The recently-published memoirs of Lt. General (Retd) Shahid Aziz is more of an apology than an honest documentation of his life and time in the Army. At best, he comes across as a self-righteous retired general. The voluminous and somewhat elegiac memoirs, titled ‘Yeh Khamoshi Kaha Tak, Ek Spy Ki Dastan-e-Ishaq-o-Janoon,’ gives some insight into a twisted mindset of a man who was until recently a part of the highest echelon of the country’s national security establishment.
His narrative brings out a deeply conflicted and hypocritical worldview, though not uncommon among many of our retired senior military officers. It is all about self-aggrandizement of his religiosity and uprightness that sounds a bit hollow, given the general’s past. His sympathy for the militants fighting the Army and who are found beheading Pakistani soldiers raises questions about his allegiance.
The general opposes the military campaign against insurgents in the tribal areas. Yet there is no criticism of militants who orchestrate the violence and suicide bombings that have killed thousands of innocent Pakistanis. He attributes terrorist violence entirely to the US and Western conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan.
The apologists of the Taliban often present such conspiracy theories, but this coming from a man who held important national security responsibilities is quite chilling. The paranoia and the weird discourse that he puts across should give little confidence to Pakistanis about their national security apparatus.
He presents his own vision of an Islamic system devoid of democracy where pious and religious men will run the country. He brags a lot about his love for Islam and his piety. But he was not known to be as pious as he pretends to be in the Army.
I recall seeing him in early 1999, soon after he joined the ISI, at a top businessman’s party in Islamabad whose salon was frequented by top military officials. He was obviously intoxicated—and believe me not by a soft drink. He was a regular guest at such parties.
The General sees most of Pakistan’s problems caused by its alliance with the US. But it was intriguing that many Western diplomats who I met in 2004 were anxious to see him promoted to the position of Vice Chief of the Army Staff.
Coming from a military-family background, General Shahid Aziz held some pivotal positions during his career in the army spanning over 37 years. His rise to the top came after the 1999 military coup in which he played a critical role as Director General Military Operations (DGMO). He shows no remorse for the part he played in ousting an elected government. He considers democracy “a corrupt and un-Islamic system.”
The general’s contempt for the civilian rule was so strong that he considered resigning from the Army in mid-1990s because he felt humiliated that he saluted to the country’s elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. That says a lot about the mindset of a born-again Islamist general. Such attitude towards the civilian leaders is not uncommon among other senior military officers. That also explains his role in the plot to overthrow an elected government a few years later.
Shahid Aziz was appointed to the powerful position of the Chief of General Staff (CGS) soon after 9/11. It was the time when Pakistan was forced to abandon its longstanding support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and align with the US in the war on terror. Several senior army commanders who opposed the turnaround in Pakistan’s policy were purged out by General Musharraf and the Army high- command was overhauled.
Shahid Aziz benefitted from the reshuffle and was elevated as the CGS. This made him a critical cog in Pakistan military’s support to the US war in Afghanistan. It is obvious that he had the full confidence of General Musharraf who, by the way, is related to him. The pious general now wails over what he describes as Pakistan’s “betrayal of Taliban and support for infidels in spilling the blood of Muslims.” He spends “restless nights and prays for forgiveness of Allah for his sins.”
Obviously, he could not have stayed as the CGS for long if he had been critical of Pakistan’s cooperation with US. The question is: why did he accept to become the CGS in the first place if he did not agree with the policy? Why was he not purged out as many did because they showed dissent to the policy?
It sounds ludicrous that as the CGS he did not know about the bases that Pakistan had given to the US forces for logistical support. It seems bizarre when he narrates, quite dramatically, how he felt when a junior army officer told him about the US troops landing near Gwadar. If he was so piqued by it why did not he resign, one may ask.
Not only did the ‘upright’ general stay on, but he also got the prized posting of the Corps Commander, Lahore. He remained part of the military hierarchy when the Pakistani troops were sent to the tribal areas. The operation was launched after Al Qaeda and other militant groups made the tribal areas as their base for attacks in Afghanistan. But the general now believes that the operation against the insurgents was part of the US conspiracy to pit “Muslims against Muslims.” He fails to show any remorse for the terrorist attacks on innocent citizens and his former colleagues in uniform.
The General reserves the most scathing attack for his former patron, General Musharraf. He accuses him of taking away Pakistan from the path of Islam and encouraging an “immoral Western culture.” He sees Musharraf’s enlightened moderation as part of a US conspiracy to subjugate Muslims culturally. The paranoid general believes the media freedom in Pakistan serves US interests. Of course, it does not prevent him from frequently appearing on TV channels to air his twisted worldview.
The writer is a senior journalist and author of two books on security and terrorism.