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Tarnishing the national image

Tarnishing the national image

Author: Ardeshir Cowasjee
Publication: Dawn
Date: January 11, 2009
URL: http://www.dawn.com/weekly/cowas/20091101.htm

The members of the government of this flawed Republic, carved out of unfortunate circumstantial happenings, faulty and flawed themselves can but smile and smile.

Square pegs have been pushed into round holes, and the nation suffers on, in penury and ignorance, with no one - neither politician nor administrator - to look to for succour.

The head table is large and unwieldy, the chairs around it are too many in number and the heads in the chairs are empty. Those that sit around it, in their gilded seats, are there to make hay, but the fields are fallow. They are not deterred, the IMF, the seed provider, is delivering.

Amongst them there sat until last week a responsible man of substance installed in government by Pakistan's lord and master. He was the watchman, so to speak, appointed to ensure that governance in Pakistan was conducted as smoothly as possible and in accord with the 2007-08 arrangements arrived at between the representatives of Pakistan and the Government of the United States of America.

Maj Gen Mehmud Durrani (PA6398) was appointed as prime ministerial advisor on national security. His was a key post, and he was a key man who knew everyone who mattered in Washington and was known and trusted by them. He graduated from the Pakistan Military Academy in 1961, wearing the Sword of Honour, he served as Pakistan's military attaché in Washington from 1977 to 1982, and after his retirement from the army in 1998 he became actively involved in the Track II movement the purpose of which was to try and foster peace between the 'traditional' enemies, India and Pakistan.

Spurred on by Shirin Tahir-Kheli and her brother Toufiq Siddiqui, and with support from the United Nations Development Programme and the Rockefeller Foundation, a group of Indian and Pakistani generals, politicians and bureaucrats and others got together sometime in the 1990s to discuss ways to bring sense and direction to the India-Pakistan relationship. The group came to be known as the Balusa Group, named after two adjacent villages in Pakistani Punjab. Mehmud Durrani was a major figure in the group, and was dubbed 'General Shanti' through his sustained support for peaceful relations with India.

From 2001 to 2004 he served as an advisor in the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, and in 2006 President Gen Pervez Musharraf appointed him as his ambassador in Washington. With the beginning of the downfall of Musharraf through his inexplicably erratic action on March 9, 2007 in the matter of the chief justice of Pakistan, and the lessening of the US love affair with the general because he put his foot down on the matter of drone attacks and incursions into Pakistan's territory, a replacement had to be found and it turned out to be Benazir Bhutto. Durrani played a leading role in negotiating the structured 'deal' to be put in place between Musharraf and Bhutto (and later Zardari) with the blessings of the USA.

Known to be outspoken and to adhere to the truth - as much as anyone in this subcontinent can adhere to any truth - whilst still in the army he wrote to the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, advising him that to his mind conducting a nuclear test as a repartee to the Indian nuclear tests of 1998 would be a strategic mistake. He also made himself unpopular with Sharif by telling him that Kargil was also a grave error and that it would not work to plan. He was right on both counts.

Now, with his penchant towards saying it as it is, Durrani has fallen foul of another prime minister, the usually placid underdog, Yousuf Raza Gilani who under normal circumstances pays homage at the court of Asif Zardari. But on this one occasion, with Zardari out of the country, freezing in Kabul, he has shown his polished teeth.

The Mumbai incident will haunt this country for long, as has the attack upon the Indian parliament earlier this century. In the vocal and verbal dangerous skirmishes indulged in by India and Pakistan since November it has transpired, and it has been admitted by Pakistan, and the world knows that the Lashkar-i-Taiba were the planners and perpetrators. Now who and what are the Lashkar? They are members of a group formed by Pakistan's ISI to wage the Kashmir freedom fight. This is admitted and recorded. So it would not be illogical to assume that if it be the Lashkar who undertook the Mumbai operation then the members concerned could conceivably have originated in Pakistan.

Upright cavalry officer, National Security Advisor Mehmud Durrani, on Jan 7, as outspoken as ever, shot from the hip and admitted to CNN-IBN, the Indian-based subsidiary of CNN, that the lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai terrorist attacks, Mohammad Ajmal Kasab, was in fact a national of Pakistan. He was followed in line by "a senior government official", a "spokesman" of the Foreign Office, and none less than the minister of information who, in the position she holds, presumably does have the correct information to hand, all admitting that yes, Kasab, was indeed a Pakistani. The Foreign Office person added to the confirmation of Kasab's nationality the news that he would not be accorded any consular help - how can a national of Pakistan, non-state actor or not, be denied consular help if it is sought?

The reaction was almost immediate. Durrani was 'sacked' by the prime minister - not merely relieved of his post - and accused of having "tarnished" the national image (which is already in need of a good scrub and buff) and of having indulged in "irresponsible behaviour". None of the others who had been equally outspoken in confirmation of Durrani's statement were touched - whether they were privately reprimanded or not is not known. But we have not heard that they have been turfed out.

According to Durrani, the man to whom he officially reported, Gilani, "was unhappy that I made the statement without consulting him". According to reports in the US press, Durrani was fired for "failing to take Mr Gilani and other stakeholders into confidence and for lack of coordination on matters of national security".

What a bizarre turn of events, which has but brought more damage to Pakistan's waning image. According to friend Ayaz Amir, writing in the Khaleej Times on Friday, he has it on "good authority" that Zardari called Durrani and apologised to him on the matter of his dismissal. Now we wait and see how Durrani's Washington pals react - if at all.

- arfc@cyber.net.pk

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