DG-ISI Zahirul Islam’s coup plan against Nawaz Govt thwarted by Gen Raheel Sharif during Imran Khan’s dharna in 201

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A new book has revealed the details of a calculated coup to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during Imran Khan’s dharn in 2014. The book written by Shuja Nawaz has quoted former US envoy to Pakistan Richard Olson for these astonishing details surfaced for the first time.

Even as Imran Khan faces allegations of being a “selected” Prime Minister by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other opposition leaders, the revelations in the book ‘The Battle For Pakistan, The Bitter US Friendship and a Tough Neighborhood’ can potentially embarrass him further. It has been claimed that a coup was on the cards at the time of the sit-in or ‘dharna’ staged by Khan’s party.

The book quotes former US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson who mentioned that Raheel Sharif (former Pakistani Army Chief) thwarted the DG ISI Zahirul Islam’s plan to oust Nawaz Sharif from the Prime Minister’s post.  

In the book, Richard Olson has been quoted as saying, “We received information that Zahirul Islam, the DG ISI, was mobilising for a coup in September of 2014. (Army Chief) Raheel (Sharif) blocked it by, in effect, removing Zahir, by announcing his successor…(Zahir) was talking to the corps commanders and was talking to like-minded army officers…He was prepared to do it and had the chief been willing, even tacitly, it would have happened. But the chief was not willing, so it didn’t happen.”

The 2013 General Elections in Pakistan witnessed Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party secure a comfortable majority. Sharif took oath as the PM 14 years after his government was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf. However, Sharif giving the go-ahead to try Musharraf on treason charges and Khan’s allegations of the elections being rigged created difficulties for his regime. 

From August 14, 2014, Khan commenced a 4-months long dharna in Islamabad to demand the ouster of Sharif and fresh elections. At that point in time, he often hinted at the intervention of the ‘third umpire’, widely perceived as a reference to the possibility of the military establishment staging a coup. But Khan’s efforts failed to bear fruit and the dharna finally ended after the terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar in December 2014.  

Currently, the opposition in Pakistan has alleged that the 2018 General Election was allegedly rigged before and on the counting day at the behest of the military establishment. Polling agents of various parties were reportedly thrown out during the counting process, thus casting doubts on the legitimacy of the victory of Khan’s party. Furthermore, Khan’s regime has witnessed the incarceration of key opposition leaders including Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Bilawal’s father Asif Ali Zardari and so forth. 

In its chapter titling, Mil-to-Mil Relations: Do More. Olson made this comment in the context of the protest sit-ins, or “dharna”, of Imran Khan in 2014. Shuja Nawaz has authored a 373-page book covering the US-Pakistan relationship and important political events of the last decade and a half in Pakistan. Nawaz, brother of former Chief of Army Staff, the late Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua, is an acclaimed author and well-reputed intellectual.

His book, “Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army and the Wars Within,” is considered the most authoritative history of the Pakistan Army.

In his latest book, Nawaz reveals that for Americans, the former ISI Chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha was “straight shooting super nationalist general who had come into the world of intelligence on the insistence of Gen Kayani.”

According to the book, he (Pasha) became an activist and an aggressive head of the country’s largest intelligence agency, expanding its operations and remit virtually at will and demanding greater access to information on US operations and operatives inside Pakistan.

According to Nawaz, Pasha was a prime target of American surveillance. He was being tracked during his travels abroad. The book provides details on the surveillance of Lt Gen Pasha. He (Shuja Nawaz) also states that during his (Pasha’s) tenure, 3 Pakistan-US joint intelligence fusion cells were shut down. According to Nawaz, Pasha was a bête noire for Americans.

While quoting an unnamed US official as saying, the author touches on the subject of US intelligence surveillance inside Pakistan and said that the US had penetrated many Pakistani organisations.

The book says that, after Pasha’s retirement, the new ISI head Lt Gen Zahirul Islam was consumed by domestic issues. Islam spent most of his time on the political turmoil following the 2013 elections, which produced public sit-ins, or “dharnas”, by Imran Khan’s PTI and allies against the government.

 “Both Pasha and Islam’s names were associated with the street opposition to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; though no solid evidence came to the surface. Islam was also a former head of one of the ISI’s wings or directorates, and then had been in the hurly-burly of Karachi politics as the corps commander there,” notes the book. Nawaz adds that Islam’s earlier experience at the ISI had been in monitoring Pakistani internal politics. Zahir’s activism was not “lost on US embassy.”

It is pertinent to mention here that Lt Gen Zahirul Islam and Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha have not given their views regarding their role in service. This reporter had the opportunity to talk to Lt Gen Pasha; however, Lt Gen Islam is yet to give his side of the story.

Shuja Nawaz adds US surveillance of the ISI and its head continued after Pasha. Islam’s successor at the ISI, Rizwan Akhtar, was a US-trained officer and maintained a good relationship with his US counterparts. However, he struggled to make an impression on his interlocutors, especially when it came to matters of detail discussions about the Afghan war. American criticism was harsh.

One US official recalled that in a meeting on Afghan reconciliation, Akhtar did not even remember the names of leading Afghan Taliban field commanders. He was a hands-on DG ISI and reportedly showed up in Karachi frequently, where he had earlier served as DG Rangers. According to Nawaz, Akhtar took charge of the Karachi operation without even informing the ISI’s sector commander in that city. Due to his hands-on approach, Akhtar was unpopular in the ISI and even in the Army, according to Shuja Nawaz.

While giving details of Akhtar’s exit from the ISI and later from Army, Nawaz adds that “Akhtar failed to win the confidence of the new army chief Gen Bajwa and resigned by taking early retirement.” Akhtar was succeeded by another US-trained officer Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar, a successful and active corps commander in Karachi. Mukhtar was a graduate of the Army War College Carlisle, PA.

The latest book by Shuja Nawaz is filled with firsthand accounts of Pakistani and US officials with direct purview of important political events in Pakistan and Afghanistan for a critical period of the region’s history. Through the book, Nawaz once again shows his deep expertise on the Pakistan military and reflects his understanding of how the said institution plays a key role in South Asia.