Former chief of the general staff Lt-Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz on Monday issued a statement in continuation of his interview with Ansar Abbasi of The News, published on Sunday.
He said: “The US invasion of Afghanistan and our involvement in this war were very difficult events to handle. The U-turn after 9/11 was a complex and historic decision. There were great reservations within the Army with what we had to do, but it was understood that in the national interest we had to take the events into account and do what was to be done. Within such psychological dynamics, Gen Musharraf had to handle the nation as well as the armed forces, and pull us through the crisis. What pressures and compulsions he had to balance cannot be understood by those who have not been in that position. Those were unique times and had their unique compulsions.
“There was no formal agreement undertaken by the Army for operations in Fata. If there was any such agreement at the government level, the GHQ was not aware of it. When decisions were made at the government level, departments concerned, including the Army, were informed of their part in the process. All that transpired between Washington and Islamabad on the war on terror was not shared with the Army, since the canvas at the national level was far wider than that of the Army. This does not imply that the Army as an institution was kept in the dark. Regular corps commanders’ conferences were held in which the president talked at length on these important issues.
“In my capacity as chief of the general staff, I was handling a selected sphere of issues related to the war on terror. I could only speak from my purview. The government had its own very wide perspective, and the ISI had its own mandate. To ask me if I was aware of the Pakistanis which were handed over by us to the US, I could only respond that the militant prisoners taken by the Army were handed over to the ISI for interrogation. Beyond that is not in my knowledge.
“However, one thing is sure that it was Gen Musharraf’s stated policy that no Pakistani would be handed over to the Americans. As for the foreigners, the policy was that they would be handed over to their respective countries. It was much later that one read of Pakistani prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, and yes we all felt very bad about it.
“These were, most likely, those arrested from Afghanistan; however, if ISI was involved in their handing over, it was certainly in violation of the government policy. Gen Musharraf was quite emphatic about this policy of not handing over Pakistanis to any foreign country. In fact a team led by an Army colonel visited Guantanamo to find out if any Pakistanis were imprisoned there and to arrange for their release and return to their homes. Likewise, the cooperation with the CIA, through the ISI, did provide the Army useful information regarding the presence of foreigners in Fata. This was necessitated because of the superiority of their technical intelligence means, which also included drones flown over Fata for intelligence purposes. These were tactical matters coordinated at lower levels, and did not require presidential clearance. Despite our reservations, there was little we could do to prevent this.
“The colour of the article, as it has appeared in the paper, is much different than what I had meant or even implied. Gen Musharraf has a great contribution in leading the nation through a critical juncture of our history, and we should thank him, at least, for buying us the additional time to make us strategically a far stronger nation than we were seven years ago. Those who are concerned with Pakistan’s security will realise this and the fact that he refused to be pushed beyond a certain point under continuous US pressure on Pakistan “to do more”.
Ansar Abbasi adds: Since Lt-Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz has not denied the content of his interview and since he has reconfirmed most of its points, there will be no point in stating that The News and I stand by our report.
Source: The News, 16/9/2008