An arrest merely due to ties to Hizb-ut-Tahrir stretches credulity.
Dawn ran an article about recent arrests in Pakistan, which included a serving Brigadier affiliated with GHQ, allegedly for having ties with Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), a pan-Islamic radical group whose aims include establishing an Islamic Khilafat. In his interactions with BBC Urdu, army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas confirmed that Brig. Ali Khan was had been arrested for ties with HuT. But really, those utterances are about as convincing as Tahawwur Rana’s defense team.
Firstly, the very basis for Brig. Khan’s arrest — affiliation with a banned organization — seems to be questionable. While it is true that the HuT was proscribed by Gen. Musharraf in 2004, the ban was lifted after being challenged in the Lahore High Court. Secondly, even if we are to accept ISPR’s version of the story, the sudden eagerness to target people with ties to a group with unquestionably radical beliefs, but one that poses no direct or immediate threat to the Pakistani Army stretches credulity. After all, what does the ban on HuT mean to a Pakistani military establishment that created and nurtured the Taliban, provided shelter to Osama bin Laden, and spawned the alphabet-soup of jihadi groups in Jammu & Kashmir?
And since when has the Pakistani Army been the sort of entity to act against its members possessing links with radical groups? Lest we forget former DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmed, who was given his marching orders only after a great deal of reluctance, when Indian intelligence agencies informed the U.S. of the $100,000 he is said to have wired 9/11 attacker Mohammad Atta. Or indeed, the illustrious Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj, who was relieved of duty as DG-ISI, after Washington pressured Rawalpindi with evidence of Lt. Gen. Taj’s direct involvement in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, which resulted in 58 deaths. And even then, the punishments meted out were anything but severe. Lt. Gen. Ahmed retired from the army and is now a member of Tablighi Jamaat. Lt. Gen. Taj was relieved of his duties as DG-ISI and given command of XXX Corps in Gujranwala.
But we digress. Whether and to what extent Brig. Ali Khan had ties to HuT may be less relevant. Indeed, the good folks at GHQ are unlikely to arrest him only for maintaining ties with HuT, unless they also had paper on him on a far more serious charge that they wouldn’t care to advertise to the rest of the world.
So the question that needs to be asked is what is that other serious charge that Pakistan’s army wouldn’t care to see advertised? So far, the only explanation for his arrest was provided by army sources. While news of Brig. Khan’s arrest was made public just yesterday, BBC Urdu, which broke the story reports that he was in fact arrested on May 6, right after the time of the Abbottabad raid which killed bin Laden. Indeed, Brig. Khan’s defense lawyer asserts (اردو) that he was arrested for raising inconvenient questions about the Abbottabad raid at a GHQ conference.
The question therefore needs to be asked — did Brig. Khan know something about the raid by U.S. Special Forces? If so, what? Did a serving Pakistan Army officer affiliated with GHQ provide intel to the U.S. that led to the Abbottabad raid? The New York Times reports of an ongoing witch-hunt in Pakistan where people alleged to have provided intel to the CIA on bin Laden are being arrested. Indeed, in light of this, Brig. Khan being taken into custody may not necessarily be a coincidence.