In view of the Supreme Court’s orders in the Mehrangate case to take action against General Mirza Aslam Beg, the PPP government may strip the former army chief of all his military as well as civilian medals, especially Tamgha-e-Jamhuriat or Medal of Democracy which was conferred upon him by the first government of Benazir Bhutto way back in 1988.
According to well-placed government officials, while it is premature to say whether the federal government would be in a position to take legal action against Beg and Durrani under article 6 of the 1973 constitution which deals with those violating the constitution, there is a possibility that the two generals would be stripped of their military and civilian medals, to begin with.
While during his active military career General Aslam Beg was decorated with Tamgha-e-Jamhuriat (Civil), Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Military), Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Military) and Sitara-e-Basalat (Military), Lt Gen Durrani was conferred upon Hilal-e-Juraat (Military) and Hilal-e-Imtiaz (Military). A military or civilian decoration is awarded to an individual by the state of Pakistan as a distinctively designed mark of honour denoting heroism or meritorious or outstanding service or achievement.
In fact, Beg is the only Pakistani to have been decorated with Tamgha-e-Jamhuriat. A circular silvered bronze medal with swivel scroll and ribbon bar for suspension, Jamhuriat Tamgha was instituted by the first government of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in 1988 to commemorate the country’s return to democratic rule following General Ziaul Haq’s death in a mysterious plane crash near Bahawalpur and the subsequent formation of the PPP government in the 1988 general elections.
Analysts say Bhutto government’s unprecedented move to decorate Beg with Medal of Democracy was chiefly meant to dissuade him from following in the footsteps of General Zia and staging yet another military coup against an elected government. While decorating him, the newly-elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had hoped that the armed forces would keep supporting the budding democracy in Pakistan under General Beg’s command. He was vice chief of army staff under General Zia and was immediately made the army chief following the death of the army chief in August, 1988. General Zia’s son, Ejazul Haq, has repeatedly blamed Beg for involvement in the plane crash, the cause of which was never officially established.
Although Benazir Bhutto was criticised by many for decorating a general with a civilian award, she used to justify her decision, saying that Beg deserved this honour because he refrained from indulging in yet another military adventure like Zia and instead helped Pakistan to a peaceful transition of power through general elections. But Beg’s critics say he started harbouring the thoughts of becoming another Zia hardly a few months after the PPP came into power.
Younus Habib, the key character in the Mehran Bank money distribution scam, has already claimed in an interview that General Aslam Beg was conspiring to take over and become the president. Many in the PPP claim that it was primarily Gen Beg who had persuaded President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to dismiss Benazir Bhutto’s first government in 1990.
The Supreme Court’s verdict, confirming Beg’s role in engineering the 1990 elections, has made it abundantly clear that the former army chief, despite being decorated with Medal of Democracy by the Bhutto government, had been conspiring against the hard won democratic set-up. Beg remained a powerful army chief until 1991, when he was replaced by General Asif Nawaz Janjua.
Since his retirement in August 1991, Beg has been named in several controversies. But the Asghar Khan case has damaged him the most. Despite Beg’s repeated claims that he had ordered distribution of money among anti-PPP parties before the 1990 elections on President Ghulam Ishaq’s orders, Younus Habib, the banker who had arranged the money, had claimed in his statement before the apex court that General Beg was the actual mastermind and that President Ghulam Ishaq was brought in later when a meeting was arranged at Balochistan House in Islamabad.