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Political scientists use the term ‘praetorianism’ to refer to a condition in which civilian political structures are weak, ineffective or illegitimate, whereas the military tends to intervene in politics and potentially control the political process. A praetorian state is characterised by a pro-active military and low level of political culture exemplified by political parties run incompetently as dynasties by venal leaders.

Political leaders, in such a state, fail to strengthen civilian institutions such as the parliament, establish civilian supremacy or adhere to rule of law. On the other hand, the military’s propensity to intervene is determined by the attitude of military top brass towards their role in society — specifically the notion that the military is the guardian of the nation’s values and real interests.

Describing praetorianism as a pre-condition for outright military intervention, renowned political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote in his seminal book, Political Order in Changing Societies, about a praetorian society: “each group employs means which reflect its particular nature and capabilities. The wealthy bribe; students riot; workers strike; mobs demonstrate; and the military coups.”

Despite its self-serving nature and the withholding of significant information, former intelligence chief Gen Asad Durrani’s memoir provides some insight into the mechanics of a praetorian state

Pakistan, having witnessed direct military rule four times in addition to successive weak democratic governments overshadowed by an assertive military, is a typical example of a praetorian state. Lt Gen Asad Durrani, former ambassador and retired three-star Army general, who headed both the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) during 1988-92, is in a privileged position to describe the functioning and failures of such a state.

In his latest book — part memoir, part reflections — titled Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters, Durrani navigates the labyrinth of civil-military relations carefully, candidly sharing insights into some events and even admitting his own mistakes, while withholding significant information about other aspects of capital importance. One reason can be that his last book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, based on interviews of Durrani and former head of India’s intelligence agency RAW, A.S. Dulat, sparked a controversy in Pakistan and Durrani had to explain his position to an inquiry team at the General Headquarters.

Durrani is no stranger to controversy: he was retired prematurely in 1993 by the then Army chief, Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar, on charges of involvement in politics, even after removal from his position as head of the ISI. He made headlines again when he submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan case, acknowledging his political role in the 1990 elections as head of the ISI and his involvement in distributing money to politicians belonging to the anti-PPP coalition, the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI).

Benazir Bhutto had appointed a retired general, Shamsur Rehman Kallu, as head of the ISI after Gen Hamid Gul’s transfer in 1989, following the failure of the Jalalabad operation. In August 1990, when her government was dismissed by then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Bhutto pointed fingers towards Durrani also, as he had been heading the MI for the previous two years. Durrani was appointed head of the ISI after Bhutto’s dismissal, but he used his subordinates in the MI to distribute funds to IJI leaders, allegedly including Nawaz Sharif, before the 1990 elections on directions of then Army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg.

Durrani could have refused the orders of his boss, but the justification he gives for following Beg’s orders is not only unconvincing — self-satisfying at best — but also reveals his attitude towards the PPP: “These were not normal times, nor was I personally averse to seeing the PPP bite the dust.”

Durrani was removed from his ISI post by Nawaz Sharif after he refused to give him a briefing about Army chief Gen Asif Nawaz’s political remarks during the formation commanders’ meeting. However, Durrani kept his political contacts alive with opposition leaders, including Bhutto, while serving as Commandant National Defence College — he says Asif had asked him to do so. As the tussle between then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and then prime minister Nawaz Sharif reached its conclusive round, he advised Bhutto to return to the country.

She came back, met Kakar and told him about the advice she had been receiving from Durrani. Kakar retired Durrani from the Army on charges of political involvement, but after the resignations of Nawaz Sharif and Ghulam Ishaq Khan later that year, and subsequent elections which Bhutto won, Durrani was sent to Germany as ambassador by the PPP government. As ambassador, he was persuaded by the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Rehman Malik and then interior minister Naseerullah Babar to submit the affidavit about the 1990 elections. In this book, Durrani regrets it as the most imprudent move of his career.

In Pakistan Adrift, Durrani comes across as both opinionated and opportunistic, as he accepted the ambassadorship from the PPP government in 1994 even though he was involved in its toppling in 1990 and in its defeat in the subsequent elections later that year. As with Bhutto, Durrani is also very critical of Gen Pervez Musharraf, although he accepted his offer of ambassadorship to Saudi Arabia in 2000. He attributes Musharraf’s mistakes — such as Akbar Bugti’s assassination, tussle with judiciary etc — and his subsequent downfall to hubris.

In contrast to Musharraf, Durrani writes positively about other Army chiefs such as Beg, Asif, Kakar, Gen Jehangir Karamat and Gen Ashfaq Kayani. The author portrays them as non-interventionists who got sucked into politics because of circumstances and the incompetence of civilians, but does not reveal many details as to how pro-actively these generals were involved in controlling the political process.

However, Durrani is quite perceptive about the damage Musharraf has done to the Army: “Since he [Musharraf] mainly trusted the military, he planted members of the armed forces in many important civil institutions, and thus undid most of the good work done in the previous years to cleanse the armed forces of the unmilitary traits ... when serving generals started falling for prime land at bargain prices and their palatial houses were built by government contractors, one knew that the fish was now rotting from its head.” Many years before the eventual collapse of Napoleon III’s empire in France, noted British journalist and essayist Walter Bagehot famously wrote that Caesarism is a remedy for the short-term and a calamity when prolonged.

Durrani is also spot on when he says that an army chief, regardless of how and by whom he has been appointed, draws his strength from the institution. In other words, it does not matter whether you select the senior-most or a junior general for the post of chief. No one should know it better than Nawaz Sharif, who has dealt with eight army chiefs — from Beg to Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa — as three-time prime minister of Pakistan, and is Pakistan’s only civilian leader to have selected five: Asif, Kakar, Musharraf, Gen Raheel Sharif and Bajwa.

During his second term as prime minister from 1997-1999, Sharif was able to knock out then president Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, then chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah and army chief Karamat, forcing them all to resign. He selected Musharraf as army chief, but his government was toppled in 1999. PMLN has ruled Punjab for 22 out of the last 33 years; PPP has similarly lorded over Sindh for nearly 22 years since 1970. Both parties, despite repeated chances at governance, failed to establish civilian supremacy.

Political parties can achieve civilian supremacy only by upholding the rule of law and reforming civil service by depoliticising it. It is the only way by which service delivery will improve meaningfully and space for civilian supremacy will be created. The military establishment has hatched many conspiracies against civilian rulers in the past, but it cannot be blamed for the political leadership’s inability and unwillingness to carry out reforms and uphold the rule of law.

Pakistan Adrift contains interesting chapters on Saudi Arabia and Germany where the author served as ambassador. Durrani is fluent in German, having attended a foreign staff college course in Germany and served as defence attaché at the Pakistani embassy in Bonn in the 1980s. His chapter on German society is quite informative. In Saudi Arabia, although he served as ambassador at the time Nawaz Sharif was exiled there during the Musharraf years, Durrani says he was not kept in the loop as Musharraf dealt with issues related to Sharif’s exile through private emissaries and non-official channels. He came to know from Prince Fahd bin Sultan, governor of Tabuk, that Sharif had called him to save him during the 1999 coup and the Saudi prince was on the treadmill when he took the call. The author also reveals that while he was head of the ISI, then prime minister Sharif expressed his desire to meet the visiting Saudi head of intelligence, Prince Turki bin Faisal. After the meeting, Prince Turki disclosed to Durrani that Sharif did not discuss anything related to government, only his private business interests in Saudi Arabia.

Durrani also reflects on the changing contours of terrorism and the increasing involvement of Washington in costly foreign adventures — wreaking havoc in far-flung countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria etc. On Afghanistan, he summarises Pakistan’s official policy towards the Afghan Taliban with: “As a policy Pakistan does not use force against any Afghan group except in self-defence, not only because it has to live with them long after the foreigners are gone, but also because it believes that it must one day bring all of them to the negotiating table. That again is a mission that cannot be aligned with American interests and those of its clients in Kabul.”

The book is a useful reading for observers of Pakistan’s politics as it deals with subjects such as the involvement of military in politics, civil-military relations and jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir in the last few decades.

The reviewer is an independent researcher based in Islamabad

Pakistan Adrift: Navigating
Troubled Waters
By Asad Durrani
Westland, India
ISBN: 978-9387578494
273pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 28th, 2018

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