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

The first joint book by Indian and Pakistani and authors , I happen to read was the very engrossing – Shadows Across the Playing Field – 60 years of India – Pakistan cricket published in 2009. It was a riveting account by two stalwarts – Shashi Tharoor, the suave articulate former UN diplomat, Congress MP and former MoS HRD & External Affairs and Shaharyar Khan, a seasoned Pakistani diplomat and former Foreign Secretary .

So when in 2018 when conversations guided by senior journalist Aditya Sinha of the two former spymasters of India and Pakistan namely – AS Dulat, former RAW Chief and Asad Durrani of the ISI , came out in a form of a book called – Spy Chronicles – Raw ISI and the Illusions of Peace , there was a lot of curiosity to know what all did this rare meeting and conversations were.

There was the buzz to get a copy of the book and read what it was all about. Given the cold Indo- Pak relations off- late due to host of issues, it was pertinent that the conversations took place at a neutral venues. And venues like Istanbul, Bangkok and Kathmandu were the locations chosen .

On the table were subjects that have long haunted South Asia, flashpoints that take lives regularly. It was in all ways a deep dive into the politics of the sub- continent, as seen through the eyes of the two spymasters.

Amongst the subjects that were discussed were the “ K” word Kashmir, and a missed opportunity for peace, Hafiz Saeed, the dastardly terror strike of Mumbai 2008 i.e. 26/11, Kulbhushan Jadhav, the surgical strikes, the deal of Osama Bin Laden, how the US and Russia feature in the India- Pakistan relationship, and how terror undermines the two countries attempts at talks.

The book has seven parts and with it chapters which highlights the peg of the conversations. There is great camaraderie and frank exchange on host of issues  . Thus setting the stage for a gripping interaction. The first part is hence aptly titled – Setting The Stage

In the opening chapters Dulat and Durrani explain how this book came about and why they thought it relevant. They speak about their backgrounds as professional intelligence officers and narrate an episode that not only solidified their friendship but also firmed up their belief that a healthy India and Pakistan relationship has more benefits than downsides.

As i write this review the verdict of the 2018 General  Elections in Pakistan is out. And after 22 year struggle the PTI led by the charismatic former cricket superstar turned politician Imran, his party PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) has won the elections. Imran is now set to take over as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. And in his first address as PM elect- Imran apart from raising the Kashmir issue also stressed for good ties and dialogue with India. And batted for trade ties to benefit each other. So in a way , Imran has repeated what the two spy masters had visualised ahead .

In the Second part- The second oldest profession, in four chapters , Dulat and Durrani discuss the business of spying. The perception of the ISI and the comparison with RAW. Analysing the intelligence agencies of other countries like United States, Russia, Germany, England. Speak about the advantages of having a dialogue of spy chiefs and the need to have a spy – spy communications channel between India – Pakistan, with their unique call for an ‘open post’ in each other’s national capital.

The third part is the issue of contention between the two nations- Kashmir. Here six chapters go to the very heart of the problem between India and Pakistan. The bilateral relationship is frozen in status quo. Both spy masters have their own versions of what status quo means in their respective countries. And what makes it attractive to their nations. They discuss the unmet Kashmiri expectations under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the enigma of Farooq Abdullah. However, both readily agree that the way forward for Kashmiris is to ‘take what you can get’ instead of looking for a total resolution all at once.

The fourth part named Kabuki , having seven chapters go into the meat of the India – Pakistani relationship. And the personalities, who have come to define it. These include not only General and later on President Pervez Musharraf and other politicians but also Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his powerful National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. Doval has built a reputation for himself and Pakistani view him with awe as he is the most hawkish.

The fifth part – Flashpoints, These five chapters are the ones which took Indo- Pak ties to a new low. The incidents being the dastardly terror strike in Mumbai 26/11, 2008, the capture of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav and the surgical strikes by the Indian army across the LOC n retaliation of the terror strikes at Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab . The two spy masters dwell at length the Indo- Pak rhetoric – like – Talks and Terror can’t happen together and the pros and cons of the war if it were to happen between the two nations.

Part Six The New Great Game, The discussion here looks at Afghanistan, Durrani speaks candidly on what he believes happened in the climax of the USA’s search for the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks Osama Bin Laden. He and Dulat discuss and ponder why Afghanistan is unsortable at the moment. They also assess the strategy how the unpredictable US President Donald Trump will treat this region and examine how Russia which was once India’s most trusted ally/ friend is now cosying up to Pakistan.

The final part 7 , Looking Ahead, these chapters  look at the various ways to break the current impasse between the two nations. Dulat favours confidence building measures, while Durrani favours durable structures for long- term friendship. There is unanimity that madness between two nations must end.

Cricket has played many a time sport for peace. So Dulat is of the view that cricket i.e. bilateral ties could be resumed in the third country. If necessary Pakistan players could be included in the cash rich Indian Premier League. They were banned after the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai 2008. Pakistan players played in the first edition in 2008. Dulat is of the view since Pakistan cricketers/ commentators spend time in India , why not youngsters?

Durrani on the other hand wants to formalise the on-gain off again back channel. It should be hidden from the public limelight . Besides many other options . All needed to increase a sense of trustworthiness among the two nations. All in all this is one exhilarating conversation as it keeps you hooked till the very end .

RS 799

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