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EFSAS Commentary

Paranoia of the Pakistani Military Establishment spells danger for the country


Just a few weeks after former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was accused of treason for admitting in an interview that Pakistan was responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, another seasoned Pakistani public figure, this time belonging to the opposite side of the civil-military schism in the country, is facing similar allegations. Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, who had served as the Director General of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from August 1990 to March 1992, co-authored a book titled 'Spy Chronicles – RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace' with A.S. Dulat, a former chief of Indian intelligence agency the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Such collaboration with an archenemy, as also some of the views put forth by Durrani in the book, have drawn the ire of the Pakistani military establishment. 

The establishment, which is known to stand by and protect its own, reacted uncharacteristically harshly against Durrani, a respected stalwart. The response shattered the expectations of perspicacity and sagacity that Durrani had from his own former organizations, the Army and the ISI. In response to a question in the book on whether the ISI had at any stage objected to his engagements with Dulat, Durrani responded: "all our institutions, civil or military may have had confidence in my ability to hold my own", adding that "we have never suffered from paranoia on such matters". That he was palpably wrong in his assessment was evident from the immediate retribution he suffered at the hands of the establishment. Major General Asif Ghafoor, Chief of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces, tweeted on 28 May: "Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, Retired, was called at GHQ today to explain his position on recently launched book 'Spy Chronicles'. A formal Court of Inquiry headed by a serving Lt. Gen. has been ordered to probe the matter in detail. Competent authority approached to place his name on ECL" (Exit Control List that bars people from leaving the country). Ghafoor alleged that Durrani had violated the "Military Code of Conduct applicable on all serving and retired military personnel". He also stated that the "Pakistan Army has never forgiven any mistake, whether made by a soldier or a General".

It is starkly apparent that paranoia has set in deep in the rank and file of the establishment. Several books have been authored by senior Pakistani Army officers, none more well-known than 'Afghanistan the Bear Trap: Defeat of a Superpower' by Brigadier General Muhammad Yousaf, in which sensitive information on the anti-Soviet operations in Afghanistan undertaken by the ISI in collaboration with the CIA was laid out in vivid detail. Former Army chief Pervez Musharraf, who interestingly proffered an absurd comment on Durrani’s book – "How can two persons with different views co-author a book" – himself wrote a rather revealing autobiography titled 'In the Line of Fire: A Memoir' in 2006. Engagement between retired Pakistani and Indian Army personnel as part of Track-II initiatives is also not uncommon. As for jointly penning books or papers, Durrani and Dulat had earlier also collaborated in 2013 on a joint paper titled 'Kashmir: Confrontation to Cooperation'. None of these had provoked the establishment into reacting the way it has now done with Durrani, a distinguished officer who retired a quarter of a century ago and hence could not conceivably have access to any state secrets worth spilling now. He potentially faces the ignominy of a court-martial. Such an illogical and high-handed response by the establishment reeks of vulnerability and fear, especially when contrasted with the attitude to the book across the border in India – a deafening silence from the state and mixed media reviews in which the primary refrain was that the book did not reveal anything new. 

The Pakistani military establishment today finds itself under extreme pressure on all fronts –internal as well as external. Internally, it has taken on a powerful adversary in Nawaz Sharif, who after being stripped of his elected post, allegedly by the establishment, has launched a veritable war against it. He rushed to capitalize on the opportunity the book provided him to assail the establishment and demand equitable treatment from it. He questioned why only elected representatives were labeled traitors and demanded that an emergency meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) be convened (just as it had been on May 14 after publication of Sharif’s interview) to deliberate on the judiciousness of writing such a book at a time when relations with India were tense. The establishment is wary of what it perceives as Sharif’s desire to improve relations with India. Any such improvement would go against the establishment’s long-held policy of using India as the excuse for maintaining its pre-eminent position in Pakistan, whereby it can overthrow democratically elected governments with impunity and retain control over the bulk of the country’s finances. Enmity with India is the raison d’etre of Pakistan’s military establishment. 

On the external front the establishment, which has been at the receiving end of sharp and concerted international criticism for its conscious policy of exporting terror to neighbouring Afghanistan and India, and far beyond, fears that publicly articulated threats by countries such as the US could transform into real-time punishment and sanctions as skeletons of monsters created by the establishment spill out of its hitherto tightly sealed closet. Little consideration is given by the establishment to the inevitability of the fact that its creation and continued backing of monsters such as the Haqqani network, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taibah (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), to name only a few, would eventually become public knowledge. In the present instance, Durrani only lent a credible voice to what was already widely known – that Pakistan sheltered Osama Bin Laden for several years, only to sell him out when the heat intensified and it was no longer strategically advantageous to hold on to him; that the ISI created the Hurriyat in Kashmir, but as is its wont, soon lost effective control over it; that the establishment was firmly opposed to the idea of an independent Jammu & Kashmir; that Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and its handling of the Taliban and the Haqqanis is the most serious roadblock to peace there; and that successive Pakistani governments and dictators have failed to comprehend the complexities of Balochistan and have mishandled it, perpetrating severe human rights violations against the Baloch. Coming on the heels of Nawaz Sharif’s admission of Pakistan being responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, the establishment is worried that Durrani may have put an additional stamp of approval on the widely accepted narrative of Pakistan being a state that sponsors terrorism and uses it as an instrument of state policy. Pakistan is already on the 'grey list' of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for its 'strategic deficiencies' in preventing terror financing and money laundering. The establishment is apprehensive of being beleaguered by stronger labeling by the international community, including being branded a state-sponsor of terrorism. 

China, which has single-handedly been protecting Pakistan at most international fora including the United Nations (UN), also seems to be tiring of this unenviable role that it has taken upon itself. The media reported last week that on the sidelines of Boao Forum in China last month Chinese President Xi Jinping had advised Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to relocate LeT chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who was the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, "to live a quiet life in a West Asian country". Xi reportedly urged Abbasi "to find an early solution to keep Saeed away from the limelight". This shocking Chinese suggestion not only amounted to brushing the dirt under the carpet, but also implied that China did not want Saeed to face prosecution for the hundreds of innocent lives he was directly or indirectly responsible for taking. On the other hand, the Pak establishment would be extremely concerned at the weak knees that China seems to have developed on the issue of protecting Pakistani terrorists linked to the establishment. 

A grave concern for the establishment is the clearly discernible success India has had in recent years in bringing into international focus Pakistan’s role in fomenting terrorism. As a result, Pakistan is finding itself increasingly isolated in the international arena. Even more critical for the Pak establishment is that it is at the receiving end of the muscular, zero-tolerance policy adopted by the present Indian Government to Pak-sponsored terrorism and cross-border ceasefire violations by the Pak Army. The Indian response to such provocations has been robust and immediate, causing the Pak Army to wave the white flag on a number of occasions. Asif Ghafoor revealed the prevailing mindset in the establishment at a press conference on 4 June, where he asserted that "there is no space for war" with India. This is refreshingly different from the usual war-mongering indulged in by the establishment, and reflects that it is on the defensive. Ghafoor’s reference to both countries being nuclear powers was one that had been bandied about in aggressive posturing by the establishment prior to the 'surgical strikes' carried out by the Indian Army in 2016 against terrorist camps inside Pakistani territory. That action had called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff, which was rarely used again. Ghafoor’s use of the N-word at the press conference was more a plea for peace than a warning against war. 

The contrasting reactions of the Indian Government and the Pakistani military establishment to Durrani’s book clearly bring out the confidence, standing and maturity of India’s democracy as against the paranoia rampant in the security state that Pakistan is. This paranoia blinds the generals into acting in a manner in which the real sufferers are the Pakistani people – as Durrani is presently finding out – and not India or the Indians.