‘Breaking’ news —Shaukat Qadir

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We have been sliding downhill for too long, the slide must stop somewhere. Now is as good a time as any, and better than most, given a COAS who is bending over backwards to establish the principle of civilian supremacy

When I first read in the papers that the intelligence ‘Wonder Boy’ Brigadier Imtiaz Ahmed (retd) alias ‘Billa’ had decided to open his mouth and that he had been running from pillar to post asking people to interview him, I decided he was best ignored. However, I did wonder what treatment succeeded in ridding him of the constipation of years and why. That the disease (or should it be treatment?) was bound to be contagious was a foregone conclusion; and even when asked, I refrained from comment except to ask, “what was unknown that he has now disclosed?”

I have been prompted to write on the subject by PMLN leader Ahsan Iqbal’s ultimatum to the President and the response it has evoked.

What is there about our history that is unknown? Did we not know that the erstwhile IJI was a creation of the Zia-ul-Haq era, to counterbalance the PPP? Did we not know that a number of politicians were bribed to turn-coat and join the IJI? Lt Gen Asad Durrani submitted his affidavit to the Supreme Court naming individuals and sums disbursed by him while he was DG ISI, on the instructions of General Mirza Aslam Beg, then COAS, many years ago. The judgement is still withheld. That one of them has publicly acknowledged it redounds to her credit, but this is not the first time our politicians have been bought or sold, nor is it likely to be the last.

As the DG ISI, Lt Gen Hameed Gul in his first briefing to Benazir Bhutto as prime minister, acknowledged that he and the ISI played a role in creating the IJI.

We all know how the PMLQ took birth with Pervez Musharraf as midwife. We have witnessed the party deserting him and the formation of a ‘Forward Bloc’. We are all aware of how the religious political parties were nurtured by Zia and later by Musharraf. We have witnessed them being bought and sold so many times that it is not possible to predict who they will support tomorrow.

Did we not know that the MQM was another creation of Zia to counterbalance the PPP in the major urban centres of Sindh, Karachi and Hyderabad? Did we not know that when Zia lost control of the MQM and this organisation began to terrorise the two urban centres under its total control, Zia tried to counter it by creating the MQM (Haqiqi)? Did we not know about the MQM’s methods; were we unaware of the Musharraf-MQM nexus? Any doubts as to the latter were put to rest in May 2007.

Did we not know about an announced intention to create a homeland for the ‘mohajirs’? What is the fresh disclosure in the ‘maps of Jinnahpur’? Whether there were any or not, the intent was known publicly.

Who was unaware that Gen Beg made every effort to subvert Benazir Bhutto’s first tenure as PM? Or that he was suitably rewarded by Nawaz Sharif, when he retired, by providing him the funds to set up the organisation called FRIENDS? Who was unaware that, at a time when Benazir Bhutto was seeking reconciliation with India and had ordered the army not to interfere in Indian-held Kashmir, Gen Beg was fighting his private war there, funnelling millions to support it?

On the other hand, who is unaware of the PPP’s chequered history; how many times who has changed and re-changed loyalties? How many left it when it was a sinking boat and rejoined it when it survived? How many criminals are holding office under it; or the record of the party’s top brass?

Now we have all and sundry making contradictory ‘disclosures’ — unknown names, people as insignificant as I — attempting to portray themselves as ‘those who knew’. But what are they telling us that we didn’t know: that the army has been the most powerful actor in our history, even when it was not directly wielding political authority; or that our politicians, one and all, are unprincipled and saleable commodities?

One dubious source after another is making dubious disclosures. Brig Imtiaz is now telling us how he, singlehandedly, saved our nukes from the CIA; a favourite theme which will invariably find an audience. But what a glorious hero was Brig Imtiaz; he could stand alongside Musharraf, if the latter’s book is given any credence!

No, there is nothing new here. These are all old stories; sordid, shameful, but very old. Many people don’t care anymore and the PMLN would have done better to ignore them and not dignify them with a response. But they did; and that can only rebound on them detrimentally. That is the real downside to this whole farce unfolding before us: it has provided another cause for confrontation between the two major political parties, at a junction when we least need this to add to our miseries.

However, there is an upside to this public washing of our dirty linen. Whoever had any illusions left about our politicians’ or our military leadership’s role in playing havoc with the country at every given opportunity in our history is likely to lose them. What is more, it throws into stark contrast our current apolitical army leadership.

Other retired friends tell me they feel bad about the damage all this is doing to the army’s reputation. In my view, that is the best part of it all. No institution should be considered to be, or be, above the law. It is time, and more, that senior military officers again become accountable to the people and to the representatives of the people — however contemptible or reprehensible the elected representatives might be. It is also high time that the people begin to hold their representatives accountable.

We have been sliding downhill for too long, the slide must stop somewhere. Now is as good a time as any, and better than most, given a COAS who is bending over backwards to establish the principle of civilian supremacy. I am sure he will pass this test with flying colours, as he has done every one in the past.

The writer is a former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Insititute (IPRI)

Article originally published in Daily Times and reproduced by permission of DT.


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