Musharraf’s Memoir Does Not Violate Official Secrets Act
Weekly Pulse
October 6-12, 2006
President General Pervez Musharraf has been under increasing fire since the publication of his memoir In The Line of Fire. Perhaps the fiercest of all criticisms has come from former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who has accused him of gaining “cheap” personal publicity at the expense of Pakistan. She has also accused him of violating Official Secrets Act.

“By leaking secret and classified information about issues of national interest, Gen Musharraf stands accused of violating the Official Secrets Act,” Benazir Bhutto said last week. She said no serving army chief was permitted to speak on these matters while in office. “By violating the Official Secrets Act, he is jeopardizing Pakistan’s national security,” she added.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and MMA leader Qazi Hussain Ahmad have followed suit, leveling similar allegations. Roedad Khan, the country’s known former bureaucrat and author of Pakistan: A Dream Gone Sour, has made the same allegation in a private TV show by citing the case of former President Ghulam Ishaq Khan who wanted to write his memoirs after retirement but was not permitted by the Cabinet Division.

usharraf’s Clarification

For his part, President Musharraf has clarified his position. “There are no restrictions that a president should not write a book,” he told a gathering last week at Cornell University, on the concluding leg of his visit to the United States. “No secrets have been revealed and there has been no compromise on secrets of Pakistan,” he said, adding that he had written about things he had been talking about all along.

From the war in Kargil to A Q Khan scandal to the 1999 coup—these and many other subjects included in the book have been so controversial that it is but natural for those maintaining a point of view different than the President to be critical of his work. However, accusing him of violating the Official Secrets Act is an extremely serious matter, which can only be clarified by looking at its various clauses. So, the question is: What does the Official Secrets Act, 1923, which the state of Pakistan adheres to in letter and spirit, really say about the matter?

The Official Secrets Act is a detailed document. It has 15 Articles, which narrating the various acts of government officials which amount to disclosing national secrets, the circumstances surrounding the commission of such acts, the process of prosecution and the level of punishment.

Articles 1 and 2 are the introductory articles. Clause 2 of Article 1 states that the Act “extends to the whole of Pakistan, and applies also to all citizens of Pakistan and persons in the service of Government (Including the President and the Army Chief) wherever the may be. The acts which can be considered in violation of the Act are defined in Clause 2 of Article 2.

These include “expressions referring to communicating or receiving include any communicating or receiving, whether in whole or in part, and whether the sketch, plan model, article, note, document, or information itself or the substance, effect or description thereof only be communicated or received; expressions referring to obtaining or receiving any sketch, plan model, article, note, or document, include the copying or causing to be copied of the whole or any part of any sketch, plan model, article, note, or document; and expressions referring to the communication of any sketch, plan model, article, note, or document include the transfer or transmission of the sketch, plan model, article, note, or document.”

Relevant Article

A careful reading of the Official Secrets Act reveals that only one Article—that is, Article 5—is applicable in the present case. It deals with wrongful communication, etc, of information. Other articles relate to subjects, which do not fall within the parameters of a publication authored by a serving head of state or the army chief.

For instance, Article 3 of the Official Secrets Act is about penalties for spying; Article 4 pertains to communications with foreign agents to be evidence of commission of certain offenses; Article 6 deals with unauthorized use of uniforms, falsification of reports, forgery, personation, and false documents; Article 7 deals with interfering with officers of the police or members of the armed forces of Pakistan; Article 8 concerns the duty of giving information as to commission of offences; Article 9 is about attempts and incitements; Article 10 deals with penalties for harboring spies; Article 11 is about search warrants; Article 12 describes the power to arrest; Article 13 concerns with the restrictions of offenses; Article 14 is about the exclusion of public from proceedings; and Article 15 deals with offenses by companies.

So, what does Article 5 pertaining to the wrongful communication, etc, of information say in detail? Its Clause 1 starts by saying “If any person having in his possession or control any secret official code or password or any sketch, plan, model article, note, document or information which relates to or is used in a prohibited place or elates to anything in such a place, or which has been made or obtained in contravention of this Act, or which has been entrusted in confidence to him by any person holding office under {Government}, or which he has obtained or to which he has had access owing to his position as a person who holds or has held office under {Government}, or as a person who is or has been employed under a person who holds or has held such an office or contract: (a) willfully communicates the code or passwords, sketch, plan, model, article, note, document or information to any person other than a person to whom he is authorized to communicate it, or a Court of Justice or a person to whom it is, in the interests of the State, his duty to communicate it; …he shall be guilty of an offense under this section.”

Clause 4 of the Article then describes the punishment: “A Person guilty of an offense under this section shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term that may extent to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

Memoirs of Leaders

Nowhere does the Official Secrets Act forbid a government functionary, be it the Head of the State or the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), not to write his Memoir while still in office. In The Line of Fire does include numerous first person accounts about controversial and sensitive subjects such as the Kargil war, the nuclear proliferation network of A Q Khan, the 1999 coup (or countercoup, as Musharraf terms it). But, then, they have already been frequently told by the President himself, or mentioned by the media.

It is, however, true that memoirs are usually written by powerful personalities when they are out of power. For instance, President Clinton’s autobiography titled My Life came out years after he left American presidency. Also, since her retirement, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright has written two auto-biographical accounts, including the Mighty and the Almighty published this year.

In his defense, President Musharraf has taken the plea at the Cornell University address that Nelson Mandela had also authored his memoir while he was still the President of South Africa. But, then, Mandela’s autobiography was hardly an exercise in the self-praise but a narration of his long struggle, including nearly three decade of life in jail, while the African National Congress (ANC)—the party he founded—fought against apartheid with spiritual inspiration from its jailed leader.

However, the question whether President Musharraf has violated the Official Secrets Act can best be answered in the light of its Article 5, Clause 1 (a)’s assertion of communicating officially sensitive information, particularly “plan…article, note, document or information to any person other than a person to whom he is authorized to communicate.”

The staunch critics of the President may point to those sections of In the Line of Fire, in which details of in camera interactions of top Pakistani officials, such as the President or the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), with their American counterparts, for instance, are narrated.

Nothing New

These may include the top level communication that went on between the Pakistani and American leadership as narrated in Chapter 20, titled “One Day that Changed the World.” But then there is nothing new in that. Several books have already mentioned it. In fact, Bob Woodword’s Bush at War, published in 2002, had stated in detail as to how Pakistan was bullied by the American leadership into cooperating with Washington on the war on terrorism. What President Musharraf has simply done is to place the issue in a realistic perspective, by principally arguing that the decision to join the American-led alliance against terrorism was carefully arrived at on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis; and that Pakistan did not agree to all of the demands that the Bush administration made.

The President’s disclosure about the ISI chief being threatened by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage for “bombing Pakistan back to the Stone Age” is troubling for the Bush administration; and it would be meaningless to consider it a violation of the Official Secrets Act.

In Chapter 21, titled Omar and Osama, there is a mention of a secret meeting that the intelligence chiefs of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had with the Taliban leader in Kandahar in the aftermath of the alleged al-Qaeda bombing of two US embassies in East Africa. One can question the narration on academic grounds. For it is written as if President Musharraf was personally present in the meeting. However, his intention of narrating this incident was to prove the limitation of Pakistani and Saudi influence on the Taliban in power.

Then, Chapters 22 to 24—titled the War Comes to Pakistan, Manhunt and Tightening the Noose—are about post-9/11 terrorism in Pakistan, how the Government of Pakistan countered it and achieved remarkable successes in nabbing and extraditing hundreds of alleged Al-Qaeda terrorists. If there are detailed narrations of terrorism and counter-terrorism stories—for instances, those pertaining to the arrest and conviction of the murderers of Daniel Pearl or the arrest and extradition of 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammad—then this is also not something new.

Realistic Perspective

Scores of books, published primarily in the United States, have already mentioned the same stories umpteen times; however, in most cases, with a Western bias. If President Musharraf has attempted to place terrorism and counter-terrorism issues in the country and the region in a perspective that potentially projects before an international audience Pakistan’s contribution to the war on terrorism, then there is no question that this effort jeopardizes in any way the country’s national interest.

No one can deny the fact that one of the outcomes of 9/11 is the emergence of President Musharraf in the international limelight. Thus, if on the war on terror, the country has been under increasing scrutiny, especially in Western media, the attempt by the country’s leadership to state the fact as they are can hardly be termed as a violation of national interest.

How can communicating a “plan…article, note, document or information to any person other than a person to whom he is authorized to communicate”—in the present case, the global public opinion—possibly endanger Pakistan national security? Just in 2002, Pakistan promulgated the new Freedom of Information Act, which gives its citizens a speedier access to public information.

More importantly, in an age of information, the government leadership is obliged to be more proactive in clarifying misperceptions—since, as Musharraf himself mentions—perceptions are sometimes more important than reality. In fact, as far as Pakistan is concerned, most of the time, perceptions have proven to be more important than realities. In other words, the reality of Pakistan in many instances is not what its international image is.

Textual Account

Returning to the text of the book, its first 10 chapters are about Musharaf’s life history until his taking over as the COAS, a history that he claims goes hand in hand with the history of Pakistan itself after Partition. There is nothing in this section whose narration can somehow jeopardize national security.

Chapters 11 about the Kargil conflict and 27 about the nuclear proliferation do contain material that may appear to some critics as sensitive to national security. But, even in these cases, the President’s attempt to beak four myths about Kargil and expose some of the never-told details of the A Q Khan network are mentioned with the foremost intention of absolving the State of Pakistan in general and the military establishment in particular of any wrongdoing.

Given that, the detractor of Musharraf can question his moral integrity for revealing, for instance, the content of the two letters that A Q Khan wrote to the Iranians and his London-based daughter. But equating such revelations with the motive of jeopardizing state secrets does not appear to make any legal sense.

As far as Part III of the book, titled ‘The Hijacking Drama,’ is concerned, its story is also well told. In fact, Najam Sethi, editor of The Friday Times and Daily Times, had produced a special Correspondent documentary on BBC narrating similar details of the circumstances leading to the 1999 coup in its immediate aftermath.

No Violation

In the light of above analysis, it can be safely said that Musharraf’s memoir does not violate the Official Secrets Act. However, it is the academic quality of the book that can, and should, be questioned.

In fact, the President himself has retracted an important claim made on page 237 of the book, where he had written “those who habitually accuse us of not doing enough in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to Government of Pakistan.” When a CNN anchor pressed Musharraf in an interview during his visit to the US last week on the matter, he recanted saying: “no, Pakistan government was not paid.”

In a book which may have been partly authored by a ghost writer or a number of them—which is clear from the varied styles of writing in various chapters—there is always a margin of error even about some fundamental realities. Moreover, as stated before, the way many of the stories in the book have been told as if Musharraf was a personal witness of the events, points to its major weakness.

Such criticism aside, In The Line of Fire is a valuable addition to the literature on Pakistan. Musharraf’s critics would do a better job by producing their own versions of the country’s recent history than accusing him of violating the Official Secrets Act, which, as clear from the preceding discussion, has not legal grounds.