Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cover story in Outlook

An interview with Mariana Baabar

His former boss, and also a relative by marriage, Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, says Lt Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz is a ‘liar’ and suffering from an ‘imbalanced personality’, wondering why it took him 10 years to resort to this ‘character assassination’. But Aziz has taken Pakistan by storm with his all-revealing book in Urdu, For How Long This Silence?, in which he says, among other things, how ill-conceived and badly executed the whole Kargil operation was. Having served in some of the most powerful posts in Pakistan’s army, his book takes a sweeping look  from the time he was a cadet to his rise as the Director General Military Operations in 1999, helping Musharraf overthrow the democratic government of the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

He was the head of the Analysis Wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence when Musharraf planned the ill-fated Kargil operation, and served as the Chief of General Staff between October 2001 and December 2003. In an interview with Mariana Baabar, the first time to an Indian publication, Aziz talks about his book and its startling claims:

The Kargil war took place in the summer of 1999. Why are you bringing aspects of its handling by then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf to the public domain now?
Law did not allow me to speak till two years after leaving government service. I retired from NAB (National Accountability Bureau) in 2007. My articles appeared in The Nation two years later; plus appearances on TV. They didn’t help much, since the focus of the media was on personalities rather than issues. So I started writing this book, which took a while.

What were your main objections to the way in which the Kargil operations were handled by the Pakistani army?
First, that we violated an agreement while we pretended to be at peace, notwithstanding the fact that India had done the same in 1971 and again in Siachen; and we in 1965. Military operations must only be commenced after formally declaring that we are now not at peace, or as a pre-emption to impending enemy operations.

Any other objections?
The other objection is that the operation was poorly planned and poorly timed; with limited preparations. Neither Indian reaction was correctly identified, nor that of the international community. This happened mainly because there was no formal planning. Lack of preparations caused avoidable suffering to our troops. The military planning mechanism was kept out of the loop, resulting in loss of face for the nation, damage to the Kashmir cause, unnecessary human loss and a score of other complications.

Is it true the army wasn’t involved, as Musharraf says?
The impression created was that the army was not involved, and it was an operation undertaken by mujahideen. Such asserti­ons in a military operation cannot be hidden for long. Plus we formally acknowledged the brand of “a state sponsoring terrorism”. Whereas states, including India, using non-state actors to achieve their ends never formally ackno­wledge it. Neither did India in 1971, nor does it acknowledge its current involvement in Karachi, Balochistan and across Pakistan’s western borders. The US also denied this in all its operations across South America, and continues to do so in its involvement in Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan/Pakistan.

Who then is really responsible for the fallout of Kargil?
There was no political will to stand behind the operation. The media was hushed to silence, so that backing off may not bec­ome a political crisis. The army chief also did not stand firmly behind his soldiers who were fighting most gallantly. The minute global pressures started increasing and some posts were lost, both the leaders shrivelled up and became defensive and passive. They had lost the battle in their minds.
The bodies of our soldiers were quietly dispatched to their homes and some were perhaps not even claimed, and buried across the borders—so I have heard from lamenting officers from units which participated.
Allah knows best. Then started the blame game. No one displayed the courage to accept his folly, or even his part in the debacle. This amounts to dishonouring the sacred blood of our soldiers and the faith of the nation.

Why is Gen Musharraf in denial mode?
The then military leadership continues to deny the facts, under the false pretext of “national security concerns”.

Using soldiers in mufti is a tactic employed by other armies in the world. Why do you see it as such a departure from your army’s practice? Was it never done before?
To the best of my knowledge, in a military campaign of Pakistan army, this has not been the practice, except where special services troops (commandos) are operating behind enemy lines. By doing this, we expose the soldiers to operating without the cover of the Geneva Convention. But yes, in a war, such risks, where necessary, have to be taken. I am not against the concept.

You have criticised Gen Musharraf for involving only a handful of senior army officers. Why was there no sense of outrage at that time among other senior officers?
The senior officers were outraged at not being taken into confidence and criticised the whole concept, but the operation had already been launched, so nothing much could be done. General Musharraf’s confidence in his assessment and his forceful nature quietened much of the opposition. The role of India in 1971 in the dismemberment of Pakistan, the atrocities being perpetrated in Kashmir and refusal to meaningfully negotiate the issue, plus the occupation of Siachen, does not leave much goodwill for India. So there were little concerns on that score. I am not much aware of the details of reactions of senior leadership of the army, since I was then in ISI and not in touch with many army officers. I was also too busy handling Kargil’s international fallout. After the Kargil operation was over and details started trickling to the junior ranks of the army, there was a lot of resentment, parti­cularly against the then Commander FCNA (GOC Northern Areas).

Why did no one resign?
As to why no one resigned in protest: no one knew before the operation commenced, so protest could not prevent it. Usually people resign if they are personally required to under­take some activity against their conscience, and generally not on difference of opinion.
Difference of opinion will stand out in every operation, but the commander’s judgement is respected and followed. This is the norm of every army. Other than the four (see infograhic on P 28), no senior officer was directly involved in the operation’s planning or execution. And, in any case, there was no element of immorality in the undertaking. The fact that there was limited preparation carried out for it was revealed slowly, over a period of time. General Musharraf still denies the reality of the ground situation. While he was in command, these facts were not known openly.

Information these days does not stay confined to one country’s boundary. Your criticism of Kargil has also been widely reported in India. Are you playing into Indian hands?
We have become too concerned about how others perceive us and what ‘they’ say about us. Yes, this has its implications, but what is more meaningful is what we actually are. False pretensi­ons do not change realities. Truth helps bring a change and stre­n­gthens institutions. We must understand that if we are to stand up on our own feet, we need to gain respect in our own eyes, rather than in the eyes of others. My loyalty to Pakistan and its army is not questioned by those who know me and my views.

How will this affect you personally and your tenure as a former general?
Character assassination and a whispering campaign against me were expected. This is the least I will have to endure. It is now being alleged that I am part of various clandestine organisations hostile to Pakistan or have hidden political motives. I would like to say that, disregarding all vulnerabilities and threats to me and my family, I have stood up all alone to speak the truth for the sake of my nation, and Allah is my only protector, and I look up to Him alone. I have never had any hidden agendas and I am not a traitor, nor even a pretender. And I do not claim to be an angel. I have made mistakes in life, like any other human being. I am a soldier, not a saint.

Had Gen Musharraf not embarked on his Kargil “misadventure”, would the peace process that was being put in place by the leaders of India and Pakistan have had a better chance of surviving?
All the ‘peace processes’, then and now, are only a farce, for political mileage. There can be no peace unless the issue of Kashmir is resolved, as per UN resolutions. I realise that much water has passed under the bri­dge since then; yet if we are serious, I’m certain some solution can be found. I’m against the concept of improving people-to-people contact and trade relations etc, which actually amounts to putting the Kashmir issue on the backburner. The real issue must be brought to the forefront and meaningfully discussed. The world is not interested in its resolution. Our hostility suits them. Short of a resolution, under false pretensions of peace, we’ll continue to work against each other, despite smiling at public to public meetings, cricket matches and musical evenings.

So how can peace prevail between the two countries?
Once we find a solution to Kashmir, peace will prevail and no one from outside this region will dare to challenge this subcontinent’s bondage. But I do not see it happening because it has now been made a political impossibility by both the countries. The educated people must understand vested political dynamics on both sides of the divide, and push for a resolution. Hard-nosed arrogance will only result in more bloodshed.

One objective of the Kargil operation was to cut off Indian supply lines to its troops in Siachen. Does the subsequent hardening of India’s position, particularly of its armed forces, on withdrawing from Siachen stem from the Kargil experience?

What kind of setback has Kargil been for the Pak army?
The major loss has been a deterioration in the confidence of our soldiers, in the senior leadership, which will take a while to recover. Operations in support of US occupation of Afgh­a­nistan are further aggravating this. The government must recognise this and find ways to come out of our involvement in US’s Afghan war. It’s also hurting the pride of our soldiers.

Gen Aziz, do you consider yourself a patriot? Do you think most Pakistanis will see your attempts at coming out with the truth about Kargil as an honest attempt of a disciplined Pakistani soldier or as a betrayal of the country’s secrets?
I have not divulged any ‘secrets’. Armies are not motivated to fight on falsely propagated causes, but on truth. Giving your life for your country is the sacred duty of every soldier and the highest honour. The decision to go to war must therefore be very carefully considered and the soldier must know the truth, and the leadership must be steadfast in its conviction and courage and bring the nation to stand behind it. Only then will a soldier willingly give up his life.

What about a soldier’s discipline?
Discipline does not imply continuing to cover up truth. This only damages the institution and weakens it. I see my army as the best in the world. Anything that is damaging my army hurts me, and I will do whatever it takes to protect it. I recognise that I will have to suffer many accusations. This is the price I’ll have to pay for the love I bear in my heart for my army—my home.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Media is picking up selective lines from my book 'yeh khamoshi kahaN tak?' This is creating a very wrong perception. I hope to correct it tonight at ARY News at 8 pm. 

The title of my book 'yeh khamoshi kahaN tak?' does not imply that there are secrets being revealed; though truth does expose hidden facts. This, ironically, has been the sole focus of the electronic media up to now. And this is natural; but I do hope we will soon settle down and come to the bigger issues. The silence referred to is of those who know everything and yet choose to remain silent. This is not such a time. The silence also refers to the silence of those who have no option but to suffer quietly, like lambs. The building anger and spite in their hearts will one day blow up in our faces. And that day doesn't seem very far. Speak up today before it is too late. Speak up if you can feel their pain. This is the message of the book. 

Till we believe in the facade that is being presented to us and continue to pretend that all is well, nothing will change. I see very hard times lying ahead. If this nation sinks, so will its armed forces. So will all who are now silent. And our children will bear the cost. 

This book is not about Kargil, and not about the military takeover. Certainly the focus is not General Musharraf or even the Army. It is a book about human experience of life; the story of a weak man stumbling through his life; pushed by his fears and dragged by his desires; torn apart by love, transcending with time. It is a book for the youth of this nation, to learn from the mistakes I have made, to see how life twists and moulds each one of us. In this endeavour I have laid my life bare, and exposed myself to all forms of criticism. I did not expect any less. And this is the least price I must pay for the suffering that some of my mistakes have caused to this nation. 

However, these were in a certain environment and in a particular time frame. In retrospect, things are seen differently; we are all wiser. If some of us feel that I did not speak when I should have, my colleagues should be able to answer to that; for I could only speak in defined forums and not in public. And speak, I did. I have never shied away from speaking the truth. And who else is speaking; even now? It is this silence of my colleagues to which I refer. I have spent a lifetime in the Army, and I have not been an unknown entity. The entire Army knows me; what I have done and what I have not done. I have always been an open book. 

I have resigned twice from the Army, once as a major and once as a lieutenant colonel. Then I was penniless and homeless, with four young children. I could have resigned as a general too, when I was comfortably well off and my children were settled in life. Why I didn't -- please read the book to find out. And as I speak today, my entire family is once again dependent on me, with only some rentals to live on. 

My colleagues who are still in uniform can only vouch for me within their circles, but those who are now retired can speak whatever they know of me. Each one knows the truth of what I have said. Do not choose the comfort of silence. I have risked everything I have, only for this nation and this Army. Even my grandchildren are under threat. What more do you ask? I do this out of love for your children; for the children of Pakistan, who are dying with each day, as we sit in front of our televisions and as we lament at dinner parties. 

I have no agendas. I am member of no group. I have no political ambitions. I am a soldier of this country and this Army, and it is for these that I fight. My father (Brig Mike, whose glimpse you can see in the archive in 'Remembering Mike') taught me to stand on my own feet, and not on crutches; and he taught me to stand up for the truth. My life will pay homage to him, and to my younger brother who laid his life for this Army and this nation in Kashmir in 1971; and to all those soldiers who are still sacrificing their days and nights in defence of this country; and those who laid their lives smilingly, so that we can continue to laugh. 

I have never claimed to be a saint. But I have never been a partner of the devil either. We all exist somewhere in between. Do not measure me with the angels; and when I do not fit there, then do not drop me to the level of iblees. I have changed slowly over the years, with Allah's mercy. That is what growth is all about. Stagnation is death. Everything in nature grows, or else decays. There is no stillness in life. 

Army is the best institution in the country; it is the backbone of Pakistan. Yes, there are faults in it. And it is only to these that I refer. I have seen these grow during the military regime. Every military regime has left its scars on the Army. It is to these that I refer. Army is my love. It is in my blood. I was born in it, and I will in sha Allah die a soldier. I can never betray it. If my silence could improve things, I would have chosen to remain silent. But I see things deteriorating by the day. And there seems no other way to control it, but to make it public. I fought all my life to protect the Army, protect it at great risk to my career. I do not imply that the Army is a corrupt organization. But yes, there are pockets and it is to these that I refer. If we do not check it now, it will become irreparable. 

I do not speak to damage the Army or its discipline. The Army operates under the orders of the government.  It was the political leader, in uniform, who slowly induced the Army to become party to US massacre in Afghanistan. It is now the baby of this political government. The Army must submit to political decisions; and its officers to its chain of command. And the Army's leadership must advise the government not to place his troops under such severe moral strain. It might damage the Army critically. That is what I am trying to prevent. I am hearing their silent, disciplined pangs of obedience. They must remain steadfast. Such times do not last forever. Stay together, for you are holding the security of this country in your togetherness. And do not be disrespectful to your superiors, for being respectful is the pride of every soldier. Always salute smartly, and look into the eyes of your superior when you salute him; and also when you are saluted by the soldier -- look into his eyes and you will know his pride or pain. If you do not learn to obey, you shall never be able to command. The decision of the commander has to be obeyed. It is only an immoral decision which is unlawful. The commander knows and appreciates what you may not know. Trust in him and be as one. Take pride in your loyalty. Have patience and fortitude and trust in Allah. He will deliver us. 

Why now? This is Allah's will; as is everything else. I spoke when I was liberated by the law of silence. I wrote in 2009, two years after leaving government service. I spoke on the TV. The focus, however, remained on personalities rather than issues. I too, then, chose silence; but the pain of sufferings I saw each day and the political tamasha going on, was overpowering. So I decided to write a book. It took this much time. And isn't it the best time? Our problems on the line of control are peripheral; only being blown up as part of a larger game. And when is it that we are not in some kind of a problem? I have not seen such a day in many years. 

This is a good time because another meaningless election is around the corner. A new set of lies is afloat. A new government will be formed, and then we shall all settle down to another period of injustice, tyranny and plunder. What better time than this to wake up to truth? Truth never causes damage; only untruth causes pain and sorrow; and destruction. 

If India is exploiting whatever I am saying, should that fear keep me silent? They will always exploit everything. But covering up and pretending that we are great, will not make us great. Standing up to truth can only put our house in order. And are we to shrivel up, only so that we can please the onlookers?! If the world is saying, "Look Pakistan is such an irresponsible state, how can we allow them to remain a nuclear power", well, they are not too far from the mark. And they are not stupid that they needed to wait for my declaration to come to this conclusion. It is written all across our forehead. Aren't we already labelled as a 'state sponsoring terrorism'?

If Nawaz Sharif says his Army Chief betrayed him, than he should have had the spine to sack him there and then and court-martial him. And he should have resigned too, for failure to control his Army. That is leadership. Whenever he came to know, if he did not agree, he should have raised his hands and said, "No more. Stop now and pull back". The peace process would not have been derailed. My soldiers would not have died in vain. That should be the calibre of the leadership of a nuclear power. Not one that is bending backwards to please the world and keep the Army Chief happy. Or the one that tries to shift responsibility and blame; and show himself as the innocent helpless babe. If you are the one sitting on Pakistan's throne, then you are responsible for every pain that this nation suffers. And if you can't take the burden, then step aside. It takes guts to rule a nuclear power and it takes brains; and patience, and grace, and wisdom and above all it takes faith. Yes, our government, even today is incapable to stand up to the stature of a nuclear power. We have been left with little self respect, why should the world respect us? We need to mature, as a nation, to that stature; and we have very little time. 

I implore you to speak up to save this nation and its armed forces. I do not ask you to speak in my favour. Your views may be very different. I will respect them, if you respect this nation, its honour, its security and my children -- the children of Pakistan. The pressures on me and all these insinuations are merely to force me to shut up. Genuine concerns are also, at best, parochial. See the larger picture. Please realize the intent and motives of those who do not want things to change from what they are today; those who do not want to come out of this decaying, putrid stagnation. 

May Allah be with all of us and may he continue to protect and guide us -- from darkness unto light. 

p.s. Please make comments only after reading my book. And no, it will not make me a millionaire.