How Pakistan created the world’s most dangerous narco state
Back row (L-R): Hamid Gul, Asad Durrani and Nawaz Sharif Middle row (L-R): Mullah Omar and Benazir Bhutto Front row (L-R): Pervez Musharraf and Mirza Aslam Beg (Illustration: Saurabh Singh)
GENERAL ASIF NAWAZ JANJUA, who succeeded General Mirza Aslam Beg as COAS [chief of army staff] of the Pakistan Army, was an upright and straightforward officer. He was one of the last officers of the Pakistan Army to have graduated from Sandhurst in the UK. By the time General Janjua succeeded a chastened and vindictive General Beg on 16 August 1991, Lt General Asad Durrani, under the secret orders of General Beg and Lt General Hamid Gul, had started planning to dislodge President Najibullah’s government in Kabul. Gul was of the view that Afghanistan needed to be brought under a strict Islamic regime, which would enable the consolidation of opium cultivation and its processing into heroin for export to Europe and North America.
With a consensus among the three on the path of Islamification of Afghanistan by force of conquest, by early 1992, Lt General Durrani began an intensive training regimen for the formations that were to evolve into the Taliban.
It seems that apart from the process of playing midwife to the Taliban, Durrani also played off Janjua against Nawaz Sharif, who was earlier successfully convinced by Lt General Hamid Gul to get into the Afghan poppy trade in a comprehensive manner. An unknowing General Janjua expressed his frustration to Durrani about the policy approach in Afghanistan he believed was being followed under Sharif’s orders. Janjua was raring to go for Sharif’s hide. Little did General Janjua know that Lt General Durrani’s hard work on the formation of the Taliban was continuing unabated. However, there was no end to the ever-unfolding intrigue. An insecure Sharif found that he could not prevail upon Lt General Durrani to spy on his boss General Janjua, who, in Sharif’s view, was conspiring with Benazir Bhutto to get rid of him. Sharif now put pressure on General Janjua himself to appoint Sharif’s ‘own man’ Lt General Javid Nasir as DG ISI. An unsuspecting General Janjua transferred Lt General Durrani to GHQ.
General Janjua also had strong disagreements with Nawaz Sharif over Lt General Hamid Gul. General Janjua wanted to bring Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud into the post-Najibullah Afghan government. In fact, General Janjua, accompanied by Nawaz Sharif and Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal, flew to Kabul on 29 April 1992 to welcome the Massoud-supported Sibghatullah Mojadidi government, which took charge after Hekmatyar’s forces had been routed from Kabul. Here General Janjua was shocked to learn that Hekmatyar was being advised by Lt General Gul not to sign the peace agreement. On his return from Kabul, Janjua transferred Gul to a nondescript position, as chief of the ordnance factory in Taxila. Gul refused to move and Nawaz offered him a job in the defence ministry. This led to a total break between Nawaz and Janjua, who, at this point, is known to have intensified his parleys with both Ishaq [then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan] and Benazir to plot Sharif’s dismissal. General Janjua also struck at General Beg by blocking the disbursement of an already sanctioned amount of Pakistani Rs 30 million to an NGO run by him called Friends. By now, Sharif, Beg and Gul were all baying for General Janjua’s blood.
General Janjua died of a heart attack on 8 January 1993 while working out on his treadmill at home. He was succeeded by General Abdul Waheed Kakar. In early April 1993, General Janjua’s widow Nuzhat went public with her allegation that her husband had been poisoned. She identified Brigadier Imtiaz, chief of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau, along with Nawaz’s brother Shahbaz Sharif and the debonair political assistant Chaudhri Nissar Ali, as his assassins. In the midst of the furore that this created, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan sacked Nawaz Sharif’s government. Sharif appealed against this before the Supreme Court, which in a historic decision reinstated him on 26 May 1993. However, only eight weeks later, Nawaz Sharif voluntarily resigned because the process of governance became impossible. The political crisis in Pakistan came to an abrupt halt when both Sharif and Ishaq Khan resigned after two weeks of intense negotiations between the Nawaz Sharif government, Benazir, and the army. The resolution of the crisis was unique because for the first time in Pakistan’s history a government had voluntarily stepped down in order to avoid a possible military intervention. Interestingly, the negotiations had been mediated by General Kakar, chief of army staff, paving the way for the third general election in five years and Benazir Bhutto’s return to power in October 1993.
MEANWHILE, LT GENERAL Hamid Gul’s protégé, the virulently anti-American Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was out of control and fighting the leaders of the coalition with whom he had formed a government the previous year. Waves of incendiaries rained down on Kabul, leading to the deaths of more than 1,800 civilians, with 500,000 forced to flee from a city that would be besieged by Hekmatyar for the next three years. Basically, the ISI had lost control over Afghanistan and its lucrative opium cultivation.
Further, the Pakistani deep state was finding AQ Khan increasingly difficult to control. Khan’s special target was Pakistan’s leading theoretical nuclear physicist Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy of Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. After Hoodbhoy wrote an article in 1993 questioning the security of Pakistan’s bomb, in which he described a system known as Permissive Action Links (PALs)-command-and-control mechanisms used in the West to prevent a bomb from being hot-wired or triggered accidentally, Khan launched a vindictive campaign to destroy him. The professor received a call from General Shamin Alam Khan, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. While waiting to be invited into the general’s office, Hoodbhoy saw Khan emerge and glower at him as he walked out. General Shamin was frank and asked how PALs worked. A horrified Hoodbhoy revealed that none of them, AQ Khan included, knew anything about PALs or had even thought about securing Pakistan’s bomb.
Because both the trade in narcotics and nuclear technology had only received lukewarm support from both Benazir and Sharif during the preceding five years, the army had decided to camouflage these activities under those needed to step up the Kashmir insurgency. The newly appointed DGMO Major General Pervez Musharraf charmed Benazir into ordering the revival and escalation of the Kashmir campaign. However, concealed under this umbrella were the hidden agendas of both KRL and the thrust into Afghanistan
Benazir Bhutto won the general election in October 1993. Within days of assuming office, the army called on her for a special briefing. Money was in short supply. Key projects like KRL’s export thrust, consolidation of opium cultivation in Afghanistan and reinvigoration of the Kashmir insurgency needed a boost. However, because both the trade in narcotics and nuclear technology had only received lukewarm support from both Benazir and Sharif during the preceding five years, the army had decided to camouflage these activities under those needed to step up the Kashmir insurgency. The newly appointed DGMO Major General Pervez Musharraf charmed Benazir into ordering the revival and escalation of the Kashmir campaign. However, concealed under this umbrella were the hidden agendas of both KRL and the thrust into Afghanistan.
Benazir took a shine to the wily Musharraf because she needed the army on her side. Musharraf worked alongside ISI’s Joint Intelligence North division to begin the recruitment drive at the Afghan refugee camps run by the ISI. Next, Musharraf approached Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and convinced them to supply cadres to be trained as fighters. Then he went to the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) and got them on board. Maulana Fazlur Rahman ran this organisation. The first batches of Talibs from the madrassas run by Maulana Fazlur Rahman were trained by the Frontier Constabulary Corps and the Baluchistan-based Sibi Scouts in training camps near the Baluch border with Afghanistan. Next to fall in line was Markaz Dawa Al Irshad (MDI), which was a new organisation, having been founded only in 1987.
Osama bin Laden had contributed $1 million to it. MDI had already created a military wing in 1990 called Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
Musharraf brilliantly engineered the transition of all MDI graduates to LeT. Musharraf’s patronage made LeT the largest jihadi-terror organisation in Pakistan.
But Musharraf’s real coup de grace in Afghanistan was to use the ISI’s Joint Intelligence North to locate and groom a one-eyed former mujahideen fighter called Mullah Omar into the supreme leader of the now-emerging Taliban to fulfil the army’s agenda in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar attained his battlefield laurels during the Soviet jihad when he fought alongside one Haji Bashir Noorzai within the ranks of the Hezbe-Islami (Khalis faction) Tanzim. The Khalis faction was led by Yunis Khalis, who worked systematically to gain power in the poppy-rich eastern Nangarhar province, where he battled with other mujahedeen for control of the poppy fields and the roads leading to heroin refineries and hashish shops that he ran along the border. His deputy, Jalaluddin Haqqani, operated along the Pakistan border and had close ties with Arab fighters, who would later form al-Qaeda, and with powerful weapons smuggling networks. Former US officials and mujahedeen say those commanders such as Hekmatyar, Khalis and Haqqani did not personally muddy their hands by moving drugs. They had subordinates who ran the narcotics operations by proxy and took a cut of all the profits in their control zones.
Additionally, there was Haji Bashir Noorzai, son of Issa Noorzai, who at the time of Musharraf’s search played a major leadership role in the Quetta Alliance, trucking, and smuggling mafia. Both Haji Bashir and his father controlled poppy cultivation in Kandahar’s Maiwand District and supplied opium to the refineries controlled by Lt General Fazlul Haq and the ISI. Haji Bashir also owned the small mosque in the village of Sangesar in Kandahar, where Mullah Omar took up the job of a preacher after the Soviet jihad was over. Haji Bashir effectively became the cut-out and conduit between Mullah Omar and the ISI. In fact, the first tranche of cash and equipment that Mullah Omar received from the ISI was through Haji Bashir and consisted of $250,000, six pickup trucks and an undisclosed number of arms and ammunition. The same US document reveals that the ISI, through Bashir, maintained a heavy influence on Mullah Omar’s Majlis-shura, of which Bashir was also a founding and participating member. Thus, Mullah Omar was the ideal candidate to lead this new force, which was being created to establish the unquestioned writ of the Pakistani deep state in Afghanistan.
Mullah Omar had spent a lot of time in Pakistan and was reported to be an alumnus of Jamiat-ul-Uloom-il-Islamiyah run by Maulana Mohammed Yusuf Binnori in Karachi’s New Town suburb. Mullah Omar was responsible for boosting the recruitment drive from this seminary. ISI’s existing protégé in Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was floundering and almost rendered incapable of dislodging the Mojadidi government. The only viable option was the Beg-Durrani-Musharraf Taliban, which was being structured and nurtured as a client army that could potentially become a client government of Pakistan. The Taliban was, therefore, largely structured from four sources—the Haqqania madrassa, the JI, the JUI and MDI. Since the JUI was close to the merchants who ran the cross-border trade and the heroin refineries, Benazir’s interior minister Major General Naseerullah Babar provided official sanction to this project as the front for the ISI.
IN LATE 1993, a somewhat anxious Benazir broached the subject of what amounted to KRL’s [Khan Research Laboratories] illegal exports rather hesitantly with General Kakar. While denying outright any such activity, General Kakar suggested ring-fencing KRL by placing the army in control of KRL’s perimeter. This would ensure that the army controlled ingress into and egress from the establishment. Kakar suggested placing Major General Khwaja Ziauddin in charge of this. Major General Ziauddin was then DG SPD at the joint staff HQ in Rawalpindi, overseeing the security of Pakistan’s then fledgling-yet-undeclared nuclear arsenal. Benazir agreed to this arrangement. Little did she know that Ziauddin was a close ally of Beg and Gul, both generals, and was also the nephew of Lt General Ghulam Jilani Khan. The latter was DG ISI between 1971 and 1978 and one of General Zia-ul-Haq’s co-plotters in the coup that overthrew her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Pleased with Benazir’s acquiescence, General Kakar drafted her directly into the act of nuclear proliferation in the winter of 1993. Kakar got AQ Khan to invite her to visit Pyongyang in North Korea in December 1993. Khan wanted to acquire intercontinental missiles from North Korea. Benazir agreed. Khan, it appears, concealed the fact that he had already established close contacts with North Korea. He was in a race to develop his own missile designs and workshops at KRL. However, these were inferior to those of his enemy Munir Khan’s at PAEC [Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission]. AQ Khan feared losing out to Munir Khan and being cast aside from his position of eminence. He established a line to Pyongyang by giving them a US Stinger missile in 1990. He took the process further by setting up a barter for the North Korean No-dong missile with KRL’s uranium enrichment technology in a deal discussed with North Korean Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Kim Yong-nam when the latter visited Pakistan the previous year.
Benazir landed in Pyongyang on 29 December 1993. She deftly struck a deal with the North Korean supremo Kim-Il- Sung, who handed her a bag full of computer discs containing information on the missiles. Upon landing back in Islamabad, she handed the bag over to Major General Ziauddin. Having done her job, Benazir was pushed to the sidelines. AQ Khan, Ziauddin and Musharraf took charge of the Pakistan-North Korea nuclear barter. The ISI also stepped in and Major General Shujjat of the Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous, the ISI’s clandestine procurement division, was assigned as the project controller.
Meanwhile, the Taliban conducted its first ‘confidence target’ operation in the spring of 1994 in the village of Sangesar, located near Kandahar. In a daring raid, Taliban fighters led by Mullah Omar captured a local governor whom the villagers had accused of kidnapping and raping two young girls. Without trial, Mullah Omar ordered the governor to be hanged from the barrel of a tank.
By mid-summer, Mullah Omar had 15,000 fighters within his ranks, making him a serious contender for heading the Afghan transitional government, which was still struggling to form functional ministries and fend off Hekmatyar’s offensives that were again threatening Kabul. The Taliban formations advanced northwards towards Kandahar city from their intermediate staging bases in Maiwand District in Kandahar Province. Many victories brought additional fighters and heavy weapons into the Taliban fold as the majority of local warlords, with their much smaller militias, chose to join the Taliban rather than futilely resist them. One province after another fell to the Taliban, with many of their inhabitants welcoming them as liberators and hoping for the stability promised by the Taliban’s Sharia law as an alternative to the horrific chaos of the anti-Soviet jihad. The psychological preparation that the Pakistanis had established as part of their Afghan conflict-extending measures clearly smoothed the way for their Taliban proxies to conquer large swathes of the countryside.
The Taliban, now aided directly by the ISI and units of the regular Pakistani Army, captured Herat in a surprise attack in September 1995. Thereafter, in the spring of 1996, a jet chartered from Afghanistan’s state-run Ariana Airlines landed in Jalalabad, inserting a volatile player into the rush for control of Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan, allegedly sponsored by the ISI, opened a new chapter in the Taliban saga, one that would forever change modern history. Although there are reports that he was short on funds when he arrived from Sudan, Osama bin Laden, using ISI-supplied funds, quickly made friends with Afghanistan’s new power brokers, helping to finance the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul. The ongoing siege of Kabul was reinvigorated, though Massoud continued to hold out and was even able to continue consolidating power under the transitional government. In addition to the Taliban rockets, the Pakistanis added indiscriminate artillery bombardment and even used their ground attack aircraft to pound Kabul and its outskirts. Massoud’s effort to negotiate an inclusive government with Taliban participation was rejected outright. Regardless, Massoud held out for a year before finally withdrawing his forces from the city, still in good order, to prevent more needless death and destruction. But in Pakistan, the ISI once again succeeded in its attempts to dislodge Benazir. On 5 November 1996, invoking the notorious 8th Amendment, which he had promised never to use, President Farooq Leghari sacked her, citing corruption, instability, and nepotism. The pot was calling the kettle black.
By this time, Pakistan was stone broke. The industry had fallen idle, inflation had climbed to almost 14 per cent and foreign reserves had fallen to a low of $500 million, the equivalent of two weeks’ imports. The Karachi stock exchange looked as if it was about to plunge into a free fall. An inspector from the IMF who visited Islamabad blamed the country’s arbitrary stop-and-go policies for the crisis and called on the government to rope in the military and prevent them from implementing a substantial increase in military spending. Undoubtedly, Pakistan had become a stop-and-go country, characterised by a chain of violence interrupted by the occasional moment of peace. There was no money at home but the military remained in clover because of their control over the heroin trade. During her second innings, Benazir caught only occasional glimpses of what was going on and was never able to join together all the dots to picture the extent of the KRL secret sales project.
The Taliban conquest of Afghanistan provides a fascinating and complete doctrinal example of modern unconventional warfare. The Pakistanis employed a predominantly indigenous force, the Taliban, to overthrow the legitimate transitional government and install a pro-Pakistani regime purely in order to consolidate and expand the heroin trade. Armed with Pakistani weapons, trained by Pakistani advisers, sympathetic to Pakistani interests and with Pakistani soldiers eventually fighting directly alongside them, the Taliban conquered Afghanistan. Thus was born the modern world’s most dangerous narco-state.
(This is an edited excerpt from Iqbal Chand Malhotra’s The Bomb, the Bank, the Mullah and the Poppies)