ISLAMABAD: While opposing the request of ex-chief of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency Asad Durrani seeking removal of his name from the no-fly list, the Ministry of Defence on Wednesday accused him of being involved in anti-state activities alleging that he is either “affiliated or interacting with hostile elements specially Indian RAW [Research and Analysis Wing] since 2008”.

The comments were part of the ministry’s response to the petition of the former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general before the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

Retired Lt Gen Durrani’s name was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) for co-authoring a book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with former chief of the Indian spy agency Amarjit Singh Dulat after Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (MI) wrote to the interior ministry in this regard in 2018.

On May 28, 2018, the military’s media wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) informed the general public through its Twitter account: “Lt Gen Asad Durrani, Retired was called at GHQ today to explain his position on recently launched book ‘Spy Chronicles’. A formal Court of Inquiry headed by a serving Lt Gen has been ordered to probe the matter in detail. Competent authority approached to place his name on ECL.”

Opposes Durrani’s plea against travel ban

In its report filed before the court, the Ministry of Defence stated: “A court of inquiry under the provision of Pakistan Army Act Rule 157 was convened to ascertain facts about the contents of the book and the circumstances under which the book was co-authored. Consequently, petitioner’s name was placed on the ECL vide memorandum dated May 29, 2018.”

It said: “The competent military authority has taken cognisance of the contents of the book after thorough deliberation and on the recommendation of the inquiry.”

The ministry highlighted that the book contained certain contents concerning to the National Security of Pakistan and it was a violation of Official Secret Act.

It said that “there are number of publications on way, supported by hostile elements which contains content to create misperception, confusion, question marks against the top leadership circles of country level and to target the common people” adding that the situation necessitates that the petitioner’s name should be contained in the ECL.

“It is further added that the petitioner [Gen Durrani] is affiliated/interacting with hostile elements especially Indian RAW since 2008,” the report mentioned.

As per the report, during an interaction of Gen Durrani with the military authorities in the General Headquarters in 2018 he “rendered an affidavit committing to refrain from such activities, which is still not seen in tangible terms.”

The ministry stated that the government was authorized to prohibit a person from proceeding Pakistan to any foreign destination “if the said person is involved in acts of terrorism or its conspiracy, heinous crimes and threatening national security.”

As per the defence ministry, a retired army official or even a civilian could be court martialled for violating the Official Secret Act “any person, whether a retired soldier or a civilian who is involved in activities concerning national security of Pakistan being in contravention of the provisions of the Official Secret Act, 1923, becomes subject to the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) 1952.

In the petition, Gen Durrani claimed that the government had put his name on the ECL in connection with an inquiry related to a book he co-authored, the inquiry has since been concluded and he had also been punished accordingly; however, his name was still on the ECL.

The ministry said his name could not be removed from ECL “at this stage” because inquiries being conducted against him were being finalised. It said the former ISI chief wanted to travel abroad with the intention of participating in international conferences, forums and talks which would have ‘serious national security implications as evident from the recently published book ‘Honour Among Spies’” — which was also authored by Gen Durrani and published “through Indian publishers/RAW supported elements”, according to the defence ministry.

The court was informed that after the book was evaluated from a ‘security perspective’, it was confirmed by the Court of Inquiry that it contained contents ‘which were against the interests of Pakistan’.

In the book, the two ex-spymasters have touched upon some thorny issues which have kept Pakistan-India ties strained for decades and at times pushing them to the brink of war.

Before the court of inquiry was ordered, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had drawn a parallel between his statement on the Mumbai attack case and the contents of The Spy Chronicles. He had also called for the National Security Council to re-convene on the matter as it had done in his [Sharif’s] case.

According to the description of his new book, Honour Among Spies, it is a fictional account of a spy who is sent out into the cold but one that reflects all too accurately the predicament of a distinguished officer fighting to protect his reputation.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2021

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