By Daud Khattak
“This madness has to end,” is the bottom line of the recently-published book “Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace” co-authored by former chief of the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Amarjit Singh Dulat, ex-chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Asad Durrani and Indian journalist Aditya Sinha.
“That is what our book is actually about in a way,” A.S. Dulat, who led the Indian spy agency RAW from 1999 to 2000, told me during a telephonic interview. Being an optimist who strictly believes in peaceful co-existence between India and Pakistan, A.S. Dulat said, “it is difficult to say when, but it has to end one day.”
Unlike Mr Dulat, the ex-ISI chief Lt. General (retired) Asad Duarrani (1990 – 1992) is an uncompromising realist. But despite all his realism, he also believes in an “end to the madness,” a phrase attributed to then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who visited Pakistan in February 1999, the year that also witnessed the Kargil conflict, which brought the two nuclear-armed neighbours to the brink of a full-fledged war.
General Durrani has been summoned to the General Headquarters (GHQ) for what is believed to be his unsolicited revelations and his name has been placed on the exit control list (ECL), by virtue of which he may not be able to travel outside Pakistan. “This is very very unfortunate. The general has said nothing which is not on record,” Dulat told me.
He chuckled when I asked that he had trapped his friend by co-authoring the controversial book where he (Durrani) revealed his mind on issues being considered taboo subjects in Pakistan. “General Durrani cannot be easily trapped, let me assure you. We were talking honestly and maybe he said something that now Pakistan feels he should not say. But he said these things before as well, be that about Osama or Kargil etc.,” he added.
Besides calling Kargil a “foolish operation” and “General Pervez Musharraf’s long-time obsession” where “only few people were privy to the plan,” Durrani is also candidly expressing his mind on al-Qaeda Chief Osama bin Ladin’s killing by the U.S. Navy Seals in Abbottabad by saying that “we probably found out at some stage and cooperated, handed him over in a way that they (Americans) got all the credit.”
On the level of cooperation, Gen. Durrani believes that he has “no doubt that a retired Pakistani officer who was in intelligence walked in and told the Americans. I will not take his name because I cannot prove it and I do not want to give him any publicity. How much of the 50 million dollars he got, who knows? But he is missing from Pakistan.”
When I asked Dulat how much he trusts Durrani’s claim that it was Pakistan that provided intelligence about Osama bin Ladin’s whereabouts to the Americans, he said he believes the Pakistanis knew where Osama was.”I think the Americans somehow got window (of information) and they told the Pakistanis that look, we know where he is and then told them (Pakistan) to stay out of it,” he said.
Since the book is mostly focused on how to bring peace between India and Pakistan, both the former spy chiefs express their views on back channel, track II diplomacy, and the composite dialogue resumed by Pervez Musharraf with his “golden handshake” with then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003.
The history of the composite dialogue, in fact, dates back to the 1985 meeting between General Zia ul Haq and Indian prime minister Rajeev Gandhi. Then PM Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart I.K. Gujral also carried the process forward in 1997. However, Pervez Musharraf took the bold step in 2004 with the declaration that Pakistan’s territory would not be used by any terrorist in light of India’s concern of cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
General Durrani believes Indian PM Murarjee Desai was among good prime ministers from Pakistan’s point of view. Among Chandra Shehkar, I.K. Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, Vajpayee was the one who had the power and will to resolve his country’s disputes with Pakistan. “Manmohan Singh has the heart but did not have the resolve to stand up to his detractors,” Durrani observed.
Stressing the need for discussing the ‘K’ word (means Kashmir) upfront, General Durrani believes it is better if the two sides start from ‘peripheral’ issues and then gradually proceed to the core issue. For that, he suggests, both sides have to do away with their ‘paranoia’ about an independent Kashmir or other risk-takings.
To understand the Indian version on Kashmir, my first question to Dulat was “Kashmiris are inherently peaceful people, then why do they fight?”And the former Indian spymaster, with all his decency and optimism, agreed that Kashmiris are peaceful people. “Even if they are bad, they will get all right,” he asserted, by suggesting that they need to be engaged to bring them out of the state of hopelessness.
So, does that mean India is keeping them in a state of hopelessness, I quipped. And his answer was that “I would not say they are being kept in a state of hopelessness, but I think we have not engaged them sufficiently.”
Dulat agreed that engagement would lead the road to the solution in Kashmir instead of the permanent military deployment. Going back to the previous engagements between India and Pakistan, he said during 2006/7, Dr Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf had reached an almost settlement. “I think that was the best chance, but unfortunately, that did not happen.”
Discussing the India-Pakistan dispute resolution, General Durrani is not averse to the idea of an India-Pakistan confederation. A similar idea was once on the table among Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan in the 60s (A Pathan Odyssey by Aslam Khattak).
“I don’t mind discussing Akhand Bharat. We have come this far but we have no solution,” says General Durrani while the two former spy masters review the general feelings on either side of breaking up of India or Pakistan.
“We can consider moving to a confederation, and then to a united India. How can we reverse the cycle? At least discuss it. Europeans have been doing so for a long time. It took half a century to achieve the ‘united Europe’ imagined by Churchill,” says General Durrani who believes that “borders can be redrawn all the time.”
While the duo agreeing to the idea of Indian PM Manmohan Singh of having breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul, General Durrani believes that “even across the LoC, we can put up a net and play volleyball. People are capable of coming up with things like this. Once they do, confidence comes and they say, we can live like this too.”
Dulat believes that India will be at the receiving end in case Pakistan breaks up and that was the reason that Atal Bihari Vajpayee paid a symbolic visit to the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore. Durrani, on the other hand, believes the “partition, or trifurcation, led to many problems.” Had the countries not been fighting, they would easily benefit from peace in Afghanistan or the gas pipeline from Iran.
When I asked Dulat about his country’s horses in Afghanistan after the end of the Northern Alliance, he said everyone, and India included, was banking too much on the Americans. He said Afghanistan is a good area where the two nuclear-armed neighbours should cooperate.
Mr Dulat strongly believes India should talk to the Taliban. “If we are engaged to the Taliban, very good. If we are not, I think it is high time that we did engage.”
He does not disagree when asked if the road to peace in Afghanistan lies through Kashmir. He said one puts it either way. “If you look at Kashmir and Afghanistan, you find that there are some similarities in the situation and there is a connection. And one gets sorted out, it would help the other in getting resolved.”
Pakistan blames India for creating trouble in Balochistan through its consulates in Afghanistan. However, General Durrani believes espionage is usually not done from the consulates. “In Pakistan some people, who are ill-informed and sometimes silly, will talk of nine (Indian) consulates, 18; the maximum number I’ve heard is 23. If the Indians were to conduct espionage from four consulates then we should be happy because then we can keep track.”
General Durrani believes that regional powers are closing ranks on coordinating policy on Afghanistan. They include Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan. “Both the Iranians and Russians are talking to the Taliban. The Chinese have essentially said, you lead the way, and if it led to the regional countries coming together, then we can probably play a role.”
Author Aditya Sinha told me in an interview that the idea basically came from the University of Ottawa, which is sponsoring the track II dialogue between India and Pakistan.
The Spy Chronicles is a plain discussion on a host of thorny issues confronting the neighbours. Aditya Sinha recorded 170,000 words as the two former spy chiefs first met in Istanbul, then in Bangkok, then Kathmandu and again in Bangkok. Sinha told me he had to sift through and separate around 75,000 words for the final draft.
About the unique style of the book, Sinha is confident it would save the readers from going through boring and difficult-to-read styles of books written by Indian and Pakistani officials. “This is like a buffet menu where each subject could be read separately than the rest of the book,” he explained. About the editing criterion, he told me that certain things were removed, for example “General Durrani used quite the spicy language when talking about Ajit Doval, the Indian national security advisor, who is known in Pakistan as Ajit Devil.”The two former spy chiefs also made sure something may not run counter to the official secret acts of their respective countries and, “we did some edits from that point of view as well.”
Unfortunately, while Dulat did not face any trouble in India, Durrani found himself in hot waters soon after the circulation of the free online version of the book, which Aditya Sinha believes is distressing, but good to bring more publicity.
(The writer is senior editor with Pashto language Mashaal Radio in Prague.)
By Daud Khattak