Excerpt: Pakistan Adrift; Navigating Troubled Waters by Asad Durrani
In this exclusive first excerpt from Asad Durrani’s new book, the former ISI chief writes frankly about Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto
Not many tears were shed when Musharraf left, even though his period was marked by some positive developments, especially on the economic front. It was not a comfortable decision for people like me to join the movement for his removal. I had known him for a long time. For old times’ sake, he had offered me the prize post of ambassadorship to Saudi Arabia. And though he was aware of my views on some of his decisions while in power, he and his wife still attended the weddings of my children. The problem was that he was so full of himself that he actually believed that he could get away with murder. When he was in trouble with the country’s higher judiciary, he (reportedly) said, ‘I will get away with it, like I did with Nawab Bugti’s murder’. (Bugti was a powerful Baloch leader, who fell out with Musharraf and died during an army operation.) This hubris was also the hallmark of his autobiography, In the Line of Fire.
Benazir Bhutto’s murder in December 2007 had shocked the world and the people of Pakistan genuinely mourned the tragedy. Considering that there was hardly anything to mitigate her two terms in power, and that she had returned after a dubious deal with a military ruler who was now at the nadir of his standing in the country, this phenomenon is difficult for me to explain, as is the motive and identity of her murderers. I will therefore only describe such aspects of her legacy as I witnessed from close quarters.
Indeed, she had reasons to be upset about my part in the dismissal of her first government in August 1990, but then she was also grateful for the support that I gave to Asif Nawaz who, as the Army Chief, wanted to bring her back to power. Aware of the fact that she had contributed a great deal to my premature retirement, when back in the saddle, she got me the coveted assignment of ambassadorship.
Her second stint was marred by grave acts of corruption, not only by her husband but this time, as disclosed to me by one of her close aides, also by herself. In an envoys’ conference in Madrid, to which all of us accredited to European countries were invited, the prime minister’s special assistant, Shahid Hassan, briefed us on the government’s ingenious formula to attract private investors to build power plants. However, when he told us that the policy was so attractive that foreign companies were queuing up to get a share of the pie, and the PM had decided to accept bids on ‘first-come’ basis, anyone could have seen through the scam. Normally, if there was a healthy number of competitors, one could select the best amongst them, and then negotiate to get the best possible deal. The misgivings that a selected few had been forewarned, in order to prepare their bids and thus get a headstart over the others, were now vindicated.
Fired by an inept missionary zeal, I, then the ambassador to Germany, went to meet the prime minister when she was visiting the UK in 1995. I intended to talk to her about the worsening situation in Sindh but almost on impulse blurted out that the state of corruption was not doing her government any good. That evening, I was invited for dinner with a select group. Besides Ms Bhutto and her spouse, the federal minister Ghulam Mustafa Khar, the high commissioner to the UK, Wajid Shamsul Hassan, and a well-known academic working on Kashmir, Victoria Schofield, were also present. I was quite embarrassed by the prime minister’s opening salvo, ‘General Durrani says my government is seen to be corrupt’. Both Mr and Mrs Zardari tried to convince me that the charges were highly exaggerated. That was the inner voice of guilt. A few months later, Transparency International was founded in Berlin as a corruption-rating agency, and gave Pakistan the dubious distinction of being the vice champion. Zardari rang me up to ascertain if I had contributed to this assessment.
BB was paranoid about losing power and had convinced herself that only two countries, where she had spent a good part of her life in exile, the UK and the US, could provide her succour. On the aforementioned visit, the British defence secretary had to wait for five minutes because I had overstayed my allotted time. She apologised to him more than once and the man must have been wondering why he had to call on a prime minister who could have been summoned to his office. The fact that, when out of power, she used to beseech the US State Department to allow her to call even on low ranking officers, was well-known in Washington, and also that she was often rebuffed. Jamshed Marker was one of our illustrious ambassadors. As the country’s Permanent Representative in the UN during BB’s second stint in power, he had to brief her whenever she was in New York. In his latest book, he writes of how embarrassed he would be because the prime minister was always accompanied by Mark Siegel (the lobbyist) and her old friend, Peter Galbraith. No surprise to those who had to take emergency measures when she came to the GHQ for an exclusive briefing and brought along the American ambassador.
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My last encounter with her was in 2006 in Doha on the sidelines of a US–Islam conference sponsored by the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank. During the meeting, it became quite clear that she was anxious to get back home with the help of America and the army. As she said, these were the only two ‘A’s that counted. I do not know if the other two revered in Pakistani folklore, Allah and Aawam (the people), ever figured in her calculations, but I am sure she had no idea that her death would be most mourned by the masses she so ignored. Of course, she came back for power and not for the love of democracy, as some of her collaborators in plunder would have us believe. All the same, considering the grand send-off she got after her death, she must have done some good, which I myself cannot fathom.