Pakistan: The Almeida Scoop

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By Afrah Jamal
The article ‘Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military’ by Cyril Almeida published in Dawn newspaper of October 6, 2016, has dealt a body blow to the country’s civilian military alliance, which appeared to be in the cyril-almeidamend. Cyril Almeida is a respected and renowned Pakistani journalist and his report cannot and must not be dismissed lightly. Almeida’s exclusive reveals details of a highly confidential meeting between the top political leadership and the military led intelligence agency where policies to counter the attempts to isolate Pakistan was under discussion. According to the writer, the account as narrated in the back story “is based on conversations with Dawn of individuals present in the crucial meeting.” The aspect of the discussion that astounded onlookers and is central to the controversy the exposé has generated was when the Punjab Chief Minister complained that “whenever action has been taken against certain groups by civilian authorities the security establishment has worked behind the scene to set the arrested free.” Despite the severity of the charges levelled, according to the eye witnesses, the “sparring between the ISI DG and the civilian officials did not degenerate into acrimony.”

Notwithstanding the veracity of the account as stated by Cyril, the leakage of such highly sensitive information indicates the presence of several moles, and if Cyril is to be believed, these were some of the very parliamentary members who were authorised and had the necessary security clearance to attend the meeting. Intelligence agencies by design conduct many activates that are outside the local and international laws, almost always with the tacit approval of the powers that be but in many cases keeping them deliberately ignorant of the details. This allows the top leadership the option of ‘plausible deniability’ should the operation goes awry and is exposed. Someone from the intelligence agency then becomes the fall guy to appease the world that justice has been done. The Iran-contra scandal is one such example where President Ronald Reagan denied under oath any knowledge of the shady arms sales and financial transactions among USA, Iran and Nicaragua. When the scandal was revealed, Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council was made the fall guy.

When covert action beyond the pale of local and international laws and treaties are conducted by the intelligence agencies under the concept of plausible deniability, the concerned parliamentarians/senators/congressmen are briefed on the details if the situation so warrants. They are under oath to maintain strict secrecy and any unauthorised disclosure is considered as high treason. The persons who revealed the details of the meeting to the press has to be determined as they are guilty of high treason. Trying to force Cyril Alameda to reveal their identities must be avoided because as a bona fide journalist he can exercise his legal right to protect his sources. There are other legal means to ferret out the truth and the first priority of the state should be to do so. Until the rogue elements have been exposed and removed, briefing of very sensitive intelligence matters must be limited to very few.

That a highly sensitive meeting between the top civilian leadership of Pakistan and the military led intelligence agency took place where a frank and perhaps no hold barred discussions of the difference in dealing with the terror syndicated looks almost certain. What is not clear is the accuracy and the manner of the nawaz-and-raheel-shariftalks as related by the ‘moles’ to the press and this needs further probing. Since the start of Zarb e Azb in 2014, the electronic and the print media have hammered away on the fact that it is the civilian political leadership which is placing major obstacles in the Army and military led intelligence agency in their effort to clamp down to terror groups. In Karachi, the deployment of Rangers was finally conceded to by the civilian set up only after the law and order situation in the metropolis had deteriorated to a level where inaction would have resulted in certain doom. While the Rangers operate under the direction and supervision of the provincial parliament, in reality they take their cue from the Army high command. Numerous complaints have been aired about the interference of local political bigwigs to have those apprehended on criminal and terror charges by the Rangers, released on political grounds.

The recent revelations of the MQM supremo where he has publicly condemned Pakistan and urged his followers to burn the national flag, the political elites at the provincial and federal levels are still reluctant to declare as traitors those within the MQM setup who still pay allegiance to Altaf Hussain. While the speeches of Altaf Hussain have been banned, his followers especially from London continue to appear on Television talk shows and air their views while the government appointed regulatory agency PEMRA stands idly by.

The story of actions against criminal and terror groups inPunjab follows a similar line. The Army in private and occasionally in public seeks permission of the centre and Punjab provincial assembly to initiate a similar operation with the Punjab Rangers as it is being done in Sindh. To date this permission has not been granted on the basis that there is no serious law and order issues in the province and the little that exists are being satisfactorily handled by the local police. That Southern Punjab has been declared as the hub of terror in Pakistan by both international and foreign defence experts is simply dismissed by them.

The current Army Chief has publicly lamented on the failure of the political set up to implement the National Action Plan(NAP) that was unanimously adopted following the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar. He has gone to the extent of issuing a warning that failure to enforce the NAP would undo the hard work, sacrifices and successes achieved by the armed forces in the conduct of Operation Zarb e Azb. The electronic and the print media are full of reports many about southern Punjab where the political bigwigs there have worked behind the scene to free arrested criminals and forestall any major operation by the military led intelligence agency – very similar to the charges which the Punjab Chief minister had allegedly made during the meeting under discussion.

The statement issued by the Prime Minister’s secretariat has categorically rejected the story published in Daily Dawn, terming the contents as “not only speculative but misleading and factually incorrect.” Without dismissing the Cyril story one could ask if it is possible that a twisted version of what actually transpired was fed to him. The timing of the revelation is also very pertinent. Right when the political and military leadership of Pakistan working in unison has boxed India in a corner on the Uri and post Uri incidents, this report has given India some room to wriggle out of the tight spot it finds itself in. Would it not have been wiser to investigate the matter more thoroughly before putting it out. Concealing of the truth rarely pays dividend but a hasty disclosure of what one believes to be true hurts even more especially when in reality the version on display is either wrong, half-truths or have been taken out of context. On the basis of the release of this report no aspersions should be cast on Cyril Almeida’s motive, integrity or his loyalty to the country; his judgment, however, may be questioned. That said, those who are privy to very sensitive state information and have violated their solemn pledge to protect Pakistan’s secrets must be exposed and duly punished.

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