HAVE ALARM BELLS STARTED RINGING?

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Zahid Malik

Monday, October 18, 2010 – General (Retd) Khawaja Ziauddin Butt was rated as one of the finest Generals but he became quite controversial after he was made head of the country’s premier intelligence agency, ISI, by Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, who depended much on his loyalty and input. It was because of this intimate and “strategic relationship” between the two that the mini-screen showed the Prime Minister pinning badges of full General on him and elevating him as Chief of the Army Staff on the fateful day of October 12, 1999. I have no definite information whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did all that on his own or he was advised by his respected Abaji to do so.

The said retired General, while addressing a function organised by Tech Society Club in Lahore on October 10, somewhat deliberated on the mindset in the Army which, I am sure, is based on the supreme and strategic national interest of Pakistan. Anyhow, Gen. (Retd) Butt’s some of the revelations were a piece of education for his audience. He explained how coups take place in Pakistan and that “once a decision to move ahead is made there is no retreat or come-back.” He disclosed that Mian Nawaz Sharif knew that, according to him, a conspiracy to topple his Government had been hatched, pointing out that a coup once planned could not be prevented by any means in the context of powers enjoyed by the Army Chief. He said the military system was such that the Army Chief could take over at any time of his choice as standard operating procedures (SOPs) were there to deal with such situations. The retired General also revealed that a decision to dislodge Mian Nawaz Sharif was taken before he was made COAS and in fact it was delayed by 45 days.

While Opposition politicians and some of the TV anchors for the last two months have been talking of an imminent change in the incumbent Government, it would be a million dollar question as to whether the Army, which is rightly believed to be the custodian of Pakistan, has ultimately made up its mind to bring about a change in view of the crumbling economy? It is understood that no civilian including this Columnist and even the Army as such except two or maybe three Generals, can come out with a definite answer. The decision of the Army Chief to take over does not trickle down in the Army in any way. I remember once I visited one of the very important components of the Establishment some time back. When I moved into the corridor of the building where the big boss had his well-equipped office which looked like a War Operation Room, I noticed a framed-sketch of a person whose lips were tightly locked. There was no heading or caption as it was self-explanatory that all officers of the said Establishment were bound to maintain secrecy and thus keep their lips locked. I also know that when Mian Nawaz Sharif was ousted on October 12, 1999, which the former President General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf prefers to call a counter coup, 111 Brigade, based in Rawalpindi, carried out a secret drill in civvies about a week before as to who will do what in case of a go ahead. If I may go back further, I studied the mechanism of General Zia-ul-Haq’s 1977 coup and came to know quite precisely that a definite decision to take over was taken on April 30, 1977. What happened was that the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), a conglomeration of nine Opposition Political Parties had announced besieging ofIslamabad during its agitation following March 1977 general election. The PNA rightly considered the elections were rigged and, therefore, rightly threatened that all roads leading to the capital would be stormed to immobilize the Government on Aril 30. The vigilant Prime Minister, late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, summoned the Army Chief, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, and ordered him to ensure that nobody sneaks into the capital on that day. Accordingly, the Army established camps and posts along all the entry points of the Capital and ensured that no one could enter Islamabad on that fateful day. However, as per Army’s futuristic planning, these deployments remained there till 5th July 1977 i.e. the day Mr Bhutto was ousted. On that day the Jawans’ duty was to ensure that no one could go out of Islamabad.

Coming back to the present situation, the Troika’s meeting on September 27, 2010 at the hill top Presidency is believed to be crucial. It is gathered that the soft-spoken and pro-democracy Army Chief let his mind known to the worthy President and his all-out supportive Prime Minister, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, about the job that is needed in the interest of Pakistan. Mian Nawaz Sharif described the Troika’s meeting as a “photo session” and a move by the Government to draw strength from the presence of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in the Presidency. It was a clever move of the Presidency to give an impression to all concerned that the Army was behind the elected Government.

Late Prime Minister Bhutto too had been inviting General Zia-ul-Haq even to his Cabinet and political meetings. Sensing that the Prime Minister was fast coming into the trap, the then soft-spoken Army Chief made another clever move to keep the flamboyant and over-confident Prime Minister in the dark by issuing a statement on behalf of the three Services Chiefs. The statement said that the Armed Forces were fully behind the Prime Minister. Mr Bhutto, accordingly, misread that statement.

The well-informed Times, London, newspaper in its report said that General Kayani at the Troika’s crucial meeting gave a list of persons including Ministers who must be removed from the Cabinet due to inefficiency or corruption. Anyhow, it is believed that some unannounced decisions might have been taken by the three Bigs on their own, as to what direction they would like to move in the future in their respective fields. However, now there is a talk of long marches and a change of Government through legal and constitutional means within the House. I would like to draw the attention of my readers to the statements of Mian Shahbaz Sharif on 10th and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on the 11th of October, who talked about the possibility of a change.

The way the PPP, which in its usual defiant or rebellious stance, always wanted to tame and harass the Judiciary created panic on the evening of Thursday last (October 13). Rumours, believed to be true, that the Government was conspiring to undo the restoration of the Judges shocked everybody. The Supreme Court promptly pre-empted the possible move. But all this is a manifestation that the system is getting extremely fragile. Though, in this grim perspective, the Army may not bring in a coup to take over itself yet it may support a civilian change. The Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, in a TV programme stated that a change had become inevitable. Pir Pagara, known for his self-claimed contacts with Rawalpindi, has suddenly come out of hibernation and became active and his body language has changed entirely while Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, son of Rawalpindi, has said that the last three months of this year were critical for the Government. So all and sundry are saying that time for a change has come.

Personally, so far as I know General Kayani-led Pak Army’s mindset as well as in view of the geo-strategic realities, I have no doubt that the Army would not, in any way, intervene in the ominous events. It has already been brought face-to-face with the public in some areas of Pakistan and some bloody civilian schemers wanted it to move to North Waziristan and South Punjab as well. It is a ploy to keep the Army engaged perpetually. However, all said and done, the possibility of some sort of new arrangements hitherto untried for may be in the offing if one keenly observes the statements of the political leadership of the country.

There appears to be an almost national consensus, barring of course the PPP loyalists, for a change. The way the PPP stalwarts in Pakistan particularly in Sindh have been making thunderous remarks about the Federation itself, are a proof that the Party is under psychological pressure. On the whole, a scenario is developing where there could be light at the end of the tunnel according to some keen political observers with whom I have interacted.

In my opinion, if a change is inevitable at all, it should be a change for the better with a definite agenda of providing relief to the poverty stricken people of Pakistan, for the establishment of rule of law and security of the borders of the Quaid’s Pakistan.

Though it may be out of place yet to draw the attention of the readers to the alarming security situation, I have been told by many friends who belong to the rural areas that sense of insecurity has made people so fearful that they avoid getting out of their homes after sunset. Several incidents of dacoity have taken place in the capital’s neighbouring district of Chakwal where a couple of women were killed and the jewellery like earrings and rings were taken at gun point by dacoits who are having a free hand despite repeated reports at the police stations concerned. In one case the people were so frustrated by the inaction of police that they blocked Sohawa-Chakwal road at Mohra Kanyal to draw the attention of the Provincial and Federal Governments over the helplessness of the poor villagers at the hands of the armed gangs of dacoits. At Mohra Kanyal, an aged lady was shot dead when she resisted the attempted robbery. Nobody turned up to listen to the grievances of these people. This is just a tip of the iceberg.

Returning to my subject, it is being said that the characters that want to bring about a change are in touch with the allies of the ruling Party at the Centre. If at all an arrangement is to be made with them, it should not be for the sake of change only as I mentioned above. In the meanwhile, I would like to ask my readers as to whether they too are listening to the alarm bells?

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