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ISLAMABAD, Feb 26: A former point man of President Pervez Musharraf said on Tuesday “political management” had dominated the 2002 general election.

Maj Gen (retd) Ehtasham Zamir, a former head of the internal wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), also admitted the ISI had played a role in persuading “like-minded politicians” to support Mr Musharraf.

“Of course, in the political management you were there. That is why the people termed it pre-poll rigging. If the political management what the ISI was doing prior to the election by arranging the people of similar ideology or similar mindset so that was there, ” Ehtasham Zamir said during an exclusive interview with DawnNews.

He conceded that whatever the ISI was doing before the 2002 elections was not “purely constitutional”.

“Pre-election manipulations are one form of rigging. The rigging is a network used for support and manipulation. That is why the people call it pre-poll manipulation or the support which you extend prior to the polls.

“Thereafter, if you get involved in manipulations, bargaining or something else other than the norms of democracy, that would also be rigging,” Ehtasham Zamir said.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Q was, in the eye of opponents, the “biggest beneficiary of pre-poll rigging” in 2002. It emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly and with the support of other “like-minded” candidates, formed a pro-Musharraf government.

But it was not as simple as that. After the ouster of Mian Nawaz Sharif on Oct 12, 1999, the intelligence agencies set about to tear apart the PML-Nawaz and the People’s Party. The aim was to make the sailing smooth for Gen Musharraf.

Enter Ehtasham Zamir.

He took over the ISI’s internal wing — which also comprises the political desk as one of its departments — on Sept 11, 2001.

Before he took over, the Q-League had already come into being after many loyalists of Nawaz Sharif changed their loyalties, declaring their support to the PML-Q.

Lt Gen Mehmood Ahmed, the then chief of ISI, had a reputation of behaving abrasively with politicians who refused to jump onto Gen Musharraf’s bandwagon.

But Ehtasham Zamir proved himself a different man. He developed friendly relations with many Q-Leaguers, including Zafarullah Khan Jamali.

The immediate task which Gen Zamir had been given was to ensure the victory of the Q-Leaguers in the 2002 general election. But he claimed the ISI, which played a major role in pre-poll manipulations, was not involved in rigging at polling stations.

“We were basically providing the political management, precisely if I can be as civilised as possible, in the form of sponsorship.

“That’s why the ‘King’s Party’, or the ruling party,” Ehtasham Zamir recalled during the interview. “The sponsorship was very much there of cobbling like-minded people, which could support the seven-point agenda of President Musharraf.”

He said the ISI was one of the tools used in “pre-poll and post-poll arrangements”. After the elections, the Q-League emerged as the largest party in the National Assembly with some 130 seats. But it was still short of the required number of 172 MNAs to form government.

Maj Gen (retd) Zamir said the ISI had no role in the “post-poll phase of manipulations”.

“I can tell you from my side that the ISI was not handling this issue of (People’s Party) Patriots. But we had information that there was a certain group which was keen to support the president and get into the government.”

In that “post-poll phase of rigging” more than 10 People’s Party MNAs from Punjab and Sindh defected from their party and joined the PML-Q.

The then director-general of Rangers, Hussain Mehdi, was alleged to have been instrumental in the formation of a forward bloc in the PPP, called “Patriots”.

The former ISI official said several ISI-MMA meetings were held at safe houses in different parts of Islamabad.

He recalled his meetings with Zafarullah Jamali before his appointment as prime minister. However, he denied charges that the meetings amounted to informal discussions on governance.

According to Mr Zamir, Q-Leaguers like Humayun Akhtar Khan and Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri tried hard to reach the highest political office.

The former ISI official said a strong lobby within ISI had advised General Musharraf not to put all his eggs in one basket. They had suggested the president not to bank solely on the Chaudhrys of Gujrat.