I know what you did last August feat. Military—Jihadi complex

Senator Mushahidullah Khan’s interview gives a sneak peek into the rumblings inside the Pakistani Military—Jihadi complex

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

This year’s August 14th was a day of mixed feelings for Pakistan. On one hand, it marked the 69th independence day of the nation-state. On the other, this day marked one year of the protest demonstrations by the PTI—PAT combine which threatened to push the country back into a state of anarchy and overt military control. The agitations formally ended on 17th December 2014, following a terrorist attack on Army School, Peshawar. The Nawaz Sharif government was back in (nominal) charge, after agreeing to a stringent set of “terms and conditions” determined by the military high command.

What has sparked a raging controversy in Pakistan, however, is a BBC Urdu interview of by PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan in which he directly blamed the then ISI chief Zaheerul Islam Abbasi of orchestrating these protests leading to an eventual coup.

As The Dawn reports:

He [Mushahidullah] alleged that former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam Abbasi wanted to overthrow Pakistan’s civil and military leadership during last year’s sit-ins by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

In his interview, Mushahidullah alleged that during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on July 28, 2014, an audio tape was played in which Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam could be heard giving orders to ransack the PM House and spread chaos.

On hearing the audio tape, Gen Raheel summoned the ISI chief to the meeting and played the tape in front of him, said Mushahidullah. When Zaheerul Islam confirmed that the voice was his own, the army chief asked him to leave.

As expected, these revelations did not go down well with either the military or the weakened civilian government. Nevertheless, these statements indicate the politics and the forces of repulsion within the Military—Jihadi complex(MJC). These indications can be summarised as below:

  1. Tensions within the complex have intensified. Some factions are not satisfied with the MJC’s covert control of the government. Such factions would rather prefer a direct control over decision-making. Doing so means that overthrowing a civilian government isn’t sufficient anymore. It should be accompanied with a coup in the MJC itself. Thus, we can expect further clashes within the military node of the MJC going ahead.
  2. The revelatory audio tape which finds mention in the interview was reported to have been obtained by officials of the civilian intelligence agency – Intelligence Bureau. This is the second point of fracture within the MJC. Afraid of the ISI’s proven record of causing internal disturbance, the civilian government and a few sections of the MJC are strengthening the IB as a bulwark. It will be interesting to see how the ISI gets back at the IB after this incident.
  3. This incident highlights how easy it is for the MJC to orchestrate a “civilian” protest. All political parties in Pakistan owe their existence to the military in one way or the other. Whenever the MJC or some factions within it desire to shakeup the civilian establishment, they have a long line-up of political parties who can front protests, dharnas and violence.
  4. Perhaps the most damning part of the interview was an acknowledgement that Zaheerul Islam Abbasi and his co-conspirators would not be tried for treason, as the civilian establishment has neither the credibility nor the capacity to anger elements of the MJC.

What happens next in this story will help us understand how the military—jihadi complex can be dismantled.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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