I was tempted to read this book because of its name, and the promise of revelations that a book penned by an ex-ISI Chief (1990-91) and an ex-RAW Chief (1999-2000) held. The book even begins with a chapter “Even if we write fiction, no one would believe us.”
The whole set-up promised some exciting tales and anecdotes about the world of spooks and spies, a la Ludlum and John Le Carre. Unfortunately, it belies the promise and does not actually turn out to be a chronicle on spies, rather a compilation of views of the authors on various aspects of India-Pakistan relationship, Kashmir, Afghanistan as well as a bit of comparative study between the ISI and the RAW.
The two ex-chiefs and Aditya Sinha, former editor of DNA and The New Indian Express, met over many sessions in Bangkok and Kathmandu (why could they not meet in Delhi ?), over Scotch and drinks(about which all three of them seem quite gung-ho)and the conversations have been edited and cut into a book. But would any keen observer of Indo-Pak relationship sign up to get inundated with the hackneyed views of two long retired spooks whose understanding of the present situation cannot be based on any original material or situation currently on the ground but on press handouts, alcohol-laden discussions with former friends and their own flights of fantasies?
Amarjeet Singh Dulat was the RAW chief in 1999-2000 and served as an advisor to the Vajpayee PMO on Kashmir affairs between 2001-2004. Since then he has been active on the Track-II circuit, and in 2015, published Kashmir-The Vajpayee Years, a widely acclaimed effort. He admits he took to writing because he just didn’t want to be quaffing expensive scotch whiskey with ex-diplomats and not doing anything productive. He uses the same analogy as he counters Durrani’s argument that India is a status quoist power with no stake in improving the ground situation in Kashmir, discussing how there is nothing like a permanent status quo which keeps changing on the ground and that we need to keep building bridges to achieve some progress in Kashmir. This itch of ‘doing something’, ’remaining engaged’ and ‘keep building bridges’ in our establishment is what led to Lahore 1999, Sharm el sheikh 2009 and the recent decision to opt for unilateral ceasefire during the month of Ramzan.
After the release of the book, Durrani is facing trouble in Pakistan over his views on Osama’s killing, on the handling of Kulbhushan Jadhav matter as well as the role of their Army in Kashmir and Afghanistan . It has been alleged that he did not seek a NOC from the authorities, and has been placed under a temporary travel ban (ECL). A court of enquiry has also been ordered. Durrani has virtually lampooned Nawaz Sharif in the book by questioning his intellectual acumen, as well as his commercial mindedness. He also hints that India has been most comfortable dealing with MianSaheb, probably because the ex-PM also sees commercial benefits accruing out of the cross-border trade.
Nawaz has now hit back strongly by demanding action against Durrani saying a civilian would have been branded a traitor, and executed for expressing similar views. But Dulat has faced no such trouble in India despite making some uncomfortable views public. By the looks of it, it seems that the enquiry in Pakistan might be a sham, and that the General has been able to play Dulatwell. The book has not just drawn equivalence between the ISI (which runs terror cells and kills innocents across the region) and the RAW at operational and organisational levels, but Dulat has done much for free propaganda and image-building of the ISI. So much is he enamoured of the effectiveness and superiority of the ISI, that he states that he would have loved to have become DGISI . Thats the ethics of Mr. Dulat. He is prepared to run jihads, just to enjoy more power!
Durrani even managed to get Dulat to concede that assisting and training MuktiBahiniin 1971 was akin to sending proxies in Kashmir. One earnestly waits during the conversation for Dulat to counter this, butalas, the ex-chief just accepts this view. Dulat has also been vehemently critical of the Modi government’s Kashmir policy, and has blamed the government for the post –BurhanWani turmoil since mid-2016. “We seem to have lost the hearts and minds of Kashmir,” he declares, arguing that the current status quo favours Pakistan. Dulat has nothing to say about the Islamic radicalisation of the valley youths, support for terrorists by the Pak army, crossfire across the border, routine ceasefire violations, and continued infiltration. Why has Dulat not raised his voice more effectively against Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Uri attacks? Why has he not raised the issue of 26/11 and complicity of Hafiz Sayeed, Lakhwi and Dawood, more effectively? Why does he so completely share the General’s cynicism about surgical strikes? This is an ex-Establishment guy, and here he is shamelessly toeing the neighbour’s line, all in search of relevance, and in the hope of selling few books?
Durrani suggests that the changing of status quo, and ‘new normal’ getting established and being accepted in history is the norm. In 1940, it would have been inconceivable to imagine a divided India but Pakistan did get formed. In 1947, who would have imagined the birth of Bangladesh? As such, the idea of independent Kashmir might be scoffed at by the Pakistani establishment as well as by the Indians, but the General believes, it is not an altogether unrealistic idea. Dulat then hurries to assuage Durrani by laughing at the idea of dismemberment of Pakistan (a widely held hawkish view in India), explaining rather erroneously that Punjab accounts for three-fourths of that country (which it does not). The General is even prepared to theoretically discuss Akhand Bharat, but Dulat, and Sinha seem shocked by the suggestion. This says something about the appeasing tone of the book. Dulat never challenges Durrani’s narrative on POK (of it being just a bargaining chip for India), Afghanistan, Indian human rights record in Kashmir, role of political Islam and Pakistani atrocities in Balochistan. The eagerness to please the General, Pakistan, Kashmiris, India haters and liberals across the world is quite clear through the tone of the words of both the Indians, Dulat and Sinha.
Why has the reluctance of Pakistan on the issue of MFN not been properly discussed and the bluff of our neighbours called? It is not proper to hint (as Dulat does) that it was Indian establishment which scuttled the process.. I was shocked to read that Dulat wants the State Bank of Pakistan to open branches across India, since financial inclusion of Muslims is not upto the mark in our country. Is this person for real? Thank god, this man is now retired. With officers such as these helming the topmost positions, one can understand why we have not been more successful in driving our geopolitical aspirations.
When asked about the future of Kashmir and Indo-Pak, the General suggests setting up institutions which can withstand the effects of events and incidents, and remain constantly engaged in avoiding conflicts and promoting peace. Although he doesn’t forsee any change in the actual ground position in real terms in the next twenty years, which makes the pro-change Indian uncomfortable. Dulat is more of a tick marking sort of guy. He wants to go after easy pickings like liberal visa regime, more flights, enhanced trade cooperation, Punjab-Punjab relationship and other such confidence-building measures (which basically sounds like a load of crap and doesn’t amount to anything, as the general calls him out). Like a maudlin old man who would do anything to remain relevant, Dulat even wishes for joint administrations for the two Punjabs, as well as the two Kashmirs. His fancy leads imagine Amarinder Singh ruling from Lahore. Some Wonderland our Alices live in!
Amarjeet Singh Dulat has made a shocking claim that it’s the North Indians who bother about Kashmir and Pakistan, while the rest of the country is not as hawkish. This is such a dangerous thing to say, I dunt think even Dulat must be aware of the gravity of what he said. It is virtually a call to the enemies of India to find a way to deal directly with the southern and western India, if it were possible? Forget about Kashmir and Pakistan, does Dulat even understand India?
Dulat makes a big deal of his love for Farooq Abdullah, calling him the most knowledgeable man on ‘Kashmir, New Delhi and the world.’ He laments that Farooq’s good offices are not being used properly, as he whiles away his time holidaying in London and South Africa. Since when has been the case any different with him? When has Farooq ever been considered a serious politician? He also pounces on Farooq’s realisation, this late in life, that the problem can’t be solved without talking to Pakistan. Hence, talk. Let them kill in Kashmir, and in India, but for heavens’ sake, talk. Meet for breakfast in Delhi, over lunch in Lahore and over dinner in Kabul. Talk so that Dulat and Durrani might remain engaged, and get to quench their thirst of alcohol. There must be a limit to shamelessness.
Durrani has been more meaningful and forthright of the duo. He admits that Pakis might have been aware of Osama’s presence, and must have arranged to hand him over to the Americans at some point. Dulat concurs that this is what is the Indian assessment as well. Durrani also admits Pakis have badly handled the Kulbhushan Jadhav matter, and shud have used him as a bargaining chip in future. The General makes no bones of Pak’s strong relations with Iran and China, as well as new found bonhomie with Putin, and claims that through ruthless, but effective measures, the dissent in Baluchistan has been curbed for now. But he warns that such insurgencies in Kashmir and Baluchistan cannot be permanently crushed and its but a matter of time before they raise their heads again.
The General also betrays his virulent anti-Americanism, and virtually blames them for every problem in the region, and possibly across the world. His views on joint mechanisms to deal with conflicts have also been eloquently stated. As for Modi’s sudden parachuting in Pakistan to meet Nawaz sharif, neither Durrani nor Dulat have kind words to say. They have rightly described it as the ‘theatre of the absurd’. They did welcome the invitation to Nawaz and other SAARC heads to attend Modi’s inauguration, a very positive move which could not be built upon.
Durrani also suggests that constancy in dialogue might give rise to an understanding and help both the sides in giving ‘choreographedresponses’ in the event of shocking incidents like 26/11 and Uri. Dulat seems sold over the idea, quite ignoring that basically, Durrani wants to assert his right to kill us. This is akin to giving us the right of a wronged wife to file for domestic abuse, while upholding the unspoken right of the husband to beat her! I really pity Dulat while reading all this, and rue the bad stars of my country, as to what kind of top brass have we managed to produce. If this is who did business with the likes of Hamid Gul, ZiaulHaq, ZA Bhutto and Musharraf, they wud have had these guys for breakfast.
Durrani also badmouths CIA, calling them a third rate agency and questions their over-reliance on technology. He points out how they failed in Pokhran (1998, maybe deliberately), Iraq in 2003, and even during Brasstacks, when they thought war was inevitable. Both the ex-chiefs think their humint is not of the highest quality. They suggest that both the RAW and ISI are overburdened since they have to collect as well as analyse intelligence. While there are obvious institutional rivalries, Dulat thinks RAW and our IB work more in tandem than MI, IB and ISI in Pakistan. Durrani discusses how Pakistan faces existential threats every day in Kashmir, on the Indian border, in the NW province, Baloch border and hence have given a good account of themselves. Their greatest success has been that no agent of theirs has ever been turned, or has defected to either the West, or to India (an obvious reference to Rabinder Singh). As for the failures of ISI, Durrani admits that they failed to properly control the Kashmir insurgency once it began and never did consider the possibility of Kashmir’s independence feasible. Another big idea which both the ex-chiefs seem hung over is that of making open the posts of station chiefs in New Delhi and Islamabad.
The trio also keep mentioning ‘AjitDoval’ as some kind of a private joke, or as a bugbear or an innuendo. The General seems to suggest that Doval is too rigid to deliver anything substantial, but Dulat thinks Pakistan must invite him for talks, and that he has talked to him and Doval would be happy to visit. But it seems the Pakistani minds are made up. There is no such offer forthcoming. Anyway, we both are holding elections between August 2018 and May 2019, and the strategic stalemate looks set to continue. Why would Mr. Doval visit Pakistan anyway? What is there to talk about?
I liked the narrative strategy of the book. It is on the lines of Hitchcock/Truffaut, and is a compilation of the conversations between Dulat and Durrani. The narrative is quite fluid. But some glaring errors committed by the ex-chiefs in their conversations have neither been pointed out, not ratified. I wonder why Aditya Sinha could not even manage to do that? Durrani has generally held his own throughout the dialogue, and comes across as a clearheaded individual. But A.S. Dulat has turned out to be a major disappointment. He seems overeager to mollify the General, brag about his 30-year association with Kashmir, showcase his humanitarianism and broadcast his anti-Modi views.
It is indeed frightening that a man like Mr. Dulat once sat in the top echelons of Indian establishment. Small wonder then, that we faced setbacks like Kargil and lost face due to Lahore bus journey and Agra Summit. This book also proves why soldiers and spooks are not best fitted to discuss peace and international relations. Their worldview is very simplistic, and they are obsessed with Scotch, as well as tangible results on ground. Foreign relations must be left in the hands of diplomats, who have more nuanced understanding of concepts like status quo and change. As for a query by Hamid Ansari ‘kiyehdiwangeekabkhatamhogi’, India shud be prepared for a Thousand Year war by the Pakistanis, a Thousand Year Jihad by the Islamists and a never-ending quest for independence by the Kashmiris. No respite is in sight, we must fasten our seatbelts and be prepared for a long, long war.
Abhinav Pancholi, IRS, Kolkata. The author is an avid sports lover with a passion for literature.
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