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Biography of General Pervez Musharraf: His Past and Present

In an article (the "International Herald Tribune" of June 16) on Pakistan's proxy invasion of Indian territory in the Kargil sector of Jammu & Kashmir, Mr.Selig Harrison, the well-known American analyst, says:" Recent information makes clear that the newly-installed Army Chief of Staff (COAS), Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has long-standing links with several Islamic fundamentalist groups."

Gen. Musharraf's past background has not received, from Indian and Western analysts, the attention it deserves, if one has to have a clearer understanding of his role in the proxy invasion.

Gen. Musharraf, a Mohajir of Azamgarh/Karachi origin, had subsequently settled down in Gujranwala in Punjab and prefers to project himself more as a Punjabi than as a Mohajir. He was commissioned in the Pakistan Army Artillery in 1964.

He had an undistinguished career till the 1980s, when he caught the eye of Gen.Zia-ul-Haq and Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, another Mohajir COAS.

Gen. Zia, who preferred devoutly Muslim officers in important positions, chose Gen. Musharraf for advancement as he was, like Gen. Zia himself, a devout Deobandi and was strongly recommended by the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The first assignment given by Zia to him was in the training of the mercenaries recruited by various Islamic extremist groups for fighting against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. It was during those days that Gen. Musharaff came into contact with Osama bin Laden, then a reputed civil engineer of Saudi Arabia, who had been recruited by the USA's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and brought to Pakistan for constructing bunkers for the Afghan Mujahideen in difficult terrain.

Musharraf's Biography

bin Laden initially made his reputation in Afghanistan not as a mujahideen or terrorist, but as a civil engineer who could construct bunkers in any terrain. He also developed the technique of constructing long tunnels to isolated Soviet and Afghan military posts. The Mujahideen used to suddenly emerge from these tunnels and surprise the Soviet and Afghan troops. The links, which Gen. Musharraf developed with bin Laden in those days, have subsequently remained strong.

It was alleged that Gen. Musharraf also developed a nexus with the narcotics smugglers of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Even though the CIA valued his services in Afghanistan, the Narcotics Control officials of the US had reservations about him because of suspicions of his contacts with the narcotics smugglers.

That is one of the reasons why of all the senior Pakistani Army officers of today, Gen. Musharraf has had the least interactions with the US military establishment-- in the form of nomination for higher training in the US, participation in seminars and exercises and visits to US military establishments. His bio-data issued by the Pakistan Army HQ. in October last at the time of his appointment as the COAS show that he has done two training courses in the UK. There was no mention of any course in the US.

Gen. Zia chose Gen. Musharraf (then a Brigadier) in 1987 to command a newly-raised Special Services Group (SSG) base at Khapalu in the Siachen area. To please Gen. Zia, Gen. Musharraf with his SSG commandos launched an attack on an Indian post at Bilfond La in September, 1987,and was beaten back. Despite this, he continued to enjoy the confidence of Zia.

Gen. Musharraf has since then spent seven years in two tenures with the SSG and prides himself on being an SSG commando and projects himself as the greatest expert of the Pakistan Army in mountain warfare. When he recently received Gen. Anthony Zinni, the Commanding Officer of the US Central Command, he was dressed as an SSG Commando.

In May,1988, the Shias, who are in a majority in Gilgit, rose in revolt against the Sunni-dominated administration. Zia put an SSG group commanded by Gen. Musharraf in charge of suppressing the revolt. Gen. Musharraf transported a large number of Wahabi Pakhtoon tribesmen from the NWFP and Afghanistan, commanded by bin Laden, to Gilgit to teach the Shias a lesson. These tribesmen under bin Laden massacred hundreds of Shias.

In its issue of May,1990, "Herald", the monthly journal of the "Dawn" group of publications of Karachi, wrote as follows: " In May,1988, low-intensity political rivalry and sectarian tension ignited into full-scale carnage as thousands of armed tribesmen from outside Gilgit district invaded Gilgit along the Karakoram Highway. Nobody stopped them. They destroyed crops and houses, lynched and burnt people to death in the villages around Gilgit town. The number of dead and injured was put in the hundreds. But numbers alone tell nothing of the savagery of the invading hordes and the chilling impact it has left on these peaceful valleys."

Gen. Musharraf started a policy of bringing in Punjabis and Pakhtoons from outside and settling them down in Gilgit and Baltistan in order to reduce the Kashmiri Shias to a minority in their traditional land and this is continuing till today. The "Friday Times" of October 15-21, 1992, quoted Mr. Muhammad Yahya Shah, a local Shia leader, as saying: " We were ruled by the Whites during the British days. We are now being ruled by the Browns from the plains. The rapid settling-in of Punjabis and Pakhtoons from outside, particularly the trading classes, has created a sense of acute insecurity among the local Shias."

Zia became the first victim of the carnage unleashed by Gen. Musharraf on the Shias of Gilgit. Though the Pakistani authorities have not released the report of the committee, which enquired into the crash of Zia's plane in August,1988, it is widely believed in Pakistan that a Shia airman from Gilgit, wanting to take revenge for the May,1988, carnage, was responsible for the crash.

During his days with the SSG in the Siachen area and in the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan), Gen. Musharraf developed a close personal friendship with Lt.Gen. (now retd) Javed Nasir, Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), during Mr.Nawaz Sharif's first tenure as the Prime Minister and now his Adviser on intelligence matters, Maj.Gen. Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi, then a Brigadier, Lt.Gen. Mohd.Aziz, former No. 2 in the ISI till February this year and now the Chief of the General Staff (CGS), and Mr.Mohd Rafique Tarar, then a Judge and now the President of Pakistan.

All the four of them were devout Deobandis with strong links with Islamic fundamentalist parties and particularly with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM, also known for some years as the Harkat-ul-Ansar ), which was declared by the US as an international terrorist organisation in 1997. Along with the Lashkar-e-Toiba,the HUM is a member of bin Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad against the US and Israel.

Lt.Gen. Nasir was also an office-bearer of the Tablighi Jamaat, even while in service.

In the late 1980s, Brig. Abbasi was posted as the Military Attache in the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi. He was expelled by the Government of India in 1989 after he was caught by the New Delhi police while receiving classified papers from a Government employee.

On his return to Pakistan, Brig. Abbasi was posted to the Siachen. Like Gen. Musharraf, he had a reputation of taking rash and irresponsible actions without the clearance of his superiors. He launched an attack on an Indian army post, which was repulsed with heavy Pakistani casualties.

Musharraf's Terror Links

The late Gen.Asif Nawaz Janjua, the then COAS, recalled him to Rawalpindi and wanted to dismiss him for launching the attack without his orders, but Lt.Gen. Nasir saved him from any punishment.

On September 8,1995, the Pakistani Customs stopped a car carrying heavy arms and ammunition near Kohat in the NWFP and arrested its driver and Saifullah Akhtar, the then patron of the HUM. On interrogation, they reportedly told the Customs authorities that the weapons had been procured by Brig. Mustansar Billa of the Pakistan Army at Darra Adamkhel for supply to the Kashmiri extremist groups.

The Pakistani army then took over the investigation and arrested a group of 40 army officers and 10 civilians headed by Maj.Gen.Abbasi. Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, then Prime Minister, alleged that this group had conspired to kill her and senior military officers, stage a coup and proclaim an Islamic state. They were secretly tried by a military court and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.

Sections of the Pakistani press had alleged that the plotters had wanted to instal Gen. Musharraf as the head of the Islamic State, and that Gen. Aziz was also involved in the plot, but no action was taken against them for want of adequate evidence

Mr.M.H.Askari, a well-known columnist, wrote in the "Dawn" (October 18,1995) as follows: "It is said that the plotters had close links with the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Ansar, which are known for their involvement in international terrorism. It is also said that the arrested officers wanted Pakistan to become militarily involved in the Kashmir freedom struggle."

"The Nation" (October 20,1995) reported that Maj.Gen.Abbasi had close contacts with the Harkat-ul-Ansar. The "Khabrain" alleged that two of the arrested officers belonged to the ISI and that one of them had worked as the staff officer to Lt.Gen. Nasir, when he was DG, ISI.

"The Nation" of November 15,1995, reported: "Almost all the arrested officers are followers of the Tablighi Jamaat based in Raiwind." Raiwind, which is in the Punjab, is the hometown of the Prime Minister, Mr.Nawaz Sharif. It is also the headquarters of the HUM.

Pakistani analysts were surprised when Mr.Sharif appointed Gen.Musharraf as the COAS on October 8,1998, superseding Lt.Gen. Ali Kuli Khan, a Pakhtoon, who was the CGS, and Lt. Gen. Khalid Nawaz, a Punjabi, who was the Quarter-Master General. Mr.Sharif's choice of Gen. Musharraf was attributed to the following:
* He was strongly recommended by President Tarar and Lt.Gen. Nasir.
* He had ingratiated himself with Mr.Sharif by keeping the latter informed of the criticism of the Government's functioning by Lt.Gen.Ali Kuli Khan and Lt.Gen. Khalid Nawaz at theCorps Commanders' conferences when Gen. Jehangir Karamat was the COAS.
* Though a Mohajir, Gen. Musharraf disliked Mr. Altaf Hussain and his Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Mr. Sharif, therefore, wanted to use him to crush the MQM in Karachi.

Mr.Sharif and Gen. Musharraf got along very well till March. As desired by Mr.Sharif, the new COAS set up special military courts in Karachi to try the MQM cadres on charges of terrorism. Several of them were sentenced to death and two executed before the Pakistan Supreme Court, acting on a petition, declared these courts unconstitutional. It was alleged that Mr.Sharif was also planning to have Mr.Asif Zirdari, the husband of Mrs. Bhutto, tried as a terrorist by the military courts and sentenced to death for allegedly killing Murtaza Bhutto, her brother, in September, 1996.

Mr. Sharif also made the Army in charge of the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) to put an end to corruption and labour trouble and to improve efficiency.

After the visit of Mr.Strobe Talbott, US Deputy Secretary of State, to Pakistan in the first week of February, Mr.Sharif also approved a plan submitted by Gen. Musharraf for shifting bin Laden's terrorist brigade from the Jalalabad area of Afghanistan to the Kargil area of India by taking advantage of the absence of the Indian army from this area during winter. It is reported that while Lt.Gen. Nasir strongly backed the plan, Lt.Gen, Ziauddin, the Director-General of the ISI, expressed strong reservations over it and pointed out that it could create problems for Pakistan with the US.

Gen. Musharraf transferred Lt.Gen. Aziz from the ISI to the Army HQ. as his CGS and made him responsible for its implementation through the Directorate of Military Intelligence. Lt.Gen. Nasir was kept in the picture about the implementation, but not Lt.Gen.Ziauddin.

While outwardly supporting the Lahore Declaration, Gen. Musharraf, with the backing of Lt.Gen. Nasir, went ahead implementing the plan. Bin Laden's terrorist brigade was transported to Skardu in the Northern Areas and from there infiltrated into the Kargil area along with a large number of Pakistani army regulars. Mr.Sharif was allegedly not kept in the picture about sending the army regulars into Indian territory along with the terrorist brigade.

In the February-March,1999, issue of the Pakistan "Defence Journal", Lt.Gen Nasir had written an article titled "Calling the Indian Army Chief's Bluff". While ostensibly supporting the Lahore initiative, Lt.Gen. Nasir wrote in the most contemptuous manner of the capabilities of the Indian army and said: "The Indian army is incapable of undertaking any conventional operations at present, what to talk of enlarging conventional conflict."

A perusal of the writings in the Pakistani media and professional journals since January,1999, shows that these irrational religious elements in the Pakistan army headed by Gen. Musharraf and senior retired officers who have been supporting Gen. Musharraf have embarked on this adventure in the Kargil area on the basis of the following assumptions:

* The morale in the Indian armed forces is low due to the "bad leadership" of Mr.George Fernandes, our Defence Minister. Lt.Gen.Assad Durrani, former DG of the ISI, has sarcastically referred to Mr.Fernandes as the "best Indian Defence Minister that Pakistan can hope to have."
* The BJP is a party of paper tigers, known more for their "verbosity" than for their actions.
* Pakistan's nuclear and missile capability has ensured that India would not retaliate against Pakistan for occupying the ridges in the Kargil area.
* The fear of the possible use of nuclear weapons would bring in Western intervention, thereby internationalising the Kashmir issue.
* Pakistan should agree to a ceasefire only if it was allowed to remain in occupation of the Indian territory. There should be no question of the restoration of the status quo ante.

The interviews and speeches of Gen. Musharraf since October, 1998, show his thinking to be as follows:
* The acquisition of Kashmir by Pakistan can wait. What is more important is to keep the Indian army bleeding in Kashmir just as the Afghan Mujahideen kept the Soviet troops bleeding in Afghanistan.
* Even if the Kashmir issue is resolved, there cannot be normal relations between India and Pakistan because Pakistan, by frustrating India's ambition of emerging as a major Asian power on par with China and Japan, would continue to be a thorn on India's flesh. And, so long as it does so, Pakistan would continue to enjoy the backing of China and Japan.

From March, Gen. Musharraf, to the discomfiture of Mr.Sharif, started coming out in his true colours. He issued an order that the army, as the supervisory authority, would conduct all future negotiations with the independent power producers, thereby denying any role in the matter to the politicians and civilian bureaucrats. When Mr.Sharif objected to this order, he declined to cancel it.

The COAS made out a list of all payment defaulters of the WAPDA and leaked to the press that Mrs.Abida Hussain, a Shia Minister of Mr.Sharif's Cabinet, was one of the major defaulters, thereby forcing her to resign. He has also been hinting to the press that the business enterprises of Mr.Sharif's family top the list of defaulters.

He then insisted that he should be given concurrent charge of the post of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, even though it was the turn of Admiral Fasih Bokhari, the Chief of the Naval staff, to hold this charge. His argument was that since the army was the most important component of the armed forces, the Chairman should always be from the army. While not accepting this argument, Mr.Sharif gave him concurrent charge for one year only, as against the normal three years. He also got himself nominated as the Strategic Commander of Pakistan's nuclear force.

By May, Gen. Musharraf found to his surprise that the BJP-led Government was reacting vigorously to the invasion and had ordered the Indian Air Force to go into action against the invaders. It was only then that he reportedly told a shocked Mr.Sharif that he had sent in a large number of Pakistan army regulars with bin Laden's terrorist brigade and that the regulars were likely to incur heavy casualties.

The demand of the US and other Western powers for the withdrawal of the invaders and for the restoration of the status quo ante came as another surprise to him.

Despite this, he seems to be insisting that Pakistan should not agree to any unconditional withdrawal.

By: B.Raman, Director, Institute of Topical Studies, 1 July 1999

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