America’s Foot Soldiers In Islamabad: Durrani’s Firing Reveals How Pakistan Is Penetrated At The Top
Jan. 8, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—A secretive powerful group in the top corridors of the Pakistani government has been working overtime for the past few weeks to push Islamabad into publicly accepting the half-cooked ‘evidence’ provided by the United States and India that implicates Pakistan, its military and the ISI in the Mumbai attacks.
Two prominent names in this group are national security adviser Mehmud Ali Durrani and the Ambassador in Washington Husain Haqqani. They pushed hard for Pakistan to accept blame without verification and without pursuing other compelling leads in the Mumbai attacks. These other leads cast a wider net and significantly weaken India’s ‘Pakistan-only’ fixation.
The behavior of Mr. Durrani became particularly desperate in the last few days, and especially on Wednesday, Jan. 7. His boss, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, was not off the mark when he cited betrayal of Pakistan’s national security as the main reason for sacking Mr. Durrani.
The question is: Who was Mr. Durrani working for? There is even chatter about the possibility that he might be arrested and interrogated to determine whose interests he was serving. There is no question that his bold moves were sanctioned by President Zardari. It is also interesting to note that information minister Sherry Rehman came to Mr. Durrani’s rescue in the final stage of the bizarre power struggle that marked Durrani’s last few hours in office.
Given the traps created by this government for Pakistan and especially for the ISI after the Mumbai attacks, it is safe to conclude that Pakistan’s power echelons stand breached by individuals, like Mr. Durrani, who are keenly pursuing policy objectives of a foreign government or governments.
The conduct of Mr. Durrani, coupled with massive recent policy failures with direct bearing on national security, reinforce the need for a purge within the government and within the country’s political elite. Foreign governments have been able to penetrate both and cultivate assets. These ‘assets’ conduct their own private foreign policies directly with foreign powers without the approval or knowledge of the Pakistani state.
Sitting in Washington, Ambassador Husain Haqqani has been wrangling with the Pakistan Foreign Office for several days now over the FBI evidence shared with Pakistan, which apparently includes a tape recording purporting to show a Pakistani citizen inside Pakistan talking to a Mumbai terrorist over telephone. Mr. Haqqani wants Pakistan to accept this piece of evidence as final proof that elements within Pakistan executed the attack on Mumbai. Other Pakistani officials disagree and say the audio tape and other information need to be verified by Pakistani experts to determine if it is fake or real. We don’t trust India and they don’t trust us. It’s as simple as that.
Durrani’s Suspicious Role
Behind the scenes, Mr. Durrani has been playing what amounts to a dirty role in this whole crisis with India. In the last week of December, he contacted a known Pakistani journalist working for the Wall Street Journal and leaked to him a ‘breaking’ a story: an activist of the defunct Lashkar Tayyeba in Pakistani custody had confessed to making phone calls to Mumbai terrorists.
It was strange that Mr. Durrani chose to leak this information to a U.S. newspaper. If the story was true [it wasn’t. It was officially debunked later] the Pakistani government would have released it through its spokespeople. The only plausible purpose of the leak was to embarrass Pakistan, quash the voices calling for evidence and verification, and push a weak government into accepting responsibility for the Mumbai attacks. It was a classic pressure tactic, in this case used by an insider – Mr. Durrani – against his own government.
Using this deliberate leak, the Wall Street Journal came out with an elaborate story . Its editors somehow linked the alleged confession to ISI’s tense relations with elected governments in the 1990s. There was a separate box in the story that gave a timeline to the supposed tense relations.
In short, Durrani’s leak to Wall Street Journal became a condemnation of the ISI. Which seems to be the whole purpose of the Indian drama anyway. The leak also weakened the effect of foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s rare bold statement that demanded India deactivate its forward air bases, withdraw troops and defuse the war hysteria.
Durrani’s leak in effect threw the ball back in the Pakistani court.
With Ambassador Haqqani’s failure to convince Pakistani officials to accept the American evidence, the pro-American lobby in Islamabad began to get desperate. U.S. military chief Adm. Mike Mullen flew into Islamabad to convince President Zardari to allow the Indian air force to conduct limited ‘surgical strikes’. He asked Zardari to deactivate the state of alert in the Pakistan Air Force for this purpose. The deal was sealed if not for the strong stand taken by the Pakistani military. Mullen returned empty handed.
The ‘Charge Sheet’
Mr. Durrani’s reign of double dealings at the top, as Prime Minister’s adviser on national security, makes the list of foreign policy blunders by the government appear deliberate and calculated and not just the work of incompetent administrators:
- The immediate admission of guilt on behalf of ISI, when Mr. Gilani was told to accept sending ISI chief to New Delhi on India’s ‘summon’.
- The weak, apologetic diplomacy in the face of Indian warmongering.
- Misleading China in the U.N. Security Council voting, resulting in incriminating Pakistani individuals and organizations without evidence. Some observers even go as far as saying that this vote has smoothed the way for future sanctions on Pakistan and its military if and when major powers pursue this.
- The Zardari government is suspected of having dragged its feet on issuing orders to the Pakistani military to raise the level of alert even when Indian army, air force and navy were moving to forward positions. The plot becomes sinister when the consequences of this reluctance become clear. A snap attack by India when the Pakistani military was not ready could have resulted in humiliation for the military. This would have emboldened the current government to take on a humiliated military and pursue the U.S. agenda of dismantling the ISI and transform the Pakistani military into a glorified police force at the beck and call of U.S. and India. This ‘ideal role’ for Pakistan is now openly discussed in Washington and is no longer a secret.
The Memorable 7 January
The actions of Mr. Mehmud Ali Durrani on this day show how desperate he had become to see Pakistan taking the blame and submitting before India. This portion of the story needs careful reading because it reveals how far this game goes to the top levels of the Pakistani government.
Mr. Durrani apparently leaked to an Indian TV channel and a couple of Pakistani news channels that Pakistan has accepted Indian ‘evidence’ that Ajmal Kassab, the lone surviving Mumbai terrorist, was a Pakistani citizen. [Please click here for an incisive examination of the Indian and American ‘evidence’].
Mr. Durrani probably intended for this information to be quoted ‘anonymously’. But one of the journalists probably made the mistake of mentioning Durrani’s name.
Reacting to this, Pakistan’s second most senior diplomat, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, came out to deny that Kassab’s identity has been determined, in effect brushing aside Durrani’s leak.
To counter Mr. Bashir, Information Minister Sherry Rehman went a step further. She volunteered this information [that Kassab is a Pakistani] through a text message to a reporter of the American Associated Press news agency. Her move seconded Durrani’s.
Surprisingly, the government’s own Minister of State for Interior, Mr. Tasnim Qureshi, reacted angrily to Mr. Durrani’s leaks. He told reporters that Kassab’s Pakistani links mean little because Kassab was a “creation of Indian intelligence.”
Now, was Mr. Durrani acting alone in making the leaks? After being sacked, Mr. Durrani told Geo News that he consulted the President on all his moves.
This begs the question: Did President Zardari approve the calculated leaks to the media by Durrani and Sherry? If so, why? Why did they have to do it this way? Who were they hiding from? Why try to force the hand of the rest of the organs of the Pakistani state?
Does this mean that Mr. Zardari, Mr. Durrani, and Mr. Haqqani will leak confidential material to the media every time things don’t go their way? Why this act of desperation? Who were they trying to please?
Time For A Purge In Islamabad
A growing number of Pakistani officials and politicians have been cultivated by foreign governments in a variety of ways to pursue the goals of those governments. This foreign meddling and direct contact is confined in large part to the United States, and then to the United Kingdom. It is happening outside the knowledge of the Pakistani state and has reached dangerous proportions. Mr. Durrani’s story is a case in point.
Mr. Durrani was and remains an active member of something called the Balusa Group, created and financed by the U.S. government as a way to create influence in the upper echelons of the Pakistani government. The Americans say the purpose of this group was to bring peace between Pakistan and India through ‘Track II’ diplomacy. But the truth is that its members, like Mr. Durrani, were involved in lobbying for U.S. sponsored energy corridors between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. A side goal was to convince Pakistan to give India unlimited access to Afghanistan and Central Asian republics as a free concession without asking for anything in return, like resolving Kashmir and water disputes.
Foreign Minister Mehmood Qureshi distanced himself from the group as soon as he assumed his new position. He wanted to ensure he was not linked to foreign interests while discharging important business of the state. However, Mr. Durrani and Mr. Husain Haqqani have not publicly ceased their associations with foreign policy groups and interests after becoming servants of the Pakistani state. Mr. Durrani has been serving the state for almost three years now without renouncing his foreign associations, and all of them happen to be tied to U.S. interests.
The result of the damage brought by Mr. Zardari, Mr. Durrani and Mr. Haqqani to Pakistan in the past few weeks is obvious. Pakistan’s wishy-washy diplomacy in the face of Indian belligerence and warmongering has emboldened New Delhi to pursue a tougher line with Islamabad. Officials in Washington and New Delhi are betting on the confusion created by the actions of Mr. Durrani to make it easier for them to extract concessions from Pakistan.
There is no question that the United States plans to expand the war in Afghanistan to include Pakistan. This is the only way to weaken the Pakistani military and firmly align Pakistan with American interests opposite China and others. The only way this is possible is with India’s help. People like Mr. Durrani are helping this happen from the inside. Such elements need to be purged form the system.
In conclusion, this is what Dr. Ayesha Siddiq, the author of Military Inc., had to say about Mr. Durrani when he was first appointed in government:
“The PPP selected Washington’s dream team to run foreign relations and national security. One is not sure that appointing Durrani as the National Security Adviser will do the job. The appointment (of Durrani) is in consideration of the general’s close ties with the US Pentagon. Not to mention the fact that Durrani owes his intellectual growth to Shirin Tahirkheli, a Bush administration adviser and former senior official of the [U.S. delegation to the] UN National Security Council”.