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Chattering mynahs

  • Published at 12:57 pm June 2nd, 2018
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A cross-border collaboration / REUTERS

When Indian and Pakistani intelligence come together

This book has to be read to be disbelieved. The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI, and the Illusion of Peace has been co-authored by a former chief of Pakistan’s ISI Lt Gen Asad Durrani, and a former head of India’s RAW Amarjit Singh Dulat.

Such cross-border collaborations are not unknown. Two spring to mind: Diplomatic Divide by Dr Humayun Khan and G Parthasarathy (2004), and then Divided by Democracy by Meghnad Desai and Aitzaz Ahsan (2005). 

Diplomats and politicians, however, are expected to talk to each other. Spies like Durrani and Dulat were paid to eavesdrop on one another, not to retire and then together chatter like mynahs.

The book is a candid record, culled by the Indian journalist Aditya Sinha, from conversations held with and by Durrani and Dulat in such exotic locations as Bangkok, Kathmandu, and Istanbul. 

Istanbul seems to be a magnet for secret rendezvous. Readers will recall Khurshid Kasuri’s revelations about his secret meeting there on the rooftop of the Topkapi Palace with his Israeli counterpart Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in August 2005.

This book would have been twice as long -- over 170,000 words -- had some thoughtful editor not conducted a surgical strike on the manuscript. Dulat’s motive? “The toxic, or the intoxicating, mix helped people like me, who had been in and out of hot seats, join post-retirement the ever-expanding club fatuously called ‘the strategic community.’ No surprise, therefore, that some of us are bursting with wisdom that can hardly wait to be shared.”

Durrani agrees. Both acknowledge that “there will be people in the fraternity who will say: How did these swines get so chummy? Who was working for whom? After all, we have each been a part of licensed skulduggery on either side.”

Dulat and Durrani closed off their book in March this year. It is a tribute to their professional skill that their former employers reacted to the book only after its release, as if unaware of its gestation. 

Spy Chronicles contains 33 chapters, some surprising, many incendiary, a few embarrassingly disingenuous. (Read Chapter 3: “Brotherhood to the Rescue” in which Dulat saves Durrani’s son stranded in Mumbai because of a visa violation.)

This book reeks of alcohol. There are at least five references to the beneficial effect whiskey had on “lubricating” discussions between the unabashed Indians and the bashful Pakistanis. 

To repeat EM Forster’s devastating review of the bibulous poet Dom Moraes’ book Gone Away, “one longs for a non-alcoholic edition.”

Many years ago, at a briefing session given by a senior officer of the ISI, someone asked him, had he been the D-G RAW instead of D-G ISI, what would he have feared most from the ISI? 

He reflected, then replied: “For obvious reasons, I cannot give you an answer, but the very fact that RAW fears us is a measure of our success.”

Perhaps Dulat means it as a back-handed compliment to the ISI when he admits that “he would have loved being the D-G ISI.” His greatest failure was not to be able to infiltrate the ISI, at least “at the level where it counts.”

Durrani confesses that his failure to recognize that the surge in freedom fighting in Indian-held Kashmir was not a wave of resentment but a tsunami of rebellion.

Spy Chronicles is to be ingested with a pillar of salt which would dwarf Lot’s wife. How does one check the veracity of Dulat’s recollection: “In Islamabad in 2011, when we got a bottle of Black Label (whiskey) from General Saheb’s car and had a drink in my room, he spoke to me about how it would be if we had an understanding. 

“For instance, if Mumbai happened again, there would be an understanding that India would retaliate. And that it could be managed. That India could do what [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi did, a surgical strike. 

“It was interesting. Here was a former ISI chief with a considerable reputation, suggesting to choreograph surgical strikes. How can a person get more candid?” 

Indeed. Candour, Dr Samuel Johnson’s once wrote, was “but another kind of indirect self-praise, and had its foundation in vanity.”

This book will undoubtedly attract many readers, none among them though widows and family members of those martyred in Kargil and in Kashmir, or anywhere else in the name of India and Pakistan. 

They died so that their superiors could live and profit from such memoirs.

In December 1971, after the surrender in East Pakistan, senior generals called a meeting of their subordinates to explain away the debacle. A shoe was thrown at the then COAS General Hamid Khan. 

Retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani, HJ, HI(M), has thrown a boot at his own service and at the self-respect of 220 million of his compatriots. They might prefer not to contribute to his shared royalties. 

FS Aijazuddin is an author. This article was previously published in Dawn.