The inside story of the Pakistan espionage ring

Senior army officers Lieutenant General (retd) Javed Iqbal, Brigadier (retd) Raja Rizwan, and Kahuta official Wasim Akram punished for spying

Firstpost print Edition

In separate Field General Court Martials (FGCM) of enquiry, results of which were made public, albeit in a guarded manner on May 30, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa endorsed unusually severe punishments to two army officers and one civilian, on charges of espionage and leakage of sensitive information to foreign agencies prejudicial to national security.

The army officers were tried under the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 (PAA). Lieutenant General (retd) Javed Iqbal Awan was awarded 14 years rigorous imprisonment while Brigadier (retd) Raja Rizwan was given the death sentence. Dr Wasim Akram, employed either at the Kahuta Research Laboratories or in the Strategic Plans Division, was tried separately under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (applies in Pakistan) and also awarded the death sentence.

The case involving senior army officers came to light in October 2018 after Ali Rizwan, son of retired Brigadier Raja Rizwan, filed a habeas corpus petition in Islamabad High Court reporting that his father had gone missing on the evening of October 10 near a busy shopping centre of the city. Justice Aamer Farooq heard the petition and sought a report from the authorities.

This had forced Director General ISPR, Major General Asif Ghafoor, to admit while addressing a news conference in the last week of February this year that two senior officers were in military custody on charges of espionage and that the COAS had also ordered their Field General Court Martial. He also told media persons that the retired army officers were arrested in individual cases and there was no link between them.

On May 29, Ghafoor further disclosed in a statement, “The disposal of cases today by the COAS is testimony of strict across-the-board accountability system of armed forces. These were three separate cases. Punishment awarded to the officers is of maximum degree in the law corresponding to their respective offence”.

Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Awan hails from Chakwal. The son of a major, he is an Alamgirian, having studied at the popular Military College at Sarai Alamgir, Jhelum (alma mater of former army chief Gen Kayani) where he was an average student.

His elder brother too was in the army and retired as a colonel. Javed joined the 9th Battalion of the Frontier Force Regiment, otherwise famously known as the Fiffers Regiment, the same regiment of previous Army Chief, Gen Raheel Sharif. Among important assignments Javed held were those of 111 Brigade Commander, Rawalpindi (otherwise known as the 'Coup Brigade'), instructor In the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, and at the Command and Staff College, Quetta.

As a major general, he commanded infantry divisions at Bahawalpur and Jhelum (deployed also in Swat, KpK) before bagging the key assignment of director general, military operations at GHQ.

He remained DGMO till early 2011 during which assignment, he may have been privy to sensitive operational plans. He became adjutant general before commanding the 31 Corps at Bahawalpur. Javed retired in May 2015. He was regarded as a suave, soft-spoken officer with consummate networking skills. Sometime during his service career, Javed attended the US Army War College course in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The grapevine now has it that he may have been recruited by the CIA as early as in 2004.

Brig Rizwan is from Khanpur, Rahimyar Khan district, Punjab. His father was a junior commissioned officer (JCO, Engineers). He too had his early education from Hassan Abdal Cadet College, another popular nursery for army recruits.

He joined the 68 th PMA course at Kakul and was commissioned in the 10th Frontier Force Regiment. While in the army, he commanded a brigade in the Tribal Areas and, thereafter, held a prestigious appointment as Pakistan’s military attaché In Germany for three years, from 2009 to 2012. He retired from service in 2014. Peers within the Pakistan military speculate he may have been honey-trapped as he had the reputation of having a glad-eye. A video made by a Pakistani Pashtun website circulating on YouTube alleges Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) involvement. This seems unlikely. It is more probable he too may have been recruited by the Americans during his tenure there.

Though sources in Pakistan remain tight-lipped, it is understood that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may have been the final customer in two different networks, one an attempt to breach the Kahuta nuclear research facility and the other linked to GHQ (plans). There was apparently a side-show as well, on army assistance to sectarian groups, which was being fed to the CIA possibly through US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) officials in their embassies in Berlin and Islamabad. Investigation by the ISI’s counter-intelligence wing is understood to have found traces to foreign bank accounts and vast properties disproportionate to known sources of income of all the arrested officials.

The disclosure regarding these cases comes at a time when Imran Khan’s government is facing some flak over rather one-sided accountability of Opposition politicians, through the National Accountability Bureau headed by Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal. Recently, he came under a cloud after a video surfaced on social media, showing a woman allegedly close to PTI politicians meeting the judge.

The DG, ISPR’s statement on the army officers’ arrests ironically enough, seeks to wrest mileage by stressing across-the-board accountability in the armed forces, which has been an exception rather than the norm in Pakistan. Questions are being asked why the nature of punishment meted out is different for sons of JCOs and civilians while generals are spared, though crimes damaging national security may be similar. The army’s sanctimonious stance is unlikely to convince cynics in civil society there.

Rana Banerji is Special Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat

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