Truths, half truths, and blatant lies
The son of late Brig Mohammad Ahmad (later DG IB and author of “My Chief”, a biography of Field Marshal Ayub Khan) and one of my closest friends since childhood, Col (R) Salman Ahmad, has fought more battles than anyone else in Pakistan army’s history. Starting with Bedian in the 1965 war, this unsung hero participated extensively in counter guerilla operations in former East Pakistan during 1971. His SSG Company supported our (44 Punjab now 4 Sindh) counter-insurgency operations in Balochistan in 1973. Subsequently in 1973 he trained Afghan dissidents in Peshawar under command of Brig (later Maj Gen and Governor) Nasirullah Khan Babar, then Inspector General Frontier Corps (FC) and later PPP stalwart. Ahmad Shah Masoud, Haji Din Mohammad (presently Karzai’s Advisor), Engineer Ayub (former Minister) and a whole host of Afghan dissidents belonging to Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, etc, factions were among his students.
This clandestine outreach strategy was commissioned by none other the than President of Pakistan, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The next time the PPP start fulminating about Ziaul Haq’s intervention in Afghanistan, they should kindly get their facts right. Neither the army nor the ISI started our Afghan adventurism, this was a deliberate state policy crafted by PPP’s founder. Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind, Indira Gandhi suffered the Sikh backlash of Sanjay Gandhi’s ill-advised sponsorship of Bhindranewala, Ms Benazir paid the price for her father’s interference in Afghanistan. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari needs a tutorial on his grandfather’s “vision thing”.
After commanding 2 Commando in 1982-83, Salman transferred to the ISI to take charge of training and operations for Afghan Mujahideen from 1983 to 1985. Codenamed “Col Faizan”, from 1985 to 1990 he ran all ISI/CIA operations in the south of Afghanistan (including the area around Kandahar and Herat). He took Sandy Gall, Carlotta’s father, deep into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan to film the BBC documentary “Allah Against the Gunships”, depicting the Mujahideen fighting Soviet helicopter gunships with small arms (before the Stingers arrived).
Late Col Sultan Amir Tarar (codenamed Col Imam) operated mostly in the north, the common perception that he discovered Mullah Umar is not true. As Ms Benazir’s Interior Minister in her second term as PM, Gen Babar tasked Sultan Amir, Consul General Kandahar in 1994-1995, to get Mullah Umar’s help in recovering Pakistani trucks hijacked by bandits on the road to Herat west of Kandahar. Mullah Umar rode the momentum of this success, uniting all Mujahideen factions and Afghan army defectors under Taliban aegis in the Kandahar area and eventually taking control of most of Afghanistan. Initially with the Taliban, Mujahideen leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf later defected to the Northern Alliance; he was the one who invited Bin Laden back to Afghanistan. Having switched sides, five years later Bin Laden misused his Taliban sanctuary to commit 9/11, the most despicable of atrocities in modern history.
Faulty post-Afghan war policies were crafted by arm-chair strategists in the (then) ISI hierarchy having no experience whatsoever of the Afghan War.
Col Sultan Amir’s brutal murder by late TTP Chief Hakimullah Mehsud was shown on YouTube. Earlier former ISI official Sqn Ldr (retd) Khalid Khawaja was executed allegedly because of the telephonic misinformation fed to the Taliban by Hamid Mir that he was working for the CIA. Khalid Khawaja’s family members accused him of murder. Eye scans aside, “voice recognition” is the most authentic identification in bio-metrics today.
The faulty post-Afghan war policies were crafted by arm-chair strategists in the (then) ISI hierarchy having no experience whatsoever of the Afghan War. Having an ingrained inferiority complex for not having heard a shot being fired in anger, these “GT Road warriors” who rise to high rank invariably resent obtaining counsel from field veterans. Protesting this, Salman reverted to the army in 1990, retiring two years later. He repeated “I told you so” with great anguish over the years while Afghanistan went from bad to worse (and Pakistan spiralling downwards from worse to possibly “horrifying” post-2014).
The wrong perception of ISI being “a state within a state” developed during the Afghan War when it was given a free hand, first under Lt Gen (later Gen) Akhtar Abdul Rahman and then Lt Gen Hamid Gul, to partner with the CIA in organising the Mujahideen battling the Soviets. This perception of intelligence agencies is similar all over the world because of the nature of their business, their personnel are seemingly untouchable. Most ISI personnel are on deputation from the army mostly with a very small percentage from the Navy and Air Force, the regular cadre of ISI officers are mostly in the junior ranks. Officers and men from the Pakistan army (mostly from the SSG) like Salman and Sultan Amir joined ISI in droves to help the Afghans wage their “fight for freedom”. Giving the ultimate sacrifice in the “Jehad”, many of our unsung heroes lie buried in unmarked graves in Afghanistan, lamented only by their immediate family and friends.
The DG ISI in Mian Nawaz Sharif’s last tenure, Lt Gen Ziauddin, distanced himself from the army in support of the then PM, but when push came to shove on Oct 12, 1999 the ISI rank and file abandoned their own boss in support of the army chief. A not so well known fact, only Lt Gen Zahirul Islam has served an earlier ISI tenure before he became its DG, no other head of ISI has been in the ISI in any rank in its entire history.
A motivated canard “floated” by vested interests is that the army and the ISI hierarchy are somehow at odds. Almost the entire ISI hierarchy being from the army, the army and the ISI remain in sync. This baseless mischief is totally wrong, a pathetic attempt to invent a “truth” from a blatant lie. The detractors contradict themselves by simultaneously accusing the ISI of engineering army take-overs (the so-called “hidden hands”). When the ill-intentioned motivated become desperate, they resort to such blatant misinformation.
The army and the ISI have always been on the same page, and will always remain so.