Friday, December 19, 2008

Murder she wrote

Murder she wrote
By Ayesha Siddiqa, Dawn, December 19, 2008

THESE days a common concern of many ordinary Pakistanis pertains to the conspiracy to destroy the country. But what happens when the country’s own institutions are involved in spinning a cobweb or falling into a trap that can cause ultimate damage to the state is a question worth asking. This line of questioning stems from a story recently published in Britain’s Sunday Times on Dec 14 and reported by Dawn the following day.

The story titled ‘UK may help find Pakistani general’s killers’ written by Carey Schofield is about the mysterious death of former Special Services Group Maj-Gen Amir Faisal Alavi. The article claims that Gen Alavi was not killed by militants in November 2008 as claimed initially but that those responsible may have been some of his senior colleagues about whom he had complained to army chief Gen Kayani with regard to their alleged involvement in evil and corrupt transactions with the Taliban. These officers, whose names were blacked out by the writer herself before publication, had apparently been a cause of Gen Alavi’s removal from service two years ago while he was serving in Wana, Waziristan.

The military publicity machine, of course, went into action soon after. It made counterclaims that the general in question had been removed due to his involvement with a woman in Islamabad. Considering former Gen Pervez Musharraf’s reputation as a cultural liberal (not to be confused with political liberal), he was hardly the person to have questioned or punished his officers for such a crime. Or perhaps there were too many people involved in the affair.

Undoubtedly the Schofield story raises questions about the military’s reputation as a professional and cohesive force. What it says between the lines is that rather than a cohesive force it may be divided between those officers who compromise on the national interest by doing questionable deals with the Taliban who then target army personnel and others who choose to confide in foreign journalists and governments about internal wrongdoings. According to the story, Gen Alavi had not only foretold his own death to the journalist after he dispatched the letter to the army chief, but had also complained to the British military in August 2005 (during his visit to the headquarters of the special forces or the SAS) about the lack of the army’s will to fight terrorism.

A closer look shows that the story paints the highest command of the service in a bad light. Were there moles in the army chief’s secretariat who leaked the contents of his letter to those that Alavi accused of being involved in his removal from service? Of course, the other question that comes to mind is that knowing his organisation and the fact that the letter would be opened as a routine before it reached the chief, why did Alavi choose to send it ‘through the proper channel’ rather than secure a private meeting with the top boss?

However, a question that the official-sponsored rebuttal did not ask was about the access provided to the British journalist to write a book on the Pakistan Army. It was in the process of doing so that she came into contact with Alavi and many other generals including Pervez Musharraf. The real and untold story is that of the disappointment felt by the army’s top brass at being accused of killing one of their own. Sources claim that she had direct access to Musharraf and many other generals.

Carey Schofield, whose main expertise is the Soviet military and not South Asia, was introduced a few years ago to the GHQ by one of the army’s favourite writers via one of Musharraf’s most favoured diplomats. The idea was probably to have a foreigner, not popularly known in the world of academia, write a book on the army so that it could sell against all other literature being produced by Pakistani writers generally considered to be unfriendly by the GHQ. She had more access than what an ordinary writer could dream of. Her introduction on the Oxford University Leverhulme Project describes her as writing a book in collaboration with the GHQ in Rawalpindi. We don’t know if she was also given access to classified material but that is hardly the issue.

Our military and civil bureaucrats and politicians say a lot of things during informal discussions. The tendency to tell the real story while boasting about their performance gives away many a secret. It is also worth asking whether anyone bothered to check on her background before providing access.

I remember the British author from my book launch at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London, last year. Schofield questioned me on the use of a particular term in my book, Military Inc, with the objective of embarrassing me. Later, a colonel boasted about how the question was passed on to her.

The point I am trying to make here is that it has often been the army’s strategy to support sponsored research in order to create army-friendly literature through luring foreign academics and journalists with free trips, hospitality and access to the institution and its secrets. This approach was used at least on three earlier occasions.

Very briefly, the first book published in 1979 by an unknown publisher never made it beyond a few libraries. The second book the research for which was sponsored by Gen Ziaul Haq was banned. The third one has made the rounds but the author has no academic standing. Finally, an unknown British publisher will publish the latest book by Schofield. What is a matter of greater concern, however, is that at this point the GHQ might not even be sure of the contents of the book for which tremendous cooperation was given to the author.

While Carey Schofield seems to have burnt some if not all of her bridges with the Pakistan Army by publishing the story in the Sunday Times, a question that the generals must ponder over pertains to what else might have landed on the table of the British intelligence other than the Alavi story. This time the facts may be irrefutable because the army itself volunteered them.

The writer is an independent strategic and political

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