Sunday, October 21, 2012

General Mirza Aslam Begs Position in History

General Mirza Aslam Begs position will remain that of saviour and restorer of democracy in 1988.

The judgement of 2012 is late and ineffective since Pakistan as a state is on path of certain destruction and permanent instability and no amounts of judgements can change this fact.

The lot that we have in the military is far more corrupt and scheming and the politicians are like sweapers when compared with giants like ZA Bhutto.So God Help Pakistan, and God must not ! A state whose history is that of injustice and corruption does not deserve to exist !


General Mirza Aslam Beg-Man -Soldier and Civil Military Relations in Pakistan

General Mirza Aslam Beg-Man,Soldier and Civil Military Relations in Pakistan


Major Agha H Amin (Retired)

General Mirza Aslam Begs role in restoration of democracy has remained misunderstood and underestimated in most quarters inPakistan.

This is a brief essay about General Mirza Aslam Beg as this scribe saw him from close quarters as a family friend , an officer and as a man.Then Major Mirza Aslam Beg was a brigade major of an infantry brigade in Lahore when this scribes father was adjutant of 4 Engineer Battalion at Lahore in 1962-63.He was commanding an infantry battalion at Quetta in 1970 when this scribes father was GSO 2 Operations of 16 Infantry Division at Quetta in 1970.

He was a Chief Instructor of armed forces war course in 1974 at the National Defence College in Rawalpindi when this scribes father was attending the war course.He was commanding the 14 Infantry Division at Okara in 1977-80 when this scribes father was commander corps engineers at Lahore .The association is long and intimate .

General Mirza Aslam Beg may be described as a man of immense inner conviction and drive with an unassuming and simple exterior , soft spoken but firm , a deep thinker , a true infantry man , who has read history well and mastered the art of war as far as real knowledge is concerned .

Major General Aslam Beg in 1978 did not view the usurper Zia favourably and was actually quite pro PPP.Certainly he was not from Zias inner circle and his promotion to two star rank was purely on merit.

He was promoted as chief of general staff and served in this rank from 1980 to 1985.This assignment brought him closer to the ruling clique and his more radical view of Zia of 1978 may have mellowed down but he certainly did not become an intimate member of that Jullundhuri-East Punjabi plus some armoured corps inner clique key members of which were generals Akhtar Abdul Rehman ,K.M Arif,Zahid Ali Akbar etc.

Promoted to three star rank and posted to command the Peshawarcorps in 1985 the general one foreign author observed was not very optimistic about Mujahid success in Afghanistan in 1986 or so (Refers Diego Cordovez and Selig Harrison-Out of Afghanistan).

General Begs promotion to four star rank in 1987 March was a surprise but some observers ascribedit to insistence on part of then PM Junejo to have a COAS from Sindh ,thus the ascent of Beg to the VCOAS rank.


General Mirza Aslam Beg as Vice Chief of Army Staff April 1987

Even as VCOAS General Beg was not a part of the usurper Zias inner circle and those who knew Zia well or had served with him remained in direct contact with Zia.

Needless to state the influence of General Beg on the major decisions in the army was not significant.

The aircrash of Zia on 17 August 1988 brought General Beg to the highest position in the army the rank of COAS.

As COAS General Beg swiftly asserted his position and overruled advice of some Zia loyalists for the army to have more say in the political affairs.

Thus it was General Beg whose role was decisive in holding free and fair elections in November 1988 and transfer of power to the civilian government.

It was General Begs personality that kept arch reactionary intriguers like Ghulam Ishaq from keeping the PPP not coming back into power !

It is no secret that General Beg was no blind follower of Zia and remained out of that narrow inner clique of Zia.

He ordered release of Major General Tajammul Hussain Malik sentenced to 14years rigorous imprisonment in Sahiwal Jail for attempting to eliminate and overthrow the illegitimate Zia junta on the could be historic 23 March 1980 ! 

15 Lancers was incharge of administrative arrangements for the fateful M1 tanks demonstration on 17 August 1988 at the Kandewala Ranges .No one knew the day would be historic ! Typical of the Pakistani darbari culture great emphasis was laid on that day on procuring the most charming lotahs for ablutoin and transporting Baba Ice Cream from Multans Nawan Shehr to Khairpur Tamewali.Ironically zia was so tense and disturbed on that day that he cancelled the much planned and prepared  lunch at Khairpur Tamewal and flew straight in the chopper to Bahawalpur ! All through the demonstration General Beg was ignored while zia chatted wth akhtar abdul rahman and afzaal.

Not only this , General Beg restored full military honours of Major General Tajammul Hussain Malik , an outstanding soldier who was miles above pygmies like Zia and his clique and one who had won his spurs in battle and not in practicing jee hazoori and sycophancy unlike Zia.

The PPP regime instead of appreciating General Begs crucial role in restoration of democracy , instead started some manoeuvres to sideline General Beg .This led to Begs disenchantment with the PPP , a party whose progressive policies Beg had supported from his heart even when ZA Bhutto had been sidelined and was under fire after 5 July 1977 .

When General Beg writes his memoirs one may be more clear about his exact role in the post 1988 civil military conflict but it appears that the ISI in 1988-89 was only partially in Begs control and the president of that time was the leading character in destabilize PPP in the period 1988-91.

While outsiders may not understand it Begs ascent as army chief introduced some critical thinking in the Pakistan Army.This was principally because General Beg was an open minded with no psychological hang-ups and encouraged open discussion of military ideas.His Director General ISPR Major General Riaz was also an educated and open minded soldier .


Partly this was so because after 17 August 1988 some balance of power was introduced in Pakistans life after 11 years of dynastic rule .

At least one man did not hold absolute power after August 1988 and there was a division of authority which had a positive influence on the army as compared to the 17 August 1988 army where the corps commander Multan was also governor Balochistan simply because he was the usurper Zias relative and an officer could become a four star without commanding a division or a corps and even a brigade for few months ! 

From 5 July 1977 to 17 August 1988 the Pakistan Army became a personal property of the illegitimate usurper in this picture ! He came by extra judicial methods and was removed extra judicially ! There is no such thing as martial law and removal of an elected government in military law and if a general can do it so can a asoldier ! Seen in this context any attempt to remove any military usuper is legal and Tajammal and even the soldiers who attempted to kill another tinpot illegitimate usurper musharraf in december 1993 were doing nothing illegal ! All officers hold the same commission and if zia can do it why cannot tajammul remove him !

Since Beg had no inlaws and was more fair a positive trend emerged in Pakistan Army.Although this lasted only for three years it was positive.

Beg was a fine judge of men ! In his tenure as chief outstanding professionals like Major General Ijaz Amjad were sure to be promoted to three star but were sidelined and not promoted under kakar.

Some merit was restored in the Pakistani military in promotions after 17 August 1988.General Musharraf may never have become a major general if Beg was not the COAS from 17 August 1988 to 17 August 1991 .

Not because Musharrf was not general material but because Beg was a fair man ! In Zias time one intelligence report of a petty type could get a man dumped ! This was not possible in case of General Mirza Aslam Beg.

The examples of outstanding professionals being dumped in the zia era over minor and flimsy intelligence reports are countless.These if documented can form a whole book .

Exercise Zarb I Momin although not an ideal exercise was nevertheless a good step in the realm of military training.

General Begs opposition to sending Pakistani troops to support Saudi Arabia in the Iraq war was central in his being sidelined from the power game. This incident illustrates that Beg was against the mercenary tradition of using Pakistan Army for US Dollars established by General Ayub Khan .What Ex Major General Akbar Khan contemptuously described while quoting General Habibullah that Pakistan is a beautiful woman who must sell herself to the highest bidder, in Akbars famous book Raiders In Kashmir.

This opposition certainly did not help General Beg in getting any dearer or closer with the Americans or Saudis two powers who have a say inPakistans politics .

Another crucial strategic distinction is that after 17 August 1988 power in Pakistan had multiple centres unlike pre 17 August 1988 and the army chief after 17 August 1988 had to deal with a powerful president and a civilian prime minister !

In this situation the president an old PCS retained supremacy because he was a master of bureaucratic intrigue and the centre of power shifted from the office of prime minister or army chief to that of the office of president.

This situation lasted from 17 August 1988 to 1997 when the 8thAmmendment was finally repealed.

The situation was further influenced by the fact that at heart General Beg was a man of fair judgement and really pro democracy.This is what this scribe can state on basis of long and intimate family association with General Beg.

Those who don't know General Beg may feel otherwise but then this is a case of lack of knowledge of the man .

No man is perfect and thus General Beg had his failings but in the final analysis his failings were far less than his successes and he did play a major role in depoliticizing the Pakistani military.The 1988 and 1990 meddling was certainly spearheaded by the president Ghulam Ishaq who had a personal enmity with the PPP and also bypassed Beg because of his contacts inside the army as well as the civil bureaucracy.

In the final analysis it was the intriguer president who prevailed and thus severely destabilized democracy in Pakistan . What can be expected from a president whose selection criteria of army chief is based on the fact that the COAS must be anti Nawaz Sharif and pro Ghulam Ishaq ! 

Ironically there was only one criterion  for promotion to army chief in Ghulam Ishaq era i.e that the chief must be anti Nawaz Sharif ! This explains selerction of both Asif Nawaz and kakar.

In this count Ghulam Ishaq succeeded in twice installing army chiefs whose major qualification was that they were anti prime minister ! In the second tenure Ghulam Ishaq failed and was forced to resign not because his handpicked army chief was a fair man but because politically Ghulam Ishaqs cause had been discredited because of the supreme court judgement against Ishaq and in favour of Nawaz !

Still it is no credit to Pakistans twisted political system that Pakistanssupreme courts judgement was overruled and fresh elections held in 1993 with pre poll rigging designed to ensure that the PPP came into power.

Nevertheless every situation however adverse has a positive side also.

So disgusted was Nawaz Sharif with military meddling that he sacked one naval and one military chief .He failed in his third attempt but then he was trying to do too much ! Pakistan after all is an army with a state and not a state with an army !

The PPP learnt its lesson well and in its third tenure has made every effort to please the army chief !

Nawaz who had started as a stooge in 1980 has matured and is still determined to be an assertive civilian leader ! Something which makes the Pakistani generals regard Nawaz as a threat !

History has its strange ways .We have a PPP which started as a progressiveanti establishment party retrograde into a cheap reactionary party led by reactionaries who have nothing progressive left in their policies. We have the Muslim League was always a puppet now talk about political control over the military ! Life is strange , but then life goes on !

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