the only impediment in its way – Pervez Musharraf.”

A few days later, on February 5, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, a large number of the former military officers staged a demonstration near the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi to protest against President Pervez Musharraf’s policies and asked him to resign. The unprecedented protest rally was held a day after the Monday suicide bombing close to the GHQ, which killed 11 people, including some military personnel. Newspaper reports say the participants of the demonstration chanted full-throat slogans like ‘Go Musharraf go’, ‘No Musharraf no’, ‘We want a commission on Kargil’, ‘Musharraf must resign’, etc., while marching towards the GHQ. The retired generals vowed that they would continue their protest until President Musharraf quits power.

However, on his part, however, Musharraf has rejected the demand, describing it a call from “disenchanted job seeking retired generals who had been kicked out by him”. Federal Information Minister Nisar Memon too rejected the resignation demand by the ex-servicemen, saying the ex-servicemen should remain within their limits, otherwise action could be taken against them. Interestingly, the leading lights of the ex-servicemen’s organisation had themselves been amongst those responsible for dragging the army into politics. To begin with, Asghar Khan enjoys the distinction of having written a letter to General Ziaul Haq in 1977, literally inviting him to stage a military coup against Bhutto, which he eventually did. Faiz Ali Chishti became the deputy Martial Law Administrator when Zia had imposed Martial Law. Mirza Aslam Beg had been involved in manipulating the 1990 elections by distributing a hefty amount of Rs 140 million amongst a group of anti-PPP politicians through the then ISI chief and a part of the ex-servicemen society, Lieutenant General (retd) Asad Durrani and last but not the least Hameed Gul enjoys the distinction of having founded the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in 1990.

Interestingly, however, Asghar Khan, Aslam Beg, Faiz Chishti and many others present at the gathering of the retired officers, when reminded of their meddling with politics while being in uniform and asked if they wanted to apologise to the nation for their own, they simply refused. Except for retired Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, none other retired khaki personnel showed the moral courage by making an admission of guilt. Gul not only admitted the wrongdoings he had committed as a spy chief, he also submitted a formal apology to the nation and said he was ready for any punishment. “I am ready for a trial or even hanging,” Gul told the gathering in open door proceedings. His words, however, failed to move the other architects and backers of martial law who were sitting on the stage.

While refusing to show remorse for their past conduct, Asghar Khan, who was presiding over the meeting, got annoyed when asked about his “dirty past” and asked to apologise. “These were individual acts of power hungry generals and they are the ones who should be asked to apologise,” he responded. He did not respond when a journalist questioned the moral authority of the retired generals to preach others when they did not feel embarrassed on the wrongdoings of their past. Khan refused to take questions on self-accountability when reminded that he himself was among the strong supporters of Zia’s martial law and the person sitting next to him, Lieutenant General (retd) Faiz Ali Chishti, was Commander 10 Corps when Zia had taken over and later collaborated with him in all his acts. Questioners also mentioned General (retd) Aslam Beg under whose stint as the army chief the Mehran Bank scandal took place and the then president had nominated his successor three months before Beg’s retirement as a pre-emptive measure keeping in view his political ambitions.

Interestingly, Asghar Khan had petitioned the Supreme Court of Pakistan in June 1996, accusing the ISI of manipulating the 1990 general election results in favour of the IJI. And those made respondents in the case were Mirza Aslam Beg and Asad Durrani, ex-Director-General of ISI Directorate, both sitting on stage with Asghar Khan and making fiery speeches against the army’s indulgence in politics. In his written reply submitted with the Supreme Court, General (retd) Aslam Beg had stated: “More serious damage has been caused to the reputation and the good will of the Armed Forces by Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan in bringing the petition before this Honourable Court and raising an issue before the apex Court, which of course would receive great publicity and would cause greater damage by scandalisation in the media…dragging the ex-service chief to the courts on a letter may be detrimental to the prestige, honour and dignity of the institution he has once represented…Asghar Khan has approached this august court with ulterior motives and his representation is based on obvious malafides…”

However, despite repeated reminders about their past intervention in national politics, neither Asghar Khan showed the grace to confess any wrongdoing nor did Aslam Beg, Asad Durrani and Faiz Chishti. Speaking on his own behalf and the three others, Asghar, who had demanded of Zia during the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) movement in 1977 that Bhutto should be toppled and hanged publicly at the Sihala Bridge, said: “Whatever has happened in the past has happened and the media should stop browbeating the past.”

However, one is constrained to ask if these khakis were unaware of the spirit of the oath they had taken while joining the army, which explicitly prohibits them from indulging in politics: “I, with a sincere heart and God as my witness do solemnly swear that I will be faithful to the State of Pakistan and protect the Constitution of Pakistan, which reflects the wishes of the people of Pakistan. Further, I will not indulge in any political activity and will perform my duties in the armed forces with full faith and honesty. I will go where and howsoever I am ordered to by land, air or sea and that I will obey all lawful orders given to me by my superiors without regard to any dangers and threats to my personal safety. May God be my protector and witness! Amen.”

The writer is the former editor of weekly Independent, now affiliated with foreign media.