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Fifth column

April 2, 2019

Troubled waters


April 2, 2019

General Asad Durrani’s latest book, ‘Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters’, offers an interesting account of his life both as a military general and head of the country’s two of the best intelligence services – ISI and MI – and his time as a top diplomat in Germany and Saudi Arabia. He has had quite an eventful life witnessing many far-reaching world events up close as a participant observer. Therefore, he has an endless supply of interesting stories to offer that he presents laced in dry wit and a thoroughly entertaining tone.

Described as a military scholar by leading British academic and journalist, Anatol Lieven in the foreword of the book, Durrani seamlessly weaves anecdotes from his life with personal or professional perspectives. In doing so he comes across as quite frank and without any need to sound didactic and pompous. He also refrains from soliciting personal glory. His account has “no claim to be the last word” or the whole truth. At times, his approach to events and anecdotes might produce a feeling of him being remote or indifferent, but it is his perspective on the things that he witnessed and believed to be true.

From the very onset, Durrani tries to manage the expectations of his readers for the book lacks any spectacular conspiracies or thrilling storylines. At the same time, he tries to bust a few myths about the power or motivation of ‘the establishment’ or the ‘foreign hand’. In the introduction, he warns, “Readers expecting a former head of the world-famous ISI to reveal many sensational plots will be disappointed. I do not believe our establishment, civil and military, or, for that matter, our political leadership, went around crafting deep designs. A few of those who worked with us certainly had ambitions which were not always in the country’s best interests. At times, they even tried to realise them through unsavoury means, but I am not aware of any entire institution that collaborated to pursue an underhand agenda”.

He strongly refutes allegations that external powers have the ability to strongly influence decision-making and tries to restore the agency of Pakistan in dealing with various challenges and outcome of situations. He does not believe that outsiders had any power beyond provoking confusion and some mayhem inside Pakistan. “The perception that nothing of any significance happened in Pakistan without American blessing was our own contribution to this mythic relationship. Those amongst us who jumped onto their bandwagon for favours or in the belief that the country’s best interests were served by collaboration or compliance, must have contributed to this misconception”.

Long after his retirement, his presence on the scene continues to produce controversies with quite an impact on his life. Talking about the failures, Durrani is not shy of expressing his opinions about his superiors, friends or even himself. He offers an unvarnished commentary about Pakistani elite from all backgrounds on every side, their corrupt practices and, at times, his own strong observations on some of the issues.

He admits his own failings – as a person and in his professional capacity. He attributes some of his failures to inherent human culpabilities while other failings are clearly informed by his own choices – such as his cushy posting as a diplomat prompted him to write an affidavit on his involvement in the 1990 elections which later snowballed into a major political farce. He regrets this as the most imprudent move of his career.

The book talks about Afghanistan and believes that the Afghan government in Kabul is more likely to be the one opposed to any peaceful settlement for it threatens the survival of its members whom he refers to as the whiz kids of Kabul. When I recently asked Durrani about the clamour on the US-Taliban talks issuing from the Ashraf Ghani government, he was too harsh to dismiss him as a non-entity with no future. He told me that he sees the Taliban as the new rulers but they will have to incorporate other Afghan factions as well.

Durrani discusses theoretical concepts of terrorism and the Euro-American bias on its interpretation that deprives Muslims and their political struggles from an honest appraisal. The author quotes several verses of Urdu or Farsi in the text, but they are often mutilated by typographical errors or wrong arrangement of letters. That almost creates an aesthetic meltdown of an otherwise absorbing narrative.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli

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