In his first display of real authority, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has sacked National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani. The move will improve Gilani’s public opinion standing, but it will be a fleeting show of strength. The prime minister is unlikely to be politically empowered. In fact, his relationship with President Asif Ali Zardari is expected to deteriorate further. This and other parallel trends will accelerate Pakistan’s descent into a massive leadership crisis precipitated by the collective delegitimization of its major leaders, both civil and military. I’ll deal with this subject at the end of the post. Let’s first discuss Durrani.
WHY WAS DURRANI FIRED?
Earlier in the day, Durrani tacitly admitted to CNN that Ajmal Kasab, one of the Mumbai attackers,”had Pakistani connections.” He added: “So one cannot deny there was zero link with Pakistan. How much, who all was involved, that we have to investigate.” Late in the evening, the prime minister’s office announced the firing of Durrani “for his irresponsible behavior for not taking the prime minister and other stakeholders into confidence, and a lack of coordination on matters of national security.”
Durrani’s admission on CNN, however, was not as blatant as has been suggested elsewhere in the media. And so it is difficult to believe that this interview was the sole factor behind his dismissal.
More inflammatory were the damaging leaks he made off the record to Zahid Hussain of the Wall Street Journal in late December on the interrogation of Zarar Shah. Durrani’s dismissal was likely caused by a pattern of behavior on his part.
But rightists in Pakistan also question Durrani’s loyalty to the Pakistani state. Gen. (Retd.) Mirza Aslam Beg, formerly chief of army staff, labeled Durrani today an “American agent.” Whether these allegations played any role in Gilani’s decision is unclear. The Beg-Durrani dispute is also interesting because each has been alleged to have been part of the assassination of President Gen. Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 (for separate reasons). Durrani is said to have loaded crates of mangoes upon Gen. Zia’s plane, which some claim contained a poison gas that incapacitated the pilots. So Beg could be saving his own skin or genuinely believe Durrani acts on the behalf of a state other than his own.
PERSONALIZATION AND FACTIONALIZATION
Durrani’s statements were reiterated in more blunt terms by Information Minister Sherry Rehman — via text message – and Foreign Office Spokesman Muhammad Sadiq. They have not been replaced.
Now why did Sherry and Sadiq make such claims about Kassab? For Sherry, I think there are two potential explanations.
One, she could have been given the green light by Zardari. If this is the case, then it indicates the absence of a formal policy making structure inside the coalition government. For all of its talk of democracy and institution building, the present government in Islamabad — like all Pakistani governments — is dominated by personalities and factions, not institutions. Zardari’s arbitrary decision making (remember from last summer, “I am the expert!”) has been at Gilani’s expense. And this has caused the deterioration of their relationship. The firing of Durrani could very well be a salvo directed at Zardari.
Two, Sherry could have wrongly assumed that Zardari had given the green light to admit Kasab is a Pakistani. More specifically, her answer could have been shaped by the question she was asked. It’s plausible that Durrani’s statement was referred to in the question posed to her, and that she replied as she did on the assumption that Durrani was articulating the government line. But still, this would indicate the absence of discipline and organization in the PPP-led coalition government.
The Sadiq factor is more interesting. He is close to Durrani. When Durrani was ambassador to the United States, Sadiq served at the embassy as deputy chief of mission. His concurrence with Durrani seems to contradict the consensus at Pakistan’s Foreign Office (and the words of Pakistan’s foreign secretary uttered not too earlier), which has assumed a very defensive posture.
At the same time, Pakistan’s foreign policy is being disproportionately shaped by its ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, whose appointment was not well received in the Foreign Office. He shares a similar worldview (and in the eyes of some rightists, paymaster) as Durrani. Various reports suggest he is at odds with Pakistan’s defensive posture post-Mumbai and is effectively running his own game in Washington.
Sadiq’s behavior could point to a convergence of efforts by Durrani and Haqqani (who, along with his counterpart at the UN, has rushed back to Islamabad). And it is not without coincidence that Sadiq is the ambassador-designate to Afghanistan — a very sensitive posting. Let’s see if Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi Shahid Malik will stay in place.
Today’s events come a day after two key developments: another U.S. ground incursion inside Pakistani territory (this time in North Waziristan); and the Inter-Services Intelligence Director General’s dovish interview with Der Spiegel. Both further the perception that the Pakistan Army is not adequately playing its role in defending the Pakistani state. This will add to the mounting stress inside the army on both Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and DG ISI Ahmed Shuja Pasha.
There are significant civil-military, intra-civil government, and intra-military tensions. They will intensify. There are no easy fixes; each actor is constrained by a poverty of choices, intellect, and good sense. Having gamed out a set of scenarios, I believe Pakistan is headed toward a dangerous deadlock by late spring.
Since the late last summer, I have expressed my fear to friends that Pakistan is headed toward a scenario in which all its major actors — civilian and military — are collectively delegitimized and rendered impotent. Such a context would produce a leadership void that is sustained by the constitutional and political setup (e.g. the hyperpresidency). It is exacerbated by the insurgencies, ethnic strife, global pressure, and economic decline. And it could induce an extra-constitutional ‘remedy’, which Pakistan must avoid. But avoidance requires harmony between the various power brokers, a respect for public opinion and institutions, responsive governance, and restoring the constitution to its original form.
Without movement in this direction, the ship will sink. And there’s no guarantee that another vessel can come by and ‘save the day’.