The brave women who exposed the dangerous fissures in Pakistan.
In Greek mythology, furies are winged female tormentors who visit those guilty but not punished. In Pakistan, seven modern-day furies continue to torment the country over its covert wars and the damage these have wrought. For exposing this self-damage in their respective books, these women, gnawing at the vitals of Pakistan for its ongoing hubris, have been subjected to ridicule and ejection. One of them, Benazir Bhutto, has been killed for it.
The first of the modern-day furies was Emma Duncan of The Economist whose 1989 book, Breaking the Curfew, most upset Pakistanis. She was followed by The Sunday Times’ Christina Lamb, who was expelled from Pakistan for displeasing the institution, the Army, whose anger the-then ruling Pakistan Peoples Party could not resist. Lamb was followed by furies Kathy Gannon, Bhutto, Carey Schofield, Kim Barker, and, finally, The New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, whose upcoming book, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014, has caused quite the stir through its curtain-raiser in the global newspaper.
From the first Afghan Jihad on, the most notable foreign journalists covering Pakistan and its policy of covert wars have all been women: Duncan, Lamb, Gannon, Schofield, Barker, Gall and her colleague Jane Perlez. Their reporting tended to reveal aspects of the state that the men somehow couldn’t get access to. Their courage was especially remarkable given that during the late 1980s the military still called the shots and the local media was not entirely free.
Duncan’s Breaking the Curfew: a Political Journey through Pakistan offended a Pakistan still unfamiliar with media freedom. She took readers on a journey into “the murkier side of Pakistani society—its banditry, its lucrative drug trafficking and arms smuggling, and its efficient, corrupt civil service, which cuts red tape to keep the government viable.”
She reported sympathetically on people suffering the wrath of a security state struggling with freedom of expression. Najam Sethi, in and out of jail, recalled her coverage of what happened to him after he published books the government didn’t like. “Gen. Zia-ul-Haq didn’t like me,” he says. “I had published From Jinnah to Zia by former justice Mohammad Munir after every major publisher in the country had turned it down because it was overly critical of the dictator. After the author’s death a couple of years later, a khaki emissary advised me to quietly withdraw the book. ‘You can ban it,’ I had demurred. Then I published a book on U.S.-Pakistan relations whose cover was taken from a painting by Mian Ijaz ul Hassan. It showed the USAID emblem, which has two hands clasped in friendship, except that Hassan had rendered one of the hands as a skeleton and squeezed a drop of blood out of it.”
Duncan’s coverage of Sethi’s ordeals didn’t help much. Later, in the 1990s, he got into trouble again, this time with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and was “picked up” as a traitor and subjected to “questioning” by Pakistan’s notoriously sadist intelligence sleuths.
“One of the central figures in the country in the past couple of decades” told Duncan: “There are two sorts of nations… those rooted in the soil, and those rooted in ideas. India belongs to the first category; it has grown gradually out of things that have happened to a particular bit of earth … Pakistan, on the other hand, was created by descendants of people who thundered into the area from Tashkent, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, with a sword in one hand, the [Quran] in the other, and an idea in their heads—an idea of conquest, expansion, or conversion.”
Duncan couldn’t have realized then that the championship of the ideas Pakistan wished to uphold would shift from the control of the state to that of the Taliban, whom it had declared outlaws.
The Not-Sheepish Lamb
Lamb began her life as a foreign correspondent in Pakistan journeying through Kashmir and along the frontiers of neighboring Afghanistan, a place where the Mujahideen were fighting the Soviet occupiers. She interviewed and became good friends with many in the local community, including future Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
But the reporter was asked to leave Pakistan for having discovered the nexus between the military and the mullah; and the notice of extradition was served by the government of Bhutto, whom she had interviewed in London in 1987 and whose wedding she had attended. She was deported because she had offended the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. She then wrote Waiting for Allah: Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan (1991).
After 9/11, Lamb was back in Pakistan. Her war-on-terror coverage for The Sunday Times won her several awards and recognition. In October 2007, Lamb returned to Pakistan once again to witness Bhutto’s homecoming caravan in Karachi. The twin suicide attacks on Bhutto that day at Karsaz, still the worst terrorist attack in Pakistan, claimed the lives of over 100 people. Bhutto survived that attempt on her life, but was silenced forever a little over two months later after an election event in Rawalpindi.
Last year, Lamb was honored with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Also last year, she coauthored Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban. Today, the national consensus is against Malala, and Lamb is a universal persona non grata, having flagged the extent to which Pakistan is blindsided by the Islamic persuasion of terror.
Lamb focused on former Pakistani spy chief chief Hamid Gul quite a bit in her coverage. Why had the Taliban collapsed so easily after 9/11, she asked him? “It’s not over,” he replied. “The Russians lost in 10 years, the Americans will lose in five. They are chocolate-cream soldiers.” Her verdict on Gul: “The more he is proved wrong, the stronger he becomes by reason of his Muslim strategy of ‘never give up.’ Musharraf is the villain of the piece. He doesn’t adhere to the Tariq bin Ziad syndrome that forms the centerpiece of Hamid Gul’s frozen worldview.”
She also defines the mind of Pakistan: “There is dishonor in being as cunning as the Hindus next door. Being brave—and achieving its adjunct, isolation—is the mark of the warrior that Hamid Gul continues to portray. Defeat and repeated falsification of strategic claims are the badges the nation wants him to wear.”
As a correspondent for the Associated Press wire service, Gannon, who is married to a Pakistani, has covered both Afghan wars and their blowbacks and Pakistan’s policy meanders. Her book ‘I’ is for Infidel: from Holy War to Holy Terror, 18 Years inside Afghanistan (2005) tells a nuanced eyewitness account of what happened in Afghanistan after September 11.
Gannon’s main source about Pakistan’s dealings with Taliban chief Mullah Omar was one Mullah Muhammad Khaksar after he had been demoted from the job of intelligence chief—and from being Omar’s constant companion—in the Taliban government in 1999. He saw Omar as being easily flattered by Pakistani clerics (who proclaimed him a “true caliph” in 1994) and was put off by Omar being seduced out of his normal humble character by them.
Omar was too witless to understand that he was making dishonest use of the Holy Cloak just like King Amanullah before him. If Amanullah disclaimed something (modernism) through the cloak, Omar claimed it (tradition). But both were being insincere and were punished for it. Isolation came because of Omar’s hubris, and unfortunately the Holy Cloak caused it.
Gannon tells us that the clerics who were sent by the ISI to greet Omar are well known and that their remarks about the man can still be collected from the Urdu press of those days. They compared him to Islam’s Prophet and to Caliph Umar to his face and came home saying the Caliphate of the Companions had been revived. A retired Pakistani chief justice went to see him after growing a flowing beard on his face. A popular TV cleric predicted that under Omar the eschatological army of Imam Mehdi was taking shape and would soon conquer and Islamize the world.
Khaksar told Gannon that Omar didn’t know Osama bin Laden before he arrived from Sudan in 1996, but was given, in Jalalabad, into the safe hands of Maulvi Yunus Khalis by the ISI. Bin Laden himself courted Omar with a wheedling letter, which worked given that Omar loved being flattered. Omar and bin Laden met finally after the Taliban had captured Kabul. Gannon tells us how the Taliban began by securing the Bamiyan Buddhas against vandalism by issuing edicts from Omar describing them as Afghanistan’s cultural heritage in 1999. Some two years later, bin Laden bribed Omar’s deputy into convincing him to issue another edict, for their destruction.
Pakistan’s then-chief of the ISI, Mahmood Ahmad, was in Washington when bin Laden struck his American targets on 9/11. He is supposed to have accepted U.S. President George W. Bush’s “terms” in consultation with Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf back home. Washington told Musharraf to tell Omar to hand bin Laden over to the U.S. or be prepared to be invaded. Ahmad was asked to go to Kandahar together with a group of hardcore clerics from Pakistan and do the persuading.
Gannon writes: “The general was a religious zealot very much like Mullah Omar. He had been central to the military takeover of Pakistan in 1999 by Musharraf. A hawk with pan-Islamic visions, he had been a staunch supporter of jihadists both from Pakistan and elsewhere. This was the man Musharraf sent to negotiate with Mullah Omar. People present at the meeting and within the ISI revealed that Ahmad had a message for Mullah Omar quite different from the one that Washington had pressed his government to convey. He took the slow-talking leader aside and urged him to resist the United States. He told Mullah Omar not to give up bin Laden. Ahmad traveled several times to Kandahar, and on each visit he gave Mullah Omar information about the likely next move by the United States.”
She continues: “By then Ahmad knew there weren’t going to be a lot of U.S. soldiers on the ground. He warned Mullah Omar that the United States would be relying heavily on aerial bombardment and on the Northern Alliance … Neither bin Laden nor Pakistan’s ISI chief explained to him the extent of the devastation that would be linked to his name and his movement.”
A Fury Unparalleled
In her posthumously-released Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, Bhutto linked the Deep State with terrorism and feared she would be eliminated through this dark nexus. According to her, Pakistan’s security establishment comprised the Army, the intelligence agencies, religious leaders piously building political muscle through proxy warriors, and those brainwashed with textbook nationalism favoring a pre-modern Islamic state.
She named names in her book, but the establishment remained impassive. She was attacked in Karachi by one of three assassination squads she had listed in her book. Her reference to Saifullah Akhtar, a specially favored jihadist leader in Pakistan who nearly toppled her government in 1995 together with Maj. Gen. Zaheer ul Islam Abbasi, goes to the crux of the discussion that the furies have carried on.
Heraldo Muñoz, assistant secretary-general of the United Nations who headed the U.N. inquiry commission on Bhutto’s assassination, writes: “Akhtar had joined hands with Abbasi, a former intelligence officer, not only in an attempted coup against Bhutto in 1995 but also in an attempt to remove the Army leadership. After Akhtar spent five months in jail, he was released from detention. Years later, arrested in the United Arab Emirates for plotting to murder Musharraf, he was handed over to Pakistan; but after being held in jail for a couple of years, he was quietly released by the government after the Supreme Court inquired as to his whereabouts.”
Who did Bhutto name as her potential killers? In a letter sent to President Musharraf she named former ISI chief Hamid Gul, Intelligence Bureau chief Ijaz Shah, and the-then chief ministers of the Punjab and Sindh. The prosecutor investigating her assassination, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, was killed in Islamabad. Tariq Khosa, a former head of the Federal Investigation Agency, wrote in Dawn last June: “Ali was gunned down on May 2 in Islamabad. A pamphlet with misleading contents was found at the scene of the attack carrying the name of the hitherto unknown Mujahideen-e-Islami. The risks of undertaking the investigation were known. The investigators were pitted against militants and their possible patrons in the Deep State armed with a vast armory of devious methods and deadly weapons, including coercion, deceptive leads, blackmail, slander, kidnapping and even elimination.
One “lady reporter” actually got attached to the Pakistan Army as a “military historian” and ended up writing a most revealing insider account of its dealings with the Taliban.
Schofield, who was for a time attached to the combat formations of the Army, in her book Inside the Pakistan Army: A Woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror (2011) gives us the following account on the authority of then-Lt. Gen. Hamid Khan, Corps Commander, Peshawar:
“In May 2006, the retired general Muhammad Ali Jan Aurakzai was appointed governor of the North West Frontier Province. In September he struck a deal, at a Grand Jirga in Miramshah, with the Utmanzai Wazirs. Maulana Gul Bahadur Khan and Maulana Sadiq Noor, key Taliban commanders in North Waziristan, were party to this deal. Jalaluddin Haqqani and Tahir Yuldashev were also present when it was signed. Under this agreement, known as the Waziristan Accord, the Taliban pledged to eject foreign fighters, prevent cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, stop running camps in [federally-administered tribal areas] and return seized weapons and pay reparation.
“In fact the deal only helped the militants. After South Waziristan, the militants shifted to North Waziristan and then on to Bajaur and Swat. From July to August 2007 there were attacks virtually every day, especially around Miramshah and Mir Ali. The Pakistan Army was losing control of territory, but Governor Aurakzai was determined to try to preserve the Waziristan Accord. In August in South Waziristan the Army was faced with the worst episode yet in its struggle against the militants.”
Masood Aslam, who succeeded Khan as corps commander, described to Schofield the fiasco of the Army’s infamous surrender to the Taliban on the road to Laddha Fort: “General Aurakzai began negotiating with the tribes, and the tribes began moving the goalposts. Finally, they produced a list of prisoners held by the government, saying until they were released, our soldiers would be held prisoner. Aurakzai took the list, and would not share it with the rest of us.”
Aurakzai bent to the Taliban’s demands, but finally failed to give Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud what he wanted: “In mid-December he resigned as governor. This was his way of telling Baitullah that he had played it straight, to persuade the tribes that he had behaved honorably. Otherwise, Baitullah would have gone after Aurakzai. He would have been a marked man. Aurakzai never wanted to discuss what he was doing with the Army, with the bureaucrats or with politicians. Nobody could control him.”
The bombshell that fell on Pakistan through Schofield was a letter published in The Sunday Times by Maj. Gen. Faisal Alavi predicting that he would be killed by elements inside the Pakistan Army and naming two serving generals who had allegedly joined the Pakistani Taliban secretly (the names were redacted by the newspaper). Alavi was eventually killed in Islamabad by renegade Capt. Haroon Ashiq on orders from a Taliban warlord, Ilyas Kashmiri. In 2011, Ashiq was found not guilty by a court in Rawalpindi.
Getting Behind Barker
Chicago Tribune’s Kim Barker in her funny book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2011) contains, among others, an account of how she had her backside pinched repeatedly by Pakistan’s street-fighting lawyers:
“Wearing a black headscarf and a long red Pakistani top over jeans, I waded through the crowd to the vehicle carrying the most popular man in Pakistan. Iftikhar Chaudhry was an unlikely hero, with a tendency to mumble, a prickly ego, and a lazy eye. Standing near the Chaudhry-mobile, I took notes, the men shouting they would die for Chaudhry.
“And then someone grabbed my butt, squeezing a chunk of it. I spun around, but all the men, a good head shorter than me, stared ahead blankly. In Pakistan, even the tiny men seemed to have nuclear arms. Sometimes I hated it here.
“‘Who did that?’ I demanded. Of course, no one answered. I turned back around and returned to taking notes. But again someone grabbed my butt. We performed the same ritual, of me turning around, of them pretending neither me nor my butt existed.
“‘Fuck off,’ I announced, but everyone ignored me. This time when I turned back around, I held my left hand down by my side. I pretended that I was paying attention to all the cheering and tossing of rose petals. I waited. Soon someone pinched me. But this time I managed to grab the offending hand. I spun around. The man, who stood about five feet tall and appeared close to 50, waved his one free hand in front of him, looked up, and pleaded, ‘No, no, no.’ I punched him in the face.
“In Afghanistan, this never happened. Men occasionally grazed a hip, or walked too close, or maybe tried a single pinch. But nothing in Afghanistan ever turned into an ass-grabbing free-for-all. In Pakistan, the quality of one’s rear didn’t matter, nor did a woman’s attractiveness.”
The New York Times reporter made the mistake of scanning Quetta—she got slapped for her pains on the face by an officer—during the period Musharraf was leaping through hoops to hide the Taliban government-in-exile known as the Quetta Shura. Gall, writing of the madrassahs of Quetta, quotes a Pakhtun leader: “The madrassahs were a cover, a camouflage. Behind the curtain, hidden in the shadows, lurked the ISI. The Pakistani government, under President Musharraf and his intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was maintaining and protecting the Taliban, both to control the many groups of militants now lodged in the country and to use them as a proxy force to gain leverage over and eventually dominate Afghanistan.”
But what has angered the establishment and the TV talk show anchors most is her revelation that the Pakistan Army actually knew that bin Laden was living in a safe house in Abbottabad. Wisely, the government didn’t react despite challenges from Urdu journalists who demanded that the U.S. ambassador be called and rebuked officially. It was enough, officially, to recall that Washington had accepted the position taken by Islamabad that neither the Army chief Kayani nor the-then ISI chief, Shuja Pasha, knew about the whereabouts of bin Laden. Also, CNN’s Peter Bergen, author of many books on bin Laden, claims that all top officials from the U.S. government with access to the best intelligence on bin Laden told him that Pakistani officialdom knew nothing about his presence in Abbottabad.
What hurt Pakistan eventually was Gall’s claim that, “Only one man, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told me that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide bin Laden in Abbottabad.” Butt was no ordinary officer. He was the first head of the Army’s Strategic Plans Division, which controls nuclear weapons, and Prime Minister Sharif made him director-general of the ISI in 1997 and promoted him to Army chief in 1999 after dismissing Musharraf, a move which led to the overthrow of his government.
As noted by The News on March 22, Butt was quoted on Jamestown Foundation’s website as saying: “Bin Laden was kept in Abbottabad under the instructions of Intelligence Bureau director Ijaz Shah.” He added for good measure that Shah was also responsible for hiding Omar Saeed Sheikh, “who had killed journalist Daniel Pearl,” adding that Sharif “had set up a 90-man commando team to track and kill bin Laden but it was disbanded after he was ousted in a military coup.”
Pakistan’s policy of covert wars, much strengthened by the “deniable” international military effort against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s, resulted in the country following contradictory strategies. The post-Soviet era saw elected governments in Pakistan struggling to pull Pakistan back into normalcy but found the nonstate actors of the Afghan Jihad too strong to tame. While handling the nonstate actors caused institutional splits, more dangerously, there were cases of “reverse indoctrination” that challenged the state from within.
Pakistan tried to become “normal” by partially reverting to democracy in 1985. All state institutions were not yet ready to allow a radical shift to representation, which resulted in restraints on civilian rulers that sadly continue into 2014. The 1990s saw politicians toppling each other from power until 1999, when even this process couldn’t save normal governance. Thus began a period of ambivalence that caused the military leadership of Musharraf to experience the double jeopardy of dissimulation at the global level and a dangerous tendency of subversion of Pakistan’s internal sovereignty.
The seven furies have chronicled such fatal contradictions with tormenting detail.
From our April 12, 2014, issue.