Pakistan’s one of the former Army chiefs, General Aslam Beg often claims that former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto established the political cell in ISI in 1975. Altaf Gauhar, Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s most trusted bureaucrat who is reputed to have reportedly ghost written his book ‘Friends Not Master’ has exploded this myth by bringing it on record how our intelligence agencies operate.
It’s an opener and befitting rebuttal from a powerful insider to all the generals and Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (SZAB) critics who orchestrate that it was SZAB who created political wing in the ISI to give an excuse of ISI’s political wheeling dealing.
A piece of vital historic information is unearthed putting the role of intelligence agencies in practically correct perspective. And mind you author of this article was no Bhutto lover. Late Altaf Gauhar was one of the most powerful bureaucrats who served Ayub Khan. He published a long article in the daily ‘The Nation’ on 18 August 1997. The title was “How intelligence agencies run our politics?” This article is reproduced below for the information of all readers, retired generals including Gen Aslam Beg who often say that the political cell of ISI was created by ZAB in 1975. In wake of ongoing debate on ‘bribe to politicians and political parties, the following article of late Altaf Gauhar has become more important and significance and according to observers is an eye-opener and explore the myth.
By Altaf Gauhar
‘I had an opportunity to watch quite closely the working of our intelligence agencies during the 1965 war with India. At that time the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was headed by Brigadier Riaz Hussain, who later became the Governor of Balochistan, the Military Intelligence (MI) was under Brigadier Muhammad Irshad and A.B. Awan was the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (DIB). Each agency had its own sphere of duties but they had a common goal — preserving the national security. Since there is hardly any significant political activity, domestic or foreign, national or international, which does not, directly or indirectly, impinge on national security, there was much overlapping in the work of the three agencies.
Despite the all-embracing definition of national security unnecessary conflict in day to day working was avoided as the lSl and the MI confined themselves to matters of direct military interest and the IB concentrated on domestic political activities. The DIB reported directly to the Prime Minister and the two military agencies to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army (C-in-C). It was left to the C-in-C to bring all matters of interest to the notice of the Prime Minister through the Ministry of Defence.
This arrangement continued fairly smoothly until the imposition of Martial Law in 1958. I was in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat during the last days of parliamentary government in 1957-58 and Malik Feroz Khan Noon used to get reports of the contacts which military intelligence agencies were making with the political leaders of different parties. There was little that he could do about it since President Iskander Mirza was drawing up his own plan of action to put an end to parliamentary rule in collusion with the C-in-C, General Ayub Khan. Noon was resisting Mirza’s pressure to grant a four-year extension of term to Ayub Khan. I remember Ayub Khan
bursting into my office one afternoon in full, uniform. I was relieved when he said: “Since the Principal Secretary has gone for lunch I thought I would ask you to request the Prime Minister to stay with me in Rawalpindi when he comes on a formal visit next week.” He left the room before I could recover my breath. When I conveyed the message to the PM he said: “I know he wants me to give him an extension of term. His term does not end till 1959. Why is he in such a hurry?” Years later when I mentioned this incident to Ayub Khan he said: “The fellow was under the influence of his wife. He wanted to promote General Sher Ali. My boys were keeping tabs on him.”
Once the Martial Law was promulgated in 1958 all the intelligence agencies came under the direct control of the President and Chief Martial Law Administrator. The maintenance of national Security, which was the principal function of these agencies, came to mean the consolidation of the Ayub regime; any criticism of the regime was seen a threat to national security. The three intelligence agencies started competing with each other in demonstrating their loyalty to Ayub Khan and his system of government.
Since Ayub Khan was reluctant to increase the military budget, neither the ISI nor the MI could post their officers in the districts and because of that limitation their domestic activities remained quite restrained. But they continued to be assigned specific duties to keep a watch on ‘undesirable’ politicians and civil servants.
When I came to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, I found a psychological warfare unit under operation in the office of the Secretary. It was, headed by Col Mujibur Rahman, who later became the Secretary of the Ministry in the Ziaul Haq regime. Was it an intelligence plant meant to keep an eye on the working of the civil government? Whatever its purpose, I found it a complete waste of time and I was able to persuade the President to have it recalled by the GHQ.
The President used to receive regular reports on the political situation in the country from the ISI and the MI. These reports in sealed envelopes marked ‘Eyes Only’ were usually handed over to the President by the C-in-C. On a few occasions the President gave me these reports and it seemed to me that the agencies were keeping the politicians, particularly the East Pakistanis, under close surveillance. I rarely found anything insightful in these reports. The DIB had direct access to the President and his weekly reports used to be fairly exhaustive. It was during the presidential election in l964 that the ISI and the MI became extremely active.. While the DIB gave the President a detailed, assessment of his prospects in the election the ISI and the MI kept him informed of the trend of public opinion based largely on gossip. The election results showed that the three agencies had seriously under estimated the popularity of Mohtrama Miss Fatima Jinnah and given Ayub Khan too optimistic a picture of his prospects.
The crisis of intelligence came during the 1965 war. Brigadier Riaz was good enough to show me his set-up, an impressive affair judging by the sophisticated equipment and the operators at work. He told me that he had contacts inside the Occupied Kashmir and in other major Indian cities. “I will flood you with news. Don’t worry”. When the war started there was a complete blackout of news from all the intellience agencies. When I got nothing out of the ISI for two days I went to Brigadier Riaz only to learn that all his contacts had gone underground.
The performance of the MI was even more frustrating. The mobile transmitter which the MI had acquired to broadcast the Voice of Kashmir conked out and Brigadier Irshad came to me to find him a spare transmitter.
When I told him that it would take at least a month to import another transmitter he pleaded with me to take over the broadcast part of the operation. “How can I do that I know nothing about the operation?” I protested. “But that is the beauty of it.” said Irshad, “even I know very little about it.” It did not take the Indians long to extract the whole operational plan out of the ‘infiltrators’ whom they captured the moment they entered the Indian occupied territory in Kashmir. Four of them were put on All India Radio to make a public confession. I heard the details of the operation on the air in utter disbelief. I rushed to Muzaffarabad to acquaint Irshad with what I had heard. He fell back in his chair and moaned: “The bastards have spilt the beans.”
After the cease-fire I brought these incidents to Ayub Khan’s notice and urged him to review the working of these agencies. “They have no idea of intelligence work,” I submitted “all they can do is investigative work like sub-inspectors of police, tapping telephone conversations and chasing the suspects.” Much later Ayub Khan set up a committee to examine the working of the agencies under General the Yahya Khan. Both A.B. Awan and I were members of the committee. The GHQ tried to put all the blame on IB for their own incompetence. Yahya wanted the committee to recommend that officers of ISI and the Ml should be posted at district headquarters. Awan strongly opposed the idea and I backed him. We could not understand the purpose of getting the military agencies involved in domestic administration. As we left the meeting Awan said to me “They are planning to impose martial law.” He proved right though it took the Army quite some time to get rid of Ayub Khan after unleashing a popular campaign against him.
The intelligence agencies got even more deeply involved in domestic politics under General Yahya Khan. The ISI jumped headlong into the Political crisis in East Pakistan. A National Security Council was created under the chairmanship of General Yahya Khan with Major General Ghulam Umar as second in command to control the intelligence operation which was meant to ensure that no political party should get an overall majority in the general election. An amount of Rs 29 lac was put at the disposal of General Umar for the purpose. Before the Army action General Akbar, who was the head of the ISI and with whom I had good relations when I was in service, requested me that I should introduce him to some Bengali academics and journalists. The ISI was trying to infiltrate into the inner circles of the Awami League. Had I given him any names they too have been put on Rao Farman Ali’s hit list of Bengali intellectuals. The operation proved a total disaster. Lawrence Ziring says: “New efforts at a political solution might have been attempted later, but army intelligence failed time and again to correctly assess the situation, and the demeanor of the generals was hardly conducive to rational decision making.” (Lawrence Ziring, The Tragedy of East Pakistan, OUP, 1997).
For General ® Aslam Beg to claim on solemn oath before the Supreme Court of Pakistan that the ISI got involved in the internal politics of the country only after a special cell was created by Prime Minister Bhutto in 1975 is a culpable attempt at concealing the truth and distorting the record of the operations of the military intelligence agencies since independence. The present government has only to report to the Supreme Court that the ISI deals with matters relating to Pakistan’s national security and that would be the end of Asghar Khan’s writ petition against Aslam Beg. Who will provide a definition of national security to rule out the involvement of the ISI and the MI in domestic politics which is seen as the biggest threat to the security and solidarity of Pakistan?’