At the end of May Pakistan went public about why two retired generals had “disappeared” in late 2018. In May the two, along with a senior civilian official, were tried and convicted of espionage. The trials were held in secret, so as not to reveal details of who these three were spying for and how they were detected doing so. One of the retired generals, Raja Rizwan, a one-star brigadier, was sentenced to death. Javed Iqbal Awan, a retired three-star general was sentenced to 14 years “rigorous imprisonment.” That means he will probably die in prison. The third man, Wasim Akram, is a medical doctor assigned to top-secret organizations. He was also sentenced to death. All three men had held high positions in military planning or nuclear weapons organizations. All three frequently traveled to the West on official business. Raja Rizwan attended senior staff schools in the United States.
All three were apparently working for some foreign intel agency, either the CIA or Indian intel. The CIA was known to be recruiting active duty and retired Pakistani senior officers for some time. That was possible because since the 1990s a growing number of Pakistani officers were known to be unhappy with the doctrine, adopted in the 1980s, of using Islamic terrorist organizations to attack India and seek more control over Afghanistan. After the end of the Cold War (and the Soviet Union) in 1991, a growing number of Pakistani officers saw Islamic terrorism as more of a danger to Pakistan than a useful weapon against enemies.
This split in the Pakistani officer corps became more acute after 2001 when the Americans told Pakistan that they must either join the United States in a campaign against Islamic terrorism or be officially declared part of the problem. Pakistan decided to do both. Officially Pakistan became part of an American led anti-terror coalition. At the same time, Pakistan continued to support Islamic terrorism while officially denying they were doing so. This was a dangerous game and many Pakistanis recognized those risks. But the majority saw it as an opportunity for personal (corruption) and/or national (patriotism) gain.
The Pakistani Army had lost every war they fought with India since the two nations were created out of British India in 1948. Indian Moslems (and the Moslem world in general) never got used to the fact that conquering Islamic armies were never able to conquer all of India and were even less successful in forcing Hindus they did rule to become Moslems. According to Islamic radicals, Hindus are the worst kind of infidel (non-Moslem) because, unlike Christians and Jews, they have no common religious roots with Islam. Actually, Hindus do, as there was a lot of Hindu influence in Arabia before Islam appeared there 1,400 years ago, but the founders of Islam choose not to openly recognize their Hindu roots. Thus the harder line on Hindus, who are the majority in India, eight percent of the population of Bangladesh and 1.2 percent in Pakistan. There used to be a lot more Hindus in Pakistan but decades of violence against Hindus (and Christians and other religious minorities) have led a disproportionate number of Hindus to leave.
Despite the antagonism there were more commonalities between the two nations than differences. Most Indians and many Pakistanis saw the perpetual state of war between the two nations as unnatural and counterproductive. Yet the Pakistani military, which was granted more political power than the Indian military after independence, saw maintaining the fiction that India was a military threat to Pakistan as essential. Maintaining that illusion made the Pakistani military more politically and financially powerful. That came at the expense of Pakistani democracy and prosperity.
By the 1970s it became an article of faith in the Pakistani army that India was and would always be the enemy. The reality was that the Pakistani Army had been the cause of most animosity with India. In the early 1970s, this was very visible in Bangladesh, which came to blame Pakistan for supporting Islamic terrorism within Bangladesh for a long time. This goes back to a 1971 uprising in Bangladesh (then part of Pakistan as “East Pakistan”) that led to a war between Pakistan and India. Many Pakistani military leaders see this 1971 loss as a major reason for Pakistani obsession with India. Not only was the Pakistani army decisively defeated in 1971, but Pakistan lost much territory because Bengali Moslems actively sought to secede and became Bangladesh. Former Pakistani military commander and dictator (via another coup) Pervez Musharraf admitted in late 2014 that he started the 1999 Kargil border war with India as another attempt to avenge the defeat (and loss of Bangladesh) in 1971. Pakistani officers (and many other Pakistanis) have always attributed the loss of Bangladesh to an Indian conspiracy with traitorous politicians in East Pakistan. Bangladesh calls that conspiracy theory absurd and that the real reason for the rebellion was corruption and incompetent government imposed by troops from “West Pakistan” which after 1971, was all that remained of pre-1971 Pakistan. It was Pakistani Army bad behavior that fueled the independence movement in East Pakistan, not some Indian conspiracy. For many Pakistani officers, looking at 1971 events realistically is a form of treason and was not to be tolerated.
These attitudes alarmed a growing number of Pakistani officers who saw this obsession with “Evil India” making Pakistan weaker, not stronger. This atmosphere in the Pakistani military made it easier for the CIA, and other Western intel agencies, to recruit useful sources about what was really going on inside the Pakistani military. Such information ultimately led to pinpointing where al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden was hiding (in a Pakistani military town not far from a major military school). The American 2011 commando raid on bin Laden’s refuge was a major embarrassment for the Pakistani military. So was the continued growth of Islamic terrorism inside Pakistan against the army and government. This led to the Pakistani Army declaring a 2014 war on Islamic terrorism (at least the ones who would not do as they were told) and a major campaign to shut down the last major Islamic terrorist sanctuary in Pakistan. That campaign in North Waziristan was supposed to be over in a year or two but took longer than expected and North Waziristan is still heavily guarded and patrolled by the army. That was followed in 2018 by the Americans cutting off all military aid to Pakistan and pressuring the UN to officially recognize Pakistan as a supporter of international terrorists. The UN is coming around to doing just that because the evidence has always been there, in plain sight, and keeps growing. Even China, the only major ally Pakistan has, is supporting official recognition of Pakistani support for Islamic terrorism. Less publicized is the fact that all this increases the number of dissident officers in the Pakistani military. These officers are loyal, but they are not stupid. They see the Islamic terrorism strategy, first proposed at the end of the 1970s, as a failure and one that becoming more of a danger to Pakistan than it ever was to any of the neighbors.
It is also possible that the three men were prosecuted because they had been taking large bribes from North Korea, or even Iran, for supplying technical data on how to solve problems everyone encounters while getting their nuke to work at all, and then making their nuclear weapon designs more reliable and capable of surviving the stresses of a ballistic missile launch. This sort of treason is nothing new for Pakistan.
In 2008 Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist A Q Khan admitted that the Pakistani Army knew he was selling nuclear weapons secrets to Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Previously he had insisted that he, and his small group of accomplices, had done it all themselves. Back in 2003, the U.S. imposed sanction on a North Korean and Pakistani firm (Changgwang Sinyong Corporation and A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories) for trading missile technology for nuclear technology. Khan had been suspected of peddling nuclear secrets as far back as the late 1990s. In 2004, Khan finally admitted it. There was popular outrage at a Pakistani politician’s suggestion that A Q Khan, who originally stole technology from the West and created Pakistan's nuclear bombs, be questioned by foreign police for his role in selling that technology (as a private venture) to other nations. Khan was placed under house arrest after he confessed and kept away from journalists. While in Pakistan Kahn was otherwise untouchable, because he was a national hero for creating the "Islamic Bomb." Popular demand eventually led to Khan being released from house arrest in early 2008. Pakistan had to do something to suppress the international outrage over what Kahn had done. Pakistan apparently assured critics that measures would be taken to prevent another Pakistani “Kahn” incident. Pakistan assured foreign nations that any future “Kahns” would receive punishment far more severe than a few years of house arrest. Everyone with access to Pakistani nuclear tech were so warned. Since the three men recently punished for espionage had some access to nuclear tech the possibility of someone selling nuclear weapons data is considered a possibility. As with the A Q Kahn mess, the facts will eventually surface including how Kahn was selling small bits of tech for high prices and, in effect, betraying his customers as well