Monday, July 10, 2006

The Undoing of A Genuine War Hero

Until 1987 the military award Sitara-i-Jur'at was second only to the Nishan-e-Haider ‘for acts of gallantry in the face of the enemy’. As Nishan-e-Haider is traditionally awarded to those fallen in battle, one can logically say that it was the highest award for bravery among those that survived their acts of valour in the wars of 1965 and 1971.

Among the bravest in the annals of Pakistan military history is one Brigadier Muhammad Taj (now retired) who was first awarded the Sitara-i-Jur'at as a Major in the 1965 war for showing valour beyond the call of duty when he, along with just 16 men in his command, routed two Indian rifle companies and destroyed two enemy tanks thereby forcing them to withdraw.

Then once again in 1971 Muhammad Taj, then Lt Colonel, was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat for showing exceptional courage and ability in countering enemy forces in Dacca and Rajshahi.

The twice-decorated officer (in military parlance “Sitara-e-Jurat and Bar”), now an 80 year-old, was living peacefully in at his house in Islamabad until the night of 1 July 2006. That night, the frail old Brigadier’s house was stormed by a rowdy group of gun-totting army men.

This is how the victim, Brigadier Muhammad Taj, described it :

“Last night, an ISI Major in plainclothes, who called himself Tipu, with at least 10 men in plainclothes armed with automatic weapons entered my house and beat me, my daughter-in-law and two grandsons.

“They kidnapped us and took us away to a deserted location where they threatened us with death if my grandson did not cooperate with them in identifying the children, who had been involved in a playground incident with the relatives of a senior ISI official.

“I told them that I was not aware of the incident but could ask the people in the neighbourhood to identify the children involved. We were brought to Faizabad in a convoy of at least five vehicles where the Major proceeded to threaten the residents, and beat up and kidnapped another two boys. My daughter-in-law and grandsons were sent away to an undisclosed location by the Major. In the meantime, a crowd of local residents gathered, freed me and took the Major into custody. The Islamabad Police, who had been called by the residents, arrived and took the Major away.“

I proceeded to the I-9 Police Station, Islamabad, and met the DSP and SHO and informed them of the situation. Another ISI officer appeared at the police station in plainclothes and identified himself as Col Nisar. He was accompanied by several other officers in plain clothes.

“I explained the situation to him and he ordered the release of my daughter-in-law and grandsons aged 18 and 16. They were dropped at a deserted location near my house in I-8/4 about an hour later. My daughter-in-law’s clothes had been torn, and the boys also had their clothes torn and had been severely beaten.

“I have lodged an FIR at the I-9 police station, Islamabad, but I find the police powerless to take any action in this situation. In fact the police staff are fearful for their own safety.”

Yesterday Ardeshir Cowasjee wrote in his Sunday column:

There were many witnesses to the incident that took place on the night of July 1. Three houses on Street 86, I-8/4 were targeted by armed men in two separate cavalcades of double-cabined vehicles. From one house, an ailing teenager awaiting heart surgery was dragged out of his house, thrown on to the street, beaten and then thrown into one of the vehicles. His mother tried to come to his aid but she was pushed aside, her clothes torn, and she also was loaded into a vehicle. Brigadier Taj was slapped, pushed, roughed up, and pushed into one of the double cabins, and the cavalcades sped away.

The mother and her sons were taken to the G-9 office of the ISI while Brigadier Taj was taken to Faizabad to identify the other teenagers involved. Two other boys were picked up and sent to an agency ‘safe house.’

And why did this obscene abuse of power take place?

According to
The News: Some boys ‘had beaten [a] General’s son in a playground fight’.

The general according to a subsequent
The News report was revealed to be a senior ‘official of an intelligence agency’.

If this is the kind of treatment dished out to one of its own true heroes under our current military regime, spare a thought for the rest of us - 170 million uniformless civilians. What sort of justice can we expect under this current misrule of law?

I can’t help but ask who the real 21st century feudals of this country are? Obviously, they must be the ones who happen to be completely above the law and answerable to no one.


Anonymous said...

ws this reported on any of the news channels? I mean geo or ary ,not ptv

Onlooker said...


The story was broken by Ansar Abbasi of The News and has since been picked up the other print media.

I don't think you will find any mention of it on the TV news channels as they are closely monitored by the ISI (this was told to me by the News Editor of GEO)and a blunt telephone calls comes the moment the agency doesn't like something.

As this a story which portrays the ISI in an extremely poor light somehow I feel there is little chance of it being pursued by any of the TV channels.

Onlooker said...

Some three weeks after the shameful incident a 'The News'editorial revisited the issues involved:

Abuse of power
President Musharraf's reported regret to 80-year-old Brigadier (retd) Muhammad Taj, a war hero decorated with the 'Sitara-e-Jurat' and 'Bar for Valour', over the misuse of power by members of the ISI is laudable. The assurance given by the president to the war hero that stern disciplinary action would be taken against those officials responsible for the abuse of power may be of some consolation to the victims who suffered the highhandedness of the agency in such trivial a matter as a playground wrangle between a group of boys. However, the whole episode does raise some important issues about the role and mandate of the state's, especially the military's, intelligence agencies. For one, it would have been far better had things not come to this, with the president himself contacting the retired brigadier to apologise for what had happened. Second, and more importantly, the regrets were offered arguably because not only were the premier intelligence agency's personnel used to settle personal scores and the whole misuse of authority and power was exposed in the media, but also because the main victim happened to be a retired army officer. One wonders what would have happened if the victim was not a relation of any retired or serving armed forces officer and if the incident had not been picked up by and reported in the press.

The issue also brings into focus the role of the country's various intelligence agencies. Of course, there have been many things that have been said about their role in everything, from manipulating elections in this country to choosing people for senior government posts. Many of these duties -- not the manipulation of elections, though -- are their assigned responsibilities but the problem comes in when one looks at instances of abuse and misuse of authority, as happened in this particular case. Since the military's intelligence agencies come under the Army Act, any disciplinary action against any official has to be done under the said act's purview. However, in their expanded role brought on by the military's frequent intervention in politics and desire to play the role of kingmaker, the agencies often interface with civilians. And sometimes the results are, to say the least, controversial. Take the case of journalist Hayatullah Khan, who disappeared while covering the Tribal Areas unrest only for his dead body to be found weeks later in suspicious circumstanced, and with his family insisting that a government intelligence agency first abducted him and then killed him. This again takes one to the question of the role of intelligence agencies in a democracy ruled by civilian power. In a true democracy all such organisations should be at the eventual command of the elected chief executive of the country. This helps prevent the possibility of a situation -- which some say may be the case in Pakistan -- when intelligence agencies become states unto themselves, operating with little or no control and non-existent accountability. Again, in this particular case, those responsible for the gross misuse of authority were held accountable only, one would like to reiterate, because the episode involved a decorated retired army officer. One hopes that in other cases as well, especially where civilians are concerned, similar sense will prevail and the public perception that such organisations are a law unto themselves proved wrong.

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