Book Review: Pakistan Adrift by Asad Durrani

Book review by Dr Hamid Hussain

Former Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (DGISI) Lieutenant General ® Asad Durrani’ s memoirs Pakistan Adrift will be released in Pakistan in the second week of October 2018. It is a memoir of a former DGISI and ambassador and his perspective about events of the last two decades.

Durrani is considered a cerebral officer by his peers and had a good career profile. Like most officers in the business of intelligence, the most controversial part of his career was his stint as head of Military Intelligence (MI) and ISI. This book is his perspective about the events but provides the reader an insight into the dynamics of power at the higher echelons. He is candid in accepting his own mistakes especially role in distributing money to politicians. Supreme Court of Pakistan is hearing this case.

Two segments about his stint as ambassador to Germany and Saudi Arabia are his views about these two societies. The most interesting segment is the chapter on terrorism when he seriously discusses the subject, its various shades and the use of this term by various states to pursue their own interests. He also elaborates on the consequences of recent destructive policy of United States of dismantling fragile states that has unleashed new demons. Very little academic and policy discussion has been devoted to this crucial subject that has made world more dangerous, violent and unstable.

Durrani devoted a significant segment towards the issue of Afghanistan. His own personal experience as DGISI and observations on later events where he had some contact in the form of ‘track two’ parleys accurately reflects thought process of majority of Pakistani officers. This view is based on a genuine national security interest of Pakistan about its western neighbor as country bears the fallout directly. As these officers interact with Afghans in official capacities therefore they sometimes get blindsided. Pakistan has influence over some Afghan clients, but Afghans are very good at playing one against the other. They survived as an independent nation based on mastering this art. Amir Dost Muhammad Khan’s letters to Czar of Russia, Shah of Persia and British Viceroy of India in nineteenth century sums up the foreign policy of the country. A good friend of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai told me in 2002 what Afghans thought about the new phase? Many key Afghan players were of the view that ‘in the previous round, neighbors played their game and we ran away from the country. This time around, we are staying put and if neighbors don’t behave, we have sworn that we will make sure that the winds of chaos will not stay in Afghanistan but blow in the other direction’. Afghan and Pakistan liaisons with Americans in Kabul share a space. At prayer time, Afghans always insist that Pakistani counterpart lead the prayer. A Pakistani can be seriously mistaken by this gesture. When with Americans, Afghans are unanimous in their view that real problem is not Afghanistan but Pakistan. Like any other intelligence agency, ISI is a large bureaucratic organization and not monolithic. Mid-level officers of the organization may have a unique perspective about an event and in some cases not in agreement with policies adopted by the high command. My own work on the subject to get opinion of the boss and his subordinate about a given event or policy provided some limited insight about many shades of grey.

In this work, Durrani is confident in claiming that ‘since leaving service, I have spilled a few beans, so to speak, but not once have I been cautioned or charged with indiscretion’. This claim was severely tested recently. Three months ago, his informal conversations with former Indian intelligence chief about diverse topics were published in a book ‘The Spy Chronicles’ that caused an uproar in Pakistan. He was severely criticized and, in some cases, abused by his uniformed colleagues. Pakistan army headquarters summoned him for explanation and an inquiry was initiated. Hopefully this work will help in understanding his views and not add more indiscretions to his charge sheet.

Durrani’ s book provides a useful insight into the thought process of senior brass. Shaky civil-military relations with deep mistrust on both sides is explained by Durrani with many anecdotes. Recent events have shown that this Achilles heel of Pakistan has not shown any sign of improvement. In view of the recent events of Pakistan and in the neighborhood, it looks that Pakistan’s policy has been consistent about what it views as its core interests. This book should be on the reading list of those interested in Pakistan.

Asad Durrani. Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters (London: Hurst & Company), 2018, pp. 273

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

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5 years ago

Strange that Asad Durrani during his career made sure Pakistan was adrift by undermining the civilian government and regular political processes, fully invested in the ‘strategic depth’ policy of Afghanistan i.e. Afghanistan is not an independent sovereign nation , but should serve Pakistani army’s covert policies and in the pursuit of undermining Afghanistan brought immense suffering and continues to bring immense suffering to Afghanistan. As a blow back , he and his ilk have put up and encouraged terrorism within Pakistan. Having dedicated his life to that cynical, murderous and self-defeating policy , he now cries hoarse that Pakistan is adrift . He is unconvincing.

5 years ago

There is some truth to what Duraani says wrt to Afghan/Pashtun policy. I think that might be one of the reason why PTM wont succeed. The pashtun after all said and done in too integrated in the Pakistani setup (similar to Sikhs in India, over represented in the army) to really rebel. Yes there will be some concessions and push back here and there, but i see USA being forced to negotiate with Taliban as a victory of Pakistan’s world view in Afghanistan. Now its just the matter of details of how much power each tribe/community will wield in Afghanistan. I see India as the only loser of this grand bargain. But again, if you dont put you hand up when responsibility is being shared , dont complain when you have been passed on when rewards are being thrown.

“Like any other intelligence agency, ISI is a large bureaucratic organization and not monolithic. ”

I think this is a act of trying to portray ISI as just another “normal” Organization , he did that in the spy book too. While RAW is being filled with glorified police men and Sarkari babus, ISI head comes from the army. It will always be different in certain respects. That probably coupled with limited mandate of the former does show the contrast of “effectiveness” of both services.

5 years ago

A good read about “David Hindley” , a Pakistani Muslim in the service of ISI who had a vital role in the Mumbai 2008 terrorist attacks

David Coleman Headley: Tinker, Tailor,American, Lashkar-e-Taibah, ISI Spy

These are the guys trained by Asad Durrani .

Who is David Coleman Headley?
David Coleman Headley was born in 1960 in Washington D.C. to Pakistani broadcaster Sayed
Salim Gilani and American national Alice Headley. He was named Daood Sayed Gilani, the
name he carried till he changed it in 2006 to the one he became better known by. After his
birth, the family moved to Lahore in Pakistan. Gilani’s mother returned to the US a few years
later leaving Daood in the custody of his father in Pakistan, where he remained till the age of

Shafiq R
5 years ago

Unfortunately except Afganisthan, all other topics in this review of the book just name names of topics. We could really have benefited if Hamid Hussain mentiioned a few of Durrani’s opinions and arguments and let us evaluate his mind. This review don’t even titilate enough for buying the book.

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