ISLAMABAD, Oct 8 It was an unusual dinner hosted by Javed Noor, the chief of the Intelligence Bureau, at a “safe house” of the civilian spy agency that brought together 13 former spymasters of the country.

Sources told Dawn News television channel that none of the former spymasters opened up as they were probably suspicious of each other.

The dinner, in sector F-7 of the federal capital, was arranged at a time when cracks are visible in civil-military relationship over the Kerry-Lugar legislation, but one of the participants insisted that during the entire evening none of the participants discussed this issue.

The sources said that all the spymasters sat on sofas in a relatively big hall. At first soup was served as an appetiser.

No reason was given for this unusual gathering, but a source present at the dinner said the present Director-General of IB, Javed Noor, who is a grade 22 officer of the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP), arranged this dinner in the hope of setting a new tradition. No such get-together had happened in the IB's 62-year-long history.

The gathering brought together a number of important characters who have been privy to some of the defining moments in the nation's turbulent past.

Perhaps the most well-known among them was Brigadier (retired) Ejaz Shah, who is regarded as one of the closest friends of former president Pervez Musharraf. Many believe that he had played a vital role in bailing out Mr Musharraf in the recent past, especially in the face of calls for his trial under article six of the Constitution.

Ejaz Shah's presence at the meeting was significant for another reason — he was the man accused by the late Benazir Bhutto of hatching conspiracies against her.

According to sources, Ejaz Shah spent most of his time with Col (retired) Iqbal Niazi. However, he also met Major Masud Sharif Khatak, another former IB chief who served under the second Benazir government.

Mr Sharif is now being ignored by the Pakistan People's Party simply because of criticising the party's role during the pro-judiciary movement.

When this correspondent approached Ejaz Shah, he refused to divulge any information about the dinner or his past role, saying he was bound by the official secrets act.

The sources said that Masud Sharif shared a sofa with Maj-Gen (retired) Talat Munir, who served under the Musharraf government until Oct 2002 — when a civilian set-up was established after the general election.

The man to succeed him was Col (retired) Bashir Wali, who was Mir Zafarullah Jamali's nominee for the chief.

The sources said Bashir Wali, who was replaced by Ejaz Shah, met all the participants, but avoided chatting up Ejaz Shah.

Most of the time he was seen talking with his old friend, Col (retired) Iqbal Niazi, another ex-IB chief who had served under Nawaz Sharif.

Dr Shoaib Suddle, the incumbent's predecessor, also graced the occasion.

Best known for honesty and uncompromising nature, Dr Suddle is currently serving as federal tax ombudsman.

He used the opportunity by sharing memories with Chaudhry Manzoor, another spymaster who headed the intelligence bureau during the premiership of Nawaz Sharif.

IMTIAZ WAS THERE, TOO

Brig (retired) Imtiaz Ahmed, aka Billa, who recently grabbed headlines by making revelations on television about the wheeling and deal during the 1990s, also attended the dinner. Imtiaz relived the past with Masud Sharif.

Both of them refused to make any disclosure.

Brig Imtiaz, who was IB chief during the first Nawaz Sharif government, sat beside Maj-Gen Rafiullah Niazi, the man who replaced Masud Sharif and put him behind bars.

Rafiullah Niazi was probably the only individual present at the dinner who had two stints as chief of the intelligence agency _ once under Nawaz Sharif and later under Pervez Musharraf.

The sources said an interesting moment came when Col (retired) Iqbal Niazi, who headed the IB when Gen Musharraf overthrew the Nawaz government on Oct 12, 1999, came across Rafiullah Niazi, who replaced the former on that fateful day.

Gen (retired) Niazi is known for passing on a controversial intelligence report about the first US missile attacks in Balochistan to prime minister Nawaz Sharif and was removed later.

He again took over after Mr Nawaz's removal.

Last but not least, a word about the menu. Chinese cuisine dominated the table. But rice, kebabs, chicken boti and kheer were also present to lend a local flavour. The dinner ended with the serving of green tea.

Most of the invitees were seen lighting their favourite brands of cigarette.

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