General Mirza Aslam Beg

General Mirza Aslam Beg (left, in blue beret and glasses) visiting a Pakistan Army Unit in 1990s.

 Mirza Aslam Beg, born 2 August 1931, is a retired four-star rank general of the Pakistan Army, who served as its Chief of Army Staff from 1988 until his retirement in 1991. His appointment as chief of army staff came when his predecessor, President General Zia-ul-Haq, died in an air crash on 17 August 1988.

Beg’s tenure witnessed Benazir Bhutto being elected Prime Minister in November 1988, and the restoration of democracy and civilian control of the military in the country. Controversial accusations were leveled against him of financing the Islamic Democracy Alliance (IDA), the conservative and right-wing opposition alliance against left-wing PPP, and of rigging in the subsequent general elections in 1990. As a result of the general elections, Nawaz Sharif was elected Prime Minister in 1990, but fell out with Beg when the latter recommended support for Iraq during the Gulf War. Beg was denied an extension by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan soon after in 1991, and replaced by General Asif Nawaz Janjua as chief of army staff. Apart from his military career, Beg briefly tenured as professor of security studies at the National Defence University (NDU) and regularly writes columns in The Nation.

Beg’s post-retirement has been characterized by controversies: first he was accused of playing an internal role in the airplane crash that killed President Zia, and, second, he was summoned to the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2012 for his alleged role in the Mehran scandal, for bribing opposition politicians with millions of rupees prior to general elections in 1990.

Early life in India and education: Mirza Aslam Beg was born in the small village, Muslimpatti, in Azamgarh district, Uttar Pradesh of British India, to a Urdu-speaking Turk Mughal Barlas family on 2 August 1931. His father, Mirza Murtaza Beg, was an advocate and practicing lawyer, whose name was well known and respected name in the law circles of the Allahabad High Court. The Beg family traced a long ancestral history and roots to the Mughal Royals who were once the rulers of India from the early 15th century to the early 18th century. He was educated at Azamgarh where he graduated from a local high school, and enrolled at the Shibli National College for undergraduate studies in 1945. Subsequently, he earned the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Liberal Arts from Shibli National College in 1949. During his college years, Mirza played field hockey and was a  member of the college hockey team who were mainly Muslims. According to his memoirs, Beg sought revenge on a Hindu politician of the Congress Party after the politician had beaten up a member of his hockey team. Egged on by a mob of students, Beg used his hockey stick to beat him at a public meeting. The incident came after his graduation from college in 1949, and Beg’s family decided to move to Pakistan in 1949 after India’s partition.

Career in the military: The Beg family sailed for Karachi from Mumbai via a Pakistan Navy ship in 1949. His elder brother was already a commissioned officer in the Pakistan Army and encouraged young Beg to follow his path and seek a career in the army. Beg recalled in his memoirs to his Indian interviewer and called Pakistan as “my dream country”. In 1950, Beg was accepted at the Pakistan Military Academy and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in war studies in 1952 from the 6th PMA Long Course

In 1952, he was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Baloch Regiment and initially assisted in the command of an infantry platoon. From 1952-1958, he progressed in the military ranks being promoted to army lieutenant in 1956; and army captain in 1958. He received recommendation from his field commanding officer and was selected to join the Special Forces; in 1958, he passed the physical and psychological tests for this. Beg departed to the United States to complete Special Forces training with the US Army Special Forces in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In 1960, he returned to Pakistan and was inducted in the Special Service Group (SSG) and  being promoted to the rank of Major. His new assignment was in the field, and he commanded a commando company of the SSG. His first combat experience took place in 1960 in Western Pakistan, when with his commando company, he  helped remove the Nawab of Dir in Chitral in the northern part of North-West Frontier Province. He served in 1965 war with India and commanded a SSG counter-initiatives company against the Indian Army.

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Ehsan Sehgal and General (Retd.) Mirza Aslam Beg in Baghdad, Iraq in 1994.

Academia and professorship: After the 1965 war, Mirza was promoted as Lieutenant-Colonel in 1967 and entered in the National Defence University (NDU) to continue his higher education. Among the course mates was Lieutenant-Colonel Zahid Ali Akbar who would later direct the Program-706 in the 1970s.

He earned Master of Science in War Studies from NDU and published his master’s thesis, titled, “A journey of pain and fear” which provides a critical analysis of state sponsored terrorism and its effects on geo-military position(s) of  country (s). In 1971, he was recalled and commanded a SSG regiment during the war with India. After the war, he left the SSG after being promoted to the rank of Brigadier, and moved onto to accept the war studies professorship at NDU. From 1975–78 Brigadier Mirza Aslam Beg tenured as the professor of war studies and remained Chief Instructor of Armed Forces War College at the National Defence University until January 1978.

About the 1971 war, Baig maintained that Pakistan Armed Forces “learned a valuable strategic lesson” and quoted that the government also learned that “there is no point in going to war unless you are absolutely certain you have the capability to win”. From 1994–99, Baig continued his teaching at NDU and published his two books on national security, nuclear weapons development, defence diplomacy and international relations.

Senior command appointments: In 1978, Baig left the university after being promoted to Major-General in the army. He became the GOC of the 14th Army Division, stationed at the Okara Military District of Punjab Province in Pakistan. On March 1979, Chief of Army Staff, General Zia-ul-Haq, directed the II Strike Corps’ “to ascertain the likely reaction of the Pakistan Armed Forces officers if Bhutto was hanged”, in accordance to the Supreme Court’s verdict. During this meeting Baig objected to Bhutto’s hanging, and stated to his senior commanders that:

The hanging of Bhutto would be an unwise act, as it could cause very serious “political aberrations” that will be difficult to correct.”

Beg was relieved of his command as a result and posted as Adjutant-General at the GHQ in Rawalpindi, where he served until 1980. He was later elevated as the Chief of General Staff (CGS) of the Pakistan Army until 1985. As CGS, Beg was in charge of planning the counter-offensive to the 1984 Indian invasion of Siachen marking the beginning of the ongoing Siachen conflict. After serving at the GHQ, he was promoted to lieutenant-general in 1985 and appointed field operations commander of the XI Corps stationed in Peshawar, which had been facing indirect war with Soviet Army in Afghanistan, since 1980.

Chief of Army Staff: In March 1987, Beg was promoted to four-star general , and was appointed as Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) of Pakistan Army, though he remained under President General Zia-ul-Haq, who had been the Chief of Army Staff since 1976. He succeeded General Zia-ul-Haq as the new chief of army staff when President General Zia-ul-Haq’s plane crashed on 17 August 1988. American military authors regarded Beg as “mild but bookish general” keen to drive the country towards the tracks of democracy.

The United States military regarded Beg as an “unpredictable General” , who could not be counted on to continue close military cooperation with the United States as Zia did in the 1980s. The Pentagon comments on Beg:  “a professional soldier with no political ambitions, but independent-minded and unpredictable.” In 1988, one Pentagon military official added that “Beg is hard to figure out and difficult to read his mind unlike other Pakistan army generals; he hasn’t been particularly friendly with the US.” Against the popular perception of a takeover, Beg endorsed Ghulam Ishaq Khan as President and called for new general elections which resulted in a peaceful democratic transfer of government to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with Benazir Bhutto as the Prime minister. Beg did not consult any of his corps commanders or principal staff officers (PSOs) and called on the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Iftikhar Sirohey, and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Hakimullah, to discuss the matter briefly and within three hours of General Ziaul Haq’s death, restored the Constitution and handed over power to Ghulam Ishaq Khan. It was an unprecedented decision in favour of democracy and the rule of law. Mirza Aslam Beg was endorsed by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who confirmed his four-star appointment as Chief of Army Staff until 1991; he was replaced by General Asif Nawaz Janjua.

Unlike General Zia, Beg initiated a massive re-evaluation and education training program for the inter-services officers. In 1988, Beg’s personal initiatives led to sending of hundreds of inter-services officers to Western universities for advanced degrees. By 1991, several of the inter-services officers had gained post-graduate degree in operational and technical training.

In 1988, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto conferred Beg with specially designated civil award for restoring democracy, Tamgha-e-Jamhuriat (Medal of Democracy). In fact, Baig is the only Pakistani and four-star general officer to have been decorated with such honor. Although Benazir Bhutto was criticized for decorating a four-star general with a civilian award, she justified her decision by saying that Beg deserved the honour because he had refrained from indulging in another military adventure like Zia and instead helped Pakistan to a peaceful transition of power through general elections. He retired from the army on 16 August 1991 after completing 39 years of military service. As COAS, General Beg is credited by an Australian expert for encouraging “wider thinking about tactics within the Pakistan Army, particularly for establishing a much improved logistics chain and “contributed immensely to the army’s war fighting capabilities.”

Civil War in Afghanistan (1989–1992)

Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Pakistan-Soviet Union relations: As Chief of the Army Staff, Beg determinedly kept the military’s control over policies regarding the national security, and dictated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s role in in their formulation.. Beg testified that the “real causes behind the “Pressler amendment was significant so  long as Pakistan was considered an important entity in weakening Soviet Union’s influence in South Asia.”  Various writers greatly questioned his idea of “strategic depth”, which aimed the transfer of Pakistan’s military science command to Afghanistan against a war with India.

Beg supported the role of his deputy, Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul in Afghanistan’s war who had masterminded the Jalalabad operation; which failed. Gul was deposed by Prime Minister Bhutto soon after this action.  Beg’s role remained vital during and after the Soviet Union’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and he showed no intent of coordinating joint efforts with the U.S. to end the war in the country. In late 1989, Pakistan and U.S. floated the idea of bringing a clerical government to the departing communist order. Authors and media reporters maintained that Beg controversially proposed an intelligence plan between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran that would grow into a “core of the Muslim world.” This was met with hostility in the government and Foreign Minister Yaqub Khan and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto objected and opposed this idea.

Gulf war: In 1989, Beg drafted a contingency plan and organized a massive military exercise, Exercise Zarb-e-Momin, to prove the military solidarity contentions. One notable event of his career as chief of army staff at the end of the Cold War took place in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in the political tension prevailing between the two Arab countries; Beg endorsed the United States-led military campaign against Iraq. In a briefing given to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Beg gave his assessment that once the ground battle with Iraqi Army began, they would defeat the American Army. The Iraq War with Kuwait was a polarizing political issue in Pakistan and Beg was careful in the deployment of the Pakistan Armed Forces’ contingent during Operation Desert Storm in 1991; he calculated that the popular opinion would favour Iraq, as the anti-American sentiment in the Middle East would rise with time. Neither did his strategic predictions come true nor did he get an extension, and soon after the end of Gulf war, Beg proceeded to retirement on 18 August 1991.

Although Beg accused the Western countries for encouraging Iraq to invade Kuwait, he kept his armed forces fighting against Iraq in support of Saudi Arabia. In 1990, he held a state dinner for United States Central Command (US CENTCOM) commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, and with Chairman Joint Chiefs Admiral Iftikhar Sirohey, he briefed the US CENTCOM of the Pakistan Armed Forces operational preparedness and capability in the Saudi contingent.

Controversies

Mehran Bank scandal

Soon after his retirement, Beg earned public criticism for his alleged personal involvement in the Mehran Bank scandal which was made public in 1990. His rival and critic, former Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Asghar Khan filed a petition in the Supreme Court against Beg, and also implicated the former director of ISI,  Lieutenant-General (retired) Asad Durrani and his civilian accountant Younis Habib. This was done after Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Interior minister, Naseerullah Babar, had apprised the national parliament of the issue in 1994. Baber maintained that the ISI had disbursed funds to purchase the loyalty of the  conservative masses and nationalist public figures to manipulate the 1990 general elections and bring the conservatives in race to compete with leftist forces in the country. As Chief of Army Staff, General Beg managed to get ₨. 140 million from civilian accountant Younis Habib and deposited this in the Survey Section,  account 202 of Military Intelligence (MI). Approximately ₨. 6 million were channeled to the election cell of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan— the election cell including Syed Rafaqat, statesmen Roedad Khan and Ijlal Haider Zaidi.

Nuclear proliferation controversy

Beg was widely criticized internationally for his alleged involvement in the nuclear program of Iran. In a report published by Khaled Ahmed in “The Friday Times”; he contended that after taking over as Chief of Army Staff, General Aslam Beg began lobbying about “[cooperation with Iran] on nuclear technology as a part of his [strategy of defiance] of the United States. As chief of army staff, Beg had initiated lectureship programs on physics, chemistry, mathematics and engineering for inter-services officers, by the Pakistani scientists serving as their professors, to have better understanding on nuclear matters and policy development. Earlier, Baig had calculated that cooperation with Iran was popular and that, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Arabs were less popular being American clients in the region. General Baig had encouraged Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan to proliferate technology to Iran and North Korea. The speed with which he maintained the [new nuclear policy] leads one to speculate whether he simply wanted the “obstacle” of General Zia to disappear from the scene. General Zia did not know / receive any payment of this agreement; in fact, Zia did not know if Beg was in it with Iran. Zia was deeply committed to the Arabs, especially to Saudi Arabia, to restrain the Iranian influence.

According to Khaled Ahmed, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was shocked that Beg had signed a secret nuclear deal with Iran without telling him; therefore he (prime minister) abrogated this cooperation and tightened the security watch on A.Q. Khan. However, in a 2004 interview to PBS, Beg clearly denied his involvement with Iranian program and quoted:

If [Benazir] government wasn’t aware, how was I aware? I was army chief from 1988 to 1991. If we were not told what was happening beneath the surface when the Americans knew, the British agencies knew, and their to have penetrated the entire system including Pakistan— so are they not guilty?”—Mirza Aslam Beg, 2004

In 2005 interview to NBC, Beg defended himself and A.Q. Khan, maintaining that “Nuclear Proliferators can’t be stopped.” Beg added that the Americans and Europeans have been engaged in nuclear proliferation as part of a concept, called “outsourcing nuclear capability,” to friendly countries as a measure of defense against nuclear strike. Beg pointed out that the “nuclear non-proliferation regime, therefore, is dying its natural death at the hands of those who are the exponents of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.” Beg also theorized that “nuclear deterrent is what holds the strategic balance between the two or more belligerents”.

Accusation of role in Zia’s death: In an article written by prominent columnist, Khaled Ahmed, in the Express Tribune, Beg was in contact with senior scientist, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan for bringing Iran into the fold of “nuclear prowess” much to the annoyance of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.  At this point, without a green signal from the President, Beg got acquainted with Dr. A.Q. Khan to secretly proliferate the nuclear fuel technology.

On 1 December 2012, President Zia’s son, Ijaz-ul-Haq maintained that it was Beg who conspired in the death of his father. At the GEO News interview, Haq added that General Baig:

  • Caused the wreckage of the plane to be removed to hide the effects of a missile fired into the plane from another plane.
  • General Beg also prevented autopsies of the dead to hide the fact that everyone on the plane had died from gas poisoning.

Earlier in 1988, the Shafi-ur-Rehman Commission responsible for establishing the cause of the crash of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s plane,  concluded that because of the Army’s obstruction in the investigation, the real perpetrators behind the attack could not be brought forward.

Post-military career: After failing to persuade the government for grant of extension, Beg’s political ambitions forced president Ghulam Ishaq Khan to nominate General Asif Nawaz Janjua as the designated chief of army staff three months prior to his retirement. After his retirement he continued the professorship at National Defence University in Islamabad, and remained active in country’s political and military affairs.

Political activism: On returning to civilian life, General Beg founded and established a policy think-tank institute in Islamabad, known as Foundation for Research on International Environment,  National Development and Security (Friends).  He is the current founding chairman of the Friends think-tank. He  later founded the nationalist political party, the Awami Qaiyadat Party (National Leadership Party) which continued to be a powerful part of right-wing . Though, his party gained no political prominence and failed to compete in national general elections; it remains registered in the Election Commission with gun as its election symbol.

Criticism by President Musharraf: President General Pervez Musharraf served under General Baig and Lt. General Gul. General Beg was one of many professors under whom Musharraf had studied at the National Defence University; he had high regards for Beg as one of his “significant professors” in the university years but after September 11, 2001, they gradually drifted apart, and differences surfaced for the first time in 2001. In a television press conference, Musharraf spoke about the negative role of a few high-ranking officers which included Beg. He was labelled as one of many professors at NDU who were “pseudo-intellectuals.” Later in January 2008, General Aslam Beg as member of  the Pakistan ex-Servicemen Society (ESS) urged President Musharraf to voluntarily step down in the greater interests of Pakistan.

Books authored by Beg

  • Beg, Mirzā Aslam (1999). 1st, ed. National security: diplomacy and defence. Rawalpindi: FRIENDS Publication. p. 93. ISBN 969-8199-13-6. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  • Beg, Mirza Aslam (1994). Development and security : thoughts and reflections. Rawalpindi, Pakistan: Foundation for Research and National Development and Security, FRIENDS. p. 252. ISBN 969-8199-01-2.

Articles and works by Beg

  • Beg, Mirza A. (July 10, 2011). “The superpower under siege”. The Nation. Retrieved 24 March 2013.
  • Beg, Mirza A. (August 21, 2011). “Pak-US relations: Terms of engagement”. The Nation. Retrieved 24 March 2013.

General Mirza Aslam Beg

Birth Name Mirza Aslam Baig
Nickname(s) General Beg
Born 2 August 1931(age 85), Azamgarh district, Uttar Pradesh, British Indian Empire (Present day, India)
Allegiance Pakistan
Service/branch Pakistan Army
Years of service 1952–1991
Rank

 

General; OF-9 Pakistan Army.svg; US-O10 insignia
Service number PA – 4064
Unit Baloch Regiment
Commands held

 

Chief of Army Staff; Adjutant General (AG); Chief of General Staff (CGS); XI Corps, Peshawar; Vice Chief of Army Staff; Chief Instructor (CI) at NDU; 14th Army Division, Okara
Battles/Wars

 

Indo-Pakistani War of 1965; Indo-Pakistani War of 1971; Siachen conflict; Afghanistan war of 1991; Operation Desert Storm

 Awards

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By courtesy Wikipedia.org

 

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