Indiscretion cost Durrani his job

Published January 8, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Jan 7: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday summarily dismissed his National Security Adviser Major General (retd) Mehmud Ali Durrani for being a bit too candid on the tricky issue of Mumbai carnage suspect Ajmal Kasab, “without having taken me into confidence”.

The late-night decision by Prime Minister Gilani to sack the highly influential member of his cabinet immediately sparked speculations about growing fissures within the ruling party, and perhaps among the various pillars of the establishment on the handling of crucial and sensitive matters of national security.

Even before an official statement on Mr Durrani’s dismissal was made public, a furious prime minister reportedly told some journalists that his national security adviser had “embarrassed me and the country” by going public with the report of Ajmal Kasab’s nationality without his permission. “I have dismissed him with immediate effect,” he is reported to have said.

Maj Gen (retd) Durrani was quoted as telling a TV channel that he was still awaiting a formal announcement by the prime minister. Another television channel quoted sources close to the ousted adviser as having said that whatever he had told the media about Ajmal Kasab and the findings of the Pakistani investigators were in the knowledge of the president.

Mr Durrani was summarily dismissed amid reports of tension within the government, particularly between the president and the prime minister, on various issues linked to the decision-making process.

However, President’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar told DawnNews TV late at night that the president and the prime minister were on the same page.

The latest move by the prime minister came amid confusion over the issue of the Ajmal Kasab story.

DawnNews TV, while quoting an unnamed senior official, broke the news about Ajmal Kasab’s identity as a Pakistani national.

And in less than an hour an Indian TV channel quoted Mr Durrani as saying that the preliminary investigation by the Pakistani authorities had confirmed his nationality.

But soon after, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir denied the report, followed by Information Minister Sherry Rehman confirming that Ajmal Kasab was in fact a Pakistani national, but investigations regarding him and his gang’s role were continuing.

Late in the evening, Prime Minister Gilani took the extreme step of sacking Mr Durrani, but he did not say if the National Security Adviser had been sacked for being irresponsible or candid.

Highly informed sources in the government said the security agencies investigating the Ajmal Kasab affair had already prepared their report which, through the ministry of interior, had been passed on to the prime minister for a formal decision. The probe had concluded that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani national, but it was left to the government, or the prime minister, to decide when to make it public.

The sources said that Mr Durrani was apparently sacked because the leak had not only caught the prime minister off guard, but perhaps also deprived him of the credit for breaking the news.

The sources in the government said this was not the first time that Premier Gilani had summarily dismissed a senior official.

Recently, he removed his principal secretary Siraj Shamsuddin in a similar manner and made changes at the top level in the establishment and cabinet divisions, apparently without taking the president into confidence and, in fact, against his will and desire.

Observers of Islamabad’s treacherous politics say the day-long developments resulting in the sacking of one of the most influential members of the cabinet were not only indicative of a certain miscommunication or disconnect between various sections of the government, but also confirm the growing rift between various pillars of the government and the state.

Maj-Gen (retd) Durrani had shot into prominence when he was appointed by former president Gen Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. Before that he was regarded as an influential member of a Washington-sponsored group involved in Track II or in some back-channel diplomacy between Pakistan and India.

When the present government came to power, Gen Durrani surprised everyone when he was appointed prime minister’s national security adviser. Before this appointment, he had perhaps not even met Prime Minister Gilani, although he was regarded as the linchpin in relations between the army, the government and the United States.

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