Saturday, February 23, 2008

ISI's Former Leader's Mea Culpa: I Rigged 2002 Polls

General Ehtisham Zamir, the former head of ISI's political cell, has admitted playing a key role in rigging the 2002 polls to favor PML(Q), the pro-Musharraf faction of the Pakistan Muslim League. This was a joint effort of the ISI's political cell and the National Accountability Bureau. While it has been considered an open secret by many, this is the first time the ISI's role in 2002 election rigging has been confirmed by a former ISI top official who directly participated in it. In September 2002, Zahid Hussain of The News Online reported as follows:

"For several weeks before the nominations were filed, Tariq Aziz, President Musharraf's powerful principal secretary, had camped out in Lahore, wheeling and dealing with politicians. The country's most powerful bureaucrat had an important task assigned to him by his military leader. His job was to knock together a pro-military alliance. Aided by Major General Ehtisham Zamir, the head of the ISI's domestic wing, and the crafty Brigadier (retd), Aijaz Shah a former ISI officer and home secretary Punjab, Aziz finally manoeuvered a list of " loyal" candidates for the National Assembly from the province. Most of them belong to the PML (Q) and the Grand National Alliance, but there are several others who, the military government believes, were willing to cooperate."

In 2002, after a similar report in British newspaper The Guardian, the Daily Times of Pakistan quoted Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi as saying, "The report is totally fabricated as there is no political wing at ISI. Such reports appearing at a time when the general elections are just coming close might have some vested interest. Maybe the reporter wants to project as if ISI is planning to manipulate the elections, which is absolutely incorrect,"

Talking to Umar Cheema of The News in Pakistan yesterday, Retired General Zamir, the head of the ISI’s political cell in 2002, admitted manipulating the last elections at the behest of President Musharraf and termed the defeat of the King’s party, the PML-Q, this time “a reaction of the unnatural dispensation (installed in 2002).”

The son of the well known Pakistani satirical poet Mr. Zamir Jaffery, Maj-Gen (retd) Ehtesham Zamir termed the 2008 elections ‘fairer than 2002’. He said the reason behind their fairness is that there was relatively less interference of intelligence agencies this time as compared to the last time. But he stopped short of saying that there was zero interference in the 2008 polls.

Just a few days prior to the Elections 2008, the Army Chief General Kayani issued orders barring officers from any unauthorized meetings with Pakistani politicians, including the president. The army commander also said the military wouldn't play any role in staging the February 18 parliamentary elections, outside of providing security.

It should be noted that the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto issued the executive order creating a political cell within the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) with the purpose of influencing political processes in Pakistan. This fateful decision in 1975 eventually brought ZA Bhutto's own downfall when he used this cell to unnecessarily rig the 1977 elections and was overthrown and executed by General Zia-ul-Haq. It was also this cell that helped Nawaz Sharif , a protege of General Zia-ul-Haq, get elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan after the General's death in a mysterious air crash followed by a brief term in office by Benazir Bhutto. In 1990 the ISI received 140m rupees (US$2.2m at current values) to rig national elections, according to supreme court testimony by the then chief of army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg.


Riaz Haq said...

I finally had a chance to see the documentary "Bhutto" by Jessica Hernandez and Johnny O'Hara last Thursday in Oakland, CA. The screening was sponsored by the PACC along with several other orgs.

It seems to me that the documentary is quintessentially a celebration of Benazir Bhutto and her mystique as the first female prime minister of an Islamic nation.

It advances a liberal western view of the Bhutto family through a narrative made up of sympathetic western and Pakistani commentators who see the Bhutto family as outsiders up against "the establishment"...a reference to Pakistani military and the ISI. It even lays the blame for Zardari's moniker as "Mr. Ten Percent" on ISI.

The movie does mention the 1977 poll rigging but it says it was done by "overzealous supporters" of the PPP, while conveniently ignoring the fact that the ISI political cell, created by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, actively rigged the vote on ZAB's behalf thus laying the foundation for as larger role for "the agencies" in Pakistan's political and electoral processes in 1970s, 80s, 90s, and the last decade.

Former President Musharraf made a reference to it in an interview in which he acknowledged that no new parties are created in Pakistan without "the agencies" influencing the process.

Here is an excerpt of a Dawn report on the Musharraf interview:

"Pervez Musharraf said he had no regrets over the military coup of Oct 12, 1999, and the unconstitutional steps taken on Nov 3, 2007. “It was my good luck that the coup happened.”

When reminded that the Constitution had been abrogated on both occasions, he said the country was more important than the
Constitution, which, according to him, was a piece of paper.

Pervez Musharraf said he had appointed Senator Mushahid Hussain as secretary general of the PML-Q after consulting Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. He said the PML-Q had virtually fallen apart and most of its leaders would not contest the next
elections from its platform. Many of them had contacted him and some were considering contesting elections as independent candidates, he said.

The former president admitted that setting up a new party without the help of government and intelligence agencies was a difficult job.

He said he had written letters to the former nazims of all districts, inviting them to join his party and had received a good response."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a NY Times story on ISI money used t5o help Nawaz Sharif's party against Benazir Bhutto's PPP in 1990s elections:

A three-judge Supreme Court bench, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, resumed hearings into accusations that the spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, paid $6.5 million to a right-wing opposition alliance to influence the outcome of the 1990 election.

The case is potentially explosive in a country where the ISI has a history of meddling in politics yet its officials have largely escaped judicial censure. But analysts are divided about its chance of success.

Wednesday’s hearing was cut short after the court heard that statements recorded in 1998 by three crucial witnesses, including a former ISI chief, Asad Durrani, could not be found. A lawyer for Mr. Durrani said he was out of the country.

Justice Chaudhry ordered court officials to find the documents and summoned Mr. Durrani to a hearing next Thursday.

The scrutiny began in 1996 when Asghar Khan, a retired air force officer and politician, asked the court to investigate allegations that the ISI had donated $6.5 million through Mehran Bank to the opposition in advance of the 1990 election.

The ISI, it was said, wanted to oust Benazir Bhutto, the prime minister, in favor of the Islami Jamhoori-Ittehad, a coalition of conservative and religious parties headed by Nawaz Sharif, who went on to win the election.

Early hearings in the case brought striking revelations that embarrassed the military. Mr. Durrani, the former ISI chief, told the Supreme Court that the money had been distributed on the instructions of Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, an army chief and Mr. Durrani’s boss at the time.

General Beg, in turn, said he had done so on the orders of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who opposed Ms. Bhutto.

The hearings stopped in 1999 after a military coup brought Gen. Pervez Musharraf to power but were revived in January at the instigation of Justice Chaudhry, who is eager to disprove critics who accuse him of going soft on the powerful army.

The resurrection of the case has potentially stark implications for certain politicians. Among the recipients of the ISI money was Mr. Sharif, the current opposition leader, who allegedly got $1.6 million. Should the charges stand, he and other prominent politicians, like Syeda Abida Hussain, a former ambassador to Washington, could be barred from office.

But just how far the court is willing, or able, to go against the powerful ISI remains to be seen.

On Wednesday, the court heard that a confidential statement recorded by Mr. Durrani in 1998 had disappeared, as had separate statements by Naseerullah Babar, a former interior minister, and Younis Habib, a businessman and banker who helped distribute the illegal money.

Moreover, two central figures in the affair — Mr. Babar and Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the former president — are dead.

Many in Pakistan are skeptical that the case against ISI will succeed. An editorial on Wednesday in the English-language newspaper Dawn expressed doubts that the case could “become a transformative moment in the history civil-military relations.”