The “confessions” of former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) DG Asad Durrani in a new book have taken the country by storm. He was summoned by the military leadership to explain his position and his name has been put on the Exit Control List (ECL) to stop him from leaving Pakistan. He could also be court martialled for maligning the image of the army and Pakistan.
According to his sympathizers, The Spy Chronicles provides an honest insight into issues of Pakistan with India, Afghanistan and the US and it is a valuable addition to books on Pak-India relations and important events in Pakistan’s recent past. “Call me cynical or nihilist but I feel it is realism to say there will be no meaningful talks on Kashmir between India and Pakistan for the foreseeable future,” is an apt description of Indian obduracy on Kashmir. According to his critics, it was unwise for an ex-ISI DG to sit with a former Research and Intelligence Wing (RAW) chief and discus the Mumbai attacks, Afghanistan, Kargil, Kashmir, Osama bin Laden and other national issues of Pakistan. According to them, even former RAW Chief A.S. Dulat was shocked at his “revelation,” made under the influence of liquor and it could be a successful secret mission of the Indian intelligence agency to elicit information from a self-centered and talkative former general to harm Pakistan.
Discussing weaknesses of Pakistani politicians and generals before a former RAW chief was also not a good idea. Talking about Nawaz Sharif, he says, “I also thought he was paranoid about certain things. About what the military might do, what the ISI would do, should he not have his own person to head ISI? This is paranoia: thinking that if Asif Nawaz gets his own DG ISI then there’ll be an army-ISI nexus that he’d be faced with. Sharif had had his doubts about me, but his expectations suddenly changed and he now thought he had his man.” To a question if Pakistan’s Deep State had kept Osama bin Laden hidden, Durrani observes, “At some stage the ISI probably learnt about it and he was handed over to the US according to a mutually agreed process. Perhaps we are the ones who told the Americans ‘isko le jao’, we are going to feign ignorance. If we denied any role, it may have been to avoid political fallout. Cooperating with the US to eliminate a person regarded by many in Pakistan as a ‘hero’ could have embarrassed the government.”
On Musharraf-Nawaz confrontation he observed, “I’m sure some saner advisors were holding him back. Musharraf’s predecessor, Jehangir Karamat, had resigned—or was made to resign—just a year before. A naval chief had been sacked soon after Sharif became the prime minister. Riding roughshod over an institution like the military was never a good idea. With our history, a more deliberate course must have been recommended. But, of course, Mian Saheb could only wait long enough. In September Nawaz Sharif concluded that he would be uncomfortable with Musharraf continuing in the powerful post. In August, Musharraf and I had a one-on-one. Musharraf invited me to his office and said the government was bent upon publicly blaming the army for the Kargil fiasco. Fine, I said, so what? He said he just wanted my opinion on what would happen. I said, if I know Nawaz Sharif, he would continue to be uncomfortable with you, as he was with Baig, with Asif Nawaz, and even with Jehangir Karamat, who was a laid-back army chief, professionally sound and who did not throw his weight around. Even after the 1998 Indian nuclear tests Karamat said merely, prime minister, this is the army’s view, you have to consider the political and economic fallout. But with him also it did not work out; three months before he was to retire, he resigned rather than take a second more of the acrimony. So I told Musharraf it won’t work out with you. He’ll look for an opportunity to get rid of you. But this is not the right environment for a political coup; ‘even banana republics nowadays have a facade of democracy,’ I remember saying. So go ahead and think of the next step. That’s where I left. It was clear that Musharraf could not launch a coup unless there was a grave provocation. That rationale was soon thereafter provided by Nawaz Sharif, when he sacked him on October 12. It was not just the decision but the way that it was carried out. Arre, the army chief is in the air and you announce he’s sacked and order his aircraft to fly to Amritsar or elsewhere. It was a distasteful way of doing things but rather typical of Mian Saheb. It turned out to be pretty costly.”
On the Mumbai attacks, he says “It remained the only incident in which I decided that I would be available to any Indian and Pakistani channel to say that whoever has done this, be it state-sponsored, ISI-sponsored, military-sponsored, should be caught hold of and punished. It’s not only about those 168 people dead, four days of carnage, etc. At the time Pakistan could ill afford its eastern front caught in a war. There were enough problems in the west and within the country. I don’t know who did it, but there were questions that David Headley named an ISI major. It created difficulties for us. Because all these stories have floated around, people can go ahead and investigate. For eight years both of us have advocated joint investigation, joint trial, intelligence sharing, get on with the anti-terrorism mechanism, etc., for the simple reason that we can’t do anything until and unless this is resolved. Till then, Hafiz Saeed, ISI, Jaish-e-Mohammed: it’s possible they had nothing to do with it, that there’s a third or fourth or fifth party involved.”
Speaking on Afghanistan, he believes, “We may be a lesser culprit than the Taliban or Ashraf Ghani or the US. Why is Haqqani network a network? I also don’t know. You can keep creating a situation in which the culprit seems to be Pakistan but not the people who have done so much wrong and damage to Pakistan: the US.” Regarding Sikh militancy, he says Indians were naturally grateful for the help provided by Benazir Bhutto’s first government. “I was quite surprised that the Indians took so long to make use of it. But there was the link between the Sikhs and Kashmiris: by helping India, how adversely are you affecting the Kashmiris fighting for their freedom, their rights, and their grievances against the Indian state? The other parallel with the western front is that Musharraf rounded up sympathisers to the Afghan resistance, or the Taliban, sending hundreds of them to Guantanamo Bay without any due process of law.”
According to former military ruler General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the book is not a conspiracy but sheer foolishness. “I was shocked when I found out that a former ISI DG and a RAW retired chief have authored a book together. How can two persons with different views co-author a book,” he told a news cannel. Experts believe Durrani’s revelations have benefitted Nawaz Sharif, who had been facing severe criticism for his comment on the Mumbai attacks. According to them, the book diverted criticism to the Pakistan army, pressing it to keep its own house in order. They believe Durrani has unveiled some events in Pakistan which were highly classified. It is also clear that the former RAW chief was very cautious and spoke little but Durrani’s narrative covers over two-thirds of the book. Many former army chiefs and generals have written books but it is the first time that a former general discussed Pakistan’s issues with a former RAW chief. The idea is more disturbing than true or false revelations in the book.