Tuesday, 7 August 2018

“THE SPY CHRONICLES: RAW ISI and the Illusion of Peace” by AS Dulat, Asad Durrani and Aditya Sinha. (Book Review by Ajay P Singha)

Pointing to the horizon where the sea and sky appear to merge, Saadat Munto the Pakistani playwright said, “It is only an illusion because they can’t really meet, but isn’t it beautiful the union which isn’t really there”. This quote pretty much captures the spirit under which this book was written and addresses concerns on Indo-Pak relations which dominate the minds of several generations in both countries.

As Chiefs of their respective Spy agencies Dulat and Durrani had ringside views of the constantly changing colours and engagement levels in security matters of the subcontinent and beyond. The book is written by super spooks who rarely came out in the open and operate behind the scenes 24x7. Consequently this book must not be read literally. The authors very often state something but actually imply a much deeper meaning in related contexts. An understanding of contemporary security concerns as well as the evolving international balance of power would be useful for a better appreciation of the book. The lay reader is advised to read between the lines, notice which questions are ignored and which ones are answered through standard diplomatic jargon.

Both Dulat and Durrani are past masters in the ancient art of spying and one can well imagine their poker faced expressions while responding to matters of State to their political masters. In this game only so much, as has been expressed, can be said and not beyond. After that actions overtake words and history is created. As a result, this book is not sufficiently hawkish for the less informed reader looking for scandals, whodunits and political intrigue. Fortunately the book is not boringly academic and has adopted a fine literary style in common with Dulat’s previous work.  

The dialogue format used in the book is an ancient method of communication and has roots in ancient civilisations including the Greek and Indian traditions for imparting knowledge. Though seldom used in present times, this uniquely light style allows readers to engage and disengage with a book at will, without losing track of the main story line. The dialogue format traditionally follows a somewhat disjointed approach as the story unfolds and is also reflected in the present book under review. With the prevailing low attention spans and even shorter focus periods, this style of writing will find very high acceptance with the younger readership globally. The dialogue format has enabled to uncover ugly truths about ISI’s support for Kashmir militants, double crossing the US and support for the Taliban. On a broader note it provides an excellent study of the geo-politics & prevailing security issues in the Indian subcontinent, presented in a format for which credit must be given to Aditya Sinha. 

Choreographed surgical strikes and the reality behind the US action on Bin Laden can be compared somewhat ludicrously to canned lion hunts, conducted by trophy hunters in Africa. A major difference between RAW and ISI gets inadvertently highlighted. Whereas both focus on analysis and intelligence, the latter unlike the former provides core support to the Deep State that actually runs Pakistan.    

The efforts of RAW and ISI also seem to contribute towards managing perceptions, a key ingredient for satisfying the expectations of the electorates in both countries. It sadly emerges that Pakistan may no longer have the ability to bear the political cost of reining in terrorists like Hafiz Saeed. Another development is confirmed by the authors when they agree that ever since Kashmiri militancy started the movement has now become pretty much indigenous to the valley. Dulat says that any discussion on Article 370 has become meaningless and it has been gutted to the extent that nothing is left in the matter.  

The solutions offered for regaining normalcy between India and Pakistan are on expected lines and may offer succour to a beleaguered populace but it is apparent that a lot more needs to be done to open new avenues for future dialogue and cooperation. A fascinating chimera emerges from a correspondence between the US and Russian Presidents: “Tell the people there is a bridge across the river and if people start believing there is a bridge, then even if there is no bridge it will serve the purpose”.  Such is the reality dotting the entire matrix of Indo-Pak relations that the reader ends up asking more questions than the book addresses in the dialogue.    

An interactive session is planned with Mr. AS Dulat in Jaipur, India later this month (17th August 2018) . He was Special Director IB and later Chief of Raw and will be in conversation with Mr. Amitabh Mathur, former Special Secretary RAW. In addition to discussions on the book the session will address the way forward in the light of the recent changes in Pakistan’s political dispensation and the road ahead.
Participation in the forthcoming session at Jaipur is by invitation.