One never ceases to be amazed by the wondrous acts of our rulers. In the latest instance of stupidity, the Ministry of Defence has accused former chief of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt General (r) Asad Durrani of being an agent of the India intelligence agency RAW. But this accusation must not be taken lightly as it has been made by the government in its formal response to the Islamabad High Court on Wednesday during a hearing of the petition seeking removal of Durrani’s name from the Exit Control List (ECL).
Opposing the application, the Defence Ministry claimed that Durrani is either “affiliated or interacting with hostile elements, especially Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) since 2008.”
Durrani’s name had been placed on the ECL in 2018 at the request of the country’s Military Intelligence (MI) which had written a letter to the Interior Ministry after a military court of inquiry found him guilty of violating The Official Secrets Act (1923) and thereby endangered national security. Lt General Durrani had co-authored a book The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace with ex chief of Indian spy agency Amarjit Singh Dulat.
In its comments, the Defence Ministry also stated that the book included some content related to the national security of Pakistan and this was in violation of the Official Secrets Act. The ministry also said that the government was authorised to prohibit anyone from leaving the country to any foreign destination “if the said person is involved in acts of terrorism or its conspiracy, heinous crimes and threatening national security.” Durrani has thus also been accused of ‘terrorism,’ ‘conspiracy against the country’ and ‘threatening national security.’
The ministry feared that if Durrani was allowed to go abroad, he would participate in international conferences and talks which would have “serious national security implications as evident from the recently published book Honor Among Spies. It claimed that this book too had been published “through Indian publishers/ RAW supported elements.”
If anyone believed that Durrani had long retired, was a civilian now and thus could not be tried by a military court of inquiry, their illusions were put to rest by the ministry thus: “Any person, whether a retired soldier or a civilian who is involved in activities concerning national security of Pakistan being in contravention of the Official Secrets Act, 1923, becomes subject to the Pakistan Army Act (PAA), 1952.” The book was evaluated from a ‘security perspective’ and the military’s court of inquiry had concluded that it contained content “which were against the interests of Pakistan,” it said.
The former ISI chief has been declared
a RAW facilitator and agent under The Official Secrets Act. Promulgated by
colonial powers in 1923, the law has since
not been amended
So, the former ISI chief has been declared a RAW facilitator and agent under The Official Secrets Act. Promulgated by colonial powers in 1923, the law has since not been amended. It would be interesting to mention Section 4 of the Act, which deals with communication with foreign agents and is considered to be evidence of certain offences that endanger national security. It states: “a person may be presumed to have been in communication with a foreign agent if he has, either within or without Pakistan visited the address of a foreign agent or consorted or associated with a foreign agent, or either within or without Pakistan, the name or address of or any other information regarding a foreign has been found in his possession, or has been obtained by him from any other person.”
Who is a ‘foreign agent’ under the Act? The definition in the Act includes “any person who is or has been or in respect of whom it appears that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting him of being or having been employed by a foreign power either directly or indirectly.”
With such a definition of a ‘foreign agent’ and the meaning of the term ‘presumed to be in communication with a foreign agent within or outside’ Pakistan, it will be hard to find anyone who can escape the mischief of the colonial-era law and of compromising national security. It seems that Lt General Asad Durrani had to be punished for some other reasons and the Secrets Act came in handy.
As for retired military personnel and civilians contravening the Official Secrets Act, 1923, also being tried under Army Act 1952, it should be remembered that this is a new provision that was not initially part of the Army Act. The amendment 2(1)(d) in the Army Act was made by military dictator Ayub Khan in 1965 who feared largescale unrest in the wake of debacle at Tashkent for losing out to India at the negotiating table. Nowhere in the world, not even in India or Israel, civilians are tried under the Army Act. It is only in Pakistan that a military dictator decreed through an executive order to try civilians under the Army Act.
Let us hope that Asad Durrani’s case can persuade our parliament to revisit the Official Secrets Act 1923 as well as Section 2 (1) (d) of the Army Act. Lt General Durrani would not have endured in vain the allegation of being “RAW agent since 2008” and our future defence secretaries may be spared of looking so stupid and dimwitted if the parliament indeed rose to the occasion.
The writer is a former senator.