New Delhi, March 22: India may finally have a friend as Pakistan’s new ambassador to the US.
Pakistan has decided to appoint a new ambassador to the US, Major General (retired) Mahmud Ali Durrani, who is scheduled to replace the incumbent General Jahangir Karamat this summer.
In General Durrani, a highly decorated army officer and a staunch Pakistani nationalist, is an outspoken advocate of improving ties with India.
Durrani’s support for peace and good relations with India has earned him the nickname “General Shanti” in Pakistan. He has been the coordinator of a Track-II group called Balusa, which promoted an improvement in ties even when they were at their nadir.
That Karamat had fallen out of favour was evident when he was not allowed to come to Islamabad when US President George W. Bush visited the country earlier this month.
Normally, the Pakistan ambassador should have been at hand at a time like that. His detractors blame the India-US nuclear deal for his fate although Karamat could not have prevented it.
Considered close to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who still respectfully addresses him as “Sir”, Durrani was commissioned by Musharraf immediately after his coup to conduct a study for the army titled “Pakistan’s Security Imperatives for the year 2000 and beyond”.
He is also the author of a book, India and Pakistan ' The Cost of Conflict and the Benefits of Peace, published by Johns Hopkins University and Oxford University Press, Karachi.
Durrani is known for speaking his mind and had the courage to write to then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif advising him that it would be a strategic mistake to conduct a nuclear test in response to the Indian tests of May 1998. He was still in uniform then.
He also had no hesitation in saying, when it was unpopular to do so, that Kargil was a mistake and would have to be reversed. He was proven right.
Durrani, who has conducted seminal work on cooperative management of the India-Pakistan border, was in India in the third week of February, conducting a study exploring nuclear confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan. He met foreign secretary Shyam Saran, former national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and a host of experts from India’s strategic community.
At that time there was no news of his impending appointment to Washington DC.
Durrani, not to be confused with the former chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence of the same surname, Lt Gen. (retired) Asad Durrani, was commissioned in the Pakistan Army in 1961 and retired in 1998. He has held a variety of command and staff assignments, including the command of an armoured division.
Durrani was the military secretary to President Zia-ul-Haq from 1982 to 1986; and Pakistan’s defence and military attach' in Washington DC from 1977 to 1982.
A highly decorated officer, he fought in the 1965 India-Pakistan war and again saw action on the western front in the 1971 war.
He was also the chairman and chief executive of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board, the largest defence industrial complex in the country.
Durrani was educated in Burn Hall School, Srinagar; Government College, Abbotabad; and the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul.