20 April 2024 10:33 AM



Spy Chronicles: Does It Really Convey Any Lessons for India-Pakistan Peace?

Valuable for being a first

The book is the edited transcripts of “Intel-Dialogue” (Intelligence Dialogue) during 2016-2017 between former ISI Chief Gen.Asad Durrani (1990-92) and the then RAW Secretary A.S.Dulat (1999-2000) at different foreign locations. Senior journalist Aditya Sinha, who edited the manuscript, has also substantially contributed to the conversation.

A leading think tank in New Delhi held a discussion on this book recently. I could watch the proceedings through You Tube. Those present included journalists, academics, retired diplomats and intelligence officials. So were the co-authors, A.S.Dulat and Aditya Sinha. Gen. Asad Durrani, another co-author was not present, as Pakistan government had placed a ban on his travel.

Remarks by the participants reflected the dilemma of policy makers in the present context of the Indo-Pakistan relationship with the continuing turbulence in the Valley as the pivotal point. Some raised the basic question on the need for any dialogue when Pakistan is openly supporting terrorism against us. Some supported the present NDA government’s policy that terrorism and talks could not go on simultaneously. This was countered by an invitee from Kashmir who said that the present elevated violence is caused by the misguided Valley youth who need to be engaged by the Government. A few challenged Gen. Durrani’s observation that the Pakistani military establishment was not anti-India like their politicians.

Finally some wondered whether the structure of the book which is conversation could be of any use while dealing with serious subjects like Indo-Pakistan relationship as the dialogue does not quote official proceedings or background notes.

Had I been present at the think tank I would have tried to counter some of these arguments. Like the present NDA leadership, Israel’s Ariel Sharon and later Netanyahu also believed that talks and stone/bomb throwing could not go together. But they forgot that violence in Palestinian areas had come down sharply from 1998 when Ehud Barak was talking to Arafat. It shot up uncontrollably from November 2000 with Ariel Sharon's provocative “March to Temple Mount" and continues so under Netanyahu. Likewise violence in the Valley had shot up with provocative statements by BJP leaders that all stone throwers were Pakistani puppets and that they would be crushed. Dulat had rightly said that such statements and policies had brought Pakistan back in Kashmir.

Regarding the Pakistan Army not against India as much as the politicians, there are any number of indications that it was the democratically elected Pakistani politicians and not military leadership who had originally started pursuing active anti-Indian agenda using the Army.

Stanley Wolpert had said in his “Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan-His life and Times”(Oxford- 1993) that it was foreign minister Bhutto who had incited Ayub Khan into the ill fated “Operation Gibraltar”(Infiltration into Kashmir) while Gen.Gul Hassan, Director General of Military Operations had opposed it. Khalid Hasan , a onetime Bhutto confidante during the “Clandestine bomb” days had told me in 2006 that it was Bhutto who had institutionalized Army’s role in the Pakistani ruling order and changed ISI’s charter to include domestic affairs. This was more or less confirmed by Mubashir Hasan, founder member of Pakistan Peoples’ Party in his “The Mirage of Power-An inquiry into the Bhutto Years-1971-77” (Oxford -2000).

Regarding the “Conversation” format of the book: I wonder whether these critics had read Nelson Mandela’s “Conversations with Myself” ( Mac Millan-2010) with a foreword by President Obama? Does it not reveal developments all over the world and so many interesting facts including the armed training received by him? Or if they had read “Understanding Gandhi-Gandhians in conversation with Fred J Blum” edited by Usha Thakkar and Jayshree Mehta( Sage- 2011)?

Irrespective of such discussions in intellectual circles, “Spy Chronicles” has already hit the top sales among the recently published books in India. It has also evoked interest in foreign countries as the first published dialogue between two rival South Asian spy chiefs.

Official reaction in India was muted. However Pakistan’s official reaction was indirectly conveyed by Radio Free Europe-Pakistan (June 12) through an article by Daud Khattak and Frud Bezhan who had flagged some “Eye Brow-Raising Revelations”. These are Durrani’s remarks on Pakistan’s complicity in Bin Laden Raid, their support for Afghan Taliban and Kashmir rebels and finally the former ISI Chief’s views on “South Asian Reunion”.

Durrani had said that Afridi was not the only person to have discovered bin Laden's whereabouts. The article says that the most serious was Durrani's suggestion for “reunification of the subcontinent into a confederation like the European Union” for peace between India and Pakistan.

Claims have been made in some quarters that this is the first book jointly written by rival spy chiefs . This is not correct. That credit goes to Yale University which could motivate two retired rival spy masters to come together, taking advantage of the Boris Yeltsin Presidency (1991-1999) when US and Russia enjoyed unusual warmth in relations. This included even in intelligence liaison despite the treachery by CIA’s Aldrich Ames who worked for Soviet Union till 1994 betraying several key CIA agents.

Yeltsin was assisted in these efforts by veteran KGB officer Yevgeny Primakov, who became their intelligence Chief of SVR(Former KGB) from 1991after Russia was formed. Primakov was later Russian Foreign minister from 1996. This benignant atmosphere enabled the production of a mammoth book “Battleground Berlin-CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War” in 1997 jointly written by David Murphy (CIA) and Gen.Kondrashev (KGB), who were in charge of rival Berlin stations during the height of Cold War. Like Aditya Sinha, this dialogue was moderated and recorded by American journalist George Bailey, former Director of Radio Free Europe.

Taking advantage of the US- Russian warmth, the authors were able to persuade their old spy agencies to release some key documents. As a result the book could reproduce 250 secret file extracts and 87 photocopies of original documents. For the first time it was possible to compare both services together, how they operated against each other.

The conclusions were startling: The Soviets were far more capable than CIA by penetrating into the higher levels of the American, British and French governments. For example it revealed how Gen.Donovan, father of American foreign intelligence was deceived by NKGB in 1943 after the Second World War when he visited Moscow for proposing intelligence cooperation. What Donovan did not know at that time was that his personal staff officer Duncan Chaplin Lee was already on the pay roll of NKGB!

Yet KGB failed as it could not fathom the Western democratic culture. Jonathan Brent, Editorial Director, Yale University Press summarized the strategic conclusions of this research project: “They won battle after battle but lost the war. Rarely did Stalin receive information that he might not like….Most often Soviet leaders would be told what they wished to hear and would see what their ideology told them they must. When Gorbachev attempted to reverse this, the system fell apart”.

Admittedly “Spy Chronicles” do not reveal any such startling facts because the authors were not supported by the governments in New Delhi and Islamabad-Rawalpindi. Also it is not Track-II dialogue as claimed since a classical Track-II should have some backing by the concerned governments as it is supplementary to Track-I.

So what is the value of this book? Firstly this is the first time Indian and Pakistani spy chiefs had put their conversation in public domain on Indo-Pakistan issues, personal interpretations on events including intelligence and their recommendations for the future. Thus it is a valuable addition to our sparse literature on the role of intelligence in governance although it was an informal colloquy between two retired chiefs who do not claim to have the confidence of their present government.

Secondly it removes a wrong impression in public minds fostered by Hollywood and Bollywood movies that spy chiefs are villains who have no regard to truth or propriety in official dealings between people and countries.

Thirdly it is proof that even spy chiefs, shorn of the burden of their office, could agree on certain issues affecting their countries as common people do.

This leads to my final conclusion: Only people to people contacts in culture, arts, literature, education, music, cinema, media and trade will be the final formula for peace between both countries. This was what Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had tried in 1999, which the present NDA leaders have totally ignored.

(Writers Note:This is not a book review. This is only to examine whether this book will offer any guidance towards Indo-Pakistan peace.)

[The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat]