Brigadier (R) Asad Munir – Tragic Ending To A Well-Lived Life
Defence analyst Hamid Hussain remembers an unusual officer late Brigadier (retired) Asad Munir who recently committed suicide. Brig Munir was a man of letters, a well-known, social media savvy commentator and above all a remarkable public servant. (Naya Daur mourns with his family. May he rest in peace.)
In early hours of March 15, 2019, Brigadier (R) Asad Munir committed suicide. He left a suicide note in which he alleged harassment at the hands of National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Thus extinguished the flicker of light of a fine officer and gentleman. I have known Asad since 2009, the year he first contacted me. A few years ago, I spent a whole day with him at the same apartment in Islamabad in which he was found dead. We periodically interacted and discussed issues of regional security. During my last visit to Pakistan in 2018, due to my hectic schedule, I could not meet him.
Asad joined Ist Special Short Course (SSC) of Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) and commissioned in 1972 in Baluch Regiment. He commanded an infantry Brigade where his division commander was General Pervez Musharraf. The other brigade commander under Musharraf was late Major General Amir Faisal Alvi (Alvi was assassinated in Islamabad in November 2008). Asad served as head of Military Intelligence (MI) of North West Frontier Province now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Asad was close to General Ehsan ul Haq, the then serving as Director General Military Intelligence (DGMI). In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, there was a major shuffle of senior brass. Ehsan was brought in as Director General Inter Service Intelligence (DGISI). Ehsan then brought Asad as head of ISI detachment of KP. In this capacity, Asad was instrumental in coordinating with Americans to catch fleeing Al-Qaeda leaders. After retirement, he served as member of Capital Development Authority (CDA) Islamabad and deputy director National Accountability Bureau (NAB). He continued his efforts for reforms in tribal areas.
In early 2018, the then army chief met with some retired Pashtun officers including Asad for their input about reforms in tribal areas.
Asad served as head of ISI detachment of KP for only two years (2002-03), but this was a crucial period. He was the right person at the right time at an important post.
He was one of a handful of Pakistani army officers of mid 1990s questioning the conventional wisdom of use of proxies for national security objectives. In mid 1990s, he wrote a paper about threat of militant groups to Pakistan’s security and stability. This was a direct challenge to the prevalent view about such groups. The period 2002-04 witnessed close cooperation and reasonable amount of trust between ISI and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). CIA was focused mainly on Al- Qaeda and had no concern about other militant groups. A certain measure of trust developed between operatives of both agencies on the ground. The ISI officers were impressed with technological capabilities that CIA brought to the game. Surveillance equipment would pick up telephone signals from the urban jungles of Karachi, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi that netted major al-Qaeda operatives. The CIA operatives acknowledged the human intelligence network of ISI and complete disregard of personal safety by ISI officers. The respect was mutual. Some members of CIA ground operatives sent to Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of September 11 were fluent in local languages and brave. Pakistani intelligence officials noted how CIA operatives took great personal risks.
This honeymoon period lasted for a short period as diverging interests and double dealing frayed the relationship between the two agencies.
Personal lives of officers and especially intelligence officers are not well-known.
There are some aspects of Asad’s life that his colleagues and friends may not know. Asad belonged to Spin Kanre village of Ziarat Kaka Sahib in Nowshera district of KP. His father was from a humble background and became an orphan at a very young age.
He graduated from Islamia College in 1930s and joined Survey of India. He was fond of reading and his children inherited this habit from him. He subscribed to major literary magazines of the day and his children were exposed to literature at a very young age. He died at the age of 54.
Asad was an avid reader and during his early youth he was exposed at home to major literary magazines such as Naqoosh, Fanoon and Adab-e-Lateef. The next step was absorbing works of representatives of progressive movement including Saadat Hassan Manto, Krishan Chandar, Qurat-ul-Aain Haider and Hajra Masroor.
In his college days, he became communist after reading major works of Pakistan’s eminent leftist writer Syed Sibte Hassan. Like many young men and women of early 1970s, he was a great fan of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
In late 1970s, Asad got interested in theology and read classical theological works of Muhammad ibn Jarir al Tabari (839- 923), Muhammad ibn Ishaq (704-761), Muhamad ibn Omar ibn Waqidi (747-823) and Muhammad ibn Saad (784-845). In addition, he also read works of most influential western scholars of Islam including William Montgomery Watt (1909-2006) and Richard Bell (1876-1952). He also liked Pashto music genre of 1970s. We shared the fondness of Pashto music of 1970s that was produced in Kabul and sometimes he used to send me old clips of a beautiful Afghan singer Bakht Zamina. Her patriotic songs motivated leftist/communist soldiers of Afghan army fighting against Mujahideen. She was assassinated in Kabul.
In the last two decades during my own work on Pakistan army, I have interacted with a large number of Pakistani army officers including many intelligence officers from different backgrounds. On policy matters, we have very animated and contentious debates but at personal level I have great respect for many of these officers for their integrity. They have been gracious hosts. I have visited their modest homes, and many drove me around in their old cars. These officers during their intelligence stints were handling hundreds of thousands, and in some cases, millions of dollars in clandestine activities but kept their hands clean. The country country should be proud of such folks who serve with honor.
Asad never shared with me the details of what NAB was investigating. To my knowledge, Asad never used the power of ISI nor approached the army chief for any favor. This is in line with his character. What I know about him and based on my personal interactions and observations, I found no evidence of any wrongdoing.
I visited his modest apartment and he drove me around in Islamabad in his old car. These days a career in the military is seen as a secure job. In older times, there was more to it than the job security. There was an intangible and undefinable code of honour that was attached with this profession.
Honour superseded all other considerations and it was not unusual for officers to take their own life when they perceived that their honor was at stake. Asad followed that old tradition as his sensitive nature could not take any other course.
In 2012, a senior retired officer of Pakistan army Lieutenant General Imtiaz Hussain (Sindh Regiment); former Corps Commander and Adjutant General also shot himself in the head when his name was being sullied.
I found Asad very soft spoken and he always had a smile on his face. He was a gentle soul. Even during conversations when I would severely criticize army’s policies, his demeanor would never change. He presented his views in a calm and lucid way never hesitating to admit the blunders of his own institution. Asad’s army career as infantry officer was usual with normal postings and promotions. His intelligence stint was controversial in view of involvement of intelligence operatives in the 2002 elections. He was a bit eccentric and understood the dilemma of tasks performed in the line of duty and his own personal inclinations. In the end, his literary and intellectual side was more dominant and a few years ago, he had said to me, “I was never a soldier in my 32 years’ service in the army”.
This article will be published in Defence Journal, April 2019.
The author is an independent analyst on defence affairs.