The conversation between former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) A S Dulat and retired director-general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt General Asad Durrani has created a storm in a teacup. There is talk about revelations and confessions, as if both gentlemen said entirely new things. That is neither true nor was it the apparent purpose of the book. For instance, Dulat’s discussion on Kashmir is not new. He is an old Kashmir hand advising Delhi to seek an out-of-the-box solution to the issue for a long time. As for Durrani, it is well known that he would rather make conciliatory moves towards India than the US. However, Spy Chronicles is interesting for the fact that two retired practitioners are selling the idea of people investing in Track II initiatives, and for New Delhi to directly talk to Pakistan.
The book is an intelligently edited transcript of a conversation between two former spooks. But such conversations have been happening for the last couple of decades, if not longer. Generous foreign governments have thrown their taxpayers’ money at India and Pakistan to find a way for the two not to spend their own money on war. Over the years, Track II financiers have tended to support initiatives that involve former diplomats, generals or politicians. Gone are the days of a Track II or even Track III without involving personages from the establishment in both countries.
The Dulat-Durrani dialogue grew out of an initiative financed by the Canadian government and was spearheaded by Peter Jones, an old hand in India-Pakistan Track II dialogue. Jones has been involved in the region since 2002, when he co-organised for the first time a Track II between retired folks of the Indian and Pakistan navies. He based that on a similar initiative between Israeli and Arab armed forces.
Conversation flows at these events, regarding situations experienced from opposing ends. My own experience of being one of the co-organisers in the naval Track II was that once free from the shackles of duty, former military men can be open in discussing the past. This is not because having experienced war, they are convinced of peace, as is suggested by Dulat and Durrani. In a Track II setting, they have the luxury of discussing past operations with their counterparts. Otherwise, it is a fallacy to suggest that post-retirement these men are converts to peace. Indeed, most of these interlocutors turn ultra-hawkish during times of bilateral tension. That, actually, is the real test. The fact of the matter is that the India-Pakistan Track II is a failure, as it has not been successful staying independent of Track I, that is, their respective state establishments, and giving them sane advise during tense times.
For the two states, such initiatives are useful because it gives them a sense of what the other side is thinking. The Dulat-Durrani dialogue, for instance, confirms what people suspected for long — a conversation between India and Pakistan is currently a non-starter. There is too much suspicion in Pakistan of the Narendra Modi-Ajit Doval partnership. Similarly, we learn that despite the fact that each side keeping their part of Kashmir may be the only solution, a likelihood of a forward movement in this direction is minimal. Or that Pakistani generals will not have a frank conversation on getting rid of Hafiz Saeed and other militants.
So why has the book drawn so much attention, especially in Pakistan? The primary reason is that some of Durrani’s confessions about Pakistan creating militant groups in Kashmir or the suggestion that the army had a hand to play in finding Osama bin Laden have come at an inopportune time for GHQ. While a war of narratives was being launched against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, especially after his statement regarding the Mumbai attacks, many of Durrani’s statements neutralise Sharif’s “anti-national” image.
Nonetheless, the thrilling part of the book pertains to the suggestion that New Delhi should openly talk to the military and carry on the conversation behind closed doors, where agreements could be had that could to be thrown at the public later. The Pakistani military is not eager to talk to India at the moment but has been gently signalling about direct communication with New Delhi dating back to Lt General Shuja Pasha’s time as ISI chief. It is a tempting suggestion since Rawalpindi has never trusted a civilian leader in Islamabad to deal with India. Given that electoral democracy will stay in Pakistan for a while, the army would like to closely supervise any India-Pakistan peace initiative. What few realised in Delhi at the time was that Modi’s seemingly thrilling initiative to fly to Lahore and try to develop close ties with his counterpart Nawaz Sharif would not go down well with the army. Nor did the surgical strike, which failed to draw any benefit for Delhi.
With tension persisting, a mechanism is required to get the actual centres of power on both sides to talk to each other. It has to be a private, but not a secret, conversation. However, for that to even begin it is vital to have a change of perspective in the establishments regarding the context of peace in relation to their respective national visions. This is so that a peace overture doesn’t get shot down. Though Musharraf claimed that he had his generals’ support for his peace initiative, the Agra summit debacle, for which major part of the responsibility goes to L K Advani, turned the tide against Musharraf in his organisation. Establishments are whimsical and bred on self-interest. Not to mention the question of how a civilian government talks to a military leadership instead of its counterpart. This is actually the future homework that Dulat, Durrani and their Track II gang must be given, to help the two states think out of the box.