Saturday, August 15, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 16, 2015

Mushahidullah’s gaffe Federal Climate Change Minister Mushahidullah Khan has caused quite a stir by saying in an interview with BBC Urdu Service that former ISI chief Lt. General Zaheerul Islam conspired against the government and military leadership during the dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) last year. According to the minister, the conspiracy came to the fore when the Intelligence Bureau recorded a telephone conversation of General Islam issuing instructions to spread anarchy and occupy the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) House. The minister claimed Nawaz Sharif played the tape of this recording to COAS General Raheel Sharif in a meeting on August 28, 2014. The latter was astonished and asked the then ISI chief to come to the meeting. After replaying the tape, General Raheel Sharif asked him if that was his voice, to which General Islam said yes. The COAS then asked him to leave the meeting. The chief target of the conspiracy, the minister asserted, was not only the government but also General Raheel Sharif. Part of the conspiracy was to pit Nawaz Sharif against General Raheel Sharif, making the former so nervous that he would attempt to move against the COAS. This would then be thwarted by certain personnel waiting to move in and overthrow the government. Although the government jumped into action to deny the claims immediately, and the army’s ISPR too issued a denial, the affair set alarm bells ringing and speculations mushrooming about what this may mean for civil-military relations. The government also said it had asked the minister for an explanation of his statement. In an attempt at clearing the air, Mushahidullah Khan said he had only repeated various rumours and reports he had read or heard. The skittishness engendered by the affair speaks volumes for the state of the state of Pakistan. Alarmists are already jumping to the conclusion that the PML-N government has once again shot itself in the foot, scored an own goal, upset its own applecart, etc. Unease in the military has been reported, with dark portents hinted at for the stability of the sitting government. Admittedly it is our past that evokes such nervous responses. Otherwise how to explain the brouhaha over claims that have appeared previously in the media on the same lines? Or is it that it is because no less a personage than a cabinet minister has repeated these stories? We need to get hold of our senses before jumping off the deep end at every spurious statement/claim. Logically, how is it that after confronting his ISI chief with the purported tape (whose very existence is belatedly being denied by the government) and receiving confirmation from General Islam that it was indeed his voice on the tape, the COAS saw no cause for disciplinary action against him and he was allowed to complete his tenure and retire gracefully? Is that plausible? The Pakistan military is famed for its discipline. How could an errant (nay, rebellious, according to the account) General be let off the hook for such a serious misdemeanour? Second, in previous accounts of the episode, another former chief of the ISI, Lt. General Pasha was named as the mastermind of the dharna (the so-called ‘London plan’), an allegation that was scotched by General Pasha offering himself for an inquiry into the matter. The matter should have been laid to rest there and then, had the Climate Change minister not resurrected this dead body of another kind of ‘change’. Obviously there are lessons here for all and sundry. First and foremost, the government’s ministers appear to have a penchant for shooting off at the mouth without thinking through the implications of their utterings. Defence Minister Khwaja Asif by now has accumulated an unenviable record of such loose talk where the military is concerned. Others too have a habit of setting off unnecessary controversies which, before they die their deserved death, create waves for the sitting government. Ministers of all people should be more circumspect about sensitive matters. The conspiratorially minded may ascribe this seeming anomaly between what ministers say from time to time and the subsequent damage control by the government to a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine. But what benefit does the government conceivably derive from such controversies? Matters related to the military and its intelligence arms should be dealt with in a more sensitive and wiser manner. These are not ordinary matters in the middle of a war against terrorism. The PM should perhaps consider a gag order on such issues for his ministers in the habit of shooting from the lip.

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