October 28, 2020
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The Omens From Islamabad

The grenade attack in the church of Islamabad on March 17, 2002 perhaps illustrates the need for the US to realise that in its war against terrorism Musjharraf is not an asset, but a liability.

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The Omens From Islamabad
This article may please be read in continuation of the following articles by this author:

How Long Will He Hold On?
The New Crop of Afghan Returnees

Warning Signs

Gen.Retreat has retreated again.  In the face of mounting pressure from Pakistan's clandestine Army of Islam, headed by Gen. Mohammad Aziz Khan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and mounting terrorist violence in different parts of the country, climaxed by the grenade attack on a group of American and other foreign Christian worshippers in a church in a high security Islamabad area on March 17, 2002, Gen.Pervez Musharraf has called off the implementation of all the measures which he had ostensibly taken against the extremist/terrorist elements operating from Pakistani territory against India and the US.

Even before the Islamabad attack, which led to the deaths of five innocent Christians, two of them the wife and daughter of a member of the staff of the US Embassy in Islamabad, Musharraf, after the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, the US journalist, who was brutally killed by components of the Army of Islam, had totally suspended the implementation of all the anti-extremist and anti-terrorist measures which he had announced in his televised address of January 12, 2002 much to the applause of the US and other Western countries.

The retreat, which then started, is now threatening to become a rout.  Not only the leaders of the mainstream Islamic parties, who were detained after the beginning of the US-led war in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, but also the leaders and cadres of the various components of the Army of Islam and other sectarian and jehadi groups, who were detained  before and after January 12, 2002 are being released post-haste.

Assurances have been conveyed to them through intermediaries such as Gen.Mohammad Aziz and Lt.Gen.Ehsanul Haq, the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), that under no account would Musharraf betray these jehadi-terrorists and weaken their capability to carry on their jehad directed agaist India and the USA.

Musharraf's post-September volte face vis-a-vis the Taliban and the Al Qaeda and post-January 12 steps vis-a-vis the jehadi-terrorists operating from Pakistan are being projected to them in realpolitik terms, as meant to get over Pakistan's serious economic difficulties and to break out of its diplomatic isolation and not as a reversal of his past policy of building up the strength  and capability of the Army of Islam.

The serious difficulties faced by Musharraf, as so dramatically illustrated by the grenade attack on the worshippers in the church of Islamabad on March 17, 2002 could be attributed to the following:

  • The re-assertion by the Army of Islam elements in the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment  of their influence and power under the leadership of Gen.Mohammad Aziz Khan and Musharraf's increasing inability to control them. He was their principal creator before he seized power on October 12, 1999 and they are now threatening to devour him if he went ahead with his measures against them.

  • The incompetence and ineffectiveness of the Intertior Minister,Lt.Gen.(retd)Moinuddin Haider, a Mohajir like Musharraf, and his inability to make the civilian bureaucracy in general and the police in particular carry out his orders.

  • Seething resentment against Musharraf in the Police, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other sections of the civilian security bureaucracy . They are not doing the job for which they are meant---namely, enforcement of law and order and internal security. "Serves him (Musharraf) right," is their refrain as they have been dragging their feet in the investigation of cases such as the murder of Daniel Pearl, and in controlling  the increasing attacks on the Shias. They have also been  inspiring leaks to the public about what Omar Sheikh, whose extradition the US has demanded in connection with the Pearl case and another kidnapping case of 1994 in India in which an American national was involved, has been telling the police about the involvement of not only the ISI, but even Musharraf and Mohammad Aziz with the terrorist elements.
Pakistan's previous military rulers -- and more particularly Zia-ul-Haq -- had at least some humility to realise that the military-intelligence establishment,however powerful, could not effectively govern the country without the willing co-operation of the civilian bureaucracy.  Zia  took care to keep the civilian bureaucrats in good humour.

In marked contrast, Musharraf, known for his arrogance and over-estimation of his own capabilities, has gone out of his way ever since the day he seized power to marginalise and humiliate not only the mainstream political leadership in general and Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML),  and Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), in particular, but also the civilian bureaucracy.

He has inducted serving and retired officers of the Army as "performance monitors" not only in all ministries of the Federal Government, but also at all levels of the provincial administration.  Officers of the traditionally civilian IB and of the Police have been forced to work under military monitors, who are much below them in rank and status and take their approval for every action.  Abdul Sattar, the Foreign Minister, cannot post even a minor Ambassador without the approval of an Army Brigadier sitting in the Foreign Office as "performance monitor".

The bureaucracy in general and the Police in particular have started hitting back at Musharraf -- by not passing on to him the correct information; by not giving him the correct advice; by not enforcing law and order; by not vigorously investigationg criminal cases; by instigating the extremist and terrorist elements to hit back at him; and by leaking stories to the media and public about Musharraf's past links with bin Laden and other terrorists.

The time has come for the US to realise that in its war against terrorism Musjharraf is not an asset, but a liability and to work determinedly for:

  • The replacement of Mohammad Aziz Khan and Moinuddin Haider by more reliable officers with a clean record.

  • The restoration of the morale and authority of the civilian bureaucracy in general and the Police and the IB in particular.

  • The withdrawal of the military officers inducted into the IB by Musharraf and the establishment of the civilian IB's primacy in Pakistan's intelligence community.

  • The removal of the ban on political activities and on the return of Sharif and Benazir to Pakistan so that they could again play their due role in national politics.

  • The withdrawal of the military to the barracks and the joint formation of a government of national unity by Sharif and Benazir  as a prelude to the holding of genuinely free elections.

  • The retirement of Musharraf and all others involved with the terrorists in the past .
Unless and until this is done, the situation in the epicentre of terrorism constituted by Pakistan and southern Afghanistan would continue to deteriorate from bad to worse. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai)

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