KARACHI: Brigadier (retd) Ijaz Shah, the country’s security czar, has claimed that his nomination in the high-profile murder case of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was politically motivated as he opposed her deal with General Pervez Musharraf to return home and partake in the national politics.
The man, whom the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leadership accuses of planning her assassination, was sworn in as the interior minister on April 19 after remaining as the minister for parliamentary affairs for less than a month in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet earlier this year.
In his first-ever interview to a private news channel on Monday, Shah said he had never met the two-time premier in his life. His nomination by Bhutto, he said, was politically motivated. “I opposed the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) because in my viewpoint, PPP and PML-Q’s proposed alliance in the coming elections [2008 polls] was unnatural and that it won’t work out,” he remarked.
“When this thing was being discussed, I was the DG ISI… discussion was that the PPP and the PML-Q will be together [in the election]. My viewpoint was that this is something unnatural. I, however, was later proved wrong when Asif Ali Zardari [after coming into power] inducted Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as the deputy prime minister.”
Shah said the former military ruler wanted a deal with Benazir because the entire West wanted liberal parties like the PPP and the ANP in power and thought that the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) was a creation of Musharraf’s government. “[But] we had no role in creating the alliance of religious parties,” he added.
The MMA came into being after Americans invaded Afghanistan and people elected the anti-West rightist parties into power in Pakistan in reaction, he said. “They won all 35 National Assembly seats [from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa] in the 2002 general elections.”
Responding to a question if the slain Tehreek-e-Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsood, had carried out the deadly attack on Benazir Bhutto, he said: “Yes sir… we have given a statement. I’ve been investigated by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Scotland Yard and UN teams that visited the country.”
The interior minister said the country had an unfortunate tradition of levelling allegations without any evidence. “Hard times I’ve endured in my 41 years in army and civil institutions are my strength.”
The career military officer touched many controversial topics in the hour-long interview. He admitted to being Musharraf’s right-hand guy. He said he was the first one who informed the former military strongman that he had been elevated as the army chief by former premier Nawaz Sharif.
Shah retired in 2004 after a long career that saw him rising to the rank of brigadier while serving with the 15 Punjab Regiment and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
He was one of former military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s trusted aides and was his pick for director general of the Intelligence Bureau (IB). Shah’s tenure from 2004 to 2008 was rife with controversy as he was accused of widespread political victimisation and engineering.
He entered the country’s parliament for the first time in 2018, defeating the powerful Mansab family of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in NA-118 Nankana Sahib-II after two unsuccessful attempts in 2013 and 2015.
Shah was serving as the head of ISI in Punjab when Musharraf mounted his coup and imposed martial law in October 1999.
1999’s military coup
Commenting on the events that led to the military coup, he said misunderstandings between the prime minister and the army chief, including Musharraf’s refusal to act against Gen Jahangir Karamat and the appointment of then DG ISI Gen Ziauddin Butt without the COAS consent, played part in the whole episode.
About allegations of political engineering, Shah said no one can force defections in any political party until politicians themselves did not want to do so. He admitted playing role in creating the Q-league, saying he was the ‘in charge’ of elections in 2002.
“Military was holding the polls and both leaders [Benazir and Nawaz] were in exile… what people were supposed to do? They came in flocks to join Musharraf, including the Chaudhrys.”
The interior minister also admitted to supporting the banned outfits and its leaders, saying, “Not just me but the whole world supported Ahmed Ludhianvi and Azam Tariq among others.” He added that the United States created them and then left them when no longer needed.
Commenting on Iftikhar Chaudhry, Shah said the former chief justice was more of a politician than a judge. “Nobody, however, was disrespectful towards him or harassed him in the meeting in which Musharraf forcefully asked him to step down,” he explained.
On dual standards of accountability in the country, he said Musharraf has no corruption allegations levelled against him, adding that Article 6 should be applied not just on him but on 300 to 400 others.
Shah also refuted knowing whereabouts of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, saying he would have claimed $50 million bounty if knew he was hiding in Pakistan. He also cast doubts over US version of the raid in which Osama was assassinated. “How can a seven feet tall man hide in a village like Haripur for six years,” he remarked.
Commenting on the ongoing political situation, Shah said there was no threat to the government, adding that the PTI government would complete its five-year term. “This army is Pakistan’s and not India’s… they are thinking about placing Pakistan in grey or black [list] and here we are levelling such allegations on it… this is exactly what the last government did,” he said in response to his alleged role in staging PTI’s 2014 sit-in in Islamabad.
The interior minister said the civil and military leadership were on same page and only peace will ensure economic stability in the country.
On opposition parties’ proposed anti-government movement, he said it is the government’s responsibility to protect lives and properties of masses with or without using force.
Shah expressed optimism in bringing back former finance minister Ishaq Dar. “I don’t think Zardari will be able to come out from prison now.”