Storm in a tea cup

Print edition :

A.S. Dulat, former chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Asad Durrani, former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Photo: Credit

A chronicle of India-Pakistan relations with no explosive revelations, the book owes its existence to the chemistry between two former spymasters.

Any news related to India and Pakistan is bound to stoke the fire. The just-released The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, jointly authored by A.S. Dulat, Asad Durrani and Aditya Sinha, has more than enough potential to keep the pot boiling. Dulat is the former chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Durrani is the former Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (M.I.), Pakistan. Aditya Sinha, who plays moderator, is a journalist who has covered Kashmir and is the former editor of Daily News and Analysis (DNA).

The book was launched in Delhi on May 23 at a function presided over by former Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Farooq Abdullah, among others. It is an unprecedented project, an ice-breaker of sorts that has brought two warring countries together, that too in relation to spy agencies that are supposed to find ways and means to “damage each other”. Following the publication of the book, the Pakistan Army initiated action against Durrani. In an announcement, Major General Asif Gafoor, director of Inter-Services Public Relation (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan Army, said: “Lt Gen Asad Durrani, retired, being called in GHQ on 28th May 18. Will be asked to explain his position on views attributed to him in book ‘Spy Chronicles’. Attribution taken as violation of Military Code of Conduct applicable on all serving and retired military personnel.” Durrani did go to the GHQ on May 28, and the Pakistan Army ordered a court of inquiry and put him on the Exit Control List (ECL) in order to prevent him from leaving the country. However, it was not made clear what amounted to “violation of military code of conduct”.

This is the first time that the Pakistan Army has initiated action against one of its former ISI chiefs. The immediate trigger for the action against Durrani could be former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s reaction to the book. Sharif had been “hauled up” for his statement on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, which strengthened India’s case against Pakistan. He wanted Durrani to be handled in the same manner for presenting Pakistan in a poor light, particularly on issues relating to Osama bin Laden, Mumbai and Kashmir. Durrani was summoned and given the preliminary “punishment” of being put on the ECL owing to pressure mounted by Sharif and others through social media. It is a different matter where the inquiry will lead to, but the book has created a commotion even without people reading it, since it had come as a “bridge” between the spymasters of India and Pakistan.

This reviewer has known Durrani for a long time, and he has always come across as a thinking general. He is knowledgeable, forthright and does not mince words. Obviously his plain-speaking will not go down well with many who see non-state efforts as wasted and even as “diversionary” from the single-line track.

Most of what one finds in the book is already in the public domain and, as Durrani says, they have not spilt any secrets. There is no “secret” as such in the book that could cause an upheaval Without going into the nuances and the “motives”, the book is an excellent read and is set in an unusual format. Aditya Sinha’s style of prodding the two authors, as the moderator, is as interesting as the locations in which the meetings take place, from Istanbul to Bangkok and Kathmandu. The accounts narrated by Dulat and Durrani are an insight into critical moments and possible areas of cooperation in India-Pakistan relations. Most of what one finds in the book is already in the public domain and, as Durrani himself says, they have not spilt any secrets. There is no “secret” as such in the book that could cause an upheaval. On the contrary, both Dulat and Durrani have defended their agencies, and even state policies, ably. They have been frank and taken the lid off many incidents that cannot be termed as classified. For example, Durrani admits that the Osama bin Laden case could not have been possible without Pakistan’s cooperation—something that investigative journalist Seymour Hersh stated much earlier, and which was brought into focus indirectly through other channels as well. On the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, too, Durrani is non-committal and does not blame the ISI the way Nawaz Sharif did.

While it remains to be seen what action will follow against Durrani, he has noted in the book that in 2013 he published a joint paper with Dulat on Pakistan-India relations in the context of Kashmir, titled “Kashmir: Confrontation to Cooperation”. Durrani states, “The paper had not received any adverse reaction from the military establishment, even though it also dealt with some contentious themes.”

Interestingly, Durrani does not take a hard line on Kashmir and, instead, almost echoes what Dulat says. This, surely, is going against the stated position of Pakistan. To adhere to the narrative that only cooperation between India and Pakistan can lead to an atmosphere of reconciliation and eventually lead to “some solution” is, in a way, to pluck out Kashmiris as stakeholders. But Durrani is candid in admitting that Pakistan did not take the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) chief Amanullah Khan seriously and that “we had no business to make a value judgment”. Durrani also talks about the experiment of Hurriyat as a good idea but does not mention Pakistan’s involvement in its creation.

By contrast, Dulat advocates a triangular engagement between India-Pakistan, Kashmir-Pakistan and India-Kashmir, although he does not forget to add that “Kashmir is ours and Kashmiris are ours”. Dulat’s route, as envisaged in his first book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, is to recognise that Kashmiris need to be brought to the table, but the ultimate solution, according to him, also revolves around the four-point formula. He does not want to kill Kashmiris but is not against “buying” them either.

While the authors have been engaged in Track-II dialogue between India and Pakistan for a long time, the book is more focussed on Pakistan. It places a lot of emphasis on Pakistan in relation to the United States, Donald Trump in particular, Afghanistan, Russia, China, Putin, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto and so on. Durrani is critical of the U.S. and of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, who, according to him, is not grounded in Afghanistan. He is against U.S. mediation on Kashmir because it is likely to favour India. With respect to Afghanistan, he opines that the U.S. does not want peace and exit. “In the New Great Game, America loses—if there’s peace.” Dulat also concedes that the key to dialogue in Afghanistan is Pakistan. “Why have we been squabbling in Afghanistan? Why are we not cooperating?” he asks, questioning New Delhi’s policy.

The book ends with the idea of cooperation, which the authors believe should include the intelligence sphere as well. Dulat suggests that Pakistan should invite India’s National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, considered to be the confidant of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to Lahore, which, according to him, will be the turning point for bilateral relations. It is not clear if Doval is the spoiler or the game changer, but both Dulat and Durrani agree that elections keep the relations hostage. In the end, Dulat presents a 16-point agenda of forging structures, while Durrani’ has a 10-point one. Kashmir figures in this agenda in relation to Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), but not for the final solution.

The Spy Chronicles may have triggered a storm, but there is not much in the cup. It is not a thriller as there are no explosive revelations in it. Aditya Sinha has woven the narratives into a lucid format that make it an engaging and informative read. A chronicle of important ups and downs in India-Pakistan relations and the first one of its kind, the book owes its existence to the chemistry between the two veterans in a situation where otherwise even talking can be seen as “treason”.

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