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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Shahid Aziz: Al-Qaeda man and jihadist general who was part of Pak Army’s ‘Kargil clique’

The 'Arab News' report said that while rumours of Shahid Aziz's death have circulated since 2018, this is the first time that al-Qaeda has issued a confirmation.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: February 19, 2020 7:20:30 am
Shahid Aziz, Shahid Aziz Pakistan, Shahid Aziz al-qaeda, Shahid Aziz dead, who is Shahid Aziz, pakistan news, pakistan terror, express explained Shahid Aziz’s (left) family has in the past rejected reports of his jihadist affiliations, and insisted that he only lives a very private life devoted to religion. (Agencies)

Al-Qaeda has announced the death of the retired Pakistani general Shahid Aziz who, as a senior official in the ISI, played an important role in General Pervez Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure, and who, after disappearing in 2016, was said to have fought alongside the ISIS.

The announcement was made by al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) in the February edition of its Urdu language magazine ‘Nawa-e-Afghan Jihad’ (Voice of Afghan Jihad), the Saudi Arabian news organisation ‘Arab News’ reported in its Pakistan edition.

AQIS is al-Qaeda’s regional branch that was formed by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in 2014 under the leadership of Asim Umar, who was originally Sanaul Haq of Sambhal, Uttar Pradesh.

Haq alias Umar was reported killed in a joint US-Afghan raid on a compound in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in September 2019.

The ‘Arab News’ report said that while rumours of Shahid Aziz’s death have circulated since 2018, this is the first time that al-Qaeda has issued a confirmation.

The AQIS magazine said that Aziz had close ties with al-Qaeda members, and that he had written a damning account of his life and associations that would be published in the magazine in the coming months, ‘Arab News’ reported.

The report quoted Saleem Mehsud, a senior journalist, as saying: “For the first time, an organisation has stated that Aziz had any sort of contacts with any entity, and now the magazine will publish his alleged articles from his book, which is expected to make startling revelations.”

Aziz’s family has in the past rejected reports of his jihadist affiliations, and insisted that he only lives a very private life devoted to religion.

Aziz’s career in Pakistan’s Army and later

Aziz was the ultimate insider in the Pakistan Army, having served for 37 years in uniform. He held a number of key posts in the Pakistan Army, including Director General Military Operations (DGMO), Chief of General Staff, and Commander of the IV Corps in Lahore.

After Aziz retired from the Army, the government of Gen Pervez Musharraf, who was then the President of Pakistan, appointed him chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the country’s constitutionally mandated federal anti-corruption body.

Aziz served in this post from 2005 to 2007. Soon afterward, he is believed to have decided to dedicate his life to jihad.

Role in Pak Army’s Kargil operation

Aziz was part of Musharraf’s close circle, and as Director of the ISI’s Analysis Wing, one of the architects of Kargil. In her 2018 book ‘From Kargil To The Coup: Events That Shook Pakistan’, Pakistani journalist and writer Nasim Zehra gave some glimpses of the role that Aziz played in the Kargil operation.

“On May 17, 1999, the Prime Minister (Nawaz Sharif) was given a detailed operational briefing on Operation Koh Paima (Op KP)… at the Inter Services Intelligence’s (ISI’s) Ojhri Camp office… against the backdrop of Indian press reports claiming that Mujahideen under fire cover provided by Pakistani soldiers had infiltrated along the Line of Control (LoC)…,” Zehra wrote, according to authorised extracts from the book published by the Pakistani daily ‘Dawn’, and available online.

At the presentation given by DGMO Lt Gen Tauqir Zia, “the entire Kargil clique, including the Army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf, the Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Aziz Khan, Commander 10 Corps Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmed, and Commander Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) Brigadier Javed Hassan, was present”, Zehra wrote.

“Key men from ISI in attendance included the DG ISI Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt, Director Analysis Wing Major Gen Shahid Aziz, and ISI’s point man for Afghanistan and Kashmir Maj Gen Jamshed Gulzar… This was the first interface of the Prime Minister and his cabinet members with the planners and implementers of the Kargil Operation…”

According to Zehra, “the main thrust of the presentation was to inform the elected leadership of the Army’s “achievements” along and across the LoC… (and) to inform the civilian participants that, because of the operation, the tempo of “jihad” would increase, that only the Mujahideen were conducting the operations and Pakistan was only providing logistical support…”

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Years later, Aziz’s dissent

“Steadfast in their dedication to their institutional ethos, all the men in uniform raised no questions at the presentation,” Zehra wrote. However, “as would later transpire, the top commanders in the ISI were all sceptical of, if not totally opposed to, Op KP”.

Among the critics was Shahid Aziz. “Years later”, Zehra wrote, “the then head of the ISI’s analysis wing Maj Gen Shahid Aziz would write, “An unsound military plan based on invalid assumptions, launched with little preparation and in total disregard to the regional and international environment, was bound to fail. That may well have been the reason for its secrecy. It was a total disaster.””

These views were expressed in an article that Aziz wrote in the Pakistani daily ‘The Nation’ in January 2013. In that article, written in a sharp, mocking tone, Aziz attacked Musharraf directly.

“The entire planning and execution was done in a cavalier manner, in total disregard of military convention,” he wrote. “In justification, to say that our assessment was not wrong, but there was, “unreasonably escalated Indian response” is a sorry excuse for not being able to assess Indian reaction.”

Aziz made it clear that “there were no mujahideen” in Kargil, “only taped wireless messages, which fooled no one”.

He lamented that Pakistani soldiers were “made to occupy barren ridges, with hand held weapons and ammunition… (and) with no overhead protection”. They were told that there would be no serious response from India — however, India responded in waves, Aziz wrote, “supported by massive air bursting artillery and repeated air attacks”.

In the face of defeat at the hands of India, Musharraf issued denials, silenced the media, and shifted the goalposts, Aziz wrote.

“The [Kargil] operation… didn’t have the capacity to choke Siachen. When this truth surfaced, the initial aim was quickly modified. Now the book reads, “I would like to state emphatically that whatever movement has taken place so far in the direction of finding a solution to Kashmir is due considerably to the Kargil conflict.” Glory be to the victors.”

Aziz’s reference here was to Musharraf’s claim in his 2006 memoir, ‘In the Line of Fire’.

Aziz wrote: “We continue to indulge in bloody enterprises, under the hoax of safeguarding national interest. How many more medals will we put on coffins? How many more songs are we to sing? And how many more martyrs will our silences hide? If there is purpose to war then yes, we shall all go to the battle front, but a war where truth has to be hidden, makes one wonder whose interest is it serving?”

Aziz’s commitment to jihad

In 2013, the retired general wrote a book titled ‘Yeh Khamoshi Kahan Tak: Ek Sipahi ki Dastan-e-Ishq-o-Junoon (How Long This Silence: A Soldier’s Story of Passion and Madness)’.

According to Husain Haqqani, the journalist, scholar, and activist who served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, and was an aide to both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, the book revealed Aziz’s “preference for an Islamist Pakistan”.

In an article written for The Print in 2018, Haqqani pointed out that Aziz’s book speaks of the “eye of Dajjal” (anti-Christ) on the US dollar bill, which symbolized “the grand conspiracy set in motion by the Freemasons and many powerful families in league with the American Neocons”.

In Aziz’s world view, Haqqani wrote, “all major events in the world were “in line with the Jewish conspiracy outlined in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, notwithstanding the fact that the protocols have been proved to be a European anti-Semitic forgery. For him, “only the Quran stands in the way” of the modern world’s “Satanic way of life”.”

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Aziz was not seen publicly from around 2016 onward. There have been some reports quoting members of his family that claim he left Pakistan early that year, possibly crossing over to Afghanistan, and going on to join the ISIS.

In 2018, Musharraf said in an interview that “some people” had told him that Aziz “had lost his mind, grown a beard, and gone to Syria”, where he had been killed.

However, Aziz’s son, Zeeshan Aziz, told the ‘Voice of America’ that “Since Gen Shahid Aziz lives a very private life and does not want public appearances or information regarding his travels/Tableegh (religious preaching), such hearsay regarding his whereabouts are spread.”

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