Targeting the ISI- Anjum Niaz

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Prime Minister Gilani urgently worked the phones to get through his counterpart in Delhi. Manmohan Singh finally came on the line after two days. Without diplomatic niceties, Singh curmudgeonly ordered the director general of the ISI to appear before his premier intelligence agency RAW in Delhi. India’s wish was Pakistan’s command. Our prime minister (read President Zardari) agreed to send Lt-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha without weighing the hurt caused to our national pride and honour. Pasha reports directly to Gilani, therefore Army Chief Kayani may merely have received an ‘FYI’ (for your information) from the prime minister house because of the manner in which the initial announcement was made.

The chorus against ISI’s role in Mumbai’s killings rises with every passing minute. The Indian government, India’s media and the man on the street blames the ISI. And hence Pasha must be put in the dock in Delhi and read out the Riot Act. The charge-sheet prepared by the British Scotland Yard and American FBI agents now in Mumbai to investigate ‘whodunit’ would likely tangle the ISI. The western print and electronic media and its blogosphere is also tying the knot between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, two outlawed groups in Pakistan, alleged to have a hand in the carnage and indirectly tied with Al Qaeda.

Peter Chamberlin, an American journalist and an expert on terrorism, warns Pakistan against the Indian ruse to involve ISI in the Mumbai carnage. He calls Al Qaeda an “imaginary force” created by Pakistan and the US. Other states in the region use the Al Qaeda card to their advantage. “Whenever any government wants to kill people, they send in an Al Qaeda cut-out to start the cycle of violence,” he says. “The leaders and the press in Pakistan must protest loudly and unveil the truth about Al Qaeda. Pakistani leaders must tip-toe out of the minefield that they have allowed themselves to be lured into by the US.”

Today, the ISI is our first line of defence against foreign and domestic attacks. Instead of weakening it, our civilian and military establishment should convert the 4,500 plus strong institution into another Mossad, the Israeli intelligence outfit, ranked among the most effective intelligence agencies in the world. While Prime Minister Gilani was on his way last July to the US, an order was issued to transfer the agency to the interior division. A furore ensued and very soon the notification was cancelled. “Rehman Malik wanted to run the political wing” says General Shujaat Ali Khan, who ran the agency’s political wing during Benazir Bhutto’s second government. Recently, the ISI quietly disbanded the controversial political wing which had over the years become a Frankenstein. Benazir Bhutto had openly blamed it for pulling their government down in November 1996, weeks before her brother Murtaza Bhutto was gunned down in Karachi. In her 2000 interview to an English monthly, Benazir Bhutto accused General Shujaat of “destabilizing” her government. She said that despite her trying to get the general sacked, the big boss of ISI, General Naseem Rana and the ministry of defence failed to dislodge Shujaat, perceived by Benazir Bhutto as her nemesis.

On a late November afternoon, I drive down to a deserted farmhouse outside Islamabad to meet General Shujaat Ali Khan. He has just arrived home after a minor surgery at CMH, Rawalpindi. As I sip my orange juice, freshly squeezed off the orchard in the general’s backyard, I wonder whether my host was really that lethal as made out by the two civilian prime ministers whom he served. “Before I answer Ms Bhutto’s charge, I have seen the Rafi Raza Report where in 1976, her father ordered the creation of a political cell in the ISI just by handwriting one line in the margin. The ISI thus was given a green light to bug politicians’ phones. Even Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto allowed us to listen in to conversations of politicians, judges and Dr A Q Khan.”

The former spymaster vouches that during his 2 ? years in the ISI as the DG internal wing which monitored the counter-terrorism and the political cells, he never “bugged” the phones of Prime Minister Bhutto or President Farooq Leghari. His task was to collect intelligence on the “macro-economic indicators; the stock exchange and the financial deals” affecting the economy of Pakistan. During the intelligence gathering, the general naturally came across allegations of corruption by the First Gentleman Asif Ali Zardari and appointments based on nepotism and favouritism. “I used to forward my reports to the PM and she would return the files with handwritten short remarks in green ink. At times she would sound irritated with repartees like: ‘Since when has the ISI become an economic expert?’ or ‘Oh, really!’”

General Shujaat met Benazir Bhutto a month before she died. “I explained to her that I had no hand in her dismissal and she told me that she understood.” Actually President Leghari in cahoots with the then army chief Jehangir Karamat had already decided to sack her long before General Shujaat arrived at the ISI. But Shujaat would get a pat on his back by Karamat and lustily cheered each time he wrote a damning report on BB. After Ms Bhutto’s exit, Karamat and Leghari got a wakeup call when Nawaz Sharif charged in with a ‘heavy mandate’. “Our (ISI) estimation on 1997 elections went haywire. Our assessment of the PML-N was totally off the mark!” Very soon Sharif picked up fights with both the gents and eventually showed them the door!

Shujaat makes another sweeping statement: Nawaz Sharif’s reign saw a much higher level of corruption than the two reigns of Benazir Bhutto. “Whenever I sent him dossiers on the motorway and other financial wrongdoings, he would get mad!” How did that happen? I ask the general. Nawaz Sharif made millions by importing two shiploads of steel and importing 400 BMW cars. He then raised the import duty thereby earning huge profits by selling the two items in the open market. Similarly, he bought big tracts of land at Rs5,000 per square yard and later converted it into the Chunian Industrial estate flogging it at ten times the price.

ISI head honchos like generals Hameed Gul, Asad Durrani, Javed Nasir, Mahmud Ahmed and Ehtisham Zamir have “monkeyed” with political governments and brought them down, thereby sullying the image of the army. They are on record saying so themselves. Ex-army chief Aslam Beg is yet another example of the black sheep that the army is infamous for. General Shujaat was privy to the sacking of Hameed Gul by the then army chief Asif Nawaz. Gul had refused his new posting as director-general of heavy industries Taxila which did not go down well with the chief who was told about it while on an official visit to Italy. “Gul has anger issues till today,” says Shujaat. While Zulfiqar Bhutto and Ziaul Haq maintained files on senior bureaucrats and politicians, “they never blackmailed them” he tells me. “Instead they’d just wave the files before the chap they wanted to bring in line. That was enough!”

General (r) Shujaat gives an elliptical answer when I ask him as to who really controls the ISI today. It’s under the “policy directive of the man who calls the shots [Gen Pasha?],” he says. “It may not be the prime minister, it may not be the president, but the army chief is always kept in the loop.”

As I get up to leave, dreading a long trek back home in the wilderness of the cold night, the counter-terrorism expert Shujaat makes a chilling prediction that gives shivers not cheer to my heart. If there is change, it will begin in Punjab’s biggest urban centre, Lahore. The army will only take over if the masses spill into the streets demanding a change as happened in 1977. “I am of the firm opinion that this time around issues like hunger and poverty will be sufficient catalysts for change. But the movement will be hijacked by the religious right who enjoy widespread support among the grassroots, have sophisticated weapons, foreign funding and abundant resources.” He talks of the Iranian revolution which was started by Tudeh (party of the masses) also called the Communist party, but got hijacked by the cleric Ayatullah Khomeini.

With the Americans, Indians, Israelis and God knows who else wanting to down the ISI, Zardari’s last resort and ours too, is the army and its intelligence agency. The impolitic Zardari-Gilani leadership should stop showing off to the world that they and not the establishment control Pakistan. Their false bravura and reckless statements can spell disaster.

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email:

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