Why Mahmud Ali Durrani
Mahmud Ali Durrani was the national security adviser to the Pakistan government at the time of 26/11. He was the first in the establishment to admit, on a TV channel, that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani citizen. He was immediately sacked after this admission. An Armyman who went on to serve as a diplomat, Durrani is no stranger to controversies. Once a military secretary to former Army chief and president General Zia-ul-Haq, he was for long considered a suspect in the plane crash that killed Haq. He also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US.
Shubhajit Roy: The Peshawar school attack is said to be a wake-up call for Pakistan. But do you think Pakistan will go after terrorists of all groups irrespective of their allegiance, be it the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) or Lashkar, because there has been a history of cherry-picking terrorists to go after?
We have come to a stage where we will go after every terrorist irrespective of his association, location, or timing. Anybody. On ground, there is no Lashkar, which is banned by Pakistan and the UN. But in the past, they have sprung up under different names. The government’s 20-point action plan has acknowledged that and said no terrorist organisation will be able to survive in Pakistan even if it comes up with a different handle or different name. I’m not the government, I am an independent person, but I am assuming this is what the government would do. They will definitely go after the threat which is more direct, more severe to Pakistan. That is, the TTP, and following closely sectarian violence, because that is equally bad, it’s eating us from within. We are destroying ourselves. So our priority, I would assume, would be to go after these two types first and then go after the others. Maybe we can do it simultaneously, but I’m not that optimistic. It’s an issue of capacity, what we can handle at a certain time. But let me put it this way to you, from information I know, that all these people will go, though it may take time. So bear with us.
Rakesh Sinha: You were the military secretary to Zia-ul-Haq. On hindsight, do you think his policy of Islamisation was wrong?
I have thought a lot about this. You know, I liked that guy. He was a nice fellow. We all have strengths and failings. Zia-ul-Haq, I still believe, meant well. He was a relatively simple man. His understanding of Islam was that of somebody even less qualified than I am. He went to a madrasa or something, or a mosque where he got his basic education. He was not a religious scholar. His intention, I think, from his point of view, was not bad. He wanted to bring in some good things of Islam, and in that, he failed. And he, unfortunately, created a monster. He created a problem, which is now consuming us. So hindsight, foresight, all sights say what he did was not good.
Shubhajit Roy: Is that what has led to the current state, in terms of indoctrination amongst the younger generation of officers in the army?
I would say the bigger problem was that we supported what we proudly called jihad at that time. I was in Washington as a military attache when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and my American friends, interlocutors and we loved this word, mujahideen. So the Americans and us, we all joined to get rid of the godless, so to say, Soviets and to us, this instrument was beautiful, it looked nice. It had a ring to it, and tremendous amount of motivation, and with that motivation and with the help of the whole world, absolutely at that time, the Soviets went back. But with what it has left in its wake now, the question comes to me, couldn’t we have done something else? Used nationalism or something? Rather than religion? I am not qualified to talk about religion but I feel one shouldn’t dabble in it.
Monojit Majumdar: How deep is the desire for peace with India in the Pakistan army, in the political class, and its people?
The common people in any rural area, or town, say, ‘stop this difficulty, we only want our food and jobs’. So the majority wants peace. Of course, some people have been misled into believing that ‘India is our No. 1 enemy which has never accepted Pakistan and would want to undo it, if given half a chance’. So there is such a community too, of which religious elements are a part. But the public sentiment is overwhelmingly for peace. Now the political classes. When Bibi Benazir (Bhutto) was in power initially, she wanted peace with India. When Nawaz Sharif was in power, he wanted peace with India. He is a businessman, he understands. So the political classes, by and large, want peace. I think where the difference comes in is the religious political classes. They have different views. But the biggest monster is the army. The army has always, for long periods of time, felt that India is a very serious threat to us, with the belief that they will undo us given half a chance. Every military in the world has to have an enemy, a threat to point their guns at. So for years, India has provided that conveniently and so, India was treated as Enemy No. 1 by the Pakistan military. I think that is changing. One of the reasons is that India is growing at such a pitch, economically, and militarily, our economy is not going to keep pace with it. So they are re-looking and talking of peace. Today I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the military leadership wants peace with India.
Rakesh Sinha: Tell us about 26/11 and what led to your sacking? And also why is the trial taking so long?
At that time, I was the national security adviser as you know. And the first thing I did was pick up the phone and call MK Narayanan, India’s then NSA. I had not even spoken to my leadership yet. So Narayanan said he would get back to me, but he never did. They must have thought that getting Pakistanis over would not go down well politically or with regard to investigation. Then, when India provided the names of some of them (attackers) and good old (Ajmal) Kasab was still alive and we were informed, the whole international media descended on his village in Pakistan. They met his family and friends who said they knew Kasab and ‘woh to aisa nahi tha…’. So, the whole of international media knew Kasab was a Pakistani. Now we were not saying anything. We were still trying to confirm and re-confirm. So there came a time when I desperately felt that we were making a fool of ourselves. That we should say and acknowledge what we know. And then I got a signal through the ISI chief from President (Asif Ali Zardari) that we should say that Kasab was Pakistani. The Prime Minister (Yousaf Raza Gilani) was not in Islamabad. I tried to get in touch with him but couldn’t. So, I said in an interview with a TV channel that Kasab was a Pakistani. The next day, I was home and went in the evening to meet some friends. We were watching TV in the lounge, and suddenly I saw my mugshot. The Prime Minister had called Geo TV network himself from Lahore, and said he is sacking his national security adviser for not taking him into confidence or something like that. He never spoke to me, he never asked me what happened.
From what I hear about the trial, Pakistan does not have enough evidence. Probably Pakistan knows 110% that Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi is responsible, but that is not good enough. You need proof in a court of law. Pakistan still feels it doesn’t have solid evidence which will convict him. And somebody in the foreign office told me that we had sent a questionnaire or something to India to respond, but India dismissed it because the feeling here I get is that this is baloney, that 90% evidence is available in Pakistan. We will know where that boat came from, where they got the weapons, where they trained, but then connecting that to the event, legally, maybe there’s a problem.
Mayura Janwalkar: You said you offered to send some of your best investigators to Mumbai after 26/11. So in what way did you intend to contribute to the probe and how different would it have been had Pakistan been allowed to participate?
I will tell you why I said that. I was ambassador in both Washington and Jamaica, when Bob Woolmer, the coach of our cricket team, suddenly died during the World Cup 2007 in Jamaica. We spoke to the Jamaican government, they called in Scotland Yard or somebody from England. We said we will send some investigators to help them and they agreed. We sent two boys, good police officers of the rank of superintendent of police, and they contributed immensely to the resolution of the case.
If they had worked with your people, I have a feeling that maybe we could have resolved this and avoided this throwing of stones at each other. At that time also I had come, just after 26/11, and my people told me that the statement of witnesses was in a language (Marathi) we didn’t understand. These little things cause misunderstanding and mistrust. If the investigators were there, I think there’s a possibility that none of this rubbish would have come up and maybe we would have got to the (bottom) easily.
Coomi Kapoor: Was it difficult for you to live down the fact that you were the man who had invited General Zia to his last engagement?
The reality is I didn’t invite him. I was the general officer commanding and was conducting the the trial of American M1 tanks. We were seriously thinking of buying these M1 tanks, so when GHQ was planning this event, it was decided that we will have a VIP demonstration. This was supposed to be after our formal trials were over. A corps commanders’ conference was held, and I had said that there is not a single day when all three tanks are on road. Sometimes one would function, sometimes something else. And in the conference, Zia-ul-Haq said main bhi jaoonga (I will also go.) This is recorded because I had to pull these documents out in my defence later.
Monojit Majumdar: Were you surprised that Osama bin Laden was caught in your hometown, Abbottabad?
Very surprised. I said yaar jisne bhi isko Abbottabad mein rakha hai (whoever has kept him in Abbottabad) is a very smart man. Nobody could imagine that he would ever be in Abbottabad. Abbottabad is a sleepy little town, it’s not a military base, though it has military schools, the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) and some training centres. There is no combat unit there. So we didn’t have that kind of intelligence there. It came as a shock to me. In Abbottabad, that kind of house (where Osama lived)… I can show you half a dozen at least in the town. And these are peripheral colonies around Old Abbottabad. If it was Abbottabad city, everybody would know who is there, who is not. This was a small neighbourhood and was not even fully developed. There was a lot of tract of land around it which was free and a lot of people who have settled there are from the main frontier, from Swat, who have run away. Some of them have settled in Islamabad, some in Abbottabad. More Pashto is spoken than Hindko, the language of Abbottabad. And here I think the cantonment board was sleeping, the police were sleeping, the intelligence bureau was sleeping, and maybe the ISI too.
Muzamil Jaleel: Would you tell us what is happening in Afghanistan as you have been associated with Afghanistan as well?
Deep down, I am an Afghan. Durranis are from Kandahar. I think four generations back, my family came from Kandahar, probably with a bag on their head because they never had enough to eat. So Afghanistan is close to my heart. What is happening now is that there is a definite distinct change since the new President (Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai) has come in. Former president Hamid Karzai mistrusted us. He had his own angle and I blame Pervez Musharraf also, he didn’t treat him nicely. Once I told Musharraf, ‘you should invite him here’ but he disagreed. He said he is a third-rate chap and not worthy of this kind of thing. That was very foolish of him. Ek do dafa usko telephone pe suna bhi diya (He gave it back to him once or twice over the phone as well). So Karzai, like anybody, did not forget such insult. That was part of the problem. So, overall, there is constant friction between us and the Afghan government. The Afghan people, by and large, have far greater respect for India than they have for us. I don’t like it, but this is the reality. The new president has realised that like India is joined at the hip with Pakistan, Pakistan is joined at the hip with Afghanistan. Like we have common population with India, we have common Pashtun population with Afghanistan. The border is more porous and people move every day. So things are improving and this new president has visited us. I’m sure you know that soon after Peshawar, the army chief went to Kabul with the DG, ISI, and presented certain information. The Afghan army chief has come, there has been more cooperation. To my mind and to my eyes, this is music. Because if we really have to kill this beast
of terrorism, Pakistan and Afghanistan have to cooperate.
Rakesh Sinha: Pakistan continues to have misgivings about an Indian presence in Afghanistan. Can you elaborate on that?
Yes, unfortunately. I have even proposed that Pakistan and India should have a bilateral dialogue on Afghanistan. At a seminar in Lahore, we had some Pakistani and Indian scholars, and we came to the conclusion that besides other things, we can find common strategic interests in Afghanistan. India wants trade relations with central Asia, which cannot happen without Pakistan. Peace in Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan and India. If there is no peace in Afghanistan, we can’t get gas. If there is no peace in Afghanistan,you can’t take your goods to Central Asia. So it’s a sore, more close to us but also to you.
Transcribed by Shalini Narayan & Aneesha Mathur