Villains of Habib Jalib - Shahzad Raza - March 16-22, 2012

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Gen(r) Aslam Beg with Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Akram Zaki, Nawaz Sharif and Wasim Sajjad

"Dartay hain bandooqon walay aik nehatti larki say," Habib Jalib wrote about the military's fear of Benazir Bhutto. In 1988, when the revolutionary poet was in jail, the villains of his poems hatched yet another conspiracy.

The Islami Jamhuri Ittehad (IJI) was in the making, and the house of Dr Sarfraz Mir in the affluent E-7 sector of Islamabad was frequented by those who made news and those who sought news. Army chief Gen (r) Mirza Aslam Beg and ISI director general Gen (r) Hamid Gul considered Benazir a security risk. They believed the rise of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) was detrimental to the country's interests. Many were also scared the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would take revenge.

There was no working relationship between Benazir Bhutto and the military top brass. She was considered a security risk - someone who must not have access to state secrets

The ISI dovecote was full of trained and untrained pigeons. Creating what many called an unholy alliance against the PPP was a piece of cake. Sindhi landlord Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Punjabi industrialist Mian Nawaz Sharif were two key players.

The formation of the IJI was based on a one-point agenda - defeating the PPP in the general elections. Loyalties were sold, judges were hounded, and Habib Jalib wrote on.

Years later, the chief architect of the IJI Gen (r) Hamid Gul publicly admitted the role of spy agencies in cobbling together the anti-PPP alliance. But he was revealing a secret, not apologizing.

Foreign journalist Christina Lamb, who later wrote Waiting for Allah, was in Pakistan and had a good rapport with several top IJI players, especially Jatoi who was otherwise a reserved person.

The People's Party won the 1988 elections, and despite full-fledged support from the civil and military establishment, the IJI could only win a little more than 50 seats in the National Assembly. Many in the military were not ready to accept the bitter reality that they would have to salute to Benazir Bhutto. Habib Jalib was released, but his poems continued to be relevant. Jatoi was heading the IJI, but it was Nawaz Sharif who emerged as the most prominent leader of the alliance.

Elections for the provincial assemblies were held days later. After losing in the centre, the establishment was vying for Punjab to be able to sabotage the federal government.

"It's not a matter of why or how, but when the military establishment would resort to its old tactics," says Ayesha Siddiqa

Hussain Haqqani - years away from his transformation - was among the architects of the nefarious Jag Punjabi Jagcampaign against the PPP, invoking Punjabi ethnicity against a Sindhi prime minister.

Benazir Bhutto was a visionary. Soon after coming to power in December 1988, she constituted a commission headed by Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan to investigate the role of intelligence agencies in politics. The commission took just three months to prepare a detailed report with recommendations. But the establishment prevailed and the recommendations were never implemented.

Benazir tried to neutralise the ISI's influence in politics by appointing a trusted ex-army man, Gen (r) Shamsur Rehman Kallu. He faced the ire of the seniors and reportedly bypassed by his subordinates on numerous occasions.

"The People's Party was a force that could digress from the preset standards of the so-called national interest," says analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, the author of Military Inc. "The military establishment was afraid of working with the PPP and it never reconciled with the reality."

There was no working relationship between Benazir Bhutto and the military top brass. She was considered a security risk - someone who must not have access to state secrets. The elected prime minister was even denied entry into a premium nuclear research laboratory.

When the PPP government was sent home by then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990 and fresh elections were announced, Gen (r) Asad Durrani was heading the ISI. In the events that followed, a new player emerged - Younus Habib.

"People are mixing the Younus Habib case with Mehrangate. The money distributed among the politicians was not withdrawn from Mehran Bank. It came from the accounts of Habib Bank," says senior journalist Amir Mateen.

He also rejects the claim that it was Sindh chief minister Jam Sadiq who awarded Younus Habib the license to set up Mehran Bank in 1991. "The State Bank was under the federal government's control. When it issued a license to Mehran Bank, the PML-N was in power," he says.

The politicians accused of having received the money are in the denial mode. Those who rose to power and fame after the 1990 elections - considered one of Pakistan's most rigged polls - included Nawaz Sharif.

Once on the opposition benches, Benazir paid Sharif back in the same coin. The dissolution of PML-N provincial government in the NWFP was one example of that. Besides, she used an MNA from the federally administered tribal areas to assuage then army chief Gen Asif Nawaz. At her behest, Aftab Sherpao and Farooq Leghari persuaded president Ghulam Ishaq Khan to dismiss the PML-N government prematurely, which he did. That allowed the PPP to come to power again in 1993.

Benazir did not take action against Younus Habib and his backers because she wanted the beneficiaries to be exposed, an insider says. Besides that, the generals were too strong to be charged.

Interior minister Naseerullah Babar dropped the Mehrangate bombshell in the National Assembly after he had obtained an affidavit from Gen Durrani that contained names of the politicians who had allegedly received money before the 1990 general elections. Durrani was made an ambassador.

Eventually, Benazir's trusted aide president Farooq Leghari betrayed her and dismissed her government. New elections were held in 1997 and Nawaz Sharif won with what was called a "heavy mandate". After having tamed other state institutions, Nawaz Sharif underestimated the army's reaction to the removal of Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf in October 1999. Nawaz landed in the Attock Fort prison. His Arab friends and US president Bill Clinton rescued him or he might have met the same fate as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto 20 years ago.

As Gen (r) Ahmed Shuja Pasha retires and the ISI gets a new boss, it is hoped the spy agency would not meddle in political affairs.

"I can assume that the new DG ISI would not be keen to intervene in national political affairs," says Brig (r) Shaukat Qadir. He believes the role of the intelligence agencies in politics has been reduced significantly.

But Ayesha Siddiqa disagrees. "It's not a matter of why or how, but when the military establishment would resort to its old tactics," she says. "Power is a habit. You either you have it or you don't."

Shahzad Raza is TFT special correspondent based in Islamabad. He can be reached at

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