Why did Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani dismiss his National Security Adviser Major General (retd) Mehmud Ali Durrani?

Durrani, a mysterious character? (By Abbas Ather)

Indiscretion cost Durrani his job

By Our Staff Reporter (Dawn, 8 Jan 09)

ISLAMABAD, Jan 7: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday summarily dismissed his National Security Adviser Major General (retd) Mehmud Ali Durrani for being a bit too candid on the tricky issue of Mumbai carnage suspect Ajmal Kasab, “without having taken me into confidence”.

The late-night decision by Prime Minister Gilani to sack the highly influential member of his cabinet immediately sparked speculations about growing fissures within the ruling party, and perhaps among the various pillars of the establishment on the handling of crucial and sensitive matters of national security.

Even before an official statement on Mr Durrani’s dismissal was made public, a furious prime minister reportedly told some journalists that his national security adviser had “embarrassed me and the country” by going public with the report of Ajmal Kasab’s nationality without his permission. “I have dismissed him with immediate effect,” he is reported to have said.

Maj Gen (retd) Durrani was quoted as telling a TV channel that he was still awaiting a formal announcement by the prime minister. Another television channel quoted sources close to the ousted adviser as having said that whatever he had told the media about Ajmal Kasab and the findings of the Pakistani investigators were in the knowledge of the president.

Mr Durrani was summarily dismissed amid reports of tension within the government, particularly between the president and the prime minister, on various issues linked to the decision-making process.

However, President’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar told DawnNews TV late at night that the president and the prime minister were on the same page.

The latest move by the prime minister came amid confusion over the issue of the Ajmal Kasab story.

DawnNews TV, while quoting an unnamed senior official, broke the news about Ajmal Kasab’s identity as a Pakistani national.

And in less than an hour an Indian TV channel quoted Mr Durrani as saying that the preliminary investigation by the Pakistani authorities had confirmed his nationality.

But soon after, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir denied the report, followed by Information Minister Sherry Rehman confirming that Ajmal Kasab was in fact a Pakistani national, but investigations regarding him and his gang’s role were continuing.

Late in the evening, Prime Minister Gilani took the extreme step of sacking Mr Durrani, but he did not say if the National Security Adviser had been sacked for being irresponsible or candid.

Highly informed sources in the government said the security agencies investigating the Ajmal Kasab affair had already prepared their report which, through the ministry of interior, had been passed on to the prime minister for a formal decision. The probe had concluded that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani national, but it was left to the government, or the prime minister, to decide when to make it public.

The sources said that Mr Durrani was apparently sacked because the leak had not only caught the prime minister off guard, but perhaps also deprived him of the credit for breaking the news.

The sources in the government said this was not the first time that Premier Gilani had summarily dismissed a senior official.

Recently, he removed his principal secretary Siraj Shamsuddin in a similar manner and made changes at the top level in the establishment and cabinet divisions, apparently without taking the president into confidence and, in fact, against his will and desire.

Observers of Islamabad’s treacherous politics say the day-long developments resulting in the sacking of one of the most influential members of the cabinet were not only indicative of a certain miscommunication or disconnect between various sections of the government, but also confirm the growing rift between various pillars of the government and the state.

Maj-Gen (retd) Durrani had shot into prominence when he was appointed by former president Gen Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. Before that he was regarded as an influential member of a Washington-sponsored group involved in Track II or in some back-channel diplomacy between Pakistan and India.

When the present government came to power, Gen Durrani surprised everyone when he was appointed prime minister’s national security adviser. Before this appointment, he had perhaps not even met Prime Minister Gilani, although he was regarded as the linchpin in relations between the army, the government and the United States.



Washington loses a vital link
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
10 Jan 2009

KARACHI – In line with a compliance list recently handed over by US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia Richard Boucher, Pakistan was was due on Thursday to launch a crackdown against the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) and other jihadi organizations.

But the operation, which was to be coordinated by the Ministry of Interior, police and the Intelligence Bureau, was halted at the 11th hour by the Pakistani military establishment, well-placed contacts in Pakistan’s intelligence quarters have told Asia Times Online.

And instead, powerful National Security Advisor retired Major General Mahmood Durrani was fired. He and other senior government officials had earlier admitted that Ajmal Qasab, the

sole survivor of the 10 terrorists who launched a bloody attack on the Indian city of Mumbai on November 27, was Pakistani. The men had already been linked to the LET, a banned group in Pakistan.

Durrani has been a crucial link between the US, the government of Pakistan and the Pakistan military.

The new year began with a fresh initiative in the US-led “war on terror” in terms of which Boucher unfolded a two-prong approach: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was to seek reconciliation with India by complying with its demands following the Mumbai attack, and Zardari was to visit Kabul to establish better coordination with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The head of US Central Command, General David Petraeus, is soon to launch a surge in Afghanistan that will double the number of US troops from 30,000 to 60,000. At the same time, Pakistan’s tribal areas, where militants have extensive bases, will become open hunting grounds for Afghan and Pakistan tribal militias backed by joint patrols of the national armies of the two countries, in addition to North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.

The first segment of the American package concerning India has, however, now been shot down with Durrani’s dismissal, throwing into doubt the remaining part. This leaves Zardari’s civilian government awkwardly caught between the competing desires of the US and its own military establishment.

A missing linkman
After the exit of former president General Pervez Musharraf and the election of a civilian government early last year, Durrani’s role as a go-between became crucial as he tried to balance the pressures on the government.

Durrani had a close rapport with American decision-makers on South Asian affairs and had been involved in backchannel American-sponsored efforts on disputed Kashmir and on Afghanistan. He was for a time Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington.

After the Mumbai attack, a move was made to establish a National Intelligence Authority as a counterweight to the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, which has consistently been accused of dragging its feet in the “war on terror”. A Pakistani professor at Harvard, who used to work as Zardari’s staff officer and once was in the police service, was suggested to head this new body, but on the military’s intervention the scheme was shelved.

Earlier, under US pressure, the Pakistani government had managed to outmaneuver the military by having the Jamaatut Dawa declared by the United Nations a front organization of the LET and having it placed on a terror list, along with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

This gave the government justification to arrest leaders of the Jamaatut Dawa. However, the military establishment warned that unless India provided evidence against them, they must be released, and the government concurred.

The government then prevaricated, even claiming that leader Masood Azhar was at large and could not be traced anywhere in Pakistan. Neither Washington nor Delhi bought into this, and pressure was exerted for civilian agencies such as the police and the Intelligence Bureau to take action.

Provincial Home Departments prepared lists of wanted militants and action was about to start on Thursday after Durrani and others had set the scene by admitting that Qasab was Pakistani.

This was too much for the military leaders and they issued a “note of advice” to the president and Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani that Durrani had to go immediately.

The government buckled, and Washington has lost a vital point man as it prepares for a new phase in Afghanistan. US vice president-elect Joe Biden, who is due to visit the region soon, has much to be concerned about.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

( 2009 Asia Times Online)


Army, ISI stand by the government
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Military knows building democracy crucial to strengthening country; Super Hawks spread false stories about US pressure

By Sadiq Saleem

The clear message from the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in his interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel was that Pakistan’s security establishment does not differ with the civilian leadership in their fundamental worldview.

The military, too, now considers terrorism as Pakistan’s major security threat and has no desire for conflict or confrontation with India. But the removal of National Security Adviser Mehmud Durrani by Prime Minister Gilani eclipsed that message of civil-military unity under civilian direction. The Super Hawks who dominate Pakistan’s electronic and print media immediately read into Gen Durrani’s removal signs of policy differences that do not really exist.

Gen Durrani’s removal related to a procedural matter, not a policy disagreement. As adviser to the prime minister he was required to seek the PM’s approval before acting. Instead, he spoke out publicly prematurely after consultations with the security establishment. The prime minister decided to send a signal that, as political boss and chief executive, it was his prerogative to determine the manner and timing of an important revelation like the nationality of Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist involved in the Mumbai attacks currently in Indian custody. Given that the Foreign Office and the information minister also confirmed what Gen Durrani had stated, the issue is not what the former national security adviser said but how, when and to whom he said it.

The CIA-sponsored Afghan Jihad of the 1980s has spawned a massive infrastructure of militancy in Pakistan that can best be described as Jihad Inc. During the 1990s, members of this Jihad Inc interfered openly in domestic politics, making and breaking elected governments with rumours and innuendo about corruption and alleged compromises over national security. Their actions earned the ISI the label of Invisible Soldiers of Islam. Even junior operatives of the political wing of the intelligence service became disproportionately powerful as they gave certificates of patriotism to politicians and shared stories with journalists that affected the political life of the country. As a result, a class of Super Hawks was created within the media, backed by retired military and intelligence officers who are either direct beneficiaries or ideological fellow travellers of the militancy machine.

The Super Hawks espouse a world view that essentially comprises three elements. First, that the United States is Pakistan’s enemy because of its close ties with India and it is now a demand of “Pakistani nationalism” that the country confront the US. Second, that militancy and Jihad are important strategic options for Pakistan and must be retained. To the extent that the US seeks an end to Jihadi militancy in and from Pakistan, it is acting in the interest of Israel and India. Instead of cooperating with the international community in the war against terror Pakistan must spurn the United States and stand up alongside Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Third, any Pakistani diplomatic overture towards India is a sign of weakness and Pakistan must maintain a hard posture towards India at all times.

In the media, the Super Hawk view is manifested in false stories about US pressure on Pakistan and campaigns, such as the one unleashed in the aftermath of awarding of Hilal-e-Quaid-i-Azam to Richard Boucher, claiming that the elected civilians are pro-US and compromising towards India while the security establishment is not. Unfortunately for the Super Hawks, the military under General Ashfaq Kayani has no intention of repeating the political games of the 1990s. Each media campaign starts with much fanfare and then peters out until the next one. As far as the policy of the government is concerned, it remains one and is supported both by the government’s civilian and the military wing. The inability of the civilian government to efficiently run affairs helps the rumour mills as was the case with the erroneous notification regarding putting of ISI under the Ministry of Interior. But the military’s willingness to continue working with the civilians was manifested clearly when heavens did not fall after the episode.

These days the Super Hawks claim that the civilians were too accommodating towards India in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks while the military wanted a harder line. Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s interview to the German magazine, widely reprinted at home, should put the record straight. But that does not prevent a writer, a self-proclaimed supporter of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf, from claiming falsely that the US military chief Admiral Michael Mullen told General Kayani not to respond to Indian surgical strikes.

Similarly, another Musharraf backer has reported that General Kayani showed photographs of an Indian Mirage fighter locked in by a Pakistani F-16 and said that next time Pakistan would shoot the Indian plane down. Considering that only two people were present in the Mullen-Kayani meetings (Admiral Mullen and General Kayani) and neither narrated the two stories to the Super Hawk columnists it is safe to assume that their source was a fellow Super Hawk from amongst the retired military personnel that have become outspoken on foreign policy out of fear that Jihad Inc might soon go out of business.

Similarly, the television channel that reported after General Durrani’s removal that the US had “demanded” his reinstatement betrayed its reporter’s lack of knowledge of how nations interact or a simple willingness to fabricate to attract attention.

While the culture of respect for seniors in the military means that retired generals continue to be respected by their juniors there is little reason to believe that generals Hamid Gul, Aslam Beg or Hamid Nawaz speak for General Kayani. Indeed, the military under General Kayani has methodically disengaged from politics, patiently allowing civilians to make their mistakes in a learning process that is inevitable when democratic institutions are new and fragile.

In terms of policy, it is clear that the military is implementing the policy formulated by the elected leaders. The military operations in Bajaur and Mohmand, the continuing elimination of al-Qaeda leaders in cooperation with the US and the ISI chief’s clear statement that he was willing to go to India in the aftermath of Mumbai all show that in real policy terms Pakistan has only one policy. General Kayani has also faithfully implemented President Asif Zardari’s initiative in mending fences with Afghanistan.

That does not mean, however, that the political noise generated by the Super Hawks will subside any time soon. Poor political management will continue to give fodder to the Super Hawks as has happened in case of General Durrani’s removal. But let us be clear that Durrani was removed for speaking out of place and not for being pro-American.

The retired generals and their friends in the media, cultivated from the coup-making days, will continue to talk about civilian treachery in the hope that their golden days of the 1990s would return when they could serve as caretaker ministers after accusing elected leaders of being security risks. But the serving military knows the real threats faced by Pakistan and it considers building democracy as crucial to strengthening the country. The politicians have learnt their lesson and it is obvious that none of the major political parties, including the PML-N wants to rock the boat at a time of grave threats to national security.

President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, too, understand the need for working together. The policy of cooperation with the international community, including the United States, is the policy of the Pakistani state. Fighting terrorism is a priority of both the civilians and the military as is shutting down the operations of non-state actors that threaten the state. General Kayani and General Pasha have made their stance known but given their decision to withdraw the military from the political arena cannot make statements every day. That leaves us with some confusion sowed by the Super Hawks with their rumours and insinuations against officials’ patriotism and calls for inviting America’s (or for that matter India’s) wrath.

The Super Hawks claim that they are acting to protect national pride. In fact, all they are doing is distorting facts so that they can continue to benefit from Jihad Inc. After all, some of the most hawkish of the hawks are still sad that they lost highly paid sinecures from the Musharraf days while others want again to be the centre of attention as they were when their media reports against civilian leaders resulted in changes of government.

(The News)


Good decision, bad implementation

On January 7, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani fired his national security adviser Major-General (Retd) Mahmud Ali Durrani after the latter told India-based CNN-IBN that the Mumbai attack terrorist Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani. After first denying the information, the Foreign Office duly endorsed it after confirmation from the Information Minister. Gen Durrani’s statement implied some kind of official consultation before Kasab was declared a Pakistani. His comment to the international media was that Pakistan’s “finding” would scale down tensions between Pakistan and India. That is correct. But why was the prime minister left out of the loop on that fateful day? Whatever the answer to this question, Wednesday’s action will reflect negatively on the functioning of the PPP government.

Constitutionally, the prime minister is the chief executive and should call the shots. His subordinates and cabinet members cannot go into a huddle with the president or military brass and decide a change of policy on Ajmal Kasab and then announce it without telling him. Public comment therefore has favoured the prime minister and questioned the way the ministries have decided to “own up” Kasab. Apart from the procedural slip, the “admission” has gone against the false but dominant anti-Indian view in Pakistan, led by retired army generals and commentators who insist that the Mumbai attack was orchestrated by India itself.

Fortunately, however, the meetings after the event, between President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, indicate that matters have been sorted out and there is no serious prospect of the misunderstanding creating any big rift in the short term. Indeed, if there was ever any process sidelining the prime minister, it should now come to an end. The prime minister has in a way “signalled” his uneasiness with the way things were happening, and should expect to be treated differently. The PPP government is not perceived as a coherent outfit and it must make efforts to disperse this impression.

Gen Durrani has also presented his defence by saying that the prime minister had given him clearance for speaking on security matters; and that he had spoken out after a meeting in which the intelligence agencies had advised the “owning up” of Ajmal Kasab. He was also quoted by a TV channel as saying that since the prime minister was away in Lahore, he was not able to consult him on the matter, a rather weak defence. What is indicated is a process of decision-making away from the office of the chief executive. Gen Durrani was selected as national security adviser by Mr Zardari when he was still not president of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, sections of the media have carried anti-Durrani “disinformation” which must be discounted. While still in service he was officially permitted by the GHQ in 1998 to join the quaintly named Balusa Group under US scholar Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli at the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC. The Group was also supported by the Crown Prince of Jordan, a friend of Pakistan, interested in Indo-Pak détente. Gen Durrani ended up writing his small book India and Pakistan: The Cost of Conflict and the Benefits of Peace in 2000, a pre-eminently sane approach to the ultimate normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan.

The book argued that in the process of normalisation, based on the Balusa Group’s recommendations, Pakistan should take the initiative in “re-engaging” India after the 1999 Kargil operation and subsequent negative events associated with Pakistan policies. Strikingly, the stages of engagement outlined in the book were followed closely by President Pervez Musharraf after 2001: “Preliminary Secret Contacts, Stage Two Secret Meetings, Summit, Follow-up Meetings”, etc. Gen Durrani was military attaché at Pakistan’s embassy in Washington from 1977 to 1982. He was made ambassador there by President Musharraf in 2006.

The media has also referred to Gen Durrani’s “dubious” role in the death of General Zia-ul Haq in 1988 when the former was in Multan commanding 1st Armoured Division as a major-general. It is said that he had insisted on General Zia visiting a tank demonstration in Bahawalpur and was therefore likely involved in the plane-crash that killed Gen Zia there. But there is not an iota of evidence pointing in that direction. Gen Durrani could prevail on Gen Zia because he had been his most trusted military secretary.

Indeed, after Gen Zia’s death, Begum Zia continued to repose trust in Gen Durrani, as narrated in Khaki Shadows by General KM Arif, published in 2001. On page 200, Gen Arif asserts that since Gen Zia was not in the habit of reading files, 9,000 of them were found in his room at home after his death. A number of people wanted to get hold of the files, including the new army chief, but Begum Zia insisted that Gen Durrani should look into them. She was able to destroy the files she thought should not be kept after Gen Durrani had sorted them out.

The PMLQ’s Mushahid Husain Syed, while allowing that owning up Ajmal Kasab would benefit Pakistan, has unkindly called Gen Durrani “General Shanti”, (General Peace) which is more a political witticism than intellectual commentary. (Daily Times)


Hamid Mir, Jang, 12 Jan 2009