The Durrani affair —Khalid Hasan

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Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy, but who holds the levers of power? Unless this dichotomy is worked out, other Durranis will continue to be used as pawns in a power game that has to come to an end

The Durrani affair is another bizarre reminder that our government is still fumbling. What we have is a grouping of what has come to be known by the ugly and insulting term “stakeholders”, who pull the wagon to which they are hitched in different directions. Sometimes the tug-of-war fails to move the wagon from the spot in which it is parked; at other times, it gets tugged in the desired direction, but not for long.

This is no way to run a railroad, obviously, but given the ramshackle system which has been more off the tracks than on it in the past, perhaps that is only to be expected. Of such a situation in which we find ourselves, it may be alleged that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. I would add that lucky are those who have just two hands. In our case, we have maybe half a dozen hands, each one of which operates independently.

The current government continues to claim that it has everyone “on board”: the parliament, the army, the opposition and the state bureaucracy. Nice claim, reassuring words, except that they are not all true.

After all, only the other day, after General (retd) Mahmud Ahmed Durrani was summarily dismissed, he said in an interview that in the matter of Kasab, the prime minister was “not in the loop”. Durrani, it should be pointed out, bore the official designation of national security adviser to the prime minister.

That does not surprise me because I know something about Durrani’s appointment to his exalted post. Durrani told me himself that during the months when the Americans were trying to cobble together a deal which would keep Musharraf with somewhat truncated powers in place, and a berth would be found for Benazir Bhutto as prime minister. All cases against Asif Ali Zardari, which would have kept him running around national and international courts for years, would be withdrawn as part of the arrangement. During those delicate and sometimes not so delicate negotiations conducted principally under Dick Cheney’s auspices, two people acted as important intermediaries: Husain Haqqani, who represented Bhutto’s interests, and Durrani, the conduit for some of the messages emanating from Musharraf.

Durrani, of course, knew Benazir Bhutto, though not very well. There was no personal link. She also was unable to forget — she had an elephant’s memory, like her father’s, for such things — that Durrani had been Zia-ul Haq’s military secretary for over three years.

I have Durrani’s own version of how he was appointed. As my family and I have known him since he was a captain posted at Sialkot, there always has been a personal link and our relations remained cordial during the two-plus years he was Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington — and a good one at that. When Durrani’ appointment was announced, I asked him how it had come about. This is what he told me. He said during one of Benazir Bhutto’s visits to Washington, he thought it would be right and proper to call on her at her hotel. An appointment was arranged and he was received by a smiling Benazir Bhutto. One of the first things she said to him was, according to what he told me, “What are you doing here? You should be national security adviser.” Durrani says he was taken aback but he smiled and made the kind of appropriate noises that one makes on such occasions.

The scene changes. Benazir Bhutto is assassinated in Rawalpindi in the most mysterious circumstances on December 27, 2008. Durrani is called in by Asif Ali Zardari for a meeting. Sitting to his right in that room is Husain Haqqani. When Durrani’s face shows signs of unease because he obviously expects the meeting to be significant and not just social chit-chat (he has no personal links with Zardari), Zardari tell him, “That’s all right. He can remain with us.”

The next thing that Zardari comes out with causes great surprise to Durrani. Zardari tells him that he is going to “fulfil the promise that Bibi made to you. I want you to become national security adviser to the prime minister with the rank of federal minister.” Durrani accepts the offer on the spot.

Now a few cobwebs that I would like to clear. IH Burney used to say that one thing he would never do is question a Pakistani’s patriotism — and he never did, though others were not so kind to him. It has been maliciously whispered socially and written about in the gutter press and the blogs, the latter the new terror weapon, that Durrani is and has been a CIA “asset”.

This is contemptible nonsense. While it is true that he has many friends in India and Washington, including Shirin Tahir-kheli (who does not have the ability to persuade the US government to have a retired Pakistani general appointed to this or that high post in his country), Durrani is not the only Pakistani general or diplomat to have enjoyed such respect. General Jehangir Karamat is one of the most admired Pakistanis in Washington. Does that make him a CIA agent? Since independence, we have had some most distinguished Pakistanis serve as our representatives. More recently, Maleeha Lodhi enjoyed much respect here and was credited for her hard work. Does that make her a CIA “asset”?

It is time we stopped demeaning ourselves and questioning the patriotism of some of our best and brightest. Before I move to the next point, I would like to say that a similar campaign of vilification has been carried out against the present ambassador, Husain Haqqani. We should grow up and learn to respect our people and ourselves, otherwise no one will respect us.

The Durrani affair could be the tip of the iceberg. The problem is not Durrani but the lack of a sufficiently functional government. Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy, but who holds the levers of power? Unless this dichotomy is worked out, other Durranis will continue to be used as pawns in a power game that has to come to an end.

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is


Reproduced by permission of DT

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