- Mushahidullah Khan tells BBC Urdu IB had recorded Gen Zaheerul Islam’s telephonic instructions regarding attack on PM House
- Claims former top spy confessed before PM, COAS that the voice in the audio recording was his
- PM House, information minister reject Mushahidullah’s claim, deny existence of any such audio tape
- PM tells Mushahidullah to explain contents of interview
Senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader and federal minister Mushahidullah Khan on Friday caused a political storm by accusing former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. General (r) Zaheerul Islam Abbasi of hatching a conspiracy against the government and military leadership to seize power during the sit-in protests of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek in Islamabad last year, a claim that was immediately rejected by the Prime Minister’s House and the Pakistani military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).
The minister while talking to BBC Urdu on Friday had claimed that the conspiracy came to the fore after the Intelligence Bureau (IB), a civilian spy agency, intercepted a telephonic conversation of the former ISI boss, who was issuing instructions to spread anarchy and to occupy the Prime Minister’s House during the violent protests.
The minister went on to claim that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif played the recording of the conversation before Army chief Raheel Sharif, who immediately summoned Gen Zaheerul Islam and enquired if it was indeed his voice on the tape.
“When Zaheerul Islam confirmed that it was indeed his voice, Gen Sharif told him to leave the meeting,” Senator Mushahidullah Khan claimed in the interview to BBC Urdu.
He said the chief targets of the conspiracy were both the civilian government and the army chief.
“Part of that conspiracy was to pit Nawaz Sharif and Raheel Sharif against each other, forcing the former to take action against the army chief,” he said.
“The voice recording detailed everything about the conspiracy. The discussion was about what to do and how to go about it. Even taking over the Prime Minister’s house was also discussed. So it was about massive devastation and it could go any way. This conspiracy was not only to remove the prime minister or the elected government but it was also against the army chief,” the minister claimed.
When the minister was asked why the prime minister and his family were moved from Prime Minister’s House to Lahore during the violent protests, Mushahidullah said, “On August 31, the government was informed by IB and other agencies that two vehicles laden with weapons were moving towards the PM’s House. This was the time that the PTV building had been captured and people were moving towards the Pak Secretariat and PM’s House. So the government had no other option but to move the prime minister and his family towards some safer place.”
He said that later the government came to know that two army officers had intercepted both the vehicles moving towards the prime minister’s house and recovered 25 Kalashnikovs from each vehicle. When the minister was asked who had dispatched these vehicles and who had to use these weapons, the minister said that he had been informed later that some people had already reached inside the PM’s House and were waiting for the weapons.
Responding to a question how it was possible that the army was planning for takeover while army officers had been asked to provide security to the PM’s House, Mushahidullah said that the army as an institution was not involved.
“Some very influential and senior army generals were involved in this conspiracy, including General Zaheerul Islam. But neither General Raheel nor the army as an institution was involved,” he said and added that if General Raheel wanted to overthrow the government, he did not need sit-ins.
When asked when the government came to know about the conspiracy, Mushahidullah Khan said that the government was privy to the secret planning from its onset.
“We had information that some officers of the ISI were present during the meeting between Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri in London. We also knew what decisions had been made during the meeting and who had to do what on which time, we knew all details,” he maintained.
He said that the government had decided from day one not to use force against the demonstrators as the perpetrators wanted to take advantage of any confrontation and chaos.
Asked whether the government would take action against General Abbasi, Mushahidullah Khan said that democracy was not so strong in Pakistan that such actions might be taken.
“Though our government registered such a case against General Musharraf, we could not take it to the logical conclusion. The focus of the prime minister is on stability of the country and taking it ahead on this path. He does not want to carry out any such step,” the minister maintained.
Reacting over the shocking revelations, Information Minister Pervez Rashid categorically rejected the claims of Mushahidullah Khan. He said the government has sought an explanation from the minister.
Meanwhile a statement from the PM House also denied existence of any such audio recording, and said that the prime minister had sought an explanation from Senator Mushahidullah Khan.
“The tape mentioned (by the minister) has no existence. The prime minister has sought clarification from Mushahidullah for his statement. Neither the prime minister has knowledge of any such tape (phone recording) nor this (recording) was played during any meeting,” the spokesman added.
Contradicting Mushahidullah’s claims, the ISPR Director General, Maj Gen Asim Bajwa tweeted that they were far from truth and there is no such audio recording implicating the former ISI DG in any conspiracy.
Soon after the contents of the BBC Urdu were rebutted by the PM House and ISPR, Mushahidullah Khan told a news channel that his claims were based on information from others.
“I did not participate in any such meeting, my statements were based on information that I had heard from others,” he said, adding that he had not yet received any notice to explain his statements.
ANALYSTS RAISE EYEBROWS OVER TIMING OF STATEMENT:
Analysts, however, believe that the content and timing of the accusations seem to be a part of pressure tactics by the political leadership to preempt the anti-corruption drive being pushed by the army leadership.
Noted defence analyst Syed Hasan Askari Rizvi said that it was absurd to blame the former DG ISI for conspiracy for a military takeover.
“Army is not such an undisciplined force that the ISI chief may go for a coup. I fail to understand the government’s policy. This policy will damage the prime minister badly. Only the army chief can lead any coup in Pakistan. But rather than takeover, the army believes to rule from behind the curtains. So claims of a takeover is mere pressure tactic,” he said.
Rizvi said that apparently the political leadership was targeting the army to save their skins from the anti-corruption drive launched by the military leadership.
“First it was PPP which was targeted in Sindh and Punjab. Then MQM came under the grind. Now everyone knows that sooner or later the PML-N would be next in line so the politicians have launched a sustained campaign to malign the army,” he added.
He said Mushahidullah is not the first sitting cabinet minister to blame the army for the conspiracy. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has made similar claims previously, he added.
Security affairs analyst Brig Mahmood Shah played down the notion of a civil-military tiff.
“There is no truth in these allegations. It seems that there is some misunderstanding. Mushahidullah has stated out of context. The government and the army are on same page. Both sides are know the truth. Some individuals might be playing it wrong for petty personal gains,” he concluded.
With additional reporting by Mian Abrar from Islamabad