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Gen Aslam BegMirza Aslam Beg to Jahangir Karamat


By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

After the sudden death of Gen Ziaul Haq in a plane crash near Bahawalpur, VCOAS Gen Mirza Aslam Beg was appointed COAS by Chairman Senate Ghulam Ishaq Khan, elevated as Acting President. Gen Beg did not supersede any officer and served from August 17, 1988 to August 16, 1991. Although he had an opportunity to declare martial law since the country had plunged into serious crisis because there was no government and President’s seat had fallen vacant, he resisted it mainly because some fingers were pointed at him that he in league with Maj Gen Mahmud Durrani, GOC 1 Armored Division may have been involved in the plane crash conspiracy. Zia’s son Ijazul Haq pointed his finger towards Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Zardari.

In response to Saifullah Piracha’s petition, the Supreme Court had declared Gen Zia’s act of dissolution of Junejo’s government in May 1988 illegal. Rather than restoring Junejo, it was decided by President Ishaq and Gen Beg to go ahead with fresh elections. PPP under Benazir Bhutto won the elections held in October but could gain thin majority only. Benazir was allowed to form a government with conditions that she would allow Ghulam Ishaq to continue as president and give the portfolio of foreign minister to Lt Gen retired Sahibzada Yaqub. She was prematurely sacked by President Ghulam Ishaq in 1990 on charges of corruption and poor governance. In next elections, IJI government led by Nawaz Sharif helped by the Establishment took over.

In mid-1991, Gen Beg started to actively consider declaring martial law since his relations with Nawaz Sharif had strained on account of his imprudent statements in favor of President Saddam Hussain during the first Gulf War which irked Saudi Arabia and USA and became a cause of embarrassment for the government. To preclude the possibility of martial law, Lt Gen Asif Nawaz who as Corps Commander 5 Corps had come into limelight on account of successfully patching up PPP-MQM differences after Pucca Qila incident, and was later posted as CGS, was made designate Army Chief on August 16, 1991. Gen Asif Nawaz was promoted on seniority and did not supersede any officer.

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Gen Asif Nawaz proved to be a dynamic and forceful Army chief. All general officers were fearful of him. Corps Commander 2 Corps Lt Gen Hamid Gul, one of the best generals Pak Army has produced was an exception who dared to question him during Corps Commanders conference for which he had to pay the price. He resigned when he was posted as Chairman Heavy Industrial Taxila Complex.

Operation Clean- Up in Sindh was launched during Gen Asif Nawaz’s tenure. The MQM assails him that he extended the operation from interior Sindh to urban Sindh at his own but the fact is that Sindhis had not overcome the grief of loss of ZA Bhutto and held Gen Zia responsible for his judicial murder. Interior based military operation gave them added reason to cry out that the operation was Sindhi focused and not even-handed. PPP’s serious reservations and highly disturbed conditions in Karachi/Hyderabad compelled Nawaz Sharif to extend the operation to urban Sindh on June 19, 1992. By that time, MQM Haqiqui emerged in Karachi. PML-MQM coalition government in Sindh collapsed since all the MQM MPAs went underground. During the operations in Karachi, several no-go areas were opened, dozens of torture cells run by MQM unearthed, and Jinnahpur maps surfaced. Altaf Hussain who had resigned from politics was brought to life by Nawaz.JK

Gen Asif Nawaz didn’t enjoy cordial relations with Nawaz. I recall, in one of the formation commanders conference he said that a conspiracy is being hatched to make him an example of Gen Gul Hassan. He added, “They are sadly mistaken”. When he died on Sunday morning January 8, 1993 because of heart attack, his brother and Mrs. Asif Nawaz strongly felt that he had been poisoned. On their request, body of the General was exhumed and lab tests carried out to allay the apprehensions of the family.

The then President Ghulam Ishaq in the capacity of supreme commander of three services asked the Military Secretary Lt Gen Saranjam Khan to meet him in the President House and discuss  the prospective candidates for the next COAS. In that time frame, the senior most Lt Gen RD Bhatti had already received his retirement orders. The next in the list was Lt Gen Muhammad Ashraf, Commander 4 Corps, whom Nawaz Sharif wanted to be promoted but Ishaq didn’t agree saying that he lacked personality and power of oral expression. Ishaq opted for the next general Lt Gen Farrakh Khan, holding the appointment of CGS. Nawaz refused to accept him on the plea that he had strong political connections and might cause problems for him.

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Owing to a standoff, Ishaq at his own appointed junior most Corps Commander Lt Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar who was seeking one-year extension in service. Gen Waheed persuaded his course mates Lt Gen Farrakh Khan and QMG Lt Gen Arif Bangash, both senior to him, to continue serving and also accept one-year extension and they agreed.

In April 1993, Nawaz government was sacked by President Ishaq on grounds of maladministration and corruption but the real cause was that Nawaz in league with Benazir had tried to clip his wings by taking from him power of Article 58-2B, the gift which late Gen Zia had left behind. Benazir backtracked from her commitment and joined hands with Ishaq Khan in her bid to recapture power. Once Nawaz was restored to power in May 1993 by the Supreme Court, Ishaq didn’t reconcile to it and started conspiring to remove him.

Manzur Watoo along with 250 PML MPAs deserted Wynne’s Punjab provincial assembly at the behest of President. They were kept as President’s guests in Marriot Islamabad. Soon after, opposition led by PPP MPAs in NWFP Assembly moved no confidence motion against sitting chief minister, providing an excuse to the fuming President to dissolve Punjab and NWFP Assemblies. Under unstable political conditions, Benazir started a long march from Peshawar, which the then DG ISI Lt Gen Javed Nasir kept monitoring from his aircraft to keep Nawaz informed. Gen Waheed saved the day by acting as the referee and forced both Nawaz and Ishaq to resign from their posts so that fresh elections could take place. He also sacked Gen Nasir.

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When Benazir returned to power in 1994 second time, she made PPP stalwart Farooq Laghari as President. A military coup planned by Maj Gen Zaheerul Islam Abbasi and Brig Mustansir Billa to take over power after killing top military leadership during the Formation Commanders conference in GHQ was unearthed by MI Directorate in 1995. The planners were court-martialed and dismissed from service. Billa was given 14 years and Abbasi seven years jail terms respectively. On refusal by Gen Waheed to accept extension in service offered by Benazir, Gen Jahangir Karamat was appointed next COAS on January 12, 1996. He being the senior most didn’t supersede any officer.

Ten months later, Laghari sacked Benazir government and paved the way for Nawaz Sharif to regain power in February 1997 with a heavy mandate. Soon after, a tussle brewed up between Nawaz and Chief Justice Sajjad Hussain and the latter aligned himself with the President, who was incensed over getting deprived of his powers under Article 58-2B. Storming of Supreme Court by PML-N thugs prevented Sajjad from delivering unfavorable verdict against Nawaz.

Gen Karamat helped Nawaz in saving his seat by not siding with his two detractors. However, Nawaz rather than reciprocating decided to sack Gen Karamat on October 6, 1998 on flimsy ground two months before his completion of mandated term. His sin was that during question-answer session after his talk to Naval War Course students; he had suggested creation of National Defence Council. It is said that Secretary Defence Lt Gen Iftikhar Chaudhri had advised Nawaz to axe him since he was unhappy with Karamat for not giving him one-year extension in service so that he could become the leading candidate for the post of COAS or CJCSC. Gen Karamat didn’t pay heed to the advice given by his CGS Lt Gen Ali Kuli Khan to contest the unfair decision and decided to quietly call it a day.