The Military and the Intelligence Agencies

The military also relies on intelligence agencies to influence the political process. Using intelligence services to monitor dissident political activity is nothing new in Pakistan. However, the role of the Military Intelligence (MI), the ISI and Intelligence Bureau (IB) increased during the Zia era. While the MI is a purely military agency, the ISI might be called 'semi-military'. The ISI's Director-General is a serving Army officer (a Lieutenant-General or Major-General), but he is appointed by the Prime Minister and reports both to the civil and the military authorities. The IB is a civilian agency. Although the MI focuses on military-security related affairs, it overstepped its domain during the Zia years by becoming involved in domestic political activity and undertaking some political assignments similar to those given to the ISI. It also counter-checked the intelligence gathered by the ISI and other agencies and played an important role in implementing orders to dismiss the governments in August 1990 and November 1996.6

The ISI and the IB have been more active in domestic politics. The former gained prominence due to its association with the Afghan War and the close links it cultivated with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in a 1979-80, which enabled it to amass sizeable material resources.7 Since the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the MI and the ISI have focused more on domestic Pakistani affairs, the latter working to implement the military's political agenda. In the 1988 general elections, Army leaders directed the ISI to help to establish a right-wing political alliance to counterbalance the expected victory of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The ISI arranged the reunification of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML)'s two faction, and then encouraged a number of other parties to join the PML to set up an electoral alliance, named Islami Jamhoori Itehad (IJI). The ISI remained associated with the IJI election campaign and helped to coin anti-PPP slogans.8 In September-October 1989, two ISI officers launched Operation Midnight Jackals in a bid to sway PPP members of the National Assembly to back a vote of no-confidence against the Bhutto government.9 Similarly, the agency played a role in the switching the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM)'s support from Bhutto to the opposition. However, Bhutto managed to survive the no-confidence vote. The ISI was again active in the October 1990 general elections. It obtained Rs 140 million ($6.45m) from a banker and distributed it mainly to the IJI and other Bhutto opponents.10 In the case of the October 1993 general elections, the MQM leaders maintained that they withdrew from the National Assembly contest under pressure from the Army and the ISI.

Information collected by intelligence agencies is used by the Army Chief to take up internal and external security issues in Troika meetings and in his individual meetings with the President and the Prime Minister. The President has also relied on such intelligence to formulate charge sheets against civilian governments he has dismissed. The Army authorities persuaded the caretaker government that was in power from November 1996' February 1997 to give the military greater say in the civilian IB's affairs, by inducting more Army personnel in the service, and giving the MI a greater role in it. Intelligence gathering has become increasingly important for senior commanders pursuing behind-the-scenes political intervention. These agencies have been used to support or oppose a particular political group and to encourage the government's adversaries to take it on.

Benazir Bhutto
and the Military

Benazir Bhutto was in power twice - from December 1988-August 1990 and from October 1993-November 1996 - in each case heading a coalition government. Despite the military's distrust of the PPP, Bhutto was allowed to assume power in December 1988 (following Zia's death that August) after the PPP emerged as the largest party in the parliamentary elections. She made three major concessions towards the military: support for a five -year term for acting President Ishaq Khan, a Zia loyalist who enjoyed the military's support; retention of Lt.-Gen. Yaqub Ali Khan (Zia's Foreign Minister) in her cabinet to ensure continuity in Afghanistan policy; and a promise not to make unilateral reductions in defence expenditure and service conditions. She publicly lauded the military's role in restoring democracy and vowed to strengthen the armed forces by making resources available to them. The military budget continued to rise during both terms and her government worked closely with the military on Afghanistan and the nuclear issue. Her second government's efforts to improve relations with the US, especially the one-time waiver to the application of the Pressler Amendment in 1995-96, were appreciated by the military, enabling the latter to receive weapons and equipment withheld by the US since October 1990.11

Bhutto's relations with the military soured, mainly because of her government's political and economic mismanagement and bitter confrontation with her political adversaries that virtually paralysed the administration. Senior commanders also bridled at what they took to be civilian interference in the military's internal and organisational affairs.

The military considered its internal autonomy to be challenged by the civilian government's interference with appointments and transfers. The first dispute arose in May 1989, when the government changed the ISI's Director-General to reduce the ISI's involvement in domestic politics.12 Army Chief General Mirza Aslam Beg reluctantly agreed, but was annoyed by the Prime Minister's decision to appoint a retired Major-General instead of a serving officer, as was traditional. General Beg also resented the government's efforts to persuade the Army not to press punitive action against the officers who had been removed from service for indiscipline after the execution of Benazir Bhutto's father, former President and Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.13 A more serious row developed when the government unsuccessfully attempted to retire Admiral Iftikhar Ahmad Sirohi, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, in 1989. Similarly, the government's attempts to interfere with retirement and extension of some senior officers in June-July 1990 further strained civil-military relations.14 The military was also wary of Bhutto's keenness to cultivate India's Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, during his visits to Pakistan in December 1988 and July 1989. Army intelligence sources collected enough evidence on the dialogue between the two leaders to lead the Army commanders to view her as unreliable on security matters.

The government's position towards the military was also weakened because of its disappointing political performance. It was so haunted by fear that the ruling coalition might collapse that the government spent most of its energies on sustaining its partners' support through political compromises, material rewards and corruption. Political freedoms increased during this period, but Bhutto was unable to adopt policies for long-term socio-economic transformation.15

The government and military also developed differences over how to handle a 1989-90 breakdown of law and order in Sindh, caused by ethnic divisions in the province. Army authorities, while assisting Sindh's civilian authorities, resented what they perceived as the government's attempt to use troops to settle its scores with political adversaries. In an attempt to distance themselves from the government, the Army commanders asked for no political interference in their work, permission to set up military courts, and the invocation of a constitutional article that restricted the superior judiciary's powers to enforce fundamental rights in areas under army control. The civilian government refused. This severely strained civil-military relations and the Army Chief issued several public statements on the Sindh situation with strong political overtones.16 The opposition political parties sided with the Army by supporting its demands, and the dispute went unresolved.

Most disastrous was the Bhutto government's confrontation with the Punjab, whose provincial government was controlled by the opposition IJI, with Nawaz Sharif as Chief Minister. The federal government and the Punjab's provincial government confronted each other on nearly every administrative and political issue, causing much confusion and uncertainty.

In the face of these developments, the Prime Minister's relations with the President deteriorated. President Ishaq Khan supported the military in its confrontations with Bhutto and criticised her political and economic management. The Troika broke down. After detailed consultations between the President and the Army Chief and a decision on the political situation in the Corps Commanders' meeting in late July 1990, the President sacked Bhutto in the first week of August.17

The Second Bhutto Government

Benazir Bhutto began her second term of office in October 1993' after her party and the allies won the largest number of seats in the National Assembly in the 1993 general elections. She again headed a coalition but she had the advantage of having two provinces - Sindh and the Punjab - under the party's control. A PPP government was also established in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in April 1994. A PPP nominee, Farooq Ahmed Leghari, was elected President. Bhutto's relations with the military were much improved as her government studiously avoided interference in its internal affairs and considered its input on major security and foreign-policy matters.

What got the Bhutto government into trouble in 1996 was its abysmal performance in the civilian sector and its failure again to provide an effective and transparent administration. Ethnic violence in Karachi and Hyderabad intensified during 1995-96 as the MQM hardcore and law-enforcement agencies (the police and rangers) confronted each other.18 Amid this confrontation there emerged a nexus among organised crime, drug mafia, Afghan War veterans and the MQM. The result was increased violence, including indiscriminate killings by unidentified gunmen, arson and looting of government and private property. Unable to cope with the situation, the government gave a relatively free hand to the police and the rangers, who resorted to excessive force. There were serious complaints about human-rights violations as a number of accused died in police custody. There were also religious-sectarian killings, mainly but not exclusively in the Punjab, as two extreme groups of Shi'a and Sunni Muslims engaged in an armed gang war.19

The economy too began to falter in 1996, after reasonable growth during 1994 and 1995. Inflation, devaluation, price hikes, poor fiscal management and corruption added to the government's woes. The International Monetary Fund (IMF)'s pressures for structural changes, declining foreign-exchange reserves and the threat of defaulting on loan repayments dogged the government.

As in its first term, the ruling PPP and the main opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML)-Nawaz (the former IJI) engaged in combative political discourse. It was a bitter struggle, and Bhutto created additional problems for her government by antagonising the top judiciary in an attempt to fill it with political appointees.20

The President expressed concern about deteriorating economic conditions and advised Bhutto to take effective measures against civil unrest and crime, including alleged corruption by her husband Asif Ali Zardari. The ensuing breach between the two became a complete rupture after Bhutto's estranged brother, Murtaza, was killed in a police shoot-out in Karachi in September 1996 and the Prime Minister hinted that this could have been done at the President's behest.

Army Chief General Jehangir Karamat interceded to defuse the conflict between the President and the Prime Minister, but he soon decided that Bhutto was not amenable to advice. By this time, Bhutto's popular base had eroded. The PPP was a shambles, it had been neglected by the leadership and the population at large was disaffected by inflation and general economic insecurity. The opposition parties organised street protests and demanded the government's dismissal. Under these circumstances, the President had no difficulty in enlisting the Army Chief's support to remove Bhutto from office21

As in 1990, this dismissal was carried out coup-style. The Army took control of the Prime Minister's house, all key government offices and media stations in Islamabad before the President issued the dismissal order. Airports were closed for several hours, mobile phones and pagers were switched off, and the MI took control of the IB headquarters in Islamabad. The Army Corps headquarters in the four provincial capitals were open on the night of the dismissal and passed on the initial instructions of the Presidency and the Army headquarters to top civil servants.

Nawaz Sharif
and the Military

Nawaz Sharif began his first term as Prime Minister in November 1990, with the endorsement of the President and leading military officers. Groomed during Zia's martial law, he won the appreciation of the senior commanders, thanks to his defiant posture towards the first Bhutto government.22 He maintained cordial relations with military leaders and did not reprimand the Army Chief, General Beg, for publicly opposing the government's pro-US policy during the 1991 Gulf War. A supporter of strong military deterrence, Sharif continued to allocate considerable resources to the military. And he left the military personnel's various perks and privileges alone. Nonetheless, civil-military differences once again emerged over appointments and transfers, maintaining law and order in Sindh, and the government's performance both at home and abroad.

Civil unrest in Sindh, which had caused problems between the Army and the two Bhutto governments, created similar strains for the Sharif government. Although the Army agreed to undertake a security operation in May 1992, it again balked at being viewed as an instrument of the civilian government. As the security operation was launched in rural areas, an opposition stronghold, Army commanders realised that the government wanted them to target PPP workers and that the local administration was protecting the pro-government elements. They also felt that the security environment could not improve unless similar action was taken in the urban areas. In June, the Army decided to extend its operation to the urban areas, resulting in a direct confrontation between the Army and the MQM activists who were entrenched there, and causing much embarrassment to the Sharif government, as the MQM was its ally. Some cabinet members publicly expressed strong resentment towards the Army decision, the Sharif government disowned these statements but the damage was done. Tensions were worsened by allegations that the government tried to 'buy off' the Army Chief and senior commanders with substantial material rewards. General Janjua, at a Corps Commanders' meeting in late 1992, referred to government efforts 'to corrupt the Army'.23

The military also worried about the government's foreign-policy performance. In October 1990, a month before Sharif assumed power, the US retaliated against Islamabad's nuclear programme by invoking the 1985 Pressler Amendment to suspend economic assistance and military sales to Pakistan. While agreeing that Pakistan should not unilaterally surrender its nuclear-weapon options, the military expected the government to devise a diplomatic solution for reviving weapons procurement from the US. Such a prospect was marred, however, as Islamabad and Washington diverged on issues of drug-trafficking and the activities of the Pakistan-based Islamic extremists - the so-called Afghan War veterans. In 1992, the US State Department placed Pakistan on the 'watch list' of states allegedly sponsoring terrorism (it was removed in 1993). The military, concerned about Pakistan's image abroad and keen to obtain weapons, felt that the government was not doing enough to counter these unfavourable developments.

What kept the strains in civil-military relations under control was President Ishaq Khan's support for the Sharif government. He acted as a bridge and a buffer between Sharif and the top commanders. But this crucial relationship was damaged when, having successfully neutralised the PPP-led agitation in December 1992, Sharif's advisers decided to take steps to curtail the President's power.