His clients ranged from Libya to North Korea and properties from Timbuktu to Dubai. At the height of his power his net worth was reportedly $ 400 million. His face, with a Hilteresque moustache, appeared on the February 14, 2005 Time magazine cover captioned ‘The Merchant of Menace’. That man was Dr Abdul Qadir Khan and his trade was nuclear proliferation. While everyone on his trail was convinced that Dr Khan could not have run a sprawling network of aeroplanes and yachts shuttling his P-1 and P-2 centrifuges across international airspace and maritime borders all by himself, the Pakistani authorities insisted that he was a lone wolf. The recent revelations by the former spokesman of the Pakistani armed forces, General (retired) Athar Abbas about the ex-army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, make it sound as if Kayani — like Dr A Q Khan — alone was responsible for the monumental mess Pakistan made in the North Waziristan Agency and the terrorist menace it peddled in the region.
Dovetailing with General Abbas’ disclosures about his former boss is a slew of panegyrics praising the incumbent Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif as the ‘soldier’s soldier’ by the same coterie of analysts and anchors who once celebrated General Kayani as the ‘thinking soldier’ who alone had ostensibly changed the army’s doctrine and identified domestic jihadism as the existential threat to the country. The chief has retired; long live the chief! How convenient indeed except that General Kayani did what his institution had trained and required him to do, like the chiefs before him. Was General Ayub Khan alone in staging the 1958 coup d’état? Did he not have Lieutenant Generals Mohammad Azam Khan, Wajid Burki and K M Sheikh with him all the way? Did General Yahya Khan pull off his putsch all by himself? Did Major Generals Ghulam Umar and Sher Ali Khan Pataudi not prod the deep-in-the-cups dictator? Was that most evil of them all, General Ziaul Haq, the sole architect of so-called Operation Fair Play on July 4, 1977? Did Generals Faiz Ali Chishti, Sawar Khan, Iqbal Khan, Jehanzeb Arbab, Fazl-e-Haq, Rahimuddin Khan and K M Arif not go the whole hog with Zia? And was the commando dictator General Musharraf not airborne still when Generals Aziz Khan, Mahmud Ahmad and Muzzafar Usmani wrapped up Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government on October 12, 1999? Barring a handful of honourable exceptions during the army’s brutal campaign in Bangladesh, did any general ever refuse to carry out unlawful orders and resign?
General Kayani may be an easy punching bag but he, his predecessors and his successor are chips off that same old block, which avoids accountability like the plague. An institution that produced four overtly adventurist chiefs, suffered humiliation in four wars, brutalised the Bengalis and Baloch, meddles incessantly in civilian affairs and has no culture of accountability has a lot to answer for. Instead, stonewalling civilian inquiries into debacles like Kargil or forcing politicians to suppress damning findings like the Hamoodur Rehman or the Abbottabad Commissions’ reports is the military’s standard operating procedure. Even internal inquests into military disasters like the 1965 twin operations Gibraltar and Grand Slam are scarce and read more like a biography or a travelogue than a professional analysis of the rout. Rather than acknowledging and rectifying institutional shortcomings, the military has, for decades, commissioned analysts to write a revisionist history in which even the 1971 resounding defeat is portrayed as a betrayal by the “untrustworthy and Hindu-ised” Bengalis who had “conspired with India”. This poppycock is then taught as the gospel truth in Pakistani schools and, along with other fairytales, passes for history. Those questioning this dogma are instantly labelled traitors and ostracised while the architects of disasters and disgrace go scot-free.
Whatever General Athar Abbas has said is merely partial truth. The key question is if it was Kayani or the outfit he headed that incubated the jihadist legions in North Waziristan. As discussed in this column for years now, General Kayani refused to act against the jihadists in North Waziristan because that risked disrupting the security establishment’s meticulously crafted ‘good/bad’ Taliban tactic — a bedrock of Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy before the good jihadists could be let loose on Afghanistan come 2014’s US withdrawal. Kayani, along with Musharraf, was the architect of the establishment’s good/bad Taliban ruse to keep the US off their backs. The security establishment stoked anti-US sentiments through its assets in the media and the religio-political parties, and then used it as an excuse not to act in North Waziristan ‘under US pressure’ lest it provoke a hyper-nationalist and jihadist backlash. Kayani could not have carried out this convoluted narrative management without his top media manager who has suddenly spoken out now.
The series of operations conducted under Kayani’s command left the good Taliban unscathed and the Zarb-e-Azb offensive is no different. All major operations were announced with fanfare, giving advance warning to the jihadists to flee, as has happened in North Waziristan now. Other than netting Muslim Khan of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) through a talks ploy, no top good or bad jihadist ringleader has been captured or killed in any of the grand sounding military operations conducted to date. The US drones have taken out almost all the TTP and Haqqani network leaders killed thus far. The bravado in the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) communiqués notwithstanding, reports from the locals suggest that Zarb-e-Azb’s outcome will be no different. Two weeks into the ground assault there is no independent verification of the army’s claims of killing hundreds of terrorists. The handpicked embedded journalists are en route to croak victory from North Waziristan soon. Another round of the mock whack-a-mole with the jihadists nears its completion. Unfortunately, the tremendous human cost of this eyewash is being paid by the 800,000 Pashtun civilians uprooted from their homes.
Shifting blame for past disasters to political governments, General Kayani or for that matter even the ISI is a mere diversion to insulate the military establishment against domestic and international criticism for allowing the domestic, regional and transnational jihadists consort freely in North Waziristan resulting in the deaths and maiming of thousands of innocents. The buck in this instance stops not with General Kayani but with his institution. General Raheel Sharif’s pronouncement to fight terrorists of all shades is welcome indeed but without ushering in a robust and transparent institutional accountability that assembly line will keep producing more merchants of menace who, contrary to whatever anyone says, have never acted alone.
As I watch the news media in the US and Israeli officials talk of the carnage in Gaza, it is indeed ...