By Arshad Sharif
February 1, 2021: When journalist turned academic, Anatol Lieven, described General Asad Durrani as Pakistan’s foremost military intellectual in the foreword to the book ‘Pakistan Adrift’ he pointed out ironically that intellectualism is to military what military band is to music. Little did he know that his statement would be proven true years later when military’s predisposition to anti-intellectualism charged the former three-star General for committing “heinous crimes threatening national security” for the simple act of recording historical facts in the form of a book. Not one book, but THREE published books till now and perhaps another one also being written. And that is a big sin. Why? Because no other Pakistani three star or a four-star General has authored three books in the last seventy years of country’s history. Writing multiple books is a laborious task which doesn’t fit with golf playing, cigar smoking, pleasurable retired multi-millionaire privileged lifestyle of some top Generals.
Writing multiple books is a difficult task left for lower ranks upto Brigadiers. Breaking with traditions of chivalry of a Generals’ privileged lifestyle to foray into taxing intellectualism is no doubt a punishable crime.
Anti-intellectualism is a trait of power corridors where the minions are afraid of anyone calling out aloud that the emperor has no clothes. Centuries ago, Socrates was condemned to drink the hemlock poison for corrupting the youth of Athens. In the three books that General Durrani has written so far, he claims to be no Socrates of his times, but appears to be so to his detractors after the author started believing that pen is mightier than the sword or the proverbial gun he once brandished as a soldier. “When I took up the pen after my retirement, for some time I deluded myself that it was mightier than the sword I had just sheathed. I am not sure if my writing impressed even the few who could read, but the man wielding the gun continued to strike terror in the hearts of all who got on the wrong side of him.”
If anything at all, General Durrani should be charged for the grave sin of revealing established principles of power play, manipulations and intrigues in his earlier published book, “Pakistan Adrift; Navigating Troubled Waters” which might help posterity to call a spade a spade with insights into historical events of significance in Pakistan’s history. Surprisingly, “Pakistan Adrift” was not mentioned in the honours list of best sellers like “Spy Chronicles” and “Honour Among Spies” by Defence Ministry for whatever reasons as the other two books flow from the initial ideas elaborated in the first book.
Orwell’s Ministry of Peace has mentioned two books by Asad Durrani, “Spy Chronicles,” and “Honour Among Spies” in the charge sheet of “heinous crimes threatening national security” in a court of law.
The charge sheet reflects a mindset afraid of the written word, against a soldier who fought two wars of 1965 and 1971 to defend his country, who was Director General Military Intelligence, Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence and twice served as Pakistan’s ambassador abroad in Germany and Saudi Arabia.
That the author himself was once afraid of the written or spoken word is mentioned in ‘Reflections’ as last chapter of his book, “Pakistan Adrift.” The General owes more reflections to revisit if writing first draft of history, the day to day journalism, is as easy as recording past events or even more difficult for it is done in the moment of history as it is happening when more often than not, the all-powerful make decisions for preservation of their vanities rather than larger principles. That the media men and women continue to do so courageously at grave risk of their lives and jobs must be a point to ponder for the General turned author who must have realized by now the cost of shouting out aloud that the King is naked.
Richard Hofstadter in his Pulitzer Prize winning work, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” declared “The common strain that binds together the attitudes and ideas which I call anti-intellectual is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life.”
In an earlier published book, ‘Pakistan Adrift,’ Asad Durrani wrestles with questions of identity, ranks and titles. The paragraph assumes added analytical importance today to understand the vantage point from which the author writes and what mental trauma an ex -soldier might be undergoing when former brothers in arms, for whatever reasons of political expediency, label one of their own as a traitor.
“I have, consequently, at times been addressed with the diplomatic title and not with my last military rank. Given a choice, I prefer my soldierly tag. One reason is obvious: it was achieved after decades of hard work and a bit of luck. The ambassadorial license, too, was granted because I had attained a fairly rich epaulet. More importantly, the army is my identity and the only fraternity with any binding affinity. After I was prematurely retired, my most emotional moment was when I took my uniform out of the wardrobe and tucked it away in a trunk.”
About ‘Pakistan Adrift,’ Anatol Lieven wrote that a leitmotif of General Durrani‘s book is indeed “the repeated failures of political manipulation by the Pakistani military and its intelligence services whether at home or in neighboring Afghanistan. Repeated attempts to run Pakistani politics from behind-the-scenes through loyal proxies collapsed as the proxies feed themselves from the military and pursued their own (often disastrous) agendas.”
“Pakistan Adrift” is more of a policy review of historical events of Pakistan by a former power player who saw it from close quarters at the top and as its chief influencer and manipulator. It enumerates certain well-established principles of powerplay of Pakistan’s civil military life.
One of the principles enumerated in the book is that the military ruler at the head of a political regime must wear many hats. “This was also the case with Zia. There was a time when he was simultaneously the President, the Chief Martial Law Administrator, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Chief of Army staff.” When General Musharraf took power through a military coup in 1999, he also donned many of the same hats.
Any professional army would keep miles away from political meddling. But Pakistan’s case is different. Whenever the top Pakistani military commanders meet, they discuss all matters of “national security.” And, national security -myopically defined only by those who wield power of the gun – obviously involves questions of who gets to rule or not.
This principle is explained by Asad Durrani by revealing that during his times, almost thirty years ago, the top huddle of Pakistani Generals had general elections as the first item for discussion on the agenda. “I now had the privilege of attending a forum that was, in due course, to gain worldwide fame: the Corp Commanders’ Conference. A briefing on the general elections was usually the first item on the agenda. In view of a likely PPP win, a small but vocal group was pretty nervous. The progress reported by General Hamid Gul, then the director-general of the ISI, on the evolution of an anti PPP alliance, the IJI provided some solace, but not very much….”
If things changed at all in subsequent years from 1990s onwards can best be described by those who attended Corps Commanders Conferences upto 2018 elections.
Looking through the lens of history, Asad Durrani elaborates the beastly nature of engineered political processes which eats away the military architects of political processes at the cost of institutional reputation and professionalism. “The ISI underwrote the formation of an anti-PPP alliance the IJI, before the 1988 elections. It did not win that bout. But when it did in the 1990, though again helped by the civil and military establishments, the victory was largely because of the PPP’s lackluster performance. Soon after coming to power, the IJI embarked upon cutting both it’s civilian and military godfathers down to size. Still, nothing demonstrates the ineptness of the military in politics better than the spontaneous collapse of the entities it sponsored as soon as the khaki umbrella was removed. And if the idea was to keep the army’s nemesis at bay, they all bounced back with a vengeance. The ISI also suffered when used as the military’s political instrument.”
“Much later, we discovered that it was the army’s own creations that were far keener to cut it down to size,” is another well-established grundnorm by now in Pakistan.
In another chapter he mentions another well-established principle by now that that whether the army was in power or not, the military secret services fell short when tasked to pursue its political agenda. “All their projects failed or provided only temporary relief. The creation of the MQM to offset the PPPs domination of the Sindh province in the 1980s may have given the estranged migrants from India a platform, for, but did not erode the PPP vote bank.”
This principle also proved true in the case of PMLN which was fathered by General Durrani and his colleagues in the form of IJI during their days in power.
How far this principle holds true in the case of Pakistan Tehrik Insaaf and who will confess fathering it’s birth can be better argued with evolving empirical evidence which is bound to come forth with more clarity.
“Who ever said that the road to hell was paved with good intentions had no idea that this would be so completely applicable to the Pakistani Generals,” writes Durrani, while detailing many an outcome which turned out to be totally different as to what was planned in euphoric strategy rooms in protective environments of garrisons away from hustle bustle of ground realities of ordinary street life. How long the way to hell would continue to be paved with good intentions of civil and military rulers, rather than actions based on rule of law, is not known.
One of the ways in which the road to hell is paved is is also explained by General Durrani by close observations of rats infesting power corridors who trigger events through insecurities of their own to perpetuate the survival of their masters in every regime.
General Durrani elaborated it as: “A serious deficit that most of our leaders suffer from is the propensity to be influenced by a small, often lose, coterie of henchmen. This creed survives and thrives on information coups, insidious schemes and conspiracy concoctions – anything to justify their indispensability. Their exaggerated, often fabricated, accounts keep the boss on edge, and by taking care of these non-existent threats, they ensure their continued existence. In the process, the threats become real because the other side reacts in the same vein.”
General Durrani while elaborating how to make a well-oiled fighting army emphises character of men leading the force. “There are no good or bad armies, only good or bad officers, so runs one of the numerous maxims on the primacy of leadership. That places the onus to stem the rot squarely on the senior officers. But what if that class too was infested by the declining values, and infatuation with all things ostentatious? If Prado was now a service vehicle, Lexus could not be far behind; landscaping and waterfalls in a General‘s office, megaprojects to win recognition and much more followed.”
He writes that most ills can be traced to the fundamental flaw of little big men when people in power pursue ever more power, not necessarily as a means to perform, but as an end.
Elaborating another principle established over the years through convention is the appointment of DG ISI from the army. “The selection of the DG ISI is indeed the Chief Executive‘s prerogative and according to the rules of business, he does not have to belong to the Armed Forces. The army’s claim on this post is based on the argument that since the bulk of the personal in the ISI come from the army, its head should be a serving general. The real reason, of course, lies in the army’s larger than life role in the country’s polity.”
The book has important chapters about Indo Pakistan relations; Afghanistan as the Bermuda Triangle of the East gobbling up empires and US Pakistan relations.
Identifying a soft under belly of Pakistan, General Durrani identifies the reasons for different countries sponsoring insurgent movements in Baluchistan.
“Due to the significance of Baluchistan, besides the US, Iran, India and Afghanistan, countries like Russia, Israel, the UK and a few from the Gulf have also deployed their intelligence tentacles here. Some of them are known to have exploited the unrest in the troubled province to help it break away from the rest of the country.”
General Durrani elaborates another principle of perpetual war doctrine by the sole super power, the United States of America. “The defence industry in America is still one of the surviving big businesses. Many others have now been outsourced to China. Keeping it in good health must be the compulsion of any government, and therefore war at all cost must be a primary principle of American policy.”
The obsession of rulers at any time to portray themselves in good light rather than changing the realities on the ground is another principle which holds true regime after regime.
“It seems there is no end to the illusions that we have created merely to avoid coming to grips with reality. ‘If only we could improve our image’ is one of them.”
The General rightly mentions that ‘the image is a reflection of reality’ and no amount of spin doctoring or obsession of courtesans with positive perceptions and image of rulers can overcome the vulgar self-indulgence and debauchery of those who pass on as rulers in Pakistan.