Durrani’s sack shows rift in Pakistani leadership: Indian experts

January 8th, 2009 - 6:02 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 8 (IANS) The sacking of Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Mahmud Ali Durrani has exposed serious rift between key power centres in Islamabad and points towards renewed assertion by the military and hardliners in setting post-Mumbai policy towards India, say Indian diplomats and experts. Ostensibly, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani fired Durrani Wednesday night because he spoke out on a sensitive issue by admitting the nationality of Ajmal Kasab, the lone Mumabi attacker captured alive by the Indian police, without “having taken him into confidence.”

Much before an official announcement about Durrani’s sacking, an angry Gilani told Pakistan’s Geo TV news channel that his national security adviser had “embarrassed me and the country” by going public with the report of Kasab’s nationality without his permission. “I have dismissed him with immediate effect,” Gilani is reported to have said.

But the reasons behind Durrani’s dismissal are more complex, point out experts and diplomats.

The peremptory dismissal of Durrani barely minutes after Pakistan Foreign Office and the information minister also officially admitted Kasab’s Pakistani nationality underlined an ongoing power struggle between conflicting centres of power in Islamabad, government sources said here.

“Durrani was seen as an advocate of better relations with India. Ideologically, Durrani was closer to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari who has made positive statements about improving relations with India since he became the president eight months ago,” G. Parthasarathy, India’s former ambassador to Pakistan, told IANS here.

“Gilani, on the other hand, is a Punjabi and pro-army. It reflects a power struggle between Zardari and Gilani,” said Parthasararthy.

“Probably, Durrani went to TV and spoke out the truth before the military could bring pressure and block him from saying the truth about Kasab’s nationality,” said Parthasarathi, indicating a likely role by hardliners in the army in getting Durrani sacked.

Experts closely tracking developments in Pakistan said the present military establishment led by army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was not comfortable with Durrani as he was seen to be former president Pervez Muhsarraf’s protégé who appointed him as ambassador to the US in June 2006 before he became NSA in the PPP-led civilian government.

Durrani was close to Benazir Bhutto and played a key role in brokering a deal with the US which saw the former prime minister return to Pakistan after years of exile in September 2007. Not surprisingly, Zardari rewarded him by appointing Durrani as the NSA when the PPP won the March 2008 elections.

Durrani’s proximity with Zardari and his strong advocacy of better relations with India made him suspect in the eyes of the current military establishment and that perhaps explains his dramatic dismissal Tuesday night.

Durrani has been proactively involved in peace efforts between India and Pakistan and has authored several books, including “India and Pakistan: The Cost of Conflict and the Benefits of Peace and Pakistan’s Security Imperative: Year 2000 and Beyond.”

Strategic expert C. Uday Bhaskar sees Durrani’s abrupt dismissal as sign of a bigger ideological ferment underway in Pakistan towards its relations with India. “It’s wrong to put the civilian government against the military establishment. There are hardliners and peaceniks in both the civilian regime and in the military,” Bhaskar said.

“The NSA’s sacking revealed this larger division in Pakistan’s power structure,” Bhaskar underlined.

K. Subrahmanyam, a well-known strategic expert, sees the Pakistani NSA’s dismissal as “a sign of differences in the ruling establishment” on how to respond to India in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attacks.

For New Delhi, Pakistan’s admission of Kasab’s nationality after weeks of denial and the sacking of the NSA seems to fit into the pattern that was established after Islamabad backtracked on its promise of sending ISI chief to India under pressure from the army.

“What it proves is that the military is calling the shots in Islamabad,” the sources said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicated at the military’s ascendance in Pakistan when he said in a blistering speech Tuesday that official agencies were complicit in the Mumbai attacks.

In his strongest criticism of Pakistan since the Mumbai carnage, Manmohan Singh lashed out at “fragile” government in the neighbouring country. “The more fragile a government, the more it tends to act in an irresponsible fashion. Pakistan’s responses to our various demarches on terrorist attacks is an example,” said Manmohan Singh.

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