Chronicles in Spy Chronicles: Durrani, Dulat, Nawaz & Rabbani..

Dr. Moeed Pirzada analyses how the “Spy Chronicles”, a book co-authored by Gen. Asad Durrani and AS Dulat, two spymasters of South Asia, became a victim of Pakistani politics of narrative shaping – increasing its sales in the process.


“When it was published, I think, during my period, someone came and said, look what’s written, what should we do? Should we get hold of the man, court martial him, issue a rebuttal? I said, there must be 20 people who have read it, but once we do something, 200 people will read it”

Spy Chronicles – RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, Page 36

Gen.Durrani was talking to Aditya Sinha, Indian journalist and author of “Spy Chronicles” during one of their conversations when Aditya had referred to “Afghanistan The Bear Trap: Defeat of a Superpower” – a book written by Brigadier General, Muhammad Yousaf, of Pakistan Army and Major. Adkin, a British officer on the covert war ISI and CIA fought against the Soviet Army in 1980’s. Bear Trap was first published in 1992 when Gen. Durrani headed ISI.

Durrani, while remembering the “Bear Trap” saga may not have realized that soon his conversations with AS Dulat, being recorded by Aditya, will bring him to the threshold of a court-martial. He always had a belief in the deeper wisdom of his own institution.

At another point, in “Spy Chronicles” when Aditya asks him if ISI has ever objected to his meetings with AS Dulat, Ex-RAW Chief, he tells him that no one has ever asked or cautioned him; “all our institutions, civil or military may have had confidence in my ability to hold my own” and proudly asserted: “we have never suffered from paranoia on such matters”

So the man who had thought that Brig. Yousaf’s “Bear Trap” represented an agenda but decided to ignore it for he did not want to increase its popularity and who thought he enjoyed the trust of his civil and military institutions must have had a rude shock when he was summoned back to General Headquarters (GHQ) 25 years after his retirement, was put on Exit Control List (ECL) and was told that he now faces a formal enquiry, headed by a serving Lt. Gen. for violating Army’s Code of Conduct.

Read more: Spy Chronicles: A one-sided narrative

Pakistani “Officer & a Gentleman” vs Indian Intelligence Czar?

“Spy Chronicles” grew out of the series of discussions, between Durrani, Ex-DG of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Amarjit Singh Dulat, former head of Research & Analysis (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency – faithfully recorded by an Indian journalist, Aditya Sinha.

The idea grew out of their Track-II interactions, over the years; discussions were carried in different parts of the world – mostly in Bangkok, perhaps over “happy hours”– between 2016 and 2017 and book was formally launched in the third week of May 2018.

Book’s pdf version was immediately available, which may have been a marketing trick by the publishers, but its wide circulation through WhatsApp and Email, two months before Pakistan’s general elections, sparked suspicions that someone somewhere is working hard to ensure a wider dissemination. While it certainly represented an interesting initiative – of bringing together former heads of ISI and RAW – it also had its own set of problems.

Many quietly observed that book’s emphasis remains on issues Indians want to talk about, with reference to Pakistan, its Army, and ISI and while AS Dulat, an intelligence man all his life, remained cautious and guarded and economical with his words, Durrani – who barely served 18 months in ISI – was generous with long-winded explanations and descriptive details on an institution he apparently did not know much about.

Many quietly observed that book’s emphasis remains on issues Indians want to talk about, with reference to Pakistan, its Army, and ISI and while AS Dulat, an intelligence man all his life, remained cautious and guarded and economical with his words.

At one point, when Sinha, perhaps inadvertently, asks the question that where were Kashmiris, in pre-partition India, going to for work? migrating to? Where were their cultural, business and political links? With modern India or modern Pakistan. (P:79) Durrani dealt with this bombshell of a question with a degree of insensitivity, with a sleepy, happy hour mind, barely pointing out that statistics speak and families like Taseers and Sharifs all migrated towards Lahore.

Excuse me, Ex-Chief ISI, is this what all history and geography, four wars, countless battles, hundred thousand deaths and thousands of mass graves across Kashmir boil down to? Is this what your Pakistan has always been fighting for?

Is this enough of a description for Indo-Pakistan’s “Core Issue”? Dulat, the skilled Intelligence Czar, alarmed on the fundamental importance of this question, immediately took over describing this as “a question not significant” and then paints a broader picture of Lahore being a cultural center, attracting not only Kashmiris but people from all over Punjab- even his father wanted him to go and study in Punjab University, instead of St. Stephens college in Delhi and after carefully taking charge of the narrative adds that Kashmir’s real historical relations existed with Iran and Central Asia.

Read more: Pakistan military says ex-spy chief will not be allowed to leave…

Dulat’s spin on Kashmir

While most reading anywhere, even in India and Pakistan, would not understand the trick but any Kashmiri could immediately see through Dulat’s hypocrisy – his mental alertness, and his tight control on narrative shaping. A Punjabi, a Pashtun, a Delhi wallah, a Tamil, a Bengali or Hyderabadi – forget about the Europeans or Americans – at the beginning of 21st century would not understand the fundamental importance of this question or the human tragedy encapsulated in it, but RAW’s Kashmir expert knew the catch in Sinha’s stupid or innocent question – perhaps the only real question he asked in these 255 pages.

The historical fact was that Kashmir valley, till 1947, never had any meaningful geographical links with modern India – except through British Punjab. From times immemorial, Kashmir could only be approached – by its lovers, tourists, conquerors, and marauders – from north and west. Srinagar-Rawalpindi road was its only all-weather access.

Over hundreds of years, this route kept changing its morphology and micro details, but the elephants of Mughal Emperor Jehangir and the motorcar of Pundit Nehru – both of whom professed love for Kashmir – could enter more or less from the same route. And this was the only real exit from the valley. The other route was via the Jammu-Sialkot corridor.

Chronicles in Spy Chronicles
A.S. Dulat and Asad Durrani

But Kashmir-Jammu access was not all weather; before partition, Dogra elite used what was called, “Banihal Cart Road”, the route that later in Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s time gave way to the famous “Banihal Tunnel” that provided all-weather access between Srinagar and Jammu. Now “Patni Top Tunnel” has further reduced the distance between Srinagar and Jammu, giving India a much firmer strategic hold on the area.

No wonder then that, before partition and all along valley’s recorded history its cultural, business and political links existed with Punjabi towns of Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Gujranwala; the part of India that is now Pakistan- and that is why Taseers and Sharifs headed that way.

This is why Lahore mattered and not Delhi, and this is why a population, denied of two thousand years of organic human linkages, feels itself hypoxic, imprisoned and trapped inside the body politic of an India fast becoming a Hindutva realm – under the stewardship of Modi and Doval. And that is why Kashmiri youth flutters in agony, sings in unison, demanding “Azadi.”

Read more: Interior ministry puts ex-spymaster Durrani’s name on Exit Control List

Gen. Durrani’s Faux Pas & Gaffes?

So before the storm hit, Durrani’s ex-colleagues, junior officers, and many in the media who were being exposed to the extracted paras from “Spy Chronicles” via WhatsApp traffic (few reads books, unless they are controversial) were mulling and muttering over his fantastic claims of $ 50 million payments in Osama Bin Laden saga, Kayani meeting Petraeus on a US carrier before the Abbottabad raid, creation of Hurriyat and factually inaccurate references while quoting David Hadley.

While his comments regarding the OBL saga and Hadley could be taken as his speculations, his informed or misinformed opinions on developments that happened much later, years after his retirement in early 1993; his comments on Hurriyat were considered most offensive.

Though Kashmiri umbrella group (APHC) emerged, as a negotiating platform, after Durrani had left ISI and had nothing to do with him, but his comments read as if he was taking credit for it. Overall, the feeling was that “our man walked into a trap” without realizing the implications of using his past position.

Many were furious, that Dulat very cleverly kept on massaging Durrani’s ego by continuously referring to him as the all-powerful DG ISI– a description and a fantasy more in line with Indian narrative of a rogue, out of control ISI, than the institutional reality inside contemporary Pakistan.

While most reading anywhere, even in India and Pakistan, would not understand the trick but any Kashmiri could immediately see through Dulat’s hypocrisy – his mental alertness, and his tight control on narrative shaping.

Most aware Pakistanis now do realize that Indian agencies, since 9/11, have shown their capacities of imposing a 4thor 5thgeneration warfare upon Pakistan by engaging disparate elements; be it the religious fanatics of TTP, Baluch insurgents, MQM militants, urban criminal gangs of Karachi (likes of Uzair Baloch) the overambitious elements inside Pakistani media or the operatives of NDS in Kabul and Herat.

At certain places, Durrani even points out, that Indians underplay their capacities and exaggerate those of Pakistan but he still failed to stop Dulat’s strategy of endlessly flattering him as an “Intelligence Czar”

But books have Agendas & Mistakes!

But irrespective of all these series of disappointments, and some obvious misstatements by Durrani, no one – before Nawaz & Raza Rabbani barged in searching for moral equivalency – could have come out with blazing guns against him or the book; Durrani was right in a way that Pakistan had moved from that paranoia of the past, civil and military institutions and the media have trusted his moderate, informed and sane voice.

Many in the media were fascinated by this old man, 80 plus, who drives his own car, an old station wagon, struggles to find parking spaces unlike some of his colleagues who may be known for their swanky land cruisers, expensive properties and the army of servants. Almost everyone understands that Durrani is a respected sane analyst, an active Track-II, globetrotter who watches less of TV but reads more and remains updated and informed.

Chronicles in Spy Chronicles
Nawaz Sharif and Modi at Ufa in 2015

“Spy Chronicles” after all is only a book between an Indian officer retired almost 15 years ago and a Pakistani leading private life for past 25 years and Durrani has merely expressed his opinions, his speculations; those who have read the book cannot find anything like a “state secret” being spilled, or any intention to harm the country.

And Durrani at places impresses his Pakistani detractors by his command of issues inside Afghanistan, his understanding of fault lines with the US, and his critique of the Deep state in India and the US. He is, for instance, unambiguous in asserting that the US deep state does not want to leave Afghanistan; they want to hang on to their bases, to keep a watch over Pakistan, China, and Iran and they want to maintain a state of conflict to justify their presence.

So what went wrong? What emboldened the hush-hush rumblings into a storm? How this respected man, this co-author of an interesting book, ends up on Exit Control List in a country where books of Salman Rushdie can also be found, quietly eating dust, on shelves of bookstores and libraries?

Read more: Pakistan’s Civil-Military Relations: Internal Battlefronts Exposed from Media Leak

Nawaz’s Sharif: Center Piece of Indian Narrative?

None of Durrani’s critics were strong enough or determined enough to target him or “Spy Chronicles”; the attack on him – that finally earned him an unexpected invitation from GHQ – came from an unlikely combination, an unholy alliance of two men: One, Nawaz Sharif, who has probably never read a book in his life and the second, Senator Raza Rabbani, a learned man who speaks with conviction (most of the time) has even written books but who was batting for Nawaz.

What is Nawaz’s problem? And how he fits into all this – unwittingly creating a crusade against a book – is an interesting chapter of Indo-Pakistani history. On 16th April 2016, an interesting and a ferocious tv debate was taking place, on Times Now, an Indian TV channel. Panama Scandal had just hit the fan, somewhere in the first week of April, Nawaz Sharif, his sons, and daughter were under attack by the opposition in Pakistan and the Indian and Pakistani participants of this program were fighting each other, with raised voices on the implications of Panama Leaks for Nawaz Sharif.

Maroof Raza, an Indian defense analyst, who appeared very concerned with Nawaz’s fate was heckled by a Pakistani from Islamabad as to why Indians are so concerned with the fate of Nawaz. It was a shouting match going on, the kind of one in which you lose the end of caution; Maroof Raza shouted back:

Dulat very cleverly kept on massaging Durrani’s ego by continuously referring to him as the all-powerful DG ISI– a description and a fantasy more in line with Indian narrative of a rogue, out of control ISI, than the institutional reality inside contemporary Pakistan.

On the face of it, this could be an innocent political comment, from someone who is not a minister or government functionary but only an analyst; however many in Pakistani media, strategic community, military, professional circles and academia, after 2013 elections, had been slowly coming to this conclusion that New Delhi’s political establishment – and Indian media that aligns with Delhi’s foreign policy goals – is invested into Nawaz Sharif and is hostile towards other Pakistani parties like Imran Khan’s PTI, but Maroof Raza’s words – If Nawaz Sharif is moved out of narrative then the entire narrative changes – uttered in a state of “agitated honesty” provided the much-needed clarity to Pakistani analysis of what is building around them.

Nawaz’s own actions, after 2013, had provided support to this thesis that something more than a mere “desire for peace” is at work. With every passing day, every new political development (Avoiding APHC in Delhi, Meeting Jindals instead of Kashmiri leaders, Uffa Declaration in Russia, Modi’s sudden unplanned dash to Lahore, mysterious Pathankot, Nawaz’s reaction to Pathankot, deafening silence on insurgency in Kashmir, inability to capitalize on Kulbhushan Jadhav arrest from Baluchistan, Sartaj Aziz locking himself in his hotel room while Sikh protesters waited for him at Golden Temple, Nawaz meeting Indian businessman, Jindal, in total privacy, on Murree hills, Dawn Leaks and so on) between India & Pakistan, it started to become more and more obvious that Nawaz – perhaps for the first time in Pakistan’s history – feels that his road to power in Islamabad passes through New Delhi.

A view of the Indian occupied Kashmir

Pakistanis have long accepted, albeit grudgingly, that Washington’s seal of approval is needed for regimes in Islamabad, but will governments and leaders in Pakistan now be approved, regulated and supported from New Delhi? Is Mughal Hindustan reenacting itself for its Punjabi Suba? Will Sharif family be a dynasty of “Punjabi Subedars” ruling over a “vegetative state of Pakistan” in the interest of Delhi?

Is there a new regional paradigm in place with Washington’s blessings in which Pakistani prime ministers will be like Hasina Wajid of Bangladesh and Mehmood Abbas of Palestine? If independent Pakistan has to be turned into South Asia’s Gaza Strip, then it must be emasculated and denuclearized with Pakistan Army turned into Punjab Police; these and other questions have slowly dominated the thinking minds across Pakistan. Ironically, Amar Singh Dulat in his introduction (P: 11) in “Spy Chronicles” writes regretfully that “Nawaz Sharif, man India had put its faith in” will be kept out of power.

Read more: Nawaz Sharif takes credit for making Pakistan an atomic power: issues…

Nawaz: Mir Jaffer of Bengal or Reincarnation of Punjab’s Adina Baig?

While Nawaz’s political enemies have often called him a Mir Jaffar (who was made Ruler of Bengal by English East India Company, after he betrayed Nawab Siraj ul Doula in battle of Plassey in 1757, or Mir Sadiq (who betrayed Tipu Sultan during the 1799 English siege of Sarangapatnum, now “Srirangapatna, Mysore”) he may be better understood as a reincarnation of “Adina Baig” – an 18thcentury, Punjabi Subedar in post-Mughal Punjab.

In the period, after Aurangzeb’s death, that saw the collapse of central authority, Adina Baig was the only Muslim Punjabi Subedar who ruled Lahore and surrounding areas first with the help of Afghans from the north, then neighbouring Sikhs and finally Marhattas (primitive face of modern-day Hindutva) from the South.

But has central authority collapsed between Khyber and Amritsar? Can Pakistan’s deepening “Civil-Military Divide” and the narratives – of ethnic insurgencies, urban chaos, failure of governance – that are being shaped around it will lead to a situation, roughly similar, to the 18th century, in which Pakistan’s “center of gravity” disappears.

Indian media that aligns with Delhi’s foreign policy goals – is invested into Nawaz Sharif and is hostile towards other Pakistani parties like Imran Khan’s PTI, but Maroof Raza’s words – If Nawaz Sharif is moved out of narrative then the entire narrative changes – uttered in a state of “agitated honesty”

So when Nawaz gave its latest interview to Dawn on 12th May, raising an out of context question: “why we allow militants to cross-border and kill 150 people”? he had a long history behind him. And it was immediately understood that he was playing to the galleries in Washington, Delhi, and London and not to Pakistani electorate. Whether Washington and Delhi can bail him out from his legal woes or save him in forthcoming elections is questionable but his comments – and their implications – certainly did not go well with the voters and electables across Punjab.

Realizing the political damage, he is since then trying to equate his actions with all others in order to create a moral equivalency. His supporters in media and twitter warriors remind public that Musharraf, Zardari and Imran Khan have said similar things; deliberately sowing confusion by fudging the facts because whatever comments they offered were while defending Pakistani position during interviews on Indian or other international media.

Nawaz’s Dawn interview, on the other hand, appeared out of context and sounded like an “Interview on Demand” in which paper appeared to be obliging him (for sending a message) rather than seeking to hear him.

Anti-India Protest in Kashmir

After Musharraf, Zardari, and Imran – Durrani was thus the latest victim of Nawaz’s struggle for moral equivalency. His argument supported by Senator Rabbani was not related to the content of the book, “Spy Chronicles” but to the very interaction between Pakistan’s Ex-Intelligence Chief with Indian head of RAW.

The gist of the argument adopted by Nawaz & Rabbani duo was that, “if a civilian had done something similar then heavens would have fallen” and that relations between India and Pakistan are tense and security situation is so precarious and how could these men even meet or write a book. Nawaz’s complex background, his need to salvage his political position and his desire for moral equivalency can be understood but Senator Raza Rabbani’s ill thought out position was a sad moment for a man of letters and principles.

Read more: Why Spy chronicles’ won’t rescue Nawaz?

Hundreds of Pakistani civilians – politicians, ambassadors, civil servants, ex-Army officers, corporate leaders and media persons- have met and debated issues, (often in heated arguments) under the ambit of Track-II, with their Indian counterparts since 9/11. Pakistani Think Tank, PILDAT, lead by prominent civil society member Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, kept on taking airplanes full of Pakistani politicians, parliamentarians and media persons to India for dialogue.

When Fehmida Mirza was Speaker National Assembly, there was the talk of dialogue between speakers of parliaments in both countries. In many instances, they developed joint declarations and wrote policy papers together. On occasions, Pakistanis were requested by their Indian interlocutors not to make public their interactions for fear of backlash against them in India.

Aitzaz Ahsan, a prominent politician, and ex-Interior Minister, wrote a joint book with Lord Desai to great acclaim; Sherry Rehman, Rabbani’s prominent colleague in Senate, has remained active in Track-II dialogues; her think tank, Jinnah Institute, has taken lead in organizing the “Chaophraya Dialgoue” – named after a river in Bangkok – to which “Spy Chronicles” is also linked – this book edited by Aditya Sinha is after all merely a paper manifestation of the Track-II process, that had been going on for years; between a Durrani, retired 25 years ago, and Dulat retired almost 15 years ago – almost non-entities in political terms. If Nawaz is so fond of joining their ranks then he should formally retire from politics, join a think tank or university, read books, write policy papers and make all kinds of speculations – no will take him seriously.

Moeed Pirzada is a prominent TV Anchor and Editor Strategic Affairs with Dunya News Network and a known columnist. He previously served with the Central Superior Services in Pakistan. He studied international relations at Columbia University, New York and Law at London School of Economics, the UK as a Britannia Chevening Scholar. He has been a participant in Chaophraya Dialogue, has lectured and given talks at universities and think tanks including Harvard, Georgetown, Urbana Champaign, National Defense University, FCCU, LUMS, USIP, Middle East Institute, and many others.

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