On October 17th, 2006, the Carnegie Endowment hosted Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, the former Director-General of Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Bureau. While Visiting Scholar Frederic Grare served as the Moderator, Lt. Gen. Durrani spoke on “Disengaging Military from Politics in Pakistan,” commenting on the phenomenon of military takeovers and suggesting how Pakistan’s military could be disengaged from the political sphere.

Lt. Gen. Durrani started by attempting to explain why and under what circumstances the military takes over. He suggested that the one common denominator among the 4 military takeovers in Pakistan has been that the leaders of the coups have always expected their move to be generally accepted by the masses.

The general pattern that follows such a takeover involves the military taking over usually in messy conditions and then restoring law and order in the short term. The military then strives towards gaining legitimacy through either 1) the legal angle- gaining legal legitimacy through the Supreme Court with the help of top legal brains; or 2) politics- getting some politicians on board and in due course holding elections to get political legitimacy and becoming “a democratically elected government.” However, the military leaves the bureaucrats to their own devices since the military personnel are not aware of the intricacies of the running of the state.

Moving on to what could be done to disengage the military from politics, he claimed that the military, contrary to popular belief inside Pakistan and outside, actually wants to keep itself out of politics. The army realizes that the two institutions, the military and the government, have very different cultures and as a result the entry of the military in the government sphere does not usually end too well.

Despite this, he admitted that, sometimes, other accentuating circumstances could justify a military takeover, especially when the political process became ineffective and the cost of the politicians on the country became too high due to their corrupt practices. Durrani admitted that ideally the military would exit in a couple of years, but stated that the exit usually occurs only when there is a war, an accident, or a forced abdication.

Lt. Gen. Durrani pointed out that free and fair elections should also be seen as free and fair. He warned that elections can indeed be manipulated today in a way that is too sophisticated for the casual naive observer to realize. Therefore, he suggested that it was important that if the military dictatorship was to organize elections, the members of the caretaker government should not take part in the elections or even leave the country during the elections for the elections to be seen as fair and free.

On the point of an Election Commission, he suggested that learning from India’s successful experiment, Pakistan should have an EC constituted by former bureaucrats who know the ropes of the process of rigging elections and are thus better equipped to prevent it. He also recommended that the people who have been brought to power in the local governments by this regime should be sent packing during the run-up to the elections.

Lt. Gen. Durrani suggested that Musharraf should probably give up his uniform but stay there for the next 4-5 years to oversee this transition, and expressed confidence that the opposition parties would not be opposed to this. He ended with a criticism of the mainstream political parties in Pakistan for having wasted the past 6-7 years and not having worked hard to build up grassroots support.

The Q&A touched upon several themes. Lt. Gen. Durrani emphasized that the military leadership, when in power, does think about quitting as and when appropriate. He however recommended waiting for the right set of political actors to emerge that could live up to the expectations of the people and warned against attempts to find any revolutionary recipes to extract Pakistan from this military-civilian-military political cycle. He also de-emphasized the role the United States has played and can play in Pakistan’s domestic politics. He expressed confidence in the efficacy of the tribal jirga system of governance in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He urged mainstream political parties to use their grassroots connections and clout at the local level to gain wider support, much like the Mullahs in Pakistan have done. The mullahs have been the first ones to provide relief to local disasters, etc. whereas the political parties have failed to do that.

He further argued that the joint institutional mechanism put in place between India and Pakistan was the best method to increase the collaboration between the two intelligence services. Much like the extensive contact between the KGB and the CIA during the Cold War, Durrani argued that much good could actually come out of such collaboration. Other issues discussed were the prospects of Pakistan placing nuclear-tipped missiles in Saudi Arabia, North Korea’s nuclear tests and ambitions, and the continued search for Osama Bin Laden.

This event report was prepared by Anirudh Suri, Junior Fellow in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.