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Analysis: Durrani's sacking shows Zardari-Gilani tussle

By By A Correspondent
Last updated on: January 08, 2009 18:42 IST
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The Indian establishment considers the sacking of Pakistan's national security adviser Mehmud Ali Durrani for "irresponsible behaviour" by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as a major development in Pakistani politics.

On Wednesday evening Durrani said the terrorist Ajmal Kasab, captured after the Mumbai terrorist strikes of November 2008, was a Pakistani, and within hours he was unceremoniously sacked.

According to an assessment by a New Delhi-based Pakistan expert in India's intelligence establishment, Durrani paid the price for his image of being pro-America and "softer" towards India. He was officially coordinating on security issues among the Pakistani army, civilian government and America.

Durrani told some journalists in Islamabad that the Pakistani army and President Asif Ali Zardari were aware of his stance over Kasab, but it's believed that Gilani could not have acted on his own on such a serious issue.

It is being noted that Durrani was sacked when President Zardari was on a visit to Kabul.

Wednesday saw confusion reign for a few hours over the conflicting statements of Pakistani officials on the issue of Kasab's nationality. At the end of it the foreign office spokesman, Muhammad Sadiq, told journalists that Kasab was a Pakistani citizen, and it had been established by investigating agencies which had given their report to the foreign ministry.

But, the acceptance came a bit too late.

A few hours prior to Sadiq's statement, Pakistan's state minister for interior, Tasnim Ahmed Qureshi, told the media that 'he could say with authority that Kasab was not a Pakistani citizen and the Mumbai attack was a drama staged by the Indians themselves.'

And foreign secretary Salman Bashir added to the confusion when he showed reluctance to accept Kasab as a Pakistani.

He told CNN-IBN television channel that as the investigation was continuing, he could not confirm that Kasab was a Pakistani.

Durrani is a close personal friend of former president Pervez Musharraf who in fact sent him as the ambassador to the US. Durrani is well-disposed towards the US and India, and strongly believes that the time has come for giving up using terrorism against India. He played an important role in persuading Musharraf to withdraw all pending cases against Benazir and Zardari and pass the national reconciliation ordinance to pave the way for Benazir's return to Pakistan. While Benazir liked him, Zardari was uncomfortable with him for reasons which are not clear. Benazir had told the US that if she came to power, she would make him the national security adviser.

After her assassination, when the PPP-led coalition came to power, Zardari was reluctant to take him on as NSA.

According to some reports, Durrani was made NSA under pressure from the American lobby, but designated as NSA to Prime Minister Yourself Raza Gilani and not NSA to the president.

One theory doing the rounds in Islamabad is that Durrani had very little access to Zardari.

The sacking of a top officer in the security establishment is seen in New Delhi as an impending showdown between PM Gilani and President Zardari. An Indian intelligence officer told, "It's very well possible that when Zardari was out of the country Gilani took a hawkish stand to please the army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani. Right now, a hard stand against anyone perceived to be softer on India or America makes good politics in Islamabad."

Though the Pakistani media has been speculating for sometime about the differences between Zardari and Gilani, one cannot say with certainty that these differences also related to Durrani's Kasab comment. Musharraf could well be playing his own game from behind the scenes in order to embarrass the government.

The Indian establishment's assessment is that steadily, the Pakistani army is putting its act together to once again control the power structure while taking care to remain behind the curtains.

Both Zardari and Gilani suspect that Durrani made the comment about the possibility of Kasab being a Pakistani in a CNN interview, possibly at the instance of Musharraf to create an embarrassment for the PPP-led government. Hence his removal.

Interestingly, Musharraf and Kayani continue to be good personal friends.

Naturally, all this leads to the conclusion that there are wheels within wheels behind Durrani's sacking.

The crisis has also fuelled hectic political activity within the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party.

Hussain Haqquani, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, and Abdullah Hussain Haroon, its representative to the United Nations, are arriving in Islamabad for consultations with their party leaders.

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By A Correspondent