Dialogue between spymasters is a good omen

Interestingly, the book ‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace’ was released just when the Supreme Court (SC) has resurrected the famous Asghar Khan case. It has been alleged in this case that General Asad Durrani, one of the authors and then ISI chief had distributed slush funds to politicians from various parties so that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) could be defeated in the 1990 general elections. General Durrani had himself admitted that the allegations were true, maintaining that he did so because General Mirza Aslam Beg, then COAS, had instructed him to do so. In turn, General Beg says that he went along with bribing politicians because then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan wanted PPP to lose the election. In any case, both had gone beyond the call of duty and against their oath which binds them to refrain from political activities.

Now let’s talk about the book, which has been co-authored by General Durrani, former RAW chief AS Dulat and journalist Aditya Sinha. The GHQ’s reaction to this book has been strong, as it has instituted an inquiry against General Durrani. Perhaps it wouldn’t have caught attention like other books written by many retired generals, who have also negated Pakistan’s official narrative, if it had not been co-authored with a former RAW chief.

A few examples which can be quoted here are that of Major-General (Retd) Muhammad Akbar Khan’s Raiders in Kashmir (1975), in which he had owned the fact that the Lashkar which invaded Kashmir was government-sponsored. Another example is that of Major-General (Retd) Shaukat Riza’s The Pakistan Army War 1965(1984), in which it was accepted that the ‘65 war was the result of the clandestine Operation Gibraltar. Another good example could be, General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf’s In the Line of Fire (2006) in which it was confessed that the army had planned to bring a coup against the elected government if the army chief was fired from his job. In this book, General Musharraf had also admitted to handing over al-Qaeda leaders to the US. Air Marshal Asghar had, on more than one occasion, said that contrary to Pakistan’s official statements, all wars with India were started by Pakistan itself, and eventually it was defeated. Lieutenant General Shahid Aziz lambasted the architects of the Kargil operation in his book.

I wonder whether all these generals took NOCs from their institutions or got their text vetted before publication — something which has been demanded by the establishment’s mouthpieces after details of General Durrani’s book came to light.

One of the most important suggestions in the book is that the two countries’ intelligence wings engage in dialogue. This is an important suggestion because whatever progress is usually made on the diplomatic front or on the track II channel is sabotaged either by these intelligence agencies or non-state actors who are beneficiaries of the war economy

Surprisingly, the GHQ had not taken notice of the joint papers written by General Durrani and the several meetings which were held in Istanbul, Bangkok and Nepal where the dialogue between the two spymasters was recorded by Aditya Sinha. Another question which comes to mind is who funded these meetings and the book because all these meetings at exotic destinations must have cost a fortune. It is equally intriguing that unlike other books that can turn into bestsellers; the publishers have not tried to protect their copyrights as they floated the downloadable version of the book free of charge. It seems therefore that the book may have been sponsored by a lobby which has been trying to promote India-Pakistan dialogue in the interest of peace in South Asia.

Both the writers have not revealed any real state secrets. The only charge which could be held against General Durrani by the establishment is that his views on Osama Bin Laden’s killing by the Americans in a raid did not correspond with Pakistan’s official narrative. As a matter of fact, it negates the official stance that Pakistani intelligence agencies did not know that Osama was living a few kilometres away from the most prestigious army training school in the country and that the Americans took Osama in a raid before Pakistan could do anything. General Durrani’s views on this issue were close to the information provided by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh in his long investigative article published by the London Book Review.

However, the book is mostly based on the opinions of the two spymasters, which they think could make a peace dialogue between the two countries successful. One of the most important suggestions in the book is that the two countries’ intelligence wings talk to each other. This is an important suggestion because whatever progress is usually made on the diplomatic front or on the track II channel is sabotaged either by these intelligence agencies or non-state actors who are beneficiaries of the war economy.

I feel that while a ceasefire on the LoC and the working boundary is important, it is equally important that there be some kind of a ceasefire between the two countries’ intelligence agencies. By definition, intelligence agencies should only be collecting information and not participating in covert activities in other countries. Unfortunately, this seems to have become the norm.

Both India and Pakistan must accept their mistakes, and move forward. The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace could have a constructive role to play here. Those who raise issues about such books do not realise that they want to put curbs on freedom of expression. There cannot be only one national security narrative in the country. Free and honest discussion can only help the Indo-Pak peace effort.

The writer is the author of What’s wrong with Pakistan? And can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com

Published in Daily Times, June 23rd 2018.

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