WASHINGTON DC, Sept. 15, 2004 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

The First Book based on Articles and Forum Discussions of South Asia Tribune has been published in Pakistan. It is a compilation of articles written for the SAT by Dr. Zafar Altaf, former Federal Secretary and Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board. It includes most of the Messages and Comments posted on these articles on SAT Forums. The Book will soon be available through the Internet Book outlets. It is already on sale in Pakistan.

 

Scenes of sectarian violence in Pakistan

Book Reveals ISI was Involved in 1990 Murder of Iranian Diplomat in Lahore

Special SAT Report

WASHINGTON, Sept 15: A former Pakistani police official has disclosed that Pakistan's infamous Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) operatives were directly involved in the 1990 murder of a senior Iranian diplomat in Lahore, an event which he claims, changed the course of Shia-Sunni confrontation in Pakistan, for the worse.

In his just released book, Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism: Allah, The Army, And America's War On Terror, published by M.E. Sharpe, Hassan Abbas, currently Research Fellow at the Harvard Law School and a PhD. candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, reveals that while Iranian Consul General Sadiq Ganji was shot by notorious terrorist Riaz Basra, “the other person on the motorcycle with Basra conducting the Ganji murder operation was an ISI official named Athar, a low-level official from the Pakistan Air Force..”

This is the first time that any Establishment insider has revealed the direct involvement of the ISI in important political murders in Pakistan although Hassan Abbas has tried to dilute his disclosures by adding: “However, it is not known whether the (Ganji) assassination was an act approved by the military and the ISI command, or if some rogue element in the ISI had given a go-ahead on his own..”

It is interesting to note that instead of Riaz Basra, who the book says killed Sadiq Ganji, another Sunni activist Sheikh Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, was convicted and hanged on March 1, 2001 for Sadeq Ganji’s assassination. This fact is, however, not mentioned in the book.

The book reveals deep foreign links, specially Iranian and Saudi funded operations in Pakistan to further their own sectarian supporters and gives names of officials and details of how Pakistan was turned into a battle ground between Shia and Wahabi militant wings.

It also throws light on how political governments tried to curtail the ISI role and influence in sectarian violence but all such attempts were foiled by the ISI, including even an abortive attempt to assassinate former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif because he was pushing too hard.

The following excerpts of the book deal with the Ganji murder and related sectarian issues, including the rise of Riaz Basra as an international terrorist who, the book claims, had also developed close links with Osama ben Laden and Al-Qaeda.

Basra was killed in May 2002 in an encounter with the Punjab police after years of staying successfully on the run.

Excerpts: “ While Ganji was leaving his hotel premises on Lahore’s Mall Road, two assailants riding on a motorcycle emerged on the scene and shot him dead. A twenty-three-year-old SSP activist, Riaz Basra, was the man who delivered for the SSP. After accomplishing the task, he conveniently ran away as police were nowhere near the crime scene.

This feat ensured a promising career for Basra as a terrorist. He belonged to a poor family and had studied in a Madrasa, Darul Uloom-e-Islamia based in Allama Iqbal town, (Lahore Memorizing Quran), but as it turned out, Jhangvi’s philosophy sounded more attractive to him. He had joined the SSP in 1988 as an ordinary member, but killing Ganji made him a hero among the party sympathizers, who encouraged him to repeat the performance.

There was no shortage of targets, but Iran was angry and the political leadership in Pakistan was quite embarrassed, resulting in increased pressure on the police to arrest the culprits. Basra was arrested on June 5, 1992, bringing some respite for the political government, but he had influential “friends” who wanted to see him in action rather than languishing in jail. They were powerful enough to ensure that they got what they wanted, or perhaps they owed him a favor. In either case, a successful rescue operation helped Basra escape from police custody while he was being taken from the jail to a special court hearing on April 30, 1994.

No credible information has come to light yet as to the exact identity of his “friends,” but most probably they were the same on whose behalf he had eliminated the Iranian diplomat. A former Pakistani intelligence operator reveals that Basra was operating in league with some junior ISI agents.

According to his information the other person on the motorcycle with Basra conducting the Ganji murder operation was an ISI official named Athar, a low-level official from the Pakistan Air Force serving with the agency. However, it is not known whether the assassination was an act approved by the military and the ISI command, or if some rogue element in the ISI had given a go-ahead on his own, which was possible as some disgruntled elements in the ISI had started operating independently.

However, the 1979 Iranian revolution changed the character and magnitude of sectarian politics in Pakistan. It emboldened Pakistani Shias, who in turn became politicized and started asserting their rights.

The zealous emissaries of the Iranian revolutionary regime started financing their organization Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Fiqa-i-Jaferia (TNFJ—Movement for the Implementation of Jafaria Religious Law) and providing scholarships for Pakistani students to study in Iranian religious seminaries.

For the Zia regime though, the problematic issue was Shia activism leading to a strong reaction to his attempts to impose Hanafi Islam (a branch of the Sunni sect). For this he winked to the hardliners among the Sunni religious groups in order to establish a front to squeeze the Shias.

It was in this context that Jhangvi was selected by the intelligence community to do the needful. It is also believed that the JUI recommendation played the decisive part in this choice. The adherents of the Deobandi school were worried about the Shia activism for religious reasons anyhow. State patronage came as an additional incentive. Consequently, in a well-designed effort, Shia assertiveness was projected as their disloyalty to Pakistan and its Islamic ideology.

In a few months, Saudi funds started pouring in, making the project feasible. For Saudi Arabia, the Iranian revolution was quite scary, for its ideals conflicted with that of a Wahabi monarchy. More so, with an approximately 10 percent Shia population, Saudi Arabia was concerned about the expansion of Shia activism in any Muslim country. Hence, it was more than willing to curb such trends in Pakistan by making a financial investment to bolster its Wahabi agenda.

According to Vali Raza Nasr, a leading expert on the sectarian groups of Pakistan, the flow of these funds was primarily routed through the Pakistan military and the ISI. It is not known whether American support for this scheme was readily available, but the Zia regime knew well that the United States would be glad to acquiesce, given the rising US-Iran hostility. However, some analysts believe that CIA funds were involved in the venture.

The campaign started in Jhang, Jhangvi’s hometown, in the form of a movement against the Shia feudal lords of the area - an anti-Shia program in this region was politically an attractive slogan to win public support. The SSP’s formal goals were well defined: to combat the Shias at all levels, to strive to have them declared a non-Muslim minority, and to make Sunni Islam the official religion of the state.

Though undermining Shias was the immediate target, the creation of a theocratic state was the ultimate aim. To begin with, Jhangvi in his public speeches argued that keeping religion and state apart was a conspiracy hatched by the enemies of Islam, with the outcome that the political sphere was in the hands of corrupt and ungodly politicians.

Another critical repercussion of this movement was a gradual rise of the Deobandis to prominence as against other Sunni groups, most notably at the expense of the Barelvis. This was to have long-term consequences for Pakistan because the Deobandi view of jihad is arguably narrow-minded and violence-prone compared to that of any other Sunni sect. For the SSP leadership, murdering Shias was pure jihad, but implementation of this agenda was yet some time off.

In the early days (late 1980s), the SSP confined its activities to publicly abusing Shias and producing jihadi literature declaring them Kafir (infidels) implicitly issuing their death warrants. They needed some time to motivate, groom, and train jihadis who would physically eliminate Shias, so in the meantime local criminals and thugs were hired to do the “needful.” Criminal elements soon realized that this was a mutually beneficial deal—coming under the umbrella of religious outfits provided a perfect cover for their own activities. Over time, the drug traders also developed their ties with sectarian groups, especially the SSP, reproducing in Pakistan relationships between militant groups and drug traffickers that had already evolved in Afghanistan.

While Shia activists were following these developing trends closely and making themselves ready to counter the SSP propaganda effectively, the leader of TNFJ, Arif Hussaini, was assassinated in August 1988, serving a severe blow to the Shias. Hussaini had lived in Iran for a while and had a close working relationship with the Iranian regime.

The ISI hand was suspected in the murder, as a serving army officer, Majid Raza Gillani, had participated in this “operation.” Soon it was Jhangvi’s turn - he was murdered within a year of Hussaini’s elimination, though the SSP suspected a Jhang-based Sunni political leader, Shaikh Iqbal. Iqbal was believed to be the main beneficiary of the rise in Shia-Sunni hostility, as the Sunni majority of Jhang was certain to believe that the murder was perpetrated by Shias, thus creating sympathy for Iqbal and increasing his prospects in the coming elections.

A few SSP activists who had inside information thus attacked Iqbal’s house in Jhang and brutally murdered his brother in broad daylight, though the message conveyed to the SSP cadres and sympathizers was that Shias killed Jhangvi so as to gain maximum benefit by encouraging hatred against Shias.

This was not without consequences. A few incidents of physical attacks on Shias had taken place in 1988–89, but the event that changed the course of Shia-Sunni confrontation for the worse was the murder of Sadiq Ganji, the Iranian consul general in Lahore in 1990.

While Ganji was leaving his hotel premises on Lahore’s Mall Road, two assailants riding on a motorcycle emerged on the scene and shot him dead. A twenty-three-year-old SSP activist, Riaz Basra, was the man who delivered for the SSP. After accomplishing the task, he conveniently ran away as police were nowhere near the crime scene. This feat ensured a promising career for Basra as a terrorist.

He belonged to a poor family and had studied in a Madrasa, Darul Uloom-e-Islamia based in Allama Iqbal town, (Lahore Memorizing Quran), but as it turned out, Jhangvi’s philosophy sounded more attractive to him. He had joined the SSP in 1988 as an ordinary member, but killing Ganji made him a hero among the party sympathizers, who encouraged him to repeat the performance.

There was no shortage of targets, but Iran was angry and the political leadership in Pakistan was quite embarrassed, resulting in increased pressure on the police to arrest the culprits. Basra was arrested on June 5, 1992, bringing some respite for the political government, but he had influential “friends” who wanted to see him in action rather than languishing in jail.

They were powerful enough to ensure that they got what they wanted, or perhaps they owed him a favor. In either case, a successful rescue operation helped Basra escape from police custody while he was being taken from the jail to a special court hearing on April 30, 1994.

No credible information has come to light yet as to the exact identity of his “friends,” but most probably they were the same on whose behalf he had eliminated the Iranian diplomat. A former Pakistani intelligence operator reveals that Basra was operating in league with some junior ISI agents.

According to his information the other person on the motorcycle with Basra conducting the Ganji murder operation was an ISI official named Athar, a low-level official from the Pakistan Air Force serving with the agency. However, it is not known whether the assassination was an act approved by the military and the ISI command, or if some rogue element in the ISI had given a go-ahead on his own, which was possible as some disgruntled elements in the ISI had started operating independently.

These were the times when the financial endowment of the SSP-run Madrassas increased manifold, with the repercussion that factional disputes over the control of the purse also surged.

Prospects of a financial bonanza attracted many other religious extremists to jump into this theater and vie for rewards. In the ensuing competition among such scoundrels, sectarian killings in Pakistan increased in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, Iranian funding to Shia organizations also increased, making Pakistan a battleground for Saudi Arabia and Iran to settle their scores. No effective measures were taken by the Pakistan government to halt this slide into chaos.

Realizing that sectarian outfits were untouchable entities, professional criminals hastened to join these groups and benefit from this window of opportunity. For instance, when around 500 trained gunmen belonging to MQM were abandoned by their masters, they tentatively turned to the SSP in search of a job. They found it to be a promising career. All they had to do was grow beards and learn a few anti-Shia lessons. The rest they were already accustomed to - butchering people.

During the 1990s the SSP spawned many splinter groups, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (Army of Jhangvi, hereafter called Lashkar) being the most deadly and prominent one, whereas other small outfits were mainly “personal mafias of influential feudals, led by local mullahs.”

Many of the leaders of the SSP, including Israr ul Haq Qasmi and Zia ur Rahman Farooqi, were murdered by extremists belonging to Sipah-i-Mohammad (Army of Mohammad), a Shia militant outfit formed in 1994. To tackle such attacks on its leadership, the SSP in a planned move largely confined its activities to the political arena under a felon, Azam Tariq, while Lashkar, led by the notorious Riaz Basra, started operating in 1995–96 as a terrorist group.

Basra’s direct links with Arab financiers and the Taliban helped him establish his base camp in Afghanistan. Before Lashkar’s emergence, sectarian killings were mainly restricted to leaders and activists of both the Shia and Sunnis, but Basra expanded the battlefield by targeting Shia government officials, lawyers, doctors, and traders, giving a new twist to the confrontation.

Even Shia mosques came under attack, resulting in random killings of innocent people. By virtue of such terrorist operations, Lashkar distinguished itself as the most violent sectarian force in Pakistan. It also openly admitted to its acts of terror, informing newspapers through telephone calls and its publication Intiqam-i-Haq (dual meaning - Revenge of Truth, or Revenge of Jhangvi). It also started operating in Indian-controlled Kashmir but, keeping in line with its philosophy, it embarked on this journey by starting to murder Kashmiri Shia leaders before targeting the Indian forces.

By early 1997, Lashkar was ready for even bigger operations - Iranian cultural centers in Lahore and Multan were burned down, and Iranian diplomat Mohammad Ali Rahimi was killed in cold blood. Basra immediately escaped to Afghanistan after orchestrating this operation, where a HUA guest house was ready for him, but Ashraf Marth, a senior police official, apprehended the other Lashkar terrorists involved in the crime.

Marth had the competence as well as political support to carry on his investigation. In a few months he was able to track the funding sources of Lashkar and, to everyone’s amazement, evidence of foreign financing and records of funds transfers through US banks were on the table of the prime minister.

One of the men accused of the attacks was found with a credit card issued from New York. This was enough to cause the prime minister to jump in his seat. He immediately passed the information on to the Army Chief. Before any action could be taken on the information, Ashraf Marth was assassinated right in front of his official residence, and the inquiry came to an abrupt closure.

The attack was so well planned that half a dozen armed guards of Marth could not move and the attackers vanished from the scene. Pakistani intelligence agencies were thunderstruck, and police officials were scared to get involved in such investigations. It is ironic why the military intelligence agencies remained a silent witness to such developments.

Basra had now become a legend among the religious hard-liners in the country. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finally decided to target some sectarian groups, including Lashkar, through civilian law enforcement agencies, as he was not expecting much support from military intelligence agencies.

Tariq Pervez, an accomplished counter terrorism expert in the police service, was tasked to trace out the Lashkar terrorists and bring them to justice. Tariq’s hard work and commitment paid off when his special team was able to trace Basra, though there was a problem. Basra was in Kabul, and that was beyond Tariq’s jurisdiction.

On getting the report, Nawaz Sharif personally requested the ISI chief to get hold of him, knowing that they had close links with the Taliban and HUA. He was told not to worry and that Basra would be taken care of soon. Ironically, instead of Basra being apprehended, Lashkar stepped up its activities and attempted to assassinate the prime minister on January 3, 1999. The plot failed because a remote-control bomb placed under a bridge that the prime minister had to pass over detonated an hour too early.

How the assassination plan was botched is indeed an interesting story. Gul Khan, Lashkar’s top bomb-making expert, was hiding near the location with a remote control device, waiting for the prime minister’s vehicle to approach the bridge. Due to a lack of access to sophisticated equipment, he was using an ordinary cordless telephone as a gadget to send the signal.

This telephone set was on a VHC frequency, and he was not aware that some police vehicles in the city were also using the same frequency for their wireless communications. Meanwhile, the driver of a police patrol vehicle surveying the prime minister’s travel route, by pure coincidence, parked very close to the point where the bomb was planted.

As soon as the vehicle’s wireless set received a call, the bomb detonator caught the signal too and the bomb exploded. Nawaz Sharif was lucky - Gul Khan’s planning was perfect but the technology he was using was outmoded. When he was arrested later, the interrogations led police to connect the dots. Prior to this, the police were of the view that one of the terrorist groups had only sent a warning to Nawaz Sharif, telling him that they were capable of eliminating him.

In reaction, Punjab’s chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, gave the go-ahead to the Punjab police to eliminate the Lashkar terrorists through all means possible. Around three dozen operators belonging to SSP and LEJ were gunned down in staged police encounters, but extra judicial killings, besides being obviously contrary to the due process of law, were not the solution to the simmering problem.

With no sign of abating, Lashkar activities witnessed an upsurge in 1999 when close to a hundred innocent people became victims of its horrendous campaign.

Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to curb this menace during 1998–99 had failed miserably because Lashkar activists were using Afghanistan as a sanctuary courtesy of the Taliban, who were known to be hospitable to their guests. Another means of support was HUA’s logistic backing, but the factor that really turned the scales in favor of Lashkar was that Basra had developed a close working relationship with Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

This was so lethal a combination that only an event like 9/11 could trigger events that would lead to this conglomerate’s dismemberment.

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