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Saturday, January 26, 2008

BULLETIN: Pakistani Generals: patriots or Islamists?


History never dies. It is reborn every minute of every day.

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As President Musharraf tries to drum up good will in Europe for Pakistan's up-coming elections, the "Ex-Servicemen's Society" an association of retired, higher ranking military officers in Pakistan, has circulated a petition asking Musharraf to step down. They say he is fighting an unwinnable war against his own people and that Pakistan has grown more violent and unstable as a result of the president's policies.

While the Association is right on many things, it helps to remember that there is a group of retired Islamist military and intelligence officers who see the president's resignation as part of their own agenda of a Pakistan aligned with militants against Washington. Whether these two groups of retired military are distinct, overlap or are one and the same is anyone's guess. Below is a piece I wrote on the retired Islamist military people back in November.

Hugh Graham, November 12, 2007
Everyone seems to think that the only reason President Musharraf declared a state of emergency was to head off a Supreme Court decision on the legitimacy of his recent re-election as President. But the news black-outs, the evident fear which drove him briefly to place opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest and the detainment of an Islamist retired intelligence chief suggest a greater and perhaps deeper danger.
People have barely noticed the radical Islamists and veteran hard-liners from military and intelligence circles who have made common cause with the pro-democracy mass protests against Musharraf. Some have even been known to utter a few unlikely words in support of Benazir Bhutto and open elections.
That's because they are desperate and Musharraf even may feel that the gravest danger is simmering in military and intelligence circles. Many in the army and in intelligence see the Waziristan Taliban they are fighting as fellow Pakistani Muslims and there's growing anger among the ranks about Musharraf's and Washington's war against them. General Nadim Taj, current head of the ISI and General Kiani, deputy army chief are safely in the Musharraf camp. But it's elsewhere in the ISI and the army, that discontent is brewing and Musharraf knows it.
Indeed, starry-eyed democrats and members of Bhutto's People's Party of Pakistan (PPP) are not the only victims of detention and house arrest. There are also figures from the far right like Hamid Gul, a former chief of Interservices Intelligence (ISI) and supporter of the Taliban. Gul protested the government's removal of Supreme Court Justice Choudhry for raising legal issues about the government's war against the Taliban in Waziristan. When Benazir Bhutto named Gul as a suspect in the suicide bombing of her motorcade in mid-October, Gul's denial was odd; while suing her for defamation he made a show of respect for Bhutto's drive for democracy.
Arrested in January this year was another former ISI man, Khalid Khawaja, who was once close to Bin Laden and was, like Gul, a late convert to the cause of human rights in his attempts to track down missing prisoners taken during the war against Islamist extremists. Another hard-liner detained while protesting the sacking of the judges is cleric Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the powerful leader of the MMA alliance of relgious parties which is tightly linked to Islamist forces in the tribal areas where he is revered. The cleric has said that Musharraf is an even bigger danger to Pakistan than India or the U.S.
In Pakistan, where almost anything is possible, where hate and fear alone can mortar up almost any coalition, Islamists, military hardliners, secularists, socialists, and democrats have been known to make common cause. They did it in 1977 in the "Pakistan National Alliance" against Benazir's father, President Bhutto. Not only does Musharraf fear they might do it again but there is indeed a 'right' wing conspiracy of sorts. Although it is murky, it emanates from two versions of the Interservices Intelligence Agency (ISI): the 'old' and the 'new'.
The old ISI was formed in the 1970s when the dictator General Zia Ul Haq undertook to support the Afghan Mujahedeen against the Soviets for Washington and to Islamize Pakistan, beginning with the military and the ISI. Zia's intelligence chief from 1988-1991 was General Hamid Gul, the same who was recently arrested. Gul and the entire top brass had a fanatical mission to Islamize Pakistan and Afghanistan at once and that meant helping the Taliban. After Zia's death and throughout Pakistan's democratic period during the 1990s, Gul and other ISI people, active and retired, used Intelligence funds to undermine Benazir Bhutto in elections and to build the MMA alliance of relgious parties against her PPP.
But after 9/11, when Musharraf turned Pakistan against the Taliban and the Islamists, he cleaned out a lot of the old ISI and military people at the insistence of Washington and replaced them with personal loyalists. The about-face has left a cabal of retired Islamist ISI people from the Zia period, Like Gul, they are now capitalizing on the army's increasing disenchantment with the war against the Taliban in Waziristan. According to the International Institute for Counterterrorism, that's where Gul and his cronies are only too happy to lend a helping hand.
The four suspects whose names Bhutto sent to Musharraf after the attempt on her life, and a list of former military and intelligence people opposed to Musharraf include retired ISI officials; former associates of islamist dictator Zia Ul Haq; religious leaders; and most crucially, some people within the Musharraf government who have connections to all or some of the former.
Of the Islamist ISI veterans, Gul is the most prominent. There is also his crony, former General and currently jailed human rights activist Khaled Khawaja. Then there's General Mahmood Ahmed, Musharraf's first ISI chief. Mahmood still stands accused of helping the 9/11 hijackers. His indifferent response to an order to arrest Osama Bin Laden along with Washington's apprehensions led Musharraf to demote him to regional corps commander- where the 9/11 sympathiser still is today.
Another busy ISI veteran is Jared Nasr, Gul's successor as head of the spy agency in 1991-1993. Washington pressed Musharraf to fire him in 2002 for refusing to run a program for redirecting Stinger Missiles away from the Taliban. Nasr is now prominent in the Tablighi Jamat- an Islamist party. Another ISI official, Zahir-ul-Islam Abassi, was jailed for launching an attempted coup against Benazir Bhutto in 1995. Musharraf released him in 1999 and, according to the International Institute for Counterterrorism, he has influence inside the current ISI.
Then there are those Musharraf ought to be worrying about who are inside his own government. Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, the Railways Minister, has managed the feat of being a celebrity playboy, a close associate of ex-ISI man Hamid Gul as well as founder of an islamist training camp in the 1980s. He has publicly accused Bhutto of being an agent of American imperialism. Closer yet to Musharraf is Ejaz Shah, his head of military intelligence. Shah was formerly in the ISI where he is said t have been the agency's liaison with the Taliban and with Omar Sheikh, the killer of Daniel Pearl. Shah was on Bhutto's list of suspects in the October motorcade bombing.
Serving in the largely ceremonial post of Chairman of the Chief Joints of Staff Committee in the army is Mohammed Aziz. Aziz was one of Musharraf's early ISI chiefs. After differences arose with the president over Aziz's support of the Taliban, he was demoted and, like many of his ilk, he remains part of the Gul network.
Meanwhile, the ghost of the Islamist General Zia Ul Haq continues to preside over the growing darkness in Pakistan. One of his cronies, Zehur Elahi is alleged to have been murdered on orders from President Zulfikar Bhutto, Benazir's father. Elahi's son, Pervez Elahi, is Chief Minister for Punjab and he too was on Benazir's list of possible assassins in the bombing of her motor convoy. Perhaps most astonishing is the presence of one of Zia Ul Haq's sons in Musharraf's cabinet. Ejaz Ul Haq, the fourth on Benazir's list, is the Minister for Religious affairs and believes to this day that it was Bhutto's father who arranged the death of his own father, the General. So, when Musharraf said his house arrest of Bhutto was for her own protection, he may have been telling the truth.
Outside the government, but normally at Musharraf's right hand is the MMA, the alliance of relgious parties, backed, funded and organized by the ISI. The MMA, a political juggernaut, was used in the past to block Bhutto's PPP party and anything else that seemed secular. The MMA supported Musharraf as long as he eased up on the Taliban. Now, the MMA has turned against Musharraf, another good reason for the President not to want elections. And its leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the same who has been detained in company with ISI veteran Hamid Gul, has, like Gul, maintained contact with the Taliban.
From our vantage point in the west, it is easy to be pious and assume that greed for personal power is Musharraf's only reason for plunging Pakistan into a state of siege. But we must also consider that if elements from the Taliban, former military and ISI circles, the religious parties and people within his own government were in league, it's hardly something he'd want to tell the world about. It would also something he's want to stamp out quickly before it became a brush fire.
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