Image of Army sullied under a calculated plan
Mehrangate scandal which was lingering since 1996 suddenly got reinvigorated in 2012 because of the decision of pro-active Supreme Court (SC) on October 22, 2012. It was indeed distressing to learn that even GHQ and ISI had remained involved in gerrymandering elections to make the political party of choice win the contest. Mehrangate scam in which Rupees 30 million were distributed among certain politicians in 1990 exposed their role. Even though President Ghulam Ishaq Khan was the decision-maker, the implementers of his immoral plan were former COAS Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and DG ISI Lt Gen Asad Durrani. They should have simply excused themselves and refused to undertake this disgusting act which ran contrary to the constitutional norms, rule of law and ethics.
Looking deeper into the case, none can deny that Benazir Bhutto was prevented from winning elections in October 1990, not because she was inept and corrupt but because she was a security hazard. This label had not been given by the President but by the security apparatus. The ISI and MI had gathered information about her doings during her period of exile in London. Like her brothers and mother; she too was extremely hurt and desperately wanted to avenge the hanging of her beloved father at the hands of Gen Ziaul Haq. Al-Zulfiqar led by her two brothers Murtaza and Shahnawaz, and patronized by Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Russia and India had got linked with KGB, KHAD and RAW and was actively involved in sabotage and subversion throughout the Afghan Jihad against the Soviets till as late as return of Murtaza Bhutto to Pakistan in 1994.
Benazir wanted to gain power to settle scores with all those who had played a part in sending her father to gallows and also to resettle her brother Murtaza in exile. This burning desire impelled her to gain contact with foreign agencies as well as with high officials in USA and Britain. She also revived her friendship with Rajiv Gandhi, her Oxford friend, who used to address her as ‘Pinkie’. Reportedly, the US helped her in returning to Pakistan in April 1986 and in arranging a historic reception at Lahore. Seemingly, CIA had a hand in mysterious air crash on 17 August 1988 in which Gen Zia and large number of senior Army officers died.
Washington prevailed upon Gen Beg not to declare martial law and advised him to hold elections. The US played its part in bolstering PPP campaign to win October 1988 elections. Besides her personal agenda, Benazir was obligated to fulfill Washington’s agenda of rolling back Pakistan’s nuclear program, cutting ISI to size, sidelining Kashmir issue and befriending India.
During her first tenure, Benazir appointed retired Lt Gen Kallue as DG ISI mainly to restrain ISI from meddling in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Murtaza Bhutto’s file was whisked out of ISI’s record. She released hundreds of hardened criminals belonging to Al-Zulfiqar and rehabilitated 54 criminals who had been sent in exile following PIA plane hijacking in March 1981. They were accorded hero’s welcome in PM House and rewarded. Weapon licenses were issued to Jayalas in Sindh liberally to keep growing influence of Urdu speaking Mohajirs in check. MRD movement in interior Sindh in 1983 gave birth to Muhajir Qaumi Movement in Karachi in 1984. In 1986, militant wing was added to it to overwhelm Karachi and Hyderabad. It led to hideous practices of dead bodies wrapped in sacks, extortion and target killings in urban areas and armed dacoities in rural Sindh.
When Rajiv visited Pakistan in 1989, Benazir got the sign board of Kashmir removed from the gate of Punjab House in Islamabad. In her bid to please Rajiv, she acquired list of Sikh leaders waging Khalistan movement from ISI and sent it by hand to Delhi through Ahtezaz Ahsan. She confirmed it in her interview to BBC in London when in self-imposed exile. Nuclear program that was proceeding on a fast track was put on hold, which amounted to rollback. She however gave a go ahead for missile development program with China’s assistance, which irked USA and became a cause for her early removal.
Security factor outweighed ineptness and corruption factors, impelling President Ishaq to sack her government prematurely on 6 August 1990 and form a caretaker government under Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi to hold next elections. However, when the assessment by military intelligence and IB indicated that PPP is likely to win again, the troika decided to purchase saleable politicians. It was operationalised to safeguard the nuclear program that had become an eyesore for India, Israel and USA.
Decision of SC on Asghar Khan’s petition was a godsend breather for the PPP regime that was under fire from all quarters owing to poor governance, record breaking corruption and lackadaisical approach toward state affairs. Several high profile politicians including Nawaz Sharif accused of accepting graft lost high moral ground.
The judiciary was questioned as to how come it gave its ruling on the petition lying in pending tray for sixteen years with such promptitude when no NRO defaulter had been punished, no convict on death row hanged, no target killer or terrorist caught by law enforcers convicted, no leading light and their cronies involved in corruption and responsible for destroying state institutions taken to task, none of the 189 parliamentarians with forged degrees penalized, tax evaders roamed about freely, only 03 % paid taxes, and memogate accused Hussein Haqqani was allowed to flee.
Rule of law and directions of SC were brazenly defied by the rulers but they got away with their wrongdoings. The judges validating military takeovers four times and allowing each military dictator to abrogate, or suspend or amend the constitution were not brought to justice. Nor the politicians who enticed the Army chiefs and welcomed them when they booted out elected governments.
Questions were asked as to why Lt Gen Hamid Gul, the architect of IJI, had not been called by apex court despite the visionary General throwing a gauntlet to summon him and listen to the secrets he carried in his heart. Another question asked was as to why those who pocketed graft money were not implicated? Yet another query posed to the judiciary is as to why the two Generals were indicted but not sentenced and why the discredited FIA was asked to investigate whether accusation of accepting graft by politicians was correct? Moreover, why the verdict was announced at a time when the nation was looking forward for elections in May 2013? Had Gen Asad Durrani not committed the blunder of signing an affidavit, he and Gen Mirza Beg could not have been indicted. Rahman Malik was not asked as to why he pressured Durrani to sign the written affidavit in Jeddah when he was serving as ambassador.
It was also questioned that was it desirable to ratchet up 1990 case in which the two principal accused are in advanced stage of their lives and have neither pocketed money nor caused harm to national security. Also, faced with grave external threats, internal threat posed by extremists in the northwest and separatists in the southwest, Karachi dying an economic death due to extreme insecurity of life and property, debt ridden national economy falling into an abyss, political situation in a terrible mess and elections round the corner, what was the urgency to drum up this issue and then leaving it in a limbo?
I reckon, all these genuine queries probably restrained the SC from convicting the two Generals. However, it gave ready made grist to anti-Army propagandist mills, both at home and abroad to intensify their propaganda war against the Army, particularly when NLC and railway scams involving Army Generals was making headlines in those days. It contributed towards sullying the image of the Army.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org