New Delhi: It’s not often that former spymasters of two countries that have fought three major wars collaborate on a project. So, when ex-ISI chief Muhammad Asad Durrani and ex-RAW chief AS Dulat sat down for a conversation, it resulted in a treasure trove of anecdotes and insight on India and Pakistan’s fraught history and the way forward.
The conversation, moderated by senior journalist Aditya Sinha, is part of a new book titled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace. In the book, the two former spy chiefs discuss obvious topics such as Kashmir and surgical strikes, and some unspoken ones like moles and double agents.
Here’s a look at some of them:
“Modi did more in his first two years for India-Pakistan relations than his predecessor”
This remark was made by former RAW chief AS Dulat while comparing the foreign policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh. Dulat says that Singh’s heart was in the right place, but he wasn’t encouraged to bridge the differences between India and Pakistan by his bureaucracy. On Modi, Dulat says the PM “has no problems overcoming the frictions and reservations that diplomats have”.
But both Durrani and Dulat agree that Modi is running out of time to mend relations and take bold steps. “If Modi later finds failure is staring in his face externally and then wants to extend a hand, no one will take it seriously.”
When asked how Pakistan views Modi’s prospects, Durrani says that Modi “is likely to get a second term”.
In the same exchange, Durrani also praises former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “We would be happy if someone like Vajpayee was Prime Minister in Pakistan. Poet, philosopher, he could have been a good Prime Minister for us (sic).”
“What if someone had reported that Osman, the son of a former ISI chief, was roaming around in Mumbai, which hadn’t forgotten 26/11, without a visa?”
It was in May 2015 that Durrani’s son found himself in Mumbai, unaware that he needed special permission to travel from Kochi to Mumbai and caught by immigration officials.
Though seven years had passed since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the embers of that carnage were still burning bright in India. When Osman called his father and told him about his plight, Durrani panicked and wondered how safe his son was.
This is where his old friend AS Dulat came to the rescue and having made some phone calls, got him out on the next flight to Germany, safely. “A former RAW chief’s IB background helped a former ISI chief,” remarks Sinha.
“I rang up Jeevan (his friend in IB) and thanked him profusely. Then I realised I’d better thank my ex-colleague from RAW (whom Dulat had asked for help), so I rang him up. ‘Not at all, sir...It’s our duty, after all, he [Durrani] is also a colleague’, he said.”
Interestingly, Dulat mentions in the opening chapter of the book that “more substantively, in 2003 a tip-off from the RAW to the ISI had saved General Musharraf’s life.”
“Jadhav would eventually be back”
In a separate chapter on Kulbhushan Jadav, a former Indian Navy officer who is on death row in Pakistan for alleged spying, Dulat says the entire episode was mismanaged by both countries.
“It could have been kept quiet. In fact, it could have been used for goodwill. The NSA dialogues we keep hearing about, all General Janjua (current Pakistan NSA) had to do was call Ajit Doval up and say, we’ve got your guy but don’t worry. He’ll be taken care of. In due course you tell us what to do with him...but that’s how good the ISI is, it put him straight on TV! Like we did during Kargil war, when we made public that intercept between General Musharraf and General Aziz.”
Dulat goes on to say that “if this were a RAW operation and he was a RAW spy, then it’s a pretty sloppy operation.”
In another chapter, Dulat continues the conversation on Jadhav and says it should be easier to get Jadhav out of Pakistan than it would be to get him out of a more friendly country like the US.
To this, Durrani replies, “I agree with my friend that Jadhav would eventually be back, despite the poor handling of the case by us. A better way would have been to send a message to the RAW that we had him, extract all the overt and covert benefits, and at some stage return him ‘at the right price’.”
“The biggest failure was when the Kashmir uprising happened we did not know how far it would go.”
Durrani says this while responding to moderator Aditya Sinha’s question on what he felt was the ISI’s biggest failure against India.
He goes on to add that “the formation of the Hurriyat to provide a political direction to the resistance was a good idea” but laments that “giving up handle on the movement — letting the factions do what they bloody well wanted to.”
Durrani, however, may not have been completely candid about Pakistan’s role in controlling Hurriyat and the separatist movement in Kashmir in later stages.
As Dulat himself remarks in the book, “The Hurriyat is the Pakistani team,” adding that, “India has its team, Pakistan has its team, and the Kashmiris are in between.”
Incidentally, Dulat was serving as the joint director of the Intelligence Bureau in Kashmir in 1990 when Durrani was working as the chief of ISI.
“I have no doubt that a retired Pakistani officer, who was in intelligence, walked in and told the Americans (the exact location of Osama Bin Laden)”
Durrani admits this while talking to Dulat and Sinha about the alleged deal made by Pakistanis to hand over 9/11 attacks mastermind Osama Bin Laden to the United States. Here’s a look at the conversation that follows:
Dulat: A couple of days before Osama was lifted, Kayani met with somebody, where was it?
Durrani: On a ship.
Dulat: Or at an airbase. There was a meeting which I thought significant in the context of what happened days later. Why did Kayani go to the meeting? Who was the US commander in Afghanistan then?
Durrani: In 2011? [David] Petraeus
Dulat: It seemed like too much of a coincidence because two days later, Osama was bumped off.
Durrani: I agree, it’s a reasonable deduction that these meetings concerned the raid.
Elsewhere in the book, the former ISI chief says, “I have no doubt that a retired Pakistani officer who was in intelligence walked in and told the Americans. I won’t take his name because I can’t prove it and also I don’t want to give him any publicity. How much of the 50 million dollars he got, who knows. But he is missing from Pakistan. I should know.”
That Bin Laden was handed over to the US and wasn’t killed in the spectacular circumstances most people are led to believe is a claim that investigative journalist Seymour Hersh made long ago in his book on the killing of Bin Laden. This is the first time that a retired ISI chief has officially confirmed it.