Friday, 1 June 2018

Pakistan: Who's in the dock?

Najam Sethi in The Friday Times

Lt General (retd) Asad Durrani, ex-DG ISI, has run afoul of his Alma Mater. His alleged crime: jointly authoring a book with AS Dulat, ex RAW chief of India. GHQ has formed a “court of inquiry” to determine whether he violated any army rules in venturing into this project or revealed “state secrets” detrimental to the cause of national security. It has also ordered that his name be placed on the Exit Control List pending the case.

Gen Durrani describes himself as a “normal line officer” until he became “an accidental spymaster” in a stopgap appointment by a caretaker government for 18 months in 1990-91. During this time, he worked closely with COAS General Mirza Aslam Beg to bribe politicians and facilitate the election of Nawaz Sharif as prime minister. But he fell out with PM Sharif when he refused to spy on COAS General Asif Nawaz Janjua who, in Nawaz’s view, was conspiring with Benazir Bhutto to get rid of him. So, upon the urging of Nawaz Sharif who wanted his “own man” Gen Javed Nasir as DG ISI, Gen Janjua transferred Gen Durrani to GHQ after promoting him to Lt Gen. Shortly after Gen Janjua’s sudden death in 1993, the new COAS Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar sacked Gen Durrani from the army for indulging in unauthorized political activity by becoming a go-between Benazir Bhutto and General Janjua. But after coming to power, Ms Bhutto rewarded him by posting him as Ambassador to Germany. In due course, Gen Durrani became a columnist and was actively wooed as a think-tanker and Track-2 diplomat with an insider’s take on critical Indo-Pak and US-Pak matters. He now honed his persona to go with his new job: part blunt, part enigmatic, depending on the issue and forum.

GHQ has always looked upon Gen Durrani as a maverick who can be trusted to defend the institution when push comes to shove but with some views subtly contrary to the prevailing national security wisdom in his Alma Mater establishment. So why has GHQ suddenly jumped the gun and hauled him up?

Gen Durrani isn’t the first army officer to have empowered his elbow. At least a dozen Generals and a score of other army officers have, before him, spilled the beans in dribs and drabs, whether in the form of articles, books or TV interviews, at home and abroad. None of them had their books vetted by GHQ and none obtained a formal NOC before doing so. If Air Marshals Nur Khan and Asghar Khan were surprisingly candid about all the wars fought against India, General Pervez Musharraf is the biggest loud mouth of recent times and can safely be classified as a national security risk in comparison with the soft-spoken Gen Durrani. Moreover, at least a couple of dozen books detailing the shenanigans of the Miltablishment, including three full length critical biographies of the ISI by foreign scholars, are freely available at bookshops across the country. Indeed, this practice of writing memoirs or policy critiques is widely prevalent in the West where every second US National Security Advisor and CIA Chief has freely commented on his time in office and often revealed startling facts. So what’s the beef with Gen Durrani?

Regardless of what’s in the book – and there isn’t anything terribly significant that is unknown to Pakistan watchers – GHQ is unsettled by its timing. Only recently it has extracted a heavy price from Nawaz Sharif for Dawnleaks in which a well-known fact – that the Miltablishment’s policy of propping up militant non-state actors has become a millstone around the elected government’s neck – was made public. Nawaz Sharif’s subsequent comments of Miltablishment meddling in politics have attracted charges of “treason” and “Indian agent”. Now General Durrani comes along and calmly goes a couple of steps further than Nawaz Sharif, prompting the latter to quickly demand a sitting of the National Security Council to ascertain the veracity of admissions in the book and compare these with the insignificant utterances that cost him his job as prime minister. Under the circumstances, GHQ had no option but to quell the demand by pulling the “errant” General under its wing and silencing its rising critics. Should GHQ now demand a ban on the book that is published in India, it would look sillier still because it is now freely available on the web.

The double standards of the Miltablishment are now evident all round. General Musharraf is kosher but Gen Durrani is not. Nawaz Sharif is guilty of Iqama but Imran has not misdeclared. And so on, ad nauseam. No wonder, then, that a recent PILDAT survey shows that the credibility of military leaders in the popular imagination has fallen to the lowest among eleven institutional categories. This has raised serious question marks about its strategy to oust Nawaz Sharif and install another kangaroo government in Islamabad by pre-rigging the next elections. It has also put the spotlight on who is really in a bind and in the dock.

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