Recent disclosures allege large scale corruption, nepotism and kickbacks by Pakistan air chief Air Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Babar Sidhuin housing land deals in Islamabad and in buying of new aircraft, points out Rana Banerji, who headed the Pakistan desk at RA&W.
Sensational disclosures related to the Pakistan Air Force have surfaced on New York-based Pakistani journalist Wajahat Saeed Khan's video blog site, which may pose fresh embarrassment for army chief General Asim Munir even as he prepares to deal with an important reshuffle of three star lieutenant generals at the month end.
One of his most trusted aides, Lieutenant General Mohd Saeed, chief of general staff, has reportedly turned down an offer to continue on a temporary, open-ended extension on his post, like Lieutenant General Nadeem Ahmed Anjum at the Inter Services Intelligence directorate.
The disclosures come in a detailed 'white paper', claimed to have been written by an air force insider after the recent terrorist attack at Mianwali.
Wajahat Saeed Khan is a well-known Pakistani multi-media journalist who used to run a popular television programme called Mahaaz in Pakistan between 2015 and 2018. A fellow at Harvard's prestigious Shorenstein Centre on Media, Politics and Public Policy earlier, he is currently pursuing a doctoral programme at the Columbia School of Journalism.
The disclosures allege large scale corruption, nepotism and kickbacks by current air chief Air Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Babar Sidhu in housing land deals in Islamabad, in buying of new aircraft, in allowing a deliberate go-slow in refurbishment of the Falcon F-16 programme and attempts to amalgamate the JF-17 production unit at the Kamra air base into a new 'Technology Park', proposed to be set up at Kharian.
Air Marshal Babar Sidhu was appointed air chief in March 2021. He had not flown F-16s but only Mirage III and V aircraft. He was not the senior most in his batch. Wajahat Khan's report alleges he was helped to ascend to the top post in the air force by then DG Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed and then army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, as he hailed from Chakwal and was a 'Jutt' (Jat), the same biradari (clan) as General Bajwa. His retirement looms in March 2024 and he is lobbying for an extension.
As would be known, the Pakistan defence establishment tried to underplay the damage suffered in the Mianwali incident, claiming only three old 'Mushak' or K-8 aircraft were destroyed, whereas other credible reports have assessed the number at 14.
In an interview given to the Pakistan Observer last week, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar Kakar acknowledged that an extension had been given to DG, ISI, Lieutenant General Anjum but he added it would come into effect only from the end of November 2023.
This has led to speculation that General Munir has sold a proposition to some disgruntled lieutenant generals to continue in the three star rank for the sanctioned time of four years, from the actual date of taking charge, a procedure which benefitted General Munir himself, when he became army chief last year.
Lieutenant General Aamer, GoC, XXX Corps, Gujranwala, was apparently persuaded to continue at his post in this manner. Now reports have surfaced, suggesting that Lieutenant General Mohd Saeed, chief of general staff, has not agreed and opted to retire this month end.
Lieutenant General Saeed belonged to the 19th Officers Training Scheme stream. His was the first appointment made by General Munir after he became army chief. He was serving as corps commander, V Corps, Karachi then. Earlier, he had served as deputy director general, Analysis at the ISI, when General Munir himself was director general, Military Intelligence.
If Lieutenant General Saeed is allowed to fade into honourable retirement, General Munir may choose to bring in his next most trusted aide, Lieutenant General Shahid Imtiaz, 22nd OTS, currently X Corps commander, Rawalpindi, as CGS.
It is being rumoured that Lieutenant General Muhd Asim Malik, adjutant general at GHQ, may be sent as the new corps commander to Rawalpindi. A sword of honour from the 80th Pakistan Military Academy Long Course, Lieutenant General Malik belongs to the Baloch Regiment. He is the son of retired Lieutenant General Ghulam Muhd Malik, who was military secretary under the late military dictator General Zia-ul Haq.
Ironically, an apocryphal story suggests Lieutenant General Ghulam Muhd Malik may have had a role in denying promotion to Major General Ijaz Amjad, General Qamar Javed Bajwa's father-in- law, as the allegation of his being of the Ahmediya faith had surfaced then. Major General Amjad reportedly tried to reassure the army top brass then that he was prepared to relinquish his Ahmediya link and be treated as a loyal Sunni, but this fickleness went against him.
If Lieutenant General Asim Malik is able to hold the important Rawalpindi Corps command, or any other, for the mandatory one year period, he would stand well placed to be one of the top contenders for army chief if General Munir retires on time, in November, 2025.
These shenanigans within the Pakistani army occur when there is persisting unpopularity over the army leadership's determined persecution of imprisoned former prime minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf politicians in the build up to the February 2024 general elections.
There is prevarication on whether the election commission will impose a blanket ban on the PTI. Caretaker PM Kakar has denied this possibility. but the last word may not have been said.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Qazi Faiz Isa seems determined to hold retired Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed accountable, and by implication, General Bajwa as well, for dabbling beyond authorised rules in organising the Faizabad Mor (crossing) dharna of the Tehrik e Labbaik, Pakistan in 2017, which set the ball rolling for ouster of the Nawaz Sharif government.
The present caretaker government was forced to constitute an enquiry commision under the Inquiry Commission Act, 1956 to fix responsibility. It is being headed by a retired Pakistan police officer, Syed Akhtar Ali Shah, who was believed to be sympathetic to Justice Qazi Faiz Isa when he was facing a judicial reference filed against him by the previous regime.