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HomeOpinionSecurity Code‘Diamonds are cheap’, Imran’s aiming to crack Pakistan’s toughest institution

‘Diamonds are cheap’, Imran’s aiming to crack Pakistan’s toughest institution

The curse of the five-carat diamond hasn’t just fallen on Imran and Bushra, though. It is also burning through the authority of the all-powerful Generals.

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Every great diamond brings perdition to those who dare possess it: The traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who stole the magnificent Blue Hope from an idol of a Hindu goddess, ended up torn apart by wild dogs in Constantinople; Turkish noble Kulub Bey was hanged by a mob; Prince Ivan Konitovsky was shot dead; Mademoiselle Ladue murdered by her sweetheart. Empress Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI ended up on the guillotine, as the diamond’s strange red after-glow prophesied.

True, those stories are now known to have been made up by Pierre Cartier, and planted on gullible journalists. The great jeweller himself made a big loss on the sale of the Hope, though. And the glamorous Evalyn McLean, who bought it from him, suffered the indignity of her husband leaving her for another woman.

Khatun-e-Awwal Bushra Khan, former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wife, really should have known better than to get involved with diamonds.

Earlier this week, leaked phone calls released by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz  revealed that the controversial former First Lady had rejected the gift of a three-carat diamond ring from the property magnate Malik Riaz Hussain, arguing it was “unbecoming of them to send her something that everybody could own.” The tape records the tycoon’s daughter, Amber Riaz, telling her father she plans to send a PKR 10 million, five-carat ring instead.

“Locked doors at your sites will be opened tomorrow morning,” Amber claims to have been promised. “Khan sahib has guaranteed the closure of the cases which are with him.”

The curse of the five-carat diamond hasn’t just fallen on Imran and Bushra, though: The jewel’s malevolent light is also burning through the authority of the country’s all-powerful Generals.

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The General who spied on djinns

Lieutenant-General Asim Munir Shah, a low-profile professional with a history of distinguished service in the Northern Areas and at Military Intelligence, was appointed to lead the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate in October 2018—just weeks after Imran took office. The ISI had mounted surveillance on Malik Riaz for over a decade, as accusations repeatedly surfaced of high-level corruption and racketeering. The General, though, had no idea what his agency’s long-running wiretaps were about to uncover.

The diamond tape, two former Pakistan military officials have told ThePrint, was just part of a mass of corruption allegations involving Bushra—famously reputed to leave bowls of raw meat for two pet djinns she claimed protected her. Farhat Khan, Bushra’s closest friend, was brokering deals with businessmen, auctioning bureaucratic offices and guiding key political appointments, the ISI chief discovered.

Shah, the former military officers said, informed Imran of the contents of intercepts late in the summer of 2019, handing over a dossier to the former prime minister. For his pains, Shah was removed from office in June, the shortest tenure of an incumbent ISI chief since independence.

The ISI is believed to reach into every corner of Pakistan’s public life—but spying on a mistress of djinns proved a dangerous business.

Following Asim’s removal, journalist Naziha Syed Ali revealed, the Pakistan government pushed the United Kingdom to accept an £190 mn civil settlement with Malik Riaz in a case involving alleged money laundering. The funds were repatriated to Pakistan, but used to settle separate fines involving the tycoon. In return for this arrangement, the current government claims, Malik Riaz made over discounted properties to Bushra.

Lieutenant-General Faiz Hameed—accused of herding legislators out of the PML-N into Imran’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf ahead of the controversial 2018 elections—was now appointed to lead the ISI. The officer’s appointment, some in Pakistani military circles speculate, was facilitated by the participation of Faiz and his wife in religious events hosted by Bushra. Bajwa proved powerless to resist this challenge to his authority.

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A mistress of monsters?

Few details are available on the rise of Bushra as a significant religious-political actor. The child of a minor branch of the feudal Wattoo clan, which has vast landholdings in southern Punjab, Bushra was born in 1974 in Dipalpur—also home to 26/11 killer Muhammad Ajmal Kasab. At just fifteen—yet to complete her school education—Bushra was to marry Khawar Maneka, a customs officials and son of a provincial politician with roots in the PML-N.

The marriage likely introduced Bushra to the famous shrine of Fariduddin Ganjshakar, a medieval Sufi mystic, which counts the Khawar family among its ancestral caretakers. There are no records, though, that she was counted as a figure of significance at the shrine.

Imran began to visit Bushra around 2015, during his party’s election campaign for businessman Jahangir Khan Tareen.  Three years later, the couple were reported to have secretly married, in circumstances that were controversial because Bushra had allegedly not yet completed the legally-mandatory waiting period between divorce and remarriage.

The former prime minister claimed his relationship with Bushra was driven by an interest in Sufism. “I know more about physical attraction than anyone else,” Imran insisted, “[but] actually the character of a person and the mind, the intellect, is much more important.” “Sufism is an order with many levels, but I have never met anyone who is as high as my wife.”

Even though Khan is known to be deeply superstitious—his former wife Reham Khan has claimed he sought to ward off evil spells by rubbing lentils into his genitals—the marriage likely melded occult interests with cold-blooded pragmatism. Farhat and Bushra proved adroit political entrepreneurs, keeping Imran one step from the inevitable dirt of politics.

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The political entrepreneur

Farhat—also known as Farah Gogi—had long occupied an important place in Bushra’s life.  Together with her siblings Musarat and Shafiq, Farhat had been plunged into poverty after the death of their father, Muhammad Hussain Khan. The sisters moved to Lahore, and began earning a living, dancing at parties. Farhat’s fortunes turned, however, after she met property magnate Ahsan Jameel Gujjar—the grandson of a Partition refugee from Gurdaspur, and son of eight-time Punjab legislator Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal Gujjar.

Illness forced Ahsan Gujjar to repeatedly travel to the United States for treatment. Farhat spent time at the Khawar family home, and became close to Bushra. The two, by some accounts, appear to have grown an informal mystic circle for women—which led to Bushra using the honorific Pirni, or religious leader.

The secret wedding is believed to have taken place, and a long-time friend of Bushra—occupied a central place in Imran’s emerging inner circle. Together with her businessman-husband Ahsan Jameel Gujjar, Farah, for all practical purposes, moved into Imran’s Bani Gala home.

Although she had no formal political role, the diamond tape suggests she played a key role as an intermediary for Bushra and Imran. For her services, the Pakistan government has alleged, she received generous payoffs—among other things, receiving a PKR 600 million industrial plot for just Rs 83 million.

Efforts by Imran to ensure Faiz would succeed Bajwa—even though he would only be fourth-in-line if the army chief retires as scheduled in November—eventually precipitated the crisis which led to his eviction from the PM’s office. Farhat fled to the United Arab Emirates, on a Punjab government jet, flaunting a $90,000 handbag.

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The war of succession 

Last week, Imran had lashed out at the government saying it wanted to appoint a corrupt loyalist as the next army chief—leading the institution to issue a sharp statement saying the former prime minister was seeking to “discredit and undermine the senior leadership of the Pakistan army.”  Imran’s mass following, moreover, has led to fears within the establishment that anarchy could be unleashed if he is pushed into a corner—fears the former prime minister has adroitly capitalised on.

Leaders who defied the Pakistan Army, in the past, often ended up in prison, exile or on the gallows. Imran, though, has escaped real retribution—leading many to speculate he has support within the army’s ranks.

Even though some leaders in the PML-N are believed to be pushing for Asim’s appointment, he is scheduled to retire before Bajwa’s term ends. Legislation passed in 2020, moreover, mandates that the army chief can serve until 2024—technically allowing Bajwa more time in office.

Lieutenant-General Sahir Shamshad Mirza—a well-regarded military professional, who rose after early struggles brought about by the loss of both his parents, will be the senior-most officer in line if Bajwa retires in November. Lieutenant-Generals Azhar Abbas and Nauman Mehmood Raja are next in the order of seniority—followed by the controversial Faiz.

For whoever takes charge, though, there is a critical challenge ahead: the next army chief will have to risk political chaos to assert the army’s supremacy, or risk surrendering the institution’s primacy.

Ever since the country’s foundation, the Pakistan Army enjoyed a veto on who would lead its fortunes—thus forming a permanent establishment, that transcended elected leadership. Even figures picked for political reliability—among them, Generals Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pervez Musharraf, Wahid Kakar and Bajwa himself—overturned their masters, when the interests of military supremacy on decision-making demanded it.

Imran has shown populism—and corruption—can be leveraged to crack Pakistan’s toughest institution. “Talk about something expensive,” he told journalists this week, “diamonds are cheap.”

The author is National Security Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @praveenswami. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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