A summons from the Pakistan Army GHQ in Rawalpindi to explain his co-authorship of The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace with former RAW chief A S Dulat in “violation of the military code of conduct” is not the only trouble that former ISI chief Lt Gen Asad Durrani (retd) finds himself in — and it may not be his biggest either.
Earlier this month, Durrani and former Army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg were summoned by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for questioning in what has come to be known as Mehrangate. The scam dates back to when Durrani was ISI chief and Beg, as the Army chief, was his boss. But it hotted up only in 2012 when the Supreme Court fast-tracked the case, and held the duo guilty of rigging an election in 1990 with the connivance of Younis Habib, then head of the Habib and Mehran Banks.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court turned down the generals’ review petitions against its October 2012 verdict. It asked the government to implement its order for legal proceedings against Durrani and Beg for acting “in violation of the Constitution by facilitating a group of politicians and political parties… to ensure their success… in the general election of 1990”, and to recover from them the money that was used to rig the election.
The case was filed in 1996 by Air Marshal Muhammed Asghar Khan (retd), who alleged that the Army and ISI had paid out (Pakistani) Rs 140 million to help the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) win the election. The IJI coalition, led by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, defeated the People’s Democratic Alliance led by Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Asghar Khan’s Tehreek-e-Isteqlal, which claimed to provide a secular vision for Pakistan, too, lost.
The case was heard regularly up to 1999. Durrani had retired in 1994 and immediately left to be Ambassador to Germany; he returned in 1997. After Gen Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999, the Supreme Court put the case on the back burner. Durrani went off again as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, returning in 2002.
Sixteen years after the case was first filed, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary resurrected it. Deposing in court, Durrani named military officials who he said had distributed half of the Rs 140 million to chosen politicians on Beg’s order. The ISI retained the rest on Beg’s orders. Beg, on his part, claimed he knew nothing, and blamed Durrani instead.
The Supreme Court ruled that then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Gen Beg and Lt Gen Durrani had illegally created an “election cell” in the ISI, which funneled monies to PPP’s rivals and, in so doing, violated the constitution, including the fundamental right of people to choose their representatives.
In his 2016 book, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate: Covert Action and Internal Operations, Owen L Sirrs recounted the backstory of the case.
Beg, furious at Benazir’s decision in 1989 to appoint a retired lieutenant-general, Shamsur Rehman Kallue — he had resigned from the Army in protest against Gen Zia-ul Haq — as head of the ISI, plotted to get rid of her. He first tried to buy off PPP legislators for a no-confidence vote against her, and when that backfired, he got President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to sack her on corruption charges in 1990. It was in those two years, when the ISI chief was sidelined, that Durrani, who was head of Military Intelligence, emerged as a powerful spy boss.
After Benazir went, Beg sacked Kallue, and chose Durrani to head the agency. For several months, Durrani was both DGMI and DGISI. Sirrs describes him as the “cerebral DGISI”.
The Army’s next mission was to ensure that Benazir did not return to power, and this was how Mehrangate began. Younis Habib loaned the money to the ISI through accounts opened for the purpose. After Sharif became Prime Minister, he became suspicious of Durrani’s motives and, in 1992, replaced him. The scandal came to light soon after, when Mehran Bank went bust and the transactions between the ISI and the bank started to emerge.
Unfortunately for Durrani, his former institution’s displeasure with him over the book written jointly with an Indian counterpart has coincided with the resurfacing of that long-ago plot. There was a time he might have been confident that the Army would back him in his Mehrangate troubles — indeed, he had been careful to implicate in the Supreme Court only individuals, not the Army or the ISI. But not anymore. Meanwhile, Durrani’s own book, Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters, has been flagged by his publishers for release later this year.