“I can’t do business with this prime minister of yours,” General Asif Nawaz Janjua, former army chief, told General Asad Durrani, the then DG ISI, regarding then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, some time in 1992.
The COAS was furious and “now raring to the PM’s hide.”
Sharif had invited the army chief over to Lahore for a private meeting but in the course of that meeting “asked him to accept a BMW as a token of friendship.”
Sounds like inflated fiction? The prime minister appeasing the army chief with a luxury car? This reflected a politician’s brazen propensity to buy or bully the opposition – even if it were the head of the army. No, this is what General Durrani states in his explosive memoir “Pakistan Adrift: Troubled Waters.”
Durrani also recalls how PM Sharif during his first tenure had sought a one-on-one confidential meeting with the Saudi crown prince and the intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal in Islamabad.
“The prince obliged him but in his own subtle way conveyed to me that the confidential meeting was about Sharif’s business interests in the Kingdom and had nothing to do with the business of the state,” says Durrani, reminding the reader of how the family had stitched business relations in Saudi Arabia, which presumably also got extracted him from the clutches of General Pervez
The narrative is a brilliant mix of conscious blissful pretension of ignorance (in some key matters), paradoxical statements on successive army chiefs in an attempt to absolve them of the primary sin, scathing, condoning criticism of politicians (in some cases legitimate) and an expression of atonement – a typical mea culpa – for the past deeds – good or bad – from a high moral ground.
I am saying this because how would you describe a person who tacitly plots, or acquiesces in a plot to see a civilian prime minister unceremoniously dismissed but sees no qualms in accepting an ambassadorial assignment from the same “bloody civilian prime minister?
Durrani is not flattering at all even on Benazir Bhutto, who he says smelled power and sensed the GHQ’s displeasure with Sharif and took the bait of launching a march on Islamabad in November 1992. General Beg initially wanted to be the guardian angel for Benazir Bhutto in her first incarnation. When it became clear that she was not interested, the Army Chief shifted his support to Nawaz Sharif…
It is a memoir by, as most analysts would describe him, a conformist general – who made it to the highest coveted ranks just because he complied and played along the bosses of the time? He even betrayed his constitutional boss, the prime minister, in withholding his report and assessment on a critical speech that COAS Asif Nawaz delivered – pointed at the government – at a Formation Commanders’ conference in February 1992. Any boss would react the way Sharif eventually reacted; asking General Asif Nawaz to remove Durrani from ISI.
Is it an attempt to wash hands off the dirty work against civilian governments that has been the hallmark of successive military establishments, events that immensely contributed to the shaping of the socio-politics of the present day Pakistan? (the famous Asghar Khan case, the direct or indirect support to the Kashmir-focused jihadist industry).
When talking of missteps by a nervous Sharif in response to a perceived threat from two critical pillars of the troika – a strident president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the army chief, Durrani also offers a plain truth.
“Neither Asif Nawaz nor I could empathise with Nawaz Sharif. It probably had something to do with the military temperament,” Durrani says, although he asserts a few paragraphs earlier that “he (Asif Nawaz) played straight and expected others to do likewise.”
Asif Nawaz’s response to the offer of the gift, and then his eventual leaning on President Ishaq Khan to engineer Sharif’s dismissal in April 1993 also reaffirms the known plain fact that the men in-charge of the GHQ used to quickly grow impatient when they discerned “exercise of too much discretion by the prime minister.”
It is a very riveting articulation of events with great flair, and posthumous admission of guilt but also an incisive explanation on what sets the GHQ and the PM house apart and why successive civilians failed to learn one universal lesson; an army chief, regardless of how and by whom he has been appointed, draws his strength from the institution.
In a recent meeting with leading anchors and columnists, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa was also at pains to draw home this very point; once an officer assumes this charge, he only belongs to Pakistan and the armed forces of the country,” Bajwa explained in response to all kind of gossip before and after his elevation to the COAS office.
The author, occasionally, tries to enlighten readers on his past roles but seems at pains to put a positive spin, bringing it down to an assertion that would read like “I did it because my duty charter demanded so.”
But if you were to extrapolate one take-away on Durrani’s narrative on successive army chiefs – and it makes sense as well from his perspective – it is largely positive: they all, as Durrani explains, as true straight soldiers wanted to rehabilitate the military’s tarnished image under General Zia and General Musharraf. True this is what every army chief was supposed to do.
He offers brief comments on all of them – especially General Mirza Aslam Beg, Asif Nawaz Janjua, Waheed Kakar, and General Ashfaq Kayani. But largely projects them in positive light, people who were largely non-interventionists but forced by circumstances into political adventures.
Pakistan Adrift, published by C.Hurst and Co Publishers, no doubt offers a riveting commentary on what Durrani saw from such a close range. It leads you to easily deduct that while most generals have been non-challant, the majority of politicians were the opposite; non-serious, whimsical, uninterested in developing parties as democratic entities, and more focused on personal interests.
The book indeed is scintillating encapsulation of events that were happening around Durrani, or through him (like the distribution of funds to IJI leaders including Nawaz Sharif). The author also attributes the continuous involvement of the armed forces/para-military forces in political matters due to a) obvious lack of will on fundamental reforms among politicians, and b) the inclination to embody absolute power to reign in the security establishment. The author invariably shifts the blame mostly to politicians as responsible for the Original Sin, the prompter for the Military’s intervention. It’s like the proverbial chick and egg story.
Durrani draws a telling parallel to the United States when talking of Pakistan’s failure in marketing its narrative at home and abroad; … America has been more successful but only after sustained and subtle efforts, then too, because the country has provided sufficient succour to its citizens to earn their more or less unthinking loyalty. In our case, the official narrative triggers more scepticism than conviction. We may win any war, including the disingenuously coined war on terror. But we have lost the war of narratives long ago, concludes General Durrani.
This is a telling deduction. Almost all Pakistani military and civilian leaders have applied the security prism to view and fight off domestic and external challenges. No sincere attempt has been visible to recast the nation through a regime anchored in the rule of law, fundamental rights, and the push for people-focused governance. This has compounded problems arising out of geo-politics, political adventures by generals and self-serving “governance by politicians, and hence Durrani calls it Pakistan Adrift.