Riddle: Why is Pak probing its former spymaster Asad Durrani?

Former ISI Chief Lt. Gen Asad Durrani.
Former ISI Chief Lt. Gen Asad Durrani.

‘The Spy Chronicles,’ which hit the book stands in 2018, aroused much interest among the readers, and the reason was obvious. This book contained details of dialogue between former ISI chief Lt Gen [Retd] Mohammad Asad Durrani and former Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wing [R&AW] chief AS Dulat on intelligence related issues. However, contrary to expectations, this book contained no explosive revelations and this comes as no big surprise because being old hands and arch enemies, who had played cloak and dagger games with each other, both Durrani and Dulat have been extremely cautious in their expositions (as every sleuth would). Yet, soon after this book was published, Durrani was placed on Exit Control List (ECL) by the Ministry of Interior on recommendation of the Pakistan Army’s Military Intelligence.

This is indeed very surprising because in this book, the former ISI chief has not divulged any state secrets, berated any organisation or personality and nor is he the first one to talk about cross-border terrorism. In fact a year before ‘The Spy Chronicles’ was published, Asad Durrani’s namesake Maj Gen (Retd) Mahmud Ali Durrani, who was the National Security Advisor (NSA) of Pakistan when the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks took place, made an explosive revelation, while addressing the 19th Asian Security Conference held at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses at New Delhi. He said, “I hate to admit that the 26/11 Mumbai attack carried out by a terror group based in Pakistan on November 26, 2008 is a classic trans-border terrorist event.”

Pakistani regime has put severe restrictions on its former ISI Chief Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Mohammad Asad Durrani for co-authoring this book.

Though the former Pakistan NSA subsequently tried to disassociate Islamabad and Rawalpindi from any involvement by telling reporters that “the Government of Pakistan or the ISI was not involved in 26/11 terrorist attack,” and added that he was “110% sure,” but what he said was far more damning than whatever the former ISI chief has said in ‘The Spy Chronicles’, for two reasons. One, he confirmed what New Delhi had been claiming all along, of how the Mumbai attacks were planned and executed by a terrorist group based in Pakistan. Two, even if Pakistani regime or deep state wasn’t involved, the very fact that this despicable act of terrorism that extinguished the lives of 166 innocent people and left more than 300 injured was planned and executed by a terrorist group operating from Pakistani soil made it legally and morally incumbent on Islamabad to bring the perpetuators of this carnage to book something is not done till date!

So, the  question  arises-why did the army take umbrage to its former ISI chief’s inconsequential elucidations but overlook a former General and ex-NSA’s extremely damaging revelation of the Mumbai attacks being “a classic trans-border terrorist event”? Rawalpindi may not have provided any explanation for its duplicitous approach on this issue, but some plausible reasons for the same can be deduced with a little bit of analysis. It’s not that the military establishment had any liking or a soft corner for former NSA Durrani- it elected to overlook his Mumbai attack admission because if it had acted against him then it would have only amounted to adding fuel to fire by drawing greater attention to the fact regarding Pakistan’s covert patronage to terrorist groups and providing them safe sanctuaries on its soil.

Rawalpindi’s stoic silence on the Mumbai attack revelations seems to have worked because it appears that New Delhi has overlooked presenting this crucial evidence before the Financial Action Task Force [FATF] with the earnestness that it rightly deserves. However, Rawalpindi was in no mood to let bygones be bygones because the former NSA and retired General had pioneered a new practice of veterans speaking out the truth, even if is unpleasant or embarrassing for the Pakistan Army. Rawalpindi must have realised that if unchecked, this new trend could well set a precedent in future and many skeletons would tumble out of the ISI’s cupboard due to revelations by former military officers! So, making an example of the former ISI chief was the best way to send a message across to the veteran military community that any relations with people belonging to the country’s “existential enemy” is absolutely unacceptable.

That’s why Rawalpindi has literally thrown the book at the former ISI chief. Though he has revealed nothing that wasn’t known earlier, the defence ministry maintains that ‘the Spy Chronicles’ contains “certain contents concerning national security of Pakistan, being in contravention of the provisions of the Official Secrets Acts, 1923.” In an effort to portray Asad Durrani as the veritable Quisling, it has alleged that the former ISI chief was “affiliated/interacting with hostile elements especially Indian RAW since 2008,” and justified him being placed on ECL, as it applies to “acts of terrorism, or its conspiracy, heinous crimes and ‘threatening national security.” Strangely, in its reply to the court, the ministry has not specified which of the above charges have been applied to Durrani and if he was indeed “affiliated or interacting with hostile elements,” then why wasn’t he tried for treason?

However, by mentioning that “it was inappropriate of his stature to co-author a book that too with an ex-Indian RAW chief and Indian journalist on matters concerning the national security of the country,” the defence ministry has unwittingly admitted that it’s not contents of the former ISI chief’s narrative mentioned in ‘The Spy Chronicles’, but his cosying up with an “ex RAW chief and Indian journalist” that’s objectionable.

A military court has deprived Asad Durrani both his pension and post-retirement benefits and he continues to be pilloried for something that he’s not done. On the other hand, people like former NSA Durrani, who revealed the Pakistan link to Mumbai attacks, or former Pakistan Army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf, who openly boasts of not only how Pakistan Army created and trained terrorist groups to fight in India and Afghanistan, but also of how Rawalpindi had introduced “religious militancy (Islamic terrorism) in Afghanistan” have got away scot-free!  

That’s why one wonders if Groucho Marx had Rawalpindi in mind when he quipped “Military justice is to justice what military music is to music”!

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