General Mirza Aslam Beg, SBt, HI(M), NI(M), afwc, psc (born 2 August 1931), is a retired four star rank general who was the Chief of Army Staff of the Pakistan Army succeeding General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, after the latter died in an air crash on 17 August 1988. He continued to hold the powerful post of Army Chief till 1991, when his political ambitions forced the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to nominate General Asif Nawaz as the new Army chief three months prior to Gen Beg’s retirement. As Army chief, Beg is credited for improving the fighting capabilities of the Pakistan Army.
Aslam Beg was born to a Muslim family in Azamgarh village. His father Mirza Murtaza Beg was an Adovocate who practised in Azamgarh Civil court. Beg did his schooling in Azamgarh, UP, India, from Shibli National College .
Beg was commissioned in the 6th PMA Long Course in the Infantry’s Baloch Regiment on 23 August 1952. In 1958, Captain Beg was selected for the Special Service Group and did his training in the United States. As a Major, Beg commanded an SSG company in 1960 to remove the Nawab of Dir in Chitral in the northern part of North-West Frontier Province. From March 1975 to January 1978, then Brigadier Mirza Aslam Beg stayed as the Chief Instructor of Armed Forces War College at the then National Defence College, Rawalpindi.
In 1978, Beg was promoted to major general and posted as the Adjutant General (AG) at GHQ. Later, he served as the Chief of General Staff (CGS) of the Pakistan Army for five years from 1980 to 1985. As CGS, Beg was in charge of planning the counter-offensive to the 1984 Indian invasion of Siachen marking the beginnings of the ongoing Siachen conflict. After serving at the GHQ, both as major general and lieutenant general, he commanded the XI Corps at Peshawar from 1985 to 1987.
Chief of Army Staff
By March 1987, Beg was promoted to four-star general and took over as Vice Chief of Army Staff in General Zia-ul-Haq’s military administration. After Zia’s death in a plane crash on 17 August 1988, Beg became Army chief. Soon thereafter, general elections followed, resulting in a transfer of government to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with Benazir Bhutto as the premier. Beg, however, remained a powerful chief of army staff until 1991, when he was replaced by General Asif Nawaz. 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 warfighting capabilities.
Mehran Bank scandal
After his retirement Beg remained a controversial figure, both for his alleged role in a Bank scandal and the nuclear proliferation issue. Former Air Marshal Asghar Khan filed a petition in the Supreme Court (HRC 19/96) against the retired General Mirza Aslam Beg, the former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief retired Lt General Asad Durrani and Younis Habib of Mehran Bank (merged with NBP in 1995), relating to the disbursement of public money and its misuse for political purposes, which is still pending hearing by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. According to one of the Pakistani newspaper editorial, General Durrani who had distributed Rs 140 million to win over the “for-sale” politicians never felt ashamed of his role or offered an apology.
The case was initiated by Air Marshal Asghar Khan after Benazir Bhutto’s interior minister, another retired general, Naseerullah Babar, had disclosed in the National Assembly in 1994 how the ISI had disbursed funds to purchase the loyalty of politicians and public figures so as to manipulate the 1990 elections and bring about the defeat of the PPP. Aslam Beg managed to get Rs 140 million from Younis Habib and deposited in the Survey Section 202 account of Military Intelligence, then headed by Major General Javed Ashraf Qazi. From there, Rs 6 crore was paid to President Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s election cellmates (Lt General Syed Refaqat, Roedad Khan, and Ijlal Haider Zaidi), and Rs 8 crore transferred to the ISI account.
Nuclear proliferation with Iran
Khaled Ahmed, the consulting editor of The Friday Times contends that after taking over as army chief, General Aslam Beg began talking about “selling” nuclear technology as a part of his “strategy of defiance” of the United States. He knew that such a nuclear cooperation with Iran was popular and that, within an increasingly anti-American army Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Arabs were less popular as American clients in the region. The speed with which he declared the new nuclear policy leads one to speculate whether he simply wanted the “obstacle” of General Zia to disappear from the scene. Zia was close to the Arabs, especially to Saudi Arabia, that had built a grand multi-million dollar mosque in Islamabad, the Faisal Mosque, where he was appropriately buried after his death.
Accusation of role in Zia’s death
It is also claimed in the above mentioned article that Aslam Beg’s strategy was much in-sync with Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, about bringing Iran into the fold of nuclear prowess much to the annoyance of his boss, General Zia-ul-Haq. Therefore, fueling the contention of Zia’s son Muhammad Ijaz-ul-Haq, that Beg was behind the death of his father. Even the Shafiur Rehman Commission that was to establish the cause of the crash of Zia’s plane concluded that because of Army’s obstruction in the investigation, the real perpetrators behind the attack cannot be brought forward
Playing politics as the Chief of Army Staff
Najam Sethi, the editor of Daily Times sharply rebukes General Beg for his past misadventures into the domain of politics in a recent editorial. He asks the former general to apologize for warning the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto off a large area of internal and external policy in 1988, and to apologize to the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for violating an agreed foreign policy decision to send Pakistani troops to Saudi Arabia when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
In the same article Sethi contends that General Aslam Beg should “apologise for bringing the Supreme Court in contempt when he admitted that he had influenced the chief justice to prevent the restoration of Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo. When confronted with challenging a general, the Supreme Court under Justice Muhammad Afzal Zullah got cold feet and let General Beg go Scot free.”
Founding Friends think-tank
After retirement General Beg founded a policy think-tank called Friends and the non-political Awami Qaiyadat Party (National Leadership Party) and continued to be a powerful part of Pakistan’s ruling oligarchs. He also gave many interviews and appeared on some respectable channels posing as the political and military analyst, most recent being the appearance on PBS FRONTLINE/World’s “Pakistan: On a Razor’s Edge.
Relations with President Musharraf
President General Pervez Musharraf served under both Beg and Gul, and apparently had high respect for them, but after September 11, 2001, they gradually drifted apart. Their differences surfaced for the first time when in a press conference Musharraf spoke about the negative role of a few generals and called them “pseudo-intellectuals.”
Later in January 2008, General Aslam Beg being part of Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society urged President Musharraf to voluntarily step down in the greater interests of Pakistan