General Asad Durrani, former head of Pakistan’s powerful military spy agency, Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI), is in deep trouble. After being summoned to the General Headquarters, the nerve centre of the army in Rawalpindi on the outskirts of the federal capital Islamabad, he has been put on the Exit Control List (ECL) that bars him from leaving the country. The trouble started last week after the publication of the book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, a collaboration between Durrani and Amar Singh Dulat, the former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
It is a running commentary of the conversations between the two former spy chiefs. Moderated by the Indian journalist Aditya Sinha, it is peppered with speculation or analytical conjecture about past events or wild guesses about some future scenarios – from the possible Indian reaction to upcoming terrorist attacks from Pakistan; or the potential trajectory of Kashmir and India-Pakistan engagement in view of any specific hypothetical stimulus. There is nothing new in the book that is not already in the public domain, but Durrani seems to unwittingly lend credence to some of the Indian claims about Pakistan’s involvement in terrorism. He also suggests that Pakistan knew about Osama Bin Laden’s presence and that it collaborated with the United States to get rid of the former Al Qaeda leader, opening up old wounds that are deeply discomforting for the military establishment.
Durrani also talks about the Kashmir issue and the role of his spy agency in running political and insurgent operations. He claims the ISI formed, supported and managed the Hurriyat Conference, the main conglomerate of the separatist political parties. Although Durrani had long left at the time of Hurriyat’s founding, this has caused a profound embarrassment for the group and challenged the moral legitimacy of its leaders. Srinagar based Dukhtaran-e-Millat (DM), a women’s group that supports Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, called Durrani a liar “whose credibility has always been questionable” and who is supporting the “mala fide intentions of the enemies of Pakistan”. To be fair to the DM, its chief, Asiya Andrabi, has been a vocal critic of the ISI for a long time. In an interview with me about a decade ago, she mauled the spy organisation for creating a mess in Kashmir and fanning confusion.
The ‘revelations’ by Durrani have kicked up a storm, more so because the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is using it to settle his own scores with the Army. Sharif and his family strongly believe that the current spell of their afflictions as well as his ouster from the country’s top post has been manoeuvred by the Army with the help of the judiciary; a claim with no evidence but laden with powerful political meanings. Sharif, who is battling multiple corruption charges that saw his family accrue billions of dollars of wealth in the last three decades, is desperate to die as a martyr in the cause of democracy rather than go down for corruption, a charge for which he was ousted. The ‘Durrani leaks’ have come in handy for a belligerent Sharif to flog the Army with a view to salvage his own blemished reputation.
Durrani’s former colleagues in uniform are openly blaming him for impropriety. General Asif Ghafoor, head of the ISPR, Pakistan military’s public information arm, tweeted that the retired General violated the Military Code of Conduct. Now, a serving General has been ordered to investigate into his alleged digressions. A newspaper columnist and an old friend, Brigadier (retired) Farooq Hameed Khan, who has also worked in the ISI, compared Durrani’s action to a hostile act and described his collaboration as part of the hybrid war to create confusion in the country. He counselled his military colleagues to “rise to defeat the enemy inside”. Given the reaction among the common people and across the military ranks, there is a strong chance that Durrani might be scapegoated, for this helps the Army to forge a new image where the Generals are as accountable as the politicians!
(Murtaza Shibli tweets @murtaza_shibli)
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