Although Benazir Bhutto’s arch-rival in 1988 — after the restoration of democracy — was Mian Nawaz Sharif and his Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), her tenure proved that politics at the time came attached with a string named Gen Hamid Gul.
Gen Gul was the serving chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) at the time. He was handpicked by Gen Zia to succeed Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman as the ISI chief. Together, the duo formed Gen Zia’s most trusted aides and confidants. Gen Rahman aspired to elevate himself to the presidency but the Bahawalpur air crash put an end to those aspirations.
But Gen Gul was a man intent on prolonging Zia’s legacy to Islamicise the country and pursue the foreign policy objectives of strategic depth in Afghanistan and India. Till the time of the Bahawalpur air crash, Gen Gul had significant interference in the ministries of defence and foreign affairs and was seen frequenting government offices, making blueprints for future army action in Afghanistan as well as intervention in the civilian set up of Pakistan.
Gen Gul’s meddling in political affairs and administrative set-up of the civilian government had created discomfort for many, yet no one would challenge him because he was close to Gen Zia. Under the delusion that he and other like-minded people in the military establishment could “save the country” and run it smoothly, he boasted of having a solution to all government issues, political or otherwise.
One ‘soldier of Islam’ had perished in the Bahawalpur air crash but another rose to the fore post-1988
The IJI too was also Gen Gul’s conception. It was formed in September 1988 as a nine-party alliance of right-wing parties under Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, just two months before the country went to polls. Gen Gul was opposed to progressive and liberal politics and held a strong conviction that the rise of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) would damage the ideological foundations of the country.
Despite his best efforts, however, the IJI did not muster enough strength in the National Assembly to form a government. The votes that they did bag, largely from Punjab, gave them enough numbers to become a potent opposition — one that also enjoyed the blessings of a serving general.
The formation of the IJI by a serving army general remained a thorny issue after Benazir assumed power. Although most politicians at the time demanded that he be relieved of his duties, she took her time to replace him since she needed a compelling case to do so.
In early March 1989, Gen Gul presented a blueprint of Operation Jalalabad which aimed at capturing the town. According to Gen Gul, the plan was flawless but failed miserably. The prime minister expressed annoyance and Gen Gul was subsequently removed on May 24, 1989 from his post of ISI chief. He was reassigned to Multan as corps commander.
Throughout his career, the Sargodha-born Yousufzai remained true to his ideals. While talking to a news channel on October 30, 2012, he claimed that the politicians were crooks and if they continued following the path they were on, the army would continue to intervene in state affairs. He said that he was not ashamed of what he had done and was prepared to face any charges under the Constitution.
Gen Gul’s career was marked with controversies and 20 years later, political leaders criticised him for his suspicious links with militant groups and he was asked to tender an apology to the people of Pakistan. He admitted to having masterminded the IJI plan and claimed that he did not want to see politicians control the armed forces.
Indeed, he attempted to dislodge the Benazir government despite not enjoying the overt influence he did as ISI chief. Before the dismissal of the Benazir Bhutto-led government in August 1990, attempts to remove her civilian government were made through a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly. However, the plan failed.
That time Benazir Bhutto resisted the intervention but events that followed show that military intervention in civilian affairs had become a regular feature.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 18th, 2016