Spymasters speak

Published May 27, 2018

TWO former spy chiefs across the seemingly unbridgeable Pakistan-India divide in conversation with a writer was an unusual enough premise for a book.

Guaranteed to draw widespread interest and likely to stir debate if the subjects of the book offered candour instead of guarded comments, Spy Chronicles appears to have led to more controversy than either the Indian or the Pakistani state seem willing to accept.

Retired Gen Asad Durrani, the ISI chief between August 1990 and March 1992, and embroiled in the Mehrangate election rigging scandal yet again, has been summoned to GHQ tomorrow to explain comments he has made in the recently published book co-authored with former RAW chief A.S. Dulat.

DG ISPR Gen Asif Ghafoor has tweeted that Mr Durrani will be “asked to explain his position on his views attributed to him” in the book and suggested that a “violation of the Military Code of Conduct” has been committed by the former spy chief.

In the absence of any details so far about which statements attributed to Mr Durrani in the book are considered a violation of the code of conduct, further information by the military, presumably after Mr Durrani’s appearance before a disciplinary committee in GHQ, are necessary.

Mr Durrani’s comments in the book are now a part of the public record and so should the official complaint against him be made public.

Obfuscation and non-disclosure at this juncture will only deepen and prolong controversy.

Following former prime minister and PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif’s recent hard-hitting allegations against sections of the state, Mr Durrani’s comments indicate a propensity by the state to push out from the national discourse — at least the controlled, public aspects of it — topics that are uncomfortable for the state or for the powerful individuals within it. That must change.

Nawaz Sharif is the only three-term prime minister in the country’s history and Mr Durrani is a veteran spymaster who has maintained a public profile more than two decades after retirement from the military.

Both men will clearly be aware of some genuine state secrets, but both can be assumed to have a good understanding of what is unquestionably damaging to the country when discussed in public and what may be painful for some to hear but that must be explored and exposed in the true national interest.

In the more immediate case of Mr Durrani, now that he has gone on the record with his book, he should speak publicly about his motivations for agreeing to the joint venture and his intentions in claiming what he has in the book.

Spy chiefs and ex-premiers in more advanced democracies have routinely published memoirs and written books on policy matters without stirring too much controversy.

In fact, such books are seen as an effort to aid the public historical record. Mr Durrani should be willing to justify what he has written.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2018

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