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Only one way to interpret an oath

March 02, 2012

BY the time you read this you might know who is Pakistan’s next spymaster and the latest arbiter of our collective destiny. Up to six names have appeared in the media.

As long as it isn’t a seventh who assumes charge as the director-general of the ISI on March 18-19 when Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha finally retires, our defence correspondents can gleefully claim they were right and, yes, informed too.

But to me the question of the next DG ISI is a mere red herring. Let me tell you why. We all know recent events. Do you recall Lt-Gen Ghulam Jilani Khan? Apart from Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman, he remained the longest-serving spymaster with a seven-year tenure.

Trusted by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Gen Jilani is known to have stabbed Mr Bhutto in the back when he first quietly supported the destabilisation of the government after the ‘rigged’ 1977 elections and then conspired with his army chief Gen Ziaul Haq to overthrow the government.

Then as Punjab governor he was tasked with creating an ‘alternative’ to the Pakistan People’s Party by Gen Zia and none of us need reminding how successful he was in not only nurturing parks in the city of Lahore but more significantly in repainting the political landscape of the province.

When the military is in power itself the role of the DG ISI loses its high profile unless the regime attempts to seek legitimacy as who’d recall Lt-Gen Muhammad Riaz who replaced Jilani in 1978 and continued for two years till Lt-Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman replaced him.

Rahman’s claim to fame during his seven-year term owed less to the political engineering that led to the 1985 elections (which excluded political parties and was, therefore, a task left to lesser minions) and more to the Afghan jihad from which the general profited in more ways than one.

Many speculated why Ojheri camp, an ISI-run ammo dump in Rawalpindi which stored anything from rockets to shoulder-fired surface-to-air Stinger missiles for the Afghan resistance, ‘accidentally’ blew up, raining hell on the citizens of Rawalpindi and Islamabad in April 1988.

Just a few months earlier, Rahman had been promoted to general and appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee.

Although his successor Lt-Gen Hamid Gul was officially in charge of the agency, it was widely believed that Rahman’s influence had not waned.

After the ‘accident’ came hints and speculation that Stinger missiles had been pilfered under Rahman’s watch from the camp and a US ‘audit’ team was en route when it blew up. Within weeks of calling for an inquiry into the fiasco, prime minister Junejo had lost his job.

Who knows had Zia lived what sort of elections would have happened, but the inheritors of his civilian and military roles remained committed to his goal of trying to manipulate popular will and secure a ‘positive’ result in the elections.

Acting president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the newly crowned army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg authorised Hamid Gul to put together a formidable alliance to keep Benazir Bhutto out of power and it almost worked.

Their plan was thwarted by a pro-PPP wave in Sindh, generated by the anger at how their leader had been executed in 1979 and the shabby manner in which his family had been treated by Zia’s regime ever since.

A look at the results will tell you if a dozen IJI/‘independent’ stalwarts had won as expected, the shape of the government would have been so different. In a TV interview this week, Gen Gul defended his role as a midwife in delivering the IJI.

To be fair to him he also said he was opposed to military takeovers. Had it ended here one would have thought that two decades on he had seen the light. But what followed, a rather self-serving, selective interpretation of the army officer’s oath, was alarming.

“No other oath of office in the country talks of the will of the people. What do we do if palms together the people beg us to save them, to deliver them from pharaohs?” he asked rhetorically as he referred to this oath: “I … do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which embodies the will of the people, that I will not engage myself in any political activities whatsoever and that I will honestly and faithfully serve Pakistan in the Pakistan Army (or Navy or Air Force) as required by and under the law …”

The oath and the constitution, including Article 6, embodying the will of the people leaves no room for ambiguity. But unless it is clear to those who mumble these words without understanding, for whatever reason, its meaning, whether A gets the DG ISI’s job or B does is quite irrelevant.

Is there a point in arguing so in a country where elections and elected institutions, even the constitution, are questioned as expressions of popular will; where contrived manifestations such as Difaa-i-Pakistan Council and who knows what else as the polls approach hold sway?

I don’t count myself among those who believe the ‘meddling’ by foreign intelligence agencies in the country whether RAW or CIA is solely mythical. It isn’t. Doesn’t this make it incumbent on those assigned to ‘counter’ this to do their work professionally and leave politics to the politicians?

It may not be in line with our intelligence agencies’ thinking but I believe it makes for an intelligent argument that parties such as the PPP have enough self-destruct capacity to do what their worst enemies can’t, if left to their own devices. Is anyone listening?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.