Dark clouds hover over Pakistan's political landscape. Chief of Tehrik-e Insaf, Imran Khan has threatened to lay siege to Islamabad while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faces growing pressure on many fronts including corruption charges stemming from Panama leaks and tense civilian-military relations. The former army chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg, sees parallels between this and the 1977 agitation that led to Bhutto's overthrow by the military.
Sunday October 30, 2016
Regime change through undemocratic means is nothing new in Pakistan. It has happened four times in the past, through the manipulations of the nexus called Four As: America, Army, Adliah [Judiciary], Allies (Political opportunists). The current political agitation against an incumbent government is aimed at regime change through undemocratic means. The past offers two examples that have striking similarity with the agitation now led by Imran Khan.
The 1977 regime change was a textbook example of the ‘Four As’ acting in unison for common purpose. Air Marshal Asghar Khan, who was removed as chief of the Pakistan Air Force in 1965 for hob-nobbing with the enemy, joined an assortment of political parties spearheading agitation against the government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The anti-government campaign was launched in the aftermath of the April 1977 elections that the opposition parties alleged were rigged.
The retired air marshal (Asghar Khan) had a grudge against the Army because he was removed as air chief by then strongman, Field Marshal Ayub Khan who was also the president. Ashgar Khan’s entry into politics was, therefore, motivated by a desire to exact revenge. By May 1977, negotiations between Bhutto’s government and the opposition had almost succeeded when Asghar Khan intervened and sabotage the negotiations. (For details, see Maulana Kausar Niazi’s Book, “Aur Line Kat Gai” [And the Line was cut]).
Asghar Khan then wrote a three-page letter to then Army Chief of Staff General Zia ul-Haq urging him to take over the reins of power. General Zia circulated this letter to his formation commanders. (Asghar Khan’s letter to Zia and Imran Khan’s “Umpire’s Finger” have the same connotations). General Zia struck on 4 July 1977. Asghar Khan was jubilant expecting that elections would soon be held and he would claim his right to become prime minister. But that was not to be. The opportunist politicians jumped on General Zia’s Bandwagon, pulled by American horses, galloping into Afghanistan against the Soviets, for almost a decade.
Prior to the 1999 coup brought by General Pervez Musharraf against the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif [this was Sharif’s second stint at premiership], the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) was formed, comprising the Pakistan Peoples Party, Awami National Party, Muhajir (later renamed Muttahida) Qaumi Movement and Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf. On October 27, 1998 they all came to my house, led by the veteran politician and now late Ajmal Khattak, asking me to join the alliance. The NDA was about to launch agitation against the government of Nawaz Sharif. They had no shame in saying that “they had received the go-ahead signal from above” to start their agitation. This would lead to army’s intervention to overthrow the government. Elections will be held in 90 days that the GDA will win hands down. They wanted me on board, but I declined telling them “you have come to the wrong person.”
The GDA agitation was launched as planned and a year later General Musharraf struck on October 12, 1999. There were no elections and no hope of premiership for Imran Khan yet he lobbied for Musharraf in the 2002 elections and was rewarded with a national assembly seat. Musharraf ruled Pakistan as president while still in uniform [retaining his post as army chief] with a strong hand for five years and decided to win the 2007 elections “in the same fashion” as in 2002.
A few weeks prior to the 2007 elections, US President George Bush visited Pakistan and complemented Musharraf on his readiness for “regime change in Pakistan through the democratic process.” But unfortunately for Musharraf, he decided to hand over command of the army to General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani on November 29, 2007. Kayani said ‘No’ to Musharraf’s manipulation of the election by using the Army and the country’s premier intelligence agency, the ISI. This led to free and fair elections thereby demolishing Musharraf’s plan which shook the policy makers in Washington. The Washington Times and United Press, on that day lamented:
“Washington must rue the day it decided for regime change in Pakistan, through the democratic process. Democracy is what has now emerged – an unholy alliance of long-time American haters – Aslam Beg and Hamid Gul. The behind-the-scenes god-father of this broad-based, anti-US coalition is Nawaz Sharif.”
The regime change in Pakistan now being attempted is very similar to 1977 with a different Khan, Imran instead of Asghar in the lead role. But the problem is that the current army chief, General Raheel Sharif is a man of his word and he supports the democratic process. Therefore a wedge needs to be created between the civil and military leadership with Imran Khan laying siege to the government in Islamabad. This may extend beyond November 27 when the new Army Chief will take-over, whose preferences are not yet known but the conspiracy has already begun.
The “Islamabad security leaks have made the first dent in civil-military leadership preceded by a very intriguing article, which appeared in the Karachi daily, Dawn on October 6, 2016, under the title “The Rise and Fall of ‘General Glasnost’, warning General Raheel, that like General Aslam Beg, soon after retirement, General Raheel too will be targeted, distorting his image of a popular general, considered a threat moving about in the corridors of power – an exclusive domain of the political leadership.
It was the Benazir-led PPP government that launched the conspiracy against me in 1994. Rahman Malik, then Director General-FIA, was the mastermind behind this conspiracy. The prime prosecution witness was ex-DG ISI who was removed from his command for attending PPP executive committee meetings in uniform. There were other conspirators in the plot. An ex-convict, Yunus Habib and a host of other witnesses were called by the Supreme Court, piling-up uncorroborated evidence against me during the 20-year period. Denying me due process of law, the honourable court, not being a trial court, itself carried-out my trial and passed the verdict of guilty against me. The petitioner was Asghar Khan – the traitor and conspirator, who took revenge from the Army, which overthrew Prime Minister Bhutto and took him to the gallows, followed by eleven-year long period of shame for the military. Despite that, Bhutto’s daughter picked up the same Asghar Khan, to file the petition against me on the flimsy charge that I had knowledge of the activities of the ISI during the 1990 elections carried out under Mr. Bhutto’s Notification of 1975 and the orders of an elected President.
The critical situation likely to be created on November 2 and after would test the nerves of both PM Nawaz Sharif and General Raheel. The Panama Leaks petition has been lodged with the Supreme Court. While ceasefire violations by India along the Line of Control have increased manifold and foreign inspired terror is taking its toll in Balochistan and KP provinces to build up pressure on the government, it is forced to take preventive measures against the siege of Islamabad.
In this situation Nawaz Sharif retains the option of calling the Army to aid civil power to curb the unlawful act of incapacitating the government. General Raheel would have no option but to act to restore law and order, and retire with dignity. Thus, the army will ensure that there is no regime change through undemocratic means, notwithstanding the court verdict on Panama leaks petition against the prime minister. Neither he nor his dynastic-Pluto-Democracy is indispensible.
In 2005, America entered into a Strategic Partnership with India to contain and curb China’s rising power by establishing Indian hegemony from Afghanistan to Bangladesh. The Afghan Jihad defeated them all, forcing retreat on the Asian Strategic Pivot to The Asia-Pacific region. The vacuum thus created has been filled by establishing the “Pivot CPEC” in Pakistan. Therefore, a compliant government in Pakistan now is the ‘strategic need of the Partners to curb Chinese ingress.” What happens on November 2 and beyond is unpredictable, but one thing I am sure of and that is, Imran Khan, unlike Asghar Khan, is not seeking revenge from the Army.
(General Mirza Aslam Beg is former Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan)