Dawn Review By Ayesha Siddiqa
REVIEW: Stories from the barracks
Dawn, November 28, 2004
by Dr Ayesha Siddiqa
THIS recently published book by Hassan Abbas is Pakistan’s Tom Clancey. Written in a flowing prose, this is a narrative about the link between the mullah, the military and America and the manner in which it shapes Pakistan’s politics. More importantly, it tells tales from the inner circles of power, especially the military that one would not get to hear otherwise. The book is full of anecdotes about a lot of people starting from Ayub Khan to Musharraf that would keep a reader awake. The style is certainly journalistic rather than academic.
The book has eleven chapters out of which the first five are historical. These refer to a period starting from independence to Ziaul Haq in which the author struggles with establishing the link between the religious right and the military establishment. Tracing the roots of Islam in the region dating back to Mohammad bin Qasim, the author points out how the religious parties opposed the creation of Pakistan. But once the country was established in 1947, they managed to take advantage and establish themselves. For the mullah the anti-Ahmadi riots of 1953 were the entry point into coercive politics. Then on, the religious parties systematically opposed the secular parties or any move to secularize the country.
This stand of the religious parties helped establish the army in politics. The army’s foothold in decision-making eroded accountability which was required to review its blunders like the one made in 1965. For instance, the author raises questions regarding the change of guard in the army during Operation Gibraltar that took Pakistan even closer to not achieving its military objective. The suggestion is that Yahya changed the tactical planning resulting in the disaster of 1965.
Yahya, according to Abbas, made other tactical errors as well. The poor handling of East Pakistan and ordering the carnage of innocent Bengali citizens occured under Yahya’s watch. In the end, even Nixon, despite his concern for Pakistan, could not help the country. The poverty of leadership was a major cause of the debacle of 1971. Yahya was more interested in listening to Nur Jahan sing to him over the telephone than directing his troops.
The change of guard, however, did not help improve political conditions. Soon after taking power Zulfikar Ali Bhutto tried to impose himself on the military, a move resisted by General Gul Hassan that led to his eventual removal. This and other blunders were resented by the army resulting in a group trying to stage a coup against Bhutto. It was the court martial proceedings of this case that brought Ziaul Haq into the limelight. The general’s ability of making his political superior happy resulted in his promotion. This was part of a number of blunders that Bhutto made. He miscalculated Zia’s intent and provoked the general to punishing Bhutto severely. Abbas’s argument is that ultimately Zia perceived Bhutto’s assassination as an issue of his own life and death. The passage describing Bhutto’s last hours should dispel many of the myths surrounding the end of Pakistan’s first elected prime minister:
Earlier, when Bhutto was told that he would be hanged on the morrow, at first he did not believe it. Only when his wife and daughter were allowed their farewell visit to him did the gravity and imminence of the situation finally begin to sink into him. He then told his wife to file a mercy petition on his behalf with Zia. He would still not beg for clemency himself. But a while later he asked for his shaving kit — he said he wanted to look good when dead. Soon it was time to go. It was suggested to him that since he was weak, it would be best if he embarked on his last journey on a stretcher. He refused and walked until he could no more. There he addressed the jail warden and said he was sorry that on occasion he had caused him unnecessary problems.
His last words were that the handcuffs were uncomfortably tight, and he asked if someone could loosen them. By then Tara Masih, the official hangman, had pulled the lever and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had passed into the ages. The Economist aptly wrote, ‘The quality of the evidence was highly questionable. The prosecution witnesses were a shady bunch. But the task set for the justices by the soldiers who have ruled Pakistan since last July’s coup was quite clear: Mr Bhutto must be removed.’
It is Zia, who then changed the face of socio-politics. He outmanoeuvred any opposition to his views in the army and put the country on a more religious, ideological course. The Americans, however, were with him in doing so because of the Afghan jihad. Some assume that it was his religious inclinations that made the Americans suspicious of Zia and his removal in 1988. But the author refutes all such claims.
While the dynamics of the mullah-military alignment changed in the ensuing years, the political chaos did not abate. In fact, the chapter on the years of democratic governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and the military-led dispensation of Musharraf are full of anecdotes highlighting the political confusion and contradictions, and tension between the military and political forces. The creation of the IJI and the MQM by the ISI are interesting stories as is the section on the Musharraf-Sharif tussle on Kargil. Abbas’s standpoint is that Sharif did not have a full idea of the plan. Considering Nawaz Sharif’s limited understanding of issues, one can sympathize with the argument.
The most interesting sections of the book deal with the story of what transpired amongst the army’s top leadership at the time of the plane hijacking and eventual take over by Musharraf in October 1999, General Mehmood’s reaction when confronted by the Bush administration after 9/11, and the working of the national accountability bureau (NAB). One is, for instance, amazed to know that Mehmood readily agreed to cooperate with the US and it was Musharraf who took a relatively longer while than his head of ISI to take a decision on the turn around.
Abbas reaches the conclusion that Musharraf would not be able to deliver. This assessment is based on the author’s experience of the general’s backtracking on corruption cases and handling of religious extremism in the country.
There are many who would be inclined to read this as an anti-army book which it definitely is not. In fact, Abbas has been fair in his assessment of the army. The sin for which he might not be forgiven by those in power is telling stories from the army’s inner circles. These are stories that the army’s discipline does not allow its officers to tell openly. The narrative in some case is so intimate that one wonders if the author was part of the military. This book definitely tells the tale that many a professional and honest officer might want to tell.
At certain places the author’s bias is also apparent, like in the discussion of Asif Zardari and Benazir Bhutto. Despite his affinity with Zardari, the author does not devote a lot of space discussing the politics and tactics of Bhutto’s husband. Similarly, Abbas dedicates a lot of precious time on the early years without any major contribution to the reader’s knowledge. But that is really a matter of a necessity for building his argument. From an academic standpoint, there are other substantive weaknesses as well such as lack of citation and sources in the book. In fact, the research methodology is questionable. However, as Abbas confesses himself: the book is not academic but tells a story. From that perspective, Abbas emerges as a powerful storyteller.
Dawn - 31 October 2004
EXCERPTS: NAB: the early years
By Hassan Abbas
Hassan Abbas writes about the inception of the National Accountability Bureau and its sorry performance.
The first decisive step that Musharraf took was on the domestic front - accountability of the corrupt. With every change of government since the revival of democracy, the cry for accountability had become louder and louder, but as the problem was so widespread and the ramparts of vested interest so invincible, no government dared go beyond a judicious mixture of flimsy steps and lip service toward meeting this demand. By the time Musharraf found himself catapulted to the helm he had no option but to bow to the overwhelming sentiment of the people.
Thus before the month of October 1999 was exhausted, he announced the formation of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), with Lieutenant-General Syed Mohammad Amjad as its first chairman. And by a strange irony, it was fated that the 'Attock conspiracy' officers who had paid a heavy price for attempting to conduct accountability 25 years before would have a fair representation on the Bureau. Within two days of the formation of NAB, the services of Saeed Akhtar Malik and Farouk Adam Khan were requisitioned.
General Amjad was the ideal and unanimous choice of the senior ranks of the army to be NAB chairman. He was an officer of extraordinary diligence and exemplary character, his name was a byword for integrity... In the event, Musharraf's credibility and commitment were to be defined by the performance of NAB...
From the survey of the NAB team, one could only draw optimism. Farouk Adam had a courtly manner, an impressive personality, and a unique ability to smile through the tedium of a 16-hour workday. Saeed A. Malik had much idealism and passion and also a flair for winning the esteem of those working under him...
The initial labours of NAB were dedicated to drawing up the NAB Ordinance to provide a legal framework for this new organization. The central principle that dictated the ordinance was the shifting of the onus of proof to the accused, that is, that if the accused person could not reconcile his wealth, earnings, expenses, and taxes that he had paid, he must be deemed guilty of corruption. The framers of this ordinance were very conscious that this draconian law would be applied to a maximum of only 400 of the most corrupt in the land and the principle that would determine the qualification of these "selected few" would be that of either an association with a great crime or having a big name adorned perhaps by a theft not that big. Without such a law, the NAB would essentially have been a non-starter because of the virtual non-existence of investigative and prosecutorial resources
To implement this agenda, Amjad was given full authority to select the "targets", though he regularly consulted the ISI and a few legal experts while making vital decisions in this regard. Amjad had a free hand to hold across the board and evenhanded accountability from which no one was exempt, except the judiciary and serving armed forces officials.
On November 17, 1999 NAB moved in for its first crop of arrests. Many of those arrested were big names. There was great euphoria among the people because many individuals who had always considered themselves beyond the reach of law were now behind bars. Yet most of the arrests were made on the charges of loan default, perhaps the easiest charge to prove, but one that NAB could be horrendously wrong about because it was very difficult to tell an honest from a wilful default. With the first blood having been drawn, the public appetite was whetted and they bayed for more. Their clamour could have been ignored, but not that of the government, whose credibility and performance had nothing but the achievements of NAB to show for itself.
The ordinary public was under the impression that the ISI and other intelligence agencies had collected enough data on corrupt elements when they were "monitoring" the civilian governments during the 1990s, but when a few ISI files were handed over to NAB officials, these were mostly speculative and devoid of any sound material necessary to prove a case in a court of law. To quicken up things, General Amjad hurriedly developed a core team to run the organization comprising bankers, economists, lawyers, and a few from intelligence and police backgrounds. It was a combination never tried before, the only handicap being a shortage of time to organize and deliver.
Around that time, a letter from Musharraf's office to NAB (dated December 11, 1999) adequately reflects the anxiety of the government and its dependence on NAB to shore up its credibility: "It has been reported with... great concern that corrupt politicians are becoming bold and the press is gradually becoming sympathetic to them. This trend must be stopped and reversed. Following steps are suggested:
1. Move fast on all issues.
2. Expose the corrupt people very expeditiously.
3. Scoop on corruption on a daily basis."
Consequently, more people were arrested based on their reputations, but proof of their corruption was lacking. NAB could have gained a lot of credibility in its initial days by prosecuting the ones who were already in custody, but the special accountability courts were not in place yet as the selection of judges and establishing a new chain of courts and developing a whole new infrastructure was taking time. What the military hierarchy did not realize was that there is a huge difference between deploying a military unit to a new location and establishing a law enforcement institution that has to act within the parameters of law. To overcome this shortage, dozens of retired ISI officials were inducted who perhaps knew the art of interrogation well, but had very little legal and investigative experience, which was the core requirement in this case. There was a reason behind the compulsion that the new inductees had to be former ISI officials -the ISI was providing the funds for this NAB expansion and they opted to benefit their comrades in the process.
As if these problems were not enough to hamper NAB's work, all of the arrested persons were kept in different cities under the custody of respective military commands where the local military officials and intelligence operatives started investigating/interrogating the accused on their own. Every single institution was trying to spy on NAB, making the task further complicated. This was symbolic of the general state of affairs in Pakistan.
Amjad and Farouk Adam, the two public faces of NAB, were now under immense pressure from the public, the press and the government. As they addressed the press, it seemed to the military hierarchy that they were hogging the limelight, and they became victims of gratuitous envy. Shaukat Aziz, the finance minister then, who had Musharraf's ear, was for blanket protection to businessmen despite the fact that some of the latter, in cahoots with the bankers, were the biggest crooks. Amjad, on the other hand, was heading toward making an example of those industrialists and businessmen who had established their business empires through corrupt practices. This was a risky business as big money was involved.
One of Amjad's problems was the subtle increase of government interference with his functioning. As it was, NAB had an ominous start to begin with. In its first two weeks of operations, it cracked open a multimillion-dollar case of fraud and corruption. Nortel, a Canadian telecommunications company, had unfairly been handed a fat contract to build a mobile telephone network in Pakistan. This was an open-and-shut case as all the evidence was there, but when Amjad wanted to move in and scuttle the contract, he was refrained from doing so. The only man who had the power to do this was Musharraf himself.
As NAB moved along, two questions were frequently asked of Amjad, that is, whether there were any holy cows, and if the army generals involved in corruption would also be arrested. The government position was that only serving army officers and the judiciary were exempt from NAB because both institutions had effective in-house correction systems, but technically, retired armed forces officials were not a part of this category Amjad was absolutely dedicated to having them probed, but was restrained from doing so.
In another high-profile case, a leading politician from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) known for his corrupt practices threatened NAB officials during his interrogation by saying that he was a CIA agent, and that political instability would be created in the country if he were not released immediately. Amjad responded by making things harsher for him and by appointing more investigators to probe his case. The politician was ultimately convicted.
It was becoming obvious to NAB that the task before it was gigantic. Realizing this, NAB hired a couple of foreign investigative and law firms to get the corruption money stashed in foreign banks back to Pakistan. It did not work well in the long run but at least sent a strong warning to many Pakistanis abroad who had stolen the money and were now enjoying life in Europe and America. Foreign governments were also contacted for cooperation in this endeavour, and the first positive reply came from the US government. In August 2000 a US team led by Mr Harry Marshall, a senior legal adviser in the US Department of Justice, landed in Pakistan to discuss US-Pakistan cooperation in the domain of the extradition treaty between the two states.
NAB presented its cases for extradition of five Pakistanis who were reported as to be in the United States. That led to a successful collaboration between the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and NAB in pursuit of the short-listed cases. From Pakistan's list, one of the cases involved former chief of the Pakistan Navy, Admiral Mansurul Haq, against whom NAB had a sound case. The admiral had been involved in the famous French submarines kickback case in the mid-1990s. Due to the superb efforts of FBI official Michael Dorris, the accused was traced and picked up by the FBI from Austin, Texas, and extradited to Pakistan for the NAB case.
* * * * *
The saddest commentary on Musharraf's much-vaunted commitment to the cause of accountability is that each member of this team of officers was hounded out of NAB soon after Amjad's departure from the institution. Their only handicap was that not one of them was prone to entertaining any adverse dictates. And so ended a heroic chapter of the war against crime by a handful of officers in a corrupt environment.
Reportedly, Amjad had asked to be relieved of his duties more than once. He was not one to take government partiality lying down. He left the NAB at the end of September 2000. The NAB's change of command, in the words of Mohammad Malick's commentary in Dawn, was "a clear sign of NAB's tailored, if not changed priorities". No one then knew who the real "tailor" might be, but there was an acknowledgment that "Amjad remained a very fair accountability chief". But Tariq Ali in his book The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihadis, and Modernity was much more perceptive when he observed that Amjad was ready to push through, but "Musharraf balked at the scale of the enterprise". The new chairman was Lieutenant General Khalid Maqbool, whose reputation was no match for Amjad's. NAB was dead for all practical purposes. A noble experiment had ended because those who had initiated it did not have the moral stamina to carry it through. But it would not be them who would pay the price for this failure. This would be paid once more by those who have always paid it, the people of Pakistan.
Musharraf had made a clear choice - he would compromise with those politicians who were ready to side with him. He had given into pressure from various sectors that wanted the regime to behave "normally" and not as a revolutionary one. This was the dilemma Musharraf faced - the masses were looking for a Messiah in him, whereas the political and military elite wanted the status quo to continue. Musharraf was still swinging in between.
Hassan Abbas is a visiting scholar at the Negotiation Project, Harvard Law School, and a PhD candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. He has served in the Government of Pakistan for ten years.
From Publishers Weekly
Nuclear, unstable, fundamentalist, Islamic—these adjectives are often used in frightening combination when the media turns to the topic of modern-day Pakistan, a critical but volatile ally in the fight to eradicate al Qaeda. With the sensibilities of both an insider and a scholar, Abbas, a Harvard fellow and former officer in President Pervez Musharraf’s anti-corruption police force, adds an important measure of sophistication to the popular understanding of Pakistan’s dangers and dysfunctions. His detailed analysis works through the country’s complicated history, starting in 1947 with the wrenching partition of British colonial India and ending with today’s impoverished, graft-addled government, which seems closer to falling into a maelstrom of religious radicalism every day. An important thread running through this history is the way American foreign policy—at times misguided or self-serving—magnified Pakistan’s homegrown ills. During the early 1980s, for instance, Pakistan’s pro-Western popular opinion appeared rock solid. "Only indifference, myopia and incompetence of flawless pedigree could have reversed this," Abbas writes. "But Pakistan and the United States would combine to produce the missing ingredient"—a policy of statewide "Islamization" orchestrated by Pakistan’s then leader, General Zia Ul-Haq, and amplified by Washington’s parallel support of the anti-Soviet mujahideen movement. Abbas offers valuable descriptions of today’s most active jihadi movements in Pakistan. More importantly, he shows how the Kashmir conflict, South Asia’s most aggravated political wound, has come to express numerous, overlapping national humiliations—often underestimated by Washington and exploited by Islamabad. "If Pakistan is to be saved from its future," Abbas concludes, "It must start by coming to a sincere accommodation with India over Kashmir."