Faisul YaseenNew Delhi, May 20:
What happens when former intelligence chiefs of India and Pakistan meet? Catch each other by the scruff of their necks and blame one another for the mess in Kashmir? People will be disappointed, but that is the last thing they do when they bump into each other.
They find a meeting ground, talk about haunting subjects, take a deep plunge into subcontinent politics, and get down to writing a book!
This is what happened in 2016 between the former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief, Amarjit Singh Dulat, and former Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) chief, Muhammad Asad Durrani during their meetings in Istanbul, Bangkok, and Kathmandu.
The two spymasters would talk about Kashmir and a missed opportunity for peace, Hafiz Saeed and 26/11, Kulbhushan Jadhav, “surgical strikes”, the deal for Osama bin Laden, how the US and Russia feature in the India-Pakistan relationship, and how violence undermines the two countries’ attempts at talks.
Finally, when Dulat mooted the idea of writing a joint book, Lt Gen (Retd) Durrani laughed it off saying, “Nobody will believe it even if it was written as fiction.”
The project finally took off, shaped into reality, and is probably the first of its kind wherein the spymasters of the rival intelligence agencies worked together on the same assignment.
While the relations between New Delhi and Islamabad continue to be at their ebb, the two spymasters are together coming up with a 312-page book ‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and Illusion of Peace’ which would hit the stands on Monday (May 21).
The unveiling ceremony of the book published by Harper Collins would be held on Wednesday (May 23) at New Delhi with a panel discussion based on the book between former union finance minister, Yashwant Sinha; Member of Parliament and three-time Jammu Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah; former union minister Kapil Sibal; former National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon; former Special Director Intelligence Bureau, K M Singh while journalist Barkha Dutt would moderate the programme and columnist and author Suhel Seth would read excerpts from the book.
Besides Dulat, who was the Secretary RAW between 1999 and 2000, and Durrani, who was the Director General ISI directorate between 1990 and 1991, the book is co-authored by a writer and a journalist, Aditya Sinha, who has authored ‘Farooq Abdullah: Kashmir's Prodigal Son’ and co-authored ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’ with Dulat.
In an exclusive interview to Rising Kashmir at Islamabad, 77-year-old Durrani, said after his book ‘Kashmir: The Vajpaee Years’, Dulat suggested to him that they could do a volume together.
“Since we had already written joint papers on a couple of Track IIs, on intelligence cooperation and Kashmir, and I trusted that he was quite frank when discussing various issues, I agreed,” he said, informing how the idea of the book came.
The former ISI chief said given the inherent acrimony in relations between the two countries, the idea of writing a joint book was “out-of-box”.
“So it seems, but come to think of it: just when the relations are so bad, you might need some honest exchange of narratives to know your ‘adversary,’” said Durrani, who is also known by his nickname Fire Fox.
About the common issues the two had to deal with, he said: “There was a wide range of issues, essentially the issues that influence our bilateral relations — Kashmir indeed leading the pack. Some regional issues like Afghanistan and extra-regional like our equation with the US and Russia too were discussed. Obviously one had to talk about good and bad phases in our brief history, and some of the important figures who contributed positively, or negatively.”
On whether the book would help improve New Delhi-Islamabad relations, Durrani, who served the Pakistan Army between 1959 and 1993 said, “Indirectly perhaps! If it helps some on either side to give up their misgivings and empathies with the perceptions across the borders, we could in due course find common ground to address the spite.”
Durrani, who also served as the Director General of Pakistan Army’s Military Intelligence (MI) and participated in the India-Pakistan War of 1965, Bangladesh War, India-Pakistan War of 1971, Soviet war in Afghanistan and Operation Midnight Jackal, said the toughest part he and Dulat discussed was how to avoid or overcome the stumbling blocks of the past.
A recipient of Pakistan’s top awards, Hilal-i-Jur'at and Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Durrani, on whether he thought the establishment on both the sides would like RAW and ISI together, said: “Former members of these two organisations have been meeting for a long time, and the ‘establishments’ never found it undesirable - may in fact at time have encouraged it. In any case, intelligence agencies of sensible states keep contacts all the time.”
On how he sees the book as far as breaking the stereotypes were concerned, the Pakistani spymaster said: “Path-breaking. The venture itself is unique. And the fact that both of us avoided criticising or blaming the other, only explaining how we read our opposite numbers, must help the thinking people gain another perspective.”
About the academia, the journalists and the thought leaders on both the sides giving this experiment a try, Durrani, who after retiring from the Army also served as Pakistan's ambassador to Germany between 1994 and 1997 and Saudi Arabia between 2000 and 2002, said, “Only if they were up to the task – could shed the ingrained ideas, and were willing to think afresh.”
The book reveals several interesting incidents like the one when Durrani’s son, Osman was rescued and sent safely back home by the Indian intelligence establishment in May 2015 when he had come to Kochi for work on behalf of a German company.
Osman had to exit India from the city he had entered from but his office had booked him from a flight back via Mumbai resulting in authorities in Mumbai stopping him that was followed by 24 hours of backchannel networking to get him out of India despite visa violation.
When Durrani heard that Osman had been detained, he called Dulat for help who called several people including then RAW chief Rajinder Khanna and the Indian intelligence establishment helped Osman fly back to Germany after a day from Mumbai.
Talking exclusively to Rising Kashmir, Amarjit Singh Dulat said he has had the privilege of watching Kashmir for 30 years and learning from it.
“‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’ was a product of this learning. Since 26/11, I have tried to watch Pakistan and make some sense of the India-Pakistan conundrum. ‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and Illusion of Peace’ is the result of that. In a sense one book flows into the other - the theme is the same - dialogue. Of course this could not have happened without my ‘comrade in arms’ - General Asad Durrani,” he said.
Dulat, who besides heading RAW between 1999 and 2000 also served as a special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), said, “Let me reiterate dialogue is the only way forward once we acknowledge that war is not an option.”
The Indian spymaster, who after his retirement was appointed as advisor on Kashmir in the Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s office, where he served from January 2001 to May 2004, said, “We need to take note of the global inflection around us. Who could have imagined that the two Koreas could get together? Who could conceivably have imagined three months ago that President Trump and President Kim could meet?”
He said the Pakistani Army Chief and now the Pakistan Army top brass had stated that they want peace with India while the Indian Army Chief too had acknowledged that militarily no one could win in Kashmir.
“General Durrani has argued that the best we can hope for between India and Pakistan is a stable stalemate. I beg to differ,” Dulat said. “This is not the signal emerging from the subcontinent or even Kashmir - the Ramadan ceasefire is the latest indication of the mood all around.”
Dulat questioned why Pakistan has not had the vision and imagination to invite Indian National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval to Lahore in the last two years saying there was no better way of breaking the logjam.
“In India there has been deep frustration over Pakistani reactions to our repeated overtures. We believe that the deep state - the Army and the ISI are in total control of Pakistan. Just the reason for us to think big and roll out the red carpet for General Qamer Bajwa,” he said.
Dulat, who served in Kashmir as Joint Director Intelligence Bureau from 1988 to 1990, the most troublesome time in Kashmir, said, “As a great power we also need to demonstrate that we don’t need the help of the US, the Chinese, the Russians or anyone else; that India and Pakistan are capable of bilaterally sorting out our problems as Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had agreed in Shimla in 1972.”
A member of the National Security Advisory Board, Dulat, who is regarded as one of India’s leading experts on Jammu and Kashmir, referring to Saadat Hasan Manto’s character pointing to the horizon where the sea and sky are joined saying, “It is only an illusion because they can’t really meet, but isn’t it beautiful, this union which isn’t really there,’ said, “‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and Illusion of Peace’ is unprecedented even if only a dream.”