Book Review: The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI & The Illusion Of Peace



By Saeed Khan Wazir.

Why reading the book is important?

Indo-Pak relations carry vital significance in the wake of changing regional and global realignment of geo-economic, political and strategic affairs. Both are nuclear weapon states with unresolved border disputes, homegrown insurgencies aided and abetted by extra-territorial forces, and are potent actors in shaping the strategic calculus and economic landscape of the wider South-East Asia and beyond.

India and Pakistan economies are $2.85 trillion and Rs. 5.2 trillion with defense budgets $52 billion and Rs. 1100 billion respectively.

By 2050, China will be the world’s largest economy, followed by India, and the U.S. in third place (China — $58.499 trillion, India — $44.128 trillion, and United States — $34.102 trillion). Pakistan stands nowhere in the list of 32 countries surveyed.

India’s ambition to become regional hegemonic power does not go well with China and Pakistan. The US fears China rise that could trigger The Thucydides Trap (When one great power threatens to displace another, war is almost always the result — but it doesn’t have to be).The regional tough struggle for balance of power and hostile postures could result in arms race, frosty relation, chauvinistic nationalism and animosity  morphing into lack of cooperation and connectivity.

The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI And The Illusion Of Peace  is a book of conversations between the former intelligence chiefs of India and Pakistan, A.S. Dulat and Asad Durrani, respectively. The authors counter preconceived ideas, conflicting perspectives and opposing viewpoints, attesting to how both sides have socially, politically and militarily defined themselves through the lens of opposition to each other, much to the detriment of a possible peaceful engagement.

Interestingly, the discussions centre on several significant geo-political, geo-strategic and intelligence-based opaque subjects. They, inter alia, include: 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; PM Narendra Modi and ex-PM Nawaz; Muzaffar Burhan Wani Shaheed ; the harsh terrain of Afghanistan; the ambitious China; the Soviets; Akhand Bharat plan of India; and how terror undermines the two countries’ attempts at talks.

The major issues are unpacked as follows:

3. Nawaz as Camel and Modi as Fox: The military Tsarists’ disdain for political leaders in Pakistan

They castigate the political leaders in a very sarcastic manner. Durrani is less than complimentary about Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who he said has the “acumen of a camel” on international relations. And on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Durrani said:  “A fox.  Modi is smart.”

2. Hafiz Saeed’s value – as an Albatross (a constant source of misfortune)

Durrani: What can Pakistan do about Hafiz Saeed?

Dulat: That’s another matter.

Durrani: How is it another matter?

Dulat: I agree it’s for the courts to decide. But my question is: What is Hafiz Saeed’s value?

Durrani: If you prosecute Hafiz Saeed the first reaction will be: it’s on India’s behalf, you’re hounding him, he’s innocent, etc. The political cost is big, now.

Dulat: Apart from his involvement, he has nuisance value because he keeps abusing India. But what is his value to Pakistan?

Durrani: The cost of prosecuting him is too great.

2. How Osama bin Laden was found

Contrary to official accounts in both his country and the United States, Durrani claimed that Pakistan directed the U.S. Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden’s hideout in 2011.

In this book he has revealed the true mindset of military by providing details of how Pakistani military cooperated with Americans on Bin Laden issue and sold Bin Laden for 50 million dollars.

According to Gen. Durrani;  Army Chief Gen. Kiyani met the Americans on USS Carl Vinson in Arabian sea and finalized the deal, to hand over Bin Laden in exchange of 50 million Dollars.

Former DG-ISI also writes; that it was an officer of ISI who informed Americans about presence of Bin Laden in Abbottabad and in return, he demanded the prize money on Bin Laden’s head, along with US immigration and permanent residence in USA.

Gen Durrani also believes that the ISI officer who tipped Americans, apart from receiving the prize money, also received a share from 50 million dollars that were given to Gen. Kiyani. And according to Gen Kiyani, Bin Laden was handed alive, not dead as claimed by Americans.

According to Gen. Durrani, the whole nation has been kept in dark about the background of this incident, while military’s top brass got rich after this deal. This clearly shows how corrupt the military leadership has been and where their loyalties are.

3. Kashmir Issue

“They are using this so-called muscular policy in Kashmir, and we all know that a policy that uses brawn lacks brains,” former foreign minister Yashwant  Sinha.

Durrani’s other big reveal was about the Kashmir conflict. India has long documented how Pakistan has patronized terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-a-Mohammed to create unrest in the Kashmir valley. Intriguingly, when asked in the book to say what he thought was the biggest failure of the ISI, Durrani replied:

“When the Kashmir uprising happened we did not know how far it would go.  We didn’t want it to go out of control, which would lead to a war that neither side wanted…. ISI’s leverage on the Kashmir insurgency turned out less than successful.” Durrani was ISI chief in 1990-1992, during the insurgency’s early years.

 “True, it wasn’t easy to keep a handle on it — as the Indians too must have concluded over time.” But taking a swipe at India, he added sarcastically, “Oh, I think Pakistan knows what to do with it; sit back and watch.” Dulat’s answer to the question of RAW’s failures with Pakistan was just as candid: “That we have not been able to turn an ISI officer at a level where it counts.”

4. Track II Diplomacy

The Track II diplomacy is generally called Neemrana Dialogue, named after the fort in Rajasthan where it was first held in 1991, but it is brushed aside by New Delhi, with Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar saying that “…functional exchanges between the two sides have continued and is actually a part of normal process between the two countries. So there is nothing new which we see in this dialogue.”

5. Proxies and Surrogates

The book’s central premise is that old political formulas have failed, civilian governments in Pakistan are hardly empowered, and it is time to allow an institutional line of dialogue between spies on both sides. Dulat opened secret talks with militants and secessionists in Kashmir and later admitted that both India and Pakistan paid money to try to influence them, conceding wryly that “corrupting someone with money is more ethical than killing them.”

7. Shocking aspects of the release of the son of Asad Durrani

It states that in May 2015, Osman Durrani came to Kochi (Indian port) for work on behalf of a German company and according to visa restrictions, he should have left the country from the city that he entered from but his office booked him from a flight back via Mumbai; he was detained by authorities in Mumbai following which 24 hours of backchannel networking helped release of Durrani’s son, despite the visa violation.

Dulat recalls the most touching part of the incident was that when he called Khanna to thank him for his help, the RAW chief said in reference to Durrani, “It’s our duty,’ he said, ‘after all, he’s a colleague.”

8. Nuclear flashpoints and Gen. Musharaf

There are other valuable nuggets for watchers of a region that President Bill Clinton once called “a nuclear flash point”. Dulat shared how a border ceasefire was brokered in 2003 as a result of secret meetings between the head spooks of either side. He revealed that a tip off from RAW saved the life of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf and said Musharraf had even conveyed his gratitude. As army chief, Musharraf pushed Pakistani soldiers into India in 1999 leading to the Kargil war. His hard-line statements and actions made him a deeply contentious figure in India. Yet, Dulat insisted, “There has been no more reasonable Pakistani leader than General Musharraf.”

9. Soft power

While discussing Afghanistan, Dulat admits to Bollywood’s soft power capability. As for the involvement of India and Pakistan in Afghanistan, there seems to be an understanding of doing what needs to be done. Different political and military doctrines of both countries is a subject also opined on in the book. Pakistan’s reliance on ethnic Pashtun card led towards the crumbling state of soft power.

10. Confidence Building Measures

The closing chapters offer the strategies suggested by Durrani and Dulat to overcome the hostility between Pakistan and India. Dulat advocates for confidence building while Durrani opts for durable structures for a long term breakthrough – from people to people interaction to the frequent use of back-door channels. The conclusion both agree on is expected. There should be no more war and the “madness” needs to end.

Dulat says, “I am hoping to see progress way before the 2019 elections”.

The Future Way out!

Diplomacy

Trade

Track 11 diplomacy or Cultural exchange

Regional connectivity

About Author:
The writer contributes to different English Dailies and Magazines. He specializes in English Linguistics and Literature and teaches CSS and PMS English Essay and Précis papers at CSS PMS Knowledge Builders, a well-reputed forum for competitive exams students. He can be reached at saeedullahkhanwazircss@gmail.com.

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