View from US: Why not military mea culpa? by Anjum niaz

“Everything that you have done in your past is a part of who you are, but everything that you do today will be who you are tomorrow,” say the sagaciously smart. General Kayani is sagacious and smart.
His one sentence in his address at the GHQ testifies to this fact. Squaring up to the truth, the Army Chief seems willing to allow an examination of the past mistakes and perversion of justice by the establishment: “We are critically looking at the mistakes made in the past and trying to set the course for a better future.”
One would want General Kayani to continue in the same vein, reflecting a practical and actionable approach as reflected in the above paragraph. Instead, his address was aimed at protecting the name of the institution that he heads. But here’s the pivot: The ISI could be heading for a double whammy, facing two adverse consequences: the fallout from the Supreme Court judgement in Asghar Khan case and its long history with the Taliban from the time the word Taliban became a proper noun.
The Army Chief, as the supreme commander is perhaps pre-empting any blame game on the ISI now that the Taliban have wormed their way to Karachi. “While constructive criticism is well understood, conspiracy theories based on rumours which create doubts about the very intent, are unacceptable” warns General Kayani.
His declaration leaves little wiggle room for any serious, sober and sincere attempt at identifying the people responsible for letting the Islamic militants into Pakistan?’
Unless facts are ferreted, and the slipups committed by our military and the civilian governments of the past pinpointed “a course for a better future” as General Kayani puts it, will remain a distant dream. The November 7 editorial in this daily clinches the crux of Gen Kayani’s evasion of military mea culpa: “It cannot and must not be forgotten that the internal and external instability the country faces today is largely rooted in policies pursued by the army itself in the name of the national interest.”
The militant groups under the generic name of Taliban today are Pakistan’s number one security threat. How did they infiltrate our land, who hosted them and why were they let free to turn their guns on the country that sheltered them?
One man, a former ISI officer, has come forward with his story.
As ISI’s provincial chief (Sector Commander) in the then North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) from 1996 to 1998, Col Javaid Zahoor witnessed his superiors set up a ragtag band of ‘Arab-Afghans.’ “Soon after my takeover, I realised, that we were giving too much space to these Islamic militants who fought the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979 to 1989). They constituted a post-jihad pool of experienced, battle-hardened militants.
“No doubt they were our assets as rightly considered by the ‘concerned side’ of the organisation, headed by Gen Aziz. But to give them unlimited liberty and freedom to move about was a fatal mistake,” Col Javaid Zahoor tells me.
Since the Mujhaideen (Arab-Afghans), the Taliban and Al-Qaeda all had their origins in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent Afghan Civil War, Zahoor feared they would re-group to become a force to reckon with. They had ample experience in international terrorism and insurgency-related violence.
“The concerned side of ISI provided chits to these people allowing them to come and go between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” says Zahoor.
“I tried to discuss the matter with the top man of the ‘concerned side,’ but soon realised that my pleas were falling on deaf ears,” says Zahoor. Firm in their conviction that their grand scheme was in the national interest, his unsolicited advice was dismissed. Zahoor was ticked off and peremptorily told to “keep his hands off the activities as the ‘concerned side’ was perfectly capable of monitoring their movements.”
Snubbed into silence, Col Javed Zahoor gave up his pursuit. But pampering the scallywags rankled him. “Knowing things so well on the ground, I was convinced that not only will these extremists pose serious security threats to Pakistan, they would bring a bad name to the country. Pakistan would lose friends and allies abroad.” So Zahoor continued with his “fragile and even dangerous checks and probes” on these men.
It was during one of these background checks that Col Javed Zahoor stumbled upon something so sensitive that if mishandled, it could blow into his face and destroy his 28-year-old army career. An Arab operative (whose identity remains undisclosed) raised Col Zahoor’s suspicions. There was something dodgy about this character that sent red flags up in the spymaster’s antennas. But the irony was that the boss of the ‘concerned side’ in the ISI considered the Arab to be his top man and therefore trusted him blindly as a “valuable asset”!
As the murderous plot unravelled, Col Javed Zahoor succeeded in enlisting the help of one of his subordinates, a major. Together the two spies took the whole episode to its logical conclusion. “Even after the successful unearthing of the plan and arrest of the criminals, the so-called Mujahedeen, one of the top men in the ISI commented ‘Zahoor, you embarrassed my person.’
Moving swiftly but silently, Zahoor got answers that he was desperately seeking: who was the target of the attack, where was it to take place and more urgently when was it due.
How Zahoor hacked into the Arab’s telephone conversations is another story. We’ll leave it for another day. The retired colonel is loath to go into details as it is classified information and too sensitive to discuss. “Anyway I unearthed the whole gang (I have used “I” when I should be using “We” because in any organisation, one does not work individually, but collectively. However, I could not trust any of my subordinates. Many had established links with this unholy lot.”
The OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) Summit, 1997 in Islamabad was the target of the terrorist attack that the Arab and his fellow militants had been planning for a while.
Army Chief General Jehangir Karamat was mighty pleased with Zahoor and presented him with a Certificate of Commendation saying: In the field of combatting terrorism, through indefatigable efforts you managed to indent the terrorists who had posed a potent threat to the World Leaders at the commencement of the OIC Summit Conference. Your timely pointation and subsequent arrest of culprits by law enforcement averted the threat of any possible assassination attempt on the Muslim Leaders.
While the ‘S’ wing in the ISI was not mentioned in the investigation report conducted by GHQ, still the slackness on its part got mentioned . “You (Gen Aziz), at that time one of the top men in the ISI failed to ensure the safety of your flanks and even the safety and operational credentials of your own organisation?”
General Shujaat, DG internal wing of the ISI was Zahoor’s immediate boss. “His leadership is exemplary. He supported me fully in my bid to stake out the terrorists plotting the attack on the OIC summit. The General was one whom I took in confidence, and he responded positively and stayed with my beliefs throughout his tenure.”

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