In defense of Durrani

"Who is minding the store?" has been a recurrent theme raised by the media and think tanks with regard to Pakistani politics. While on the face of it, we have a democratic set-up following the February 18 elections, there is a lot of confusion about the manner in which the government machinery is currently working. The division of powers between the President and PM at the federal level and between the governor and CM at the provincial level is the favourite grist to the public mill. The constitution is very clear as to the apportionment and delegation of power and authority; however, its implementation continues to raise questions and controversy. The general perception is that President Zardari is calling the shots and the ticklish questions by an inquisitive media to the PM regarding the duality unnecessarily embarrasses him and leaves awkward questions in the minds of the people. Such confusion and diffusion of centres of power is perhaps understandable. The country has returned to the democratic track after 9 years of misrule. The autocratic handling of national issues by the military dictator has distorted the consultative provisions and defiled the spirit of democracy. Despite the presence of a Parliament and other so-called democratic institutions, hardly ever has a reference been made to them on any critical issue. The end result is the mess we are in today. There has been a spate of speculations in the media that Zardari wishes to keep all the authority with him and is running an executive presidency. In proof thereof is cited the inaction by the government to rid the 17th amendment and other relevant articles providing for arbitrary use of authority in the constitution. The situation that obtains is a natural corollary of the unchallenged transgression made from the constitutional path. Hopefully, soon enough, such confusion will be sorted out by sheer force of circumstances and dictate of real politik. However, until that happens, there is need for greater coordination and consultation among different ministries and institutions, protecting and governing the state apparatus. The Mumbai tragedy has put Pakistan in the eye of international storm. India seems to be succeeding in its propaganda blitz to put Pakistan in the dock. Gradually, but discretely, it is raising the ante. Earlier, India did not speak of direct involvement of Pakistan, but now having collated evidence "totalling 52 pages," the Indian PM is accusing Pakistan of using "terror as a state policy," arguing that military precision of terrorist attacks was enough evidence that it had support from the state. There is also a constant chorus that "all options are open" to dismantle the terrorist outfits. Such statements obviously whip up war hysteria and do not serve interests of either party. The current situation is a litmus test and imposes responsibility on the powers that be to ensure full coordination at the policy-making level and closer inter-agency communication to obviate any possibility of any unintended development. Regrettably, it has not happened. Sacking of the National Security Advisor, Mahmoud Durrani, has exposed the weakness of policy-making and the lack of intense and regular consultations to prepare a well-conceived response and strategy to contest the Indian allegations. The Durrani episode reflects the disarray in our ranks at the highest level. Needless to say, at this critical juncture, Pakistan cannot afford such lapses that can and are being exploited to question the veracity of our position. Against this backdrop, any controversy such as the sacking of Durrani is highly unfortunate. At a time when Pakistan's credibility remains shattered, it is essential that the government machinery recognise how actions are perceived abroad. Indian commentators and analysts have used the Durrani incident as evidence of Pakistan's unwillingness to candidly assist in the Mumbai investigations. "Durrani sacked for doing the right thing," ran a headline in one Indian newspaper. Tharoor's opinion piece in the Times of India stated: "The grudging admission that the surviving terrorist, Kasab, was Pakistani was followed by the dismissal of the official who admitted it." The gravity of the prevailing circumstances demands highly refined and well-tuned diplomatic moves. Statements and counter-opinions regarding the integrity and suitability of Durrani are hardly helpful to the image of Pakistan. Durrani has held a distinguished career in the army and his two-year stint as ambassador to Washington was also without blemish. Between his retirement from the army and the Washington assignment, Durrani pursued scholastic and intellectual pursuits, joining the Balusa Group which aimed at reducing tensions between India and Pakistan. Durrani is no peacenik in the proverbial sense, but through his monograph India and Pakistan: The Cost of Conflict and the Benefits of Peace he has given a cost-benefit ratio of the wars fought between India and Pakistan and rightly concluded that the future of South Asia lies in good neighbourly-ness and settlement of issues through peaceful means. During his diplomatic tenure, Durrani made some useful contacts and used them for the good of Pakistan. To hold him guilty of indiscretion or acting against national interests is unfortunate. Whatever the nature of his 'indiscretion', it should not have been overblown. It has unnecessarily provided hostile material to our ill wishers. We need to look at the broader picture and assess the consequences before taking any initiatives. The axiom in the current situation is that discretion is better part of valour. The continuing controversy will bring us no credit. It was an administrative decision, perhaps a harsh one, but nothing more should be read between the lines. Finding motives and casting aspersions on Durrani's integrity is not in the best interest of Pakistan. Perhaps there is also need for synchronisation between the media and the government policy and certainly there are situations where 'ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise'. The writer is a former ambassador

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