Sunday June 23, 2024

CIA files refresh old memories

By Mazhar Abbas
February 01, 2017

The CIA's declassified documents relating to Pakistan have refreshed old memories of our troubled political history from the breakup of Pakistan to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's execution, from the nuclear program to Benazir Bhutto, as we are still in search of truth in otherwise a forgotten history.

Much has been written on East Pakistan debacle, particularly in the post-1970 elections. The general perception is that the former military ruler Gen Yahya Khan, Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were responsible for the crisis which later resulted in the breakup and gave birth to Bangladesh.

The CIA documents had also given details about the role of India, US and Soviet Union. In the last 45 years, with complete details of Hamoodur Rehman Commission still classified till this day, the then politicians, bureaucrats and retired army officers had their own views about the crisis.

While the elections in 1970 were held for the Constituent Assembly to frame the Constitution, fresh elections should have been held after the assembly adopted the Constitution in 1973. Thus, the then civil and military establishment never wanted Constitution based on Mujeeb's six points and thus the National Assembly session was not called in Dhaka Gen Yahya.

The CIA files also reveal, quoting late Gen Zia, that he was under pressure from the military establishment to execute Bhutto, which some retired generals doubt. Declassified files also disclosed that Benazir Bhutto had told Americans before power being handed in 1988 that she had compromised and would not interfere in foreign policy or slow the process of nuclear programme.

Now how far all this is true as all the key characters – Bhutto, Mujeeb, Zia and Benazir – are not alive to add anything? What is the other side of the story? Zia, who had imposed martial law on July 5, 1977, and announced holding elections in 90 days, postponed that days before the election day after intelligence reports suggested that the PPP would sweep the polls with Bhutto re-elected as PM. His fear was that he could enforce Article 6 of the Constitution against him and few other generals for abrogating the Constitution.

Bhutto was accused of rigging the 1977 elections and Zia held him responsible for the bloodshed during PNA movement. Bhutto, on the other hand, had blamed America and CIA's role in the coup because of his decision to make 'Islamic Bomb’, and was even given the warning to choose between ‘carrot and stick’. He was told by none other than the former Secretary of State Mr Henry Kissinger that if he did not abandon the programme, he would be made a ‘horrible example’.

Some years back, this writer had interviewed a senior US diplomat on a private TV channel, who was among the witnesses of the meeting, and asked about the warning. He confirmed the reports about the meeting.

When Bhutto was released on bail after being kept under detention by Zia, he got massive a reception in Lahore and as a result was rearrested. Elections, which were due on October 18, 1977, were postponed.

One of the retired officers once told me that Gen Zia than approached Mr Ahmad Raza Kasuri through his trusted intelligence officer to pursue the trial of his father's murder who was killed in the PPP era.

While the CIA documents revealed that Zia had told that he was under pressure from the army, some retired officers showed dissent at the senior level, while junior officers were against the execution.

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, an architect of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, once gave me a sensational account of how he tried to save Bhutto whom he described as a 'true nationalist’.

"I was worried when I started getting reports that Zia has taken the decision to hang him. I made a secret visit to Turkey and met the President of Turkey. I pleaded him that the Islamic world needs Bhutto and he should use his influence on Zia. The president appreciated my concern and said he would call Zia, but also warned me that he would not spare him as he is scared of him," AQ Khan said.

Zia was scared that if he spared Bhutto, it would be difficult for him to keep him in jail for long. Former interim prime minister late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi also disclosed his meeting with Zia in the presence of retired Lt-Gen KM Arif in which he had assured Zia that if he spared Bhutto, the family would go into exile and quit politics for many years.

One of the reasons why Zia and some other generals were against Bhutto was not only his capacity to bounce back but he was capable of putting Zia on trial under Article 6, in case he returned to power.

However, as far as Pakistan’s nuclear programme was concerned, all the successive governments, from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif, remained on the same page, but AQ Khan said, “Had Bhutto not been there, he would not have been here and at one stage he had given me the status of the PM, as far as this programme was concerned. His execution was a tragedy for Pakistan.”

As far as Benazir Bhutto's compromise with the establishment was concerned, former ISI chief, late Lt-Gen Hamid Gul had once shared details with me.

“It is true that the military establishment was concerned about Benazir Bhutto and I took the initiative to get the opposition on one platform as we wanted to bring a check and balance. Fear was that she could be vindictive against those who had been associated with Zia and could take revenge. Later, I regretted and even confessed this to Benazir,” Hamid Gul told me.

“I met her and gave a briefing on Afghan war and Pakistan's position. To be very honest, I found her a true nationalist and she did not have any venom against army."

Once I asked late Benazir Bhutto about her compromise to get power, she said, “It was not a compromise with the establishment but I have never been a vindictive person. Secondly, I am a woman and knew my limitations in society like ours. Thirdly, I also knew that if Pakistan's most powerful and popular leader could be hanged, they would never allow people's rule. I didn't want further suffering for the PPP workers."

She always had apprehensions about late president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, retired Gen Aslam Baig and Hamid Gul. On August 6, 1990 when her government was sacked, she reacted sharply and at a press conference at Bilawal House, she blamed the then Military Intelligence for the conspiracy.

Later, the Asghar Khan case established how IJI was funded through Mehran Bank and money distributed among her opponents. The Supreme Court later declared the 1990 elections as 'rigged' and ordered the FIA to initiate action against those who had distributed money and those who had taken that money. The FIA, which had also been given the deadline of December 31, 2015, completed the probe and said to have recorded the statements of all those civil and military officials who were named in the case, but surprisingly, its report has not been made public.

Thus, the CIA files comprising hundreds of thousands of pages – released at a time when Pakistan is passing through a crucial phase and democracy taking its roots with a hope that the ruling elite would also be made accountable – there is a general consensus among all the political parties, including the religious ones, that the Zia era was among the darkest.

Bhutto was executed and Benazir Bhutto assassinated at a time when they were at the peak of their popularity. Irrespective of their politics and mistakes, the fact remained that they were nationalist and patriotic.

The CIA's declassified documents certainly worth reading as these give you an idea of what have been going on, at least in this country during the last few decades. But there is always another side of the story too.

The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO