Media: a force to be reckoned with
In the history of the country, never have so many retired generals been in the dock or been talked about this much in the media at the same time for their past deeds and misdeeds. The scenario is made more eye-brow raising by the fact that the list of generals under media scrutiny include a former chief of army staff and two ex director-generals of the Inter-Services Intelligence (DG ISI).
The current times are clearly unprecedented, and needless to say, the development has incensed the incumbent top military leadership.
On November 5, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani passed a very public statement stressing the need for all state institutions to work within their constitutional limits. Many also interpreted his words as an implied warning against media trial of army officers both serving and retired.
In any case, his statement is thought to have emboldened the accused generals, who have stepped up their defence.
Deliberated attempts have been made to resuscitate their images as over the last fortnight or so, the generals have appeared on television and approached print media journalists with documentary evidence in their favour. Others are writing regular emails to clarify their position in relevant cases.
However, the common theme to their defence seems to be that as army men they were subservient to the civilian leadership, and simply carried out orders issued by the relevant governments.
For instance, former army chief General Aslam Beg in a detailed interview with a private television put the entire blame of the army’s involvement in politics on late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who in 1975 established the ISI cell in the Presidency.
On the ISI-Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) saga of 1990 general elections, General Beg, without going into details, claimed he only followed lawful command of the then late President Ghulam Ishaq.
“How could I refuse orders of the supreme commander of the armed forces (President Ishaq),” snapped General Beg, when the host of a TV talk show questioned the involvement of army in politics under his command.
Gen Beg even claimed that the army’s role in politics had legal cover until October 19, 2012, when the Supreme Court cancelled the ISI cell in the Presidency.
Visibly perturbed over how the media was grilling them, Gen Beg retorted: “You (media) people are hurting the institution of army.”
If this was not enough to warn the government, media and judiciary, Gen Beg predicted rolling back of the entire system, if “the trial of the former military officers continued in the public domain.”
Similarly, former DG ISI General Asad Durrani, who along with Gen Beg has been declared guilty of distributing money among IJI politicians in the 1990 elections, has put up a strong defence during his television appearances.
Gen Durrani too argues that Ghulam Ishaq Khan was the brains behind the scheme of things.
In a recent interview, Gen Durrani said that since President Ishaq and Army Chief General Beg were fully on board with regard to distribution of funds among certain politicians, he as DG ISI could only follow their orders and handed over the money to the selected politicians.
Three other generals – Lt-Gen Khalid Munir Khan, Lt-Gen M. Afzal Muzaffar, Maj-Gen Khalid Zaheer Akhtar – in the headlines for the Rs2 billion loss that the National Logistic Cell (NLC) incurred between 2004 and 2008 too claim they were simply toeing the line.
The three accused generals have approached the media with documentary evidence showing they had worked according to the policy laid down by Mr Aziz’s government to invest in the stock exchange, which eventually led to the colossal loss.
The three retired generals were recently re-instituted to face a military court trial, after being found guilty of corruption and irregularities in investments by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly. The GHQ is yet to conclude its inquiry report.
Meanwhile, in a completely separate case, another former ISI chief, General Javed Ashraf Qazi is busy writing emails in his defence as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) investigates his role in the controversial lease of Pakistan Railway (PR) land in Lahore.
General Qazi and two other retired generals, Lt General (retired) Saeeduz Zafar and Major General (retired) Hassan Butt, who were office-bearers in PR, have been accused of leasing 150 acres of PR land in Lahore to a private party on much cheaper rates as compared to the open market.
General Qazi argues that as former minister for railways, he only put railway land into commercial use, which had brought monetary benefits to the cash-strapped Pakistan Railways.
“The golf course was earlier under the use of a handful of railway officers, which is now generating billions of rupees for the PR,” he insists.
The openness with which the generals are approaching the media is a turn around from their stiff attitudes. Earlier, the same generals would have gotten away by avoiding all talk of the cases It is clear that the military establishment has realised that the changed dynamics and the new reality of the media in the country.