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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 31 New Delhi July 21, 2018

Spy Talks between Chiefs of RAW and ISI leave Room for Speculation

Saturday 21 July 2018


by K.S. Subramanian

Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace by A.S. Dulat, Asad Durrani and Aditya Sinha; Harper Collins Publications India; 2018; Price: Rs 799; pp. 319.

This book relates to a unique series of candid conversations between A.S. Dulat and Asad Durrani, retired spy chiefs of India and Pakistan respectively. They explore the problems and possibilities of their bilateral security concerns. Senior journalist Aditya Sinha choreographs the conversations in the book ‘Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace’. The conversational format makes for easy reading. Peter Jones of the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies, who helms the Track-II ‘Intel-Dialogue’ series, facilitated the project.

The conversations are full of information and insight on intelligence issues between India and Pakistan not easily available in one place. The spy masters, once part of the Deep States of the two ‘enemy countries’, practised, as Dulat puts it, ’licenced skulduggery on each other’.

Amarjit Singh Dulat served for long in India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) with the main focus on Kashmir and ended up as chief of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing or the RAW (1999-2000). On retirement he joined the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) contributing to high-level policy implementation on Kashmir (2001-04). Durrani, from the Pakistani Army, was ‘an accidental spymaster’ who headed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate or the ISI (1990-91).

The authors have displayed remarkable courage in undertaking this unusual venture. At the book launch in New Delhi when one of the main speakers waxed eloquent on nationalism, the eminent Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bhukari declared: ‘Kashmiris hate India.’

Journalist Aditya Sinha has intelligently organised his vast material into 33 chapters in seven parts.

The spy chiefs begin with stating that a healthy India-Pakistan relationship has more benefits than downsides. They then call for spy-to-spy communication channels between India and Pakistan and want an ‘open post’ in each other’s national Capital.

The spy masters proceed to explore the issue of Jammu and Kashmir and break the frozen status quo. The ‘composite dialogue’ between the two countries and the unmet expectations from the Narendra Modi regime are then explored. The best way to go forward, they say, is not to be overoptimistic and advocate a ‘take-what-you-get’ approach.The situation has got worse since the July 2016 killing of the militant Burhan Wani. ‘Muscular statements’ by the Indian Army chief have worsened the situation.

The spy chiefs go on to look at the ‘meat of the India-Pakistan relationship’ and the main personalities involved, including the hawks as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. They appreciate the four-point formula for border settlement developed by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But the Agra Summit 2001 failed to deliver. Dulat says Prime Minister Vajpayee was head and shoulders above Modi but he had to deal with hardliner L.K. Advani, his Deputy Prime Minister.

Narendra Modi’s surprise moves embarrassed and angered Pakistan, says Durrani. Modi, who was different from Vajpayee, could destroy India’s secular image. Durrani feels Modi is a showman who likes to keep people guessing.

Many, including the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, hold that Modi is the best thing that happened to India. Modi doesn’t have much of a Cabinet. He sticks to Doval and ignores others. The Doval Doctrine, which is basically militaristic, is not addressed sufficiently by the spy chiefs. The authors then look at ‘Flashpoints’: Hafiz Sayeed and the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai; the saga of the alleged spy Kulbhushan Jadhav captured by Pakistan; the surgical strikes by the Indian military across the Line of Control; the futile rhetoric on ‘talks and terror cannot go together’; and the pros and cons of war.

Dulat says the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 were the outcome of frustration in Pakistan. David Headley had referred to Hafiz Sayeed and to a Major of the ISI. Dulat adds that President Pervez Musharraf must have known about the preparations. Durrani is not sure about Pakistan’s complicity. He hints at other possibilities. Dulat is silent.

The Kulbhushan Jadhav case, Durrani feels, was a matter of one-upmanship on the part of Pakistan, which feels besieged. If indeed the Jadhav case was a RAW operation, it was a pretty sloppy job, says Dulat. He wants better cooperation between the spy agencies of the two countries. He is not sure if Jadhav was involved in operations in Balochistan as alleged by Pakistan. Doval and Modi had threatened action in Balochistan in response to Pakistan fishing in the troubled waters in Kashmir. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Sharm el-Sheikh had hinted that if there were any Indian activities in Balochistan, suitable action would follow. This caused a diplomatic ruffle and the idea of setting up a joint mechanism on terrorism was pushed back.

The authors go on to look at Afghanistan in the light of great power rivalry in South Asia. Durrani admits Pakistan cooperated with the US in identifying the location and killing of Osama bin Laden. The authors also examine the role of Russia in South Asia.

Finally, the authors look at the prospects of peace between India and Pakistan. Dulat favours confidence building measures but Durrani wants new structural arrangements. But both are convinced that the ‘madness’ between India and Pakistan must be ended.

There are interesting insights: i) there are fresh views on the conflicts in Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Balochistan; ii) Hafiz Sayeed’s role in the Mumbai terror attacks of 26/11 is examined; iii) the detention of Kulbhushan Jadhav by Pakistan is examined in detail; iv) Durrani exposes the fake character of India‘s ‘surgical strikes’; v) the play of ‘selfish self-interests’ in Afghanistan is examined; vi) ‘Nudger-in-Chief’ Donald Trump and ‘Pakistan’s Pal’ Vladimir Putin are commented upon; vii) the roles of Narendra Modi and his chief National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, are examined; viii) the futility of the ‘talks-and-terror’ rhetoric is exposed; ix) politics of war is illuminatingly discussed; x) ‘composite dialogue’ and how to end the ‘madness’ between the two nations are gone into.

Durrani notes that the arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav was intended to prevent possible Indian attack in the wake of the Pathankot terrorist attack, January 1, 2016. (p. 190) He says India’s National Investigative Agency (NIA) did not find any link between Pakistan and Pathankot; that Pervez Musharraf had kept Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif partly in the dark about the Kargil attack; that despite the Musharraf-sponsored attack on Kargil, Pakistan accepted that Kargil fell on the Indian side of the LoC; that Pakistan had resisted US pressure to go after the ‘Haqqani network’; that Pakistan had been clumsy in its handling of issues in Balochistan; that at the Agra summit, 2001, India had put ‘all its eggs in the basket of Prime Minister Vajpayee’ leading to its failure; that Pakistan knew of the presence of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad; that he had opposed Musharraf’s attempted coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif; that Americans felt they could do business with Musharraf since he was smart and spoke English; that the media are opposed to peace; and that the Al Faran operation in which four foreign tourists had been kidnapped (1995) was a ‘false flag operation’ by the Indian intelligence agencies.

Dulat notes that the RAW had tipped off Pakistan on the possible US terrorist attack on President Pervez Musharraf following 9/11; that several secret peace talks had happened between RAW chiefs and Pakistan during Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s time and later; that Prime Minister Vajpayee knew that Kashmir was central to peace-building between India and Pakistan though Prime Minister Modi did not share the view; that Kashmir had become hostage to electoral politics; that a security-centric solution to a fundamentally political problem would not work; that Track-II discussions had revealed similarities between the issues in Kashmir, Afghanistan and Balochistan; that ‘truth is a kaleidoscope’ and there are always more than two sides to a problem; that eminent author Ahmed Rashid had told him that if the Kashmir dispute were resolved, Afghanistan would be easily resolved; and that Rustom Shah Mohmand, a Pakistani diplomat, had remarked that Pakistan should put its own house in order in Balochistan before finding fault with India on Kashmir.

The spy chiefs notably avoided discussing China. Was this deliberate? China is the elephant in the drawing room in Indo-Pak relations. It plays a significant role in the economic development of Pakistan as well as other countries in South Asia. India should have participated in the One Belt One Road (OBOR) inaugural ceremony in 2016 at Beijing. Talks on Sino-Indian border and Indo-Pak border disputes could perhaps be resolved if all three countries were part of the OBOR project of China.

Interestingly, while India claims to be the biggest victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, the Indian website has put out data showing that Pakistan suffered a larger number of terrorist attacks than India. Thus India can utilise the counterterrorism mechanism available with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to debate the terrorism problem with Pakistan. India should provide leadership in promoting regional cooperation in South Asia. It is a pity the spy chiefs failed to debate the issues.

Durrani’s comment on ‘false flag operations’ by Indian intelligence in the context of Al Faran operation in 1995 is revealing.

Finally, why did not Aditya Sinha include in the dialogue process at least one informed expert each from India and Pakistan?

A comprehensive critique of the Modi Government’s security policies since 2014 emerges from the book. This is an interesting and informative book. Congratulations to the three authors and the publisher.

The reviewer, a former Director General of Police in North-East India, is the author of Political Violance and the Police in India (Sage, 2007) among other publications.

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