Review: The Spy Chronicles

This is a review of “The Spy Chronicles” (not by me, but by our regular contributor Dr Hamid Hussain), a recent book co-authored by two former chiefs of ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency) and RAW (the Indian intelligence agency). The book has generated some controversy (a lot of it far-fetched and irrational) and the Pakistani author (Retired General Asad Durrani) has been called to GHQ to provide an explanation and has been barred from leaving the country until an enquiry (conducted by a 3 star general) has been conducted.

The review is by Dr Hamid Hussain.

The full title is: Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace. A. S. Dulat, Assad Durrani and Aditya Sinha (Delhi: Harper Collins), 2018.

This book is neither a memoir nor an organized attempt to explain a theory. It is essentially a transcript of conversations. It covers India Pakistan relations, Kashmir, Afghanistan and other general regional and international topics. Two informed individuals from rival countries engaged in a candid conversation and some of their views are not fully in line with the official stance of their respective countries.
In view of unresolved issues between India and Pakistan, there have been several international attempts to bring high former officials of both countries together for dialogue. One effort was to bring former intelligence officials of both countries together. This effort called ‘Intel Dialogue’ was organized by the University of Ottawa. Dulat and Durrani met each other during these ‘Track II’ efforts and developed a kind of friendship. A brief background of Durrani’s career will help readers to understand where he is coming from. He is a gunner officer with no previous intelligence experience. His career up to the rank of Major General was typical of any career officer with normal command, staff and instructional appointments. He is considered a cerebral officer by his peers. In 1988, he was appointed Director Military Intelligence (DMI) by General Mirza Aslam Beg. In 1990, when Benazir Bhutto’s first government was sacked by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, DG ISI Lieutenant General Shamsur Rahman Kallue was also removed from his post. Beg asked Durrani to have additional charge of ISI and for a while Durrani was running both agencies. When a new DMI was appointed, Durrani became the permanent DG ISI, where he served until March 1992. His next two assignments were Director General Military Training & Evaluation and Commandant of National Defence College (now University). In 1993, he was retired from service by army Chief General Abdul Waheed Kakar. In 1994, during the second Benazir Bhutto government, he was appointed ambassador to Germany (May 1994 – May 1997) and during General Musharraf’s government; he served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia (2000-2002). Durrani is not new to controversy. In 1990, he distributed money to politicians of an opposition alliance against Benazir. This was later known as the Asghar Khan case and the Supreme Court is currently hearing this case.

In Pakistan, retired officers are usually kept at arm’s length from current events. They may gather some general information when interacting with serving officers during re-unions. In general, General Head Quarters (GHQ) discourages the interaction of retired senior officers with serving officers outside of normal accepted norms. If someone shows indiscretion, then a message is quietly sent and many serving officers will avoid such senior officers like plague as it can jeopardize their career. Durrani retired from active service twenty-five years ago; therefore he is not privy to any classified information or details of current policies. He was part of the ‘Track II’ parleys. In some cases, members of Track II parleys are given informal general briefing about policy lines but in his case no such briefing was ever provided by GHQ. His credentials make him a good spokesperson for army’s point of view to international audience but there was never any direct line of communication with GHQ.

Durrani is candid about his approach. He admits that after retirement, he was exposed to the views of other people. He reflected on the difference between his own information and what others said. The conversation in this book is simply the outcome of that reflection. Others have the right to agree or disagree with his point of view.

Dulat and Durrani advocate for renewed efforts to start the India and Pakistan dialogue. The most interesting part is their perceptions about the American role in India-Pakistan rivalry. Durrani believes that American policies have had a negative impact on Pakistan and the country’s interests clash with American interests especially in the Afghanistan theatre. He views Washington’s closeness to Delhi as detrimental to Pakistan. On the other hand, Dulat believes that Washington still has a soft corner for Pakistan and if only Washington can steer away from Pakistan then Pakistan may change its policy. Dulat also believes that American defence establishment has a close relationship with the Pakistan army and this gives Pakistan a distinct advantage. In some cases, Washington comes in to defend Pakistan asking India to show restraint. Dulat recalls a 2003 meeting with CIA’s Director of Counter Terrorism Cofer Black who told him that ‘we are putting pressure on the Pakistanis to behave, so we hope you won’t do anything silly’.

On 03 March 2016, Pakistan announced arrest of a RAW officer Kulbhushan Jhadav. He was operating from Iran and Pakistan announced his arrest when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was visiting Pakistan with a high-powered delegation. Iran and Pakistan have problems on various issues but usually governments try not to make them public to avoid deterioration of relations. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif (2013-2016) in his meeting with Rouhani raised this issue of RAW using Iranian soil. This was the right forum to raise the issue but surprisingly the army leaked this to the media. In a press conference, Rouhani was put on the spot and asked if this issue was discussed. Iran has very close relations with India and Tehran walks a fine line. Rouhani while admitting there were talks on wide ranging issues denies that this issue was discussed. Army’s spokesperson, Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa promptly released the transcript of the meeting to public while Rouhani was still in Pakistan embarrassing Iran. Durrani is of the view that ‘we should not have broached it with the poor Iranian President while he was an honoured guest. And it was embarrassing that this faux pas was committed by the army chief’. He does not elaborate on why it was done? I have my own opinion based on information at that time and later developments. At that time, many Pakistani officers expressed surprise to me and were confused about the army’s logic as these actions looked like a deliberate effort to sabotage Rouhani’s visit. I had come to know some early but not clear information in the spring of 2016 about Raheel’s parleys with new Saudi leadership. Pakistani army chiefs visited Saudi Arabia and meet with senior Royal family members and this is nothing new but in case of Raheel something was different. Raheel was retiring in November 2016 and working on either getting an extension or a Field Marshal rank. The Saudis were working on an anti-Iran alliance and negotiating with Raheel to lead it. There was clearly a conflict of interest case where a serving army Chief was negotiating his own lucrative post-retirement package with a foreign government. In my view, Raheel did this to earn some brownie points with Saudis. He finally got a golden parachute from Saudis right after his retirement.

This book is record of conversations on a wide range of topics and one can only talk about general themes and not specific details. In such conversations one can miss on details as it is simply memory recall and no time to confirm details by either consulting published material to talking to an informed colleague. In criticizing July 2007 Lal Masjid episode, Durrani is of the view that ‘wrong force and wrong means were used’. He states that Rangers were used who burnt down the place. He argues that instead Special Forces should have been used. This operation can be criticized on many grounds but not on this one. Rangers were deployed only in outer cordon with the task of sealing the area and establish holding points for those leaving the mosque. Operation was conducted by about 150 Special Service Group (SSG) troops commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Haroon Islam (3rd Sindh Regiment). He was Commanding Officer (CO) of Zarrar Anti-Terrorist battalion of SSG. The role of SSG is clear from the casualty list of security forces. Of eleven killed in action, ten were SSG including Islam and one Ranger and of forty-four wounded, thirty-three were SSG, three Rangers and remaining regular army soldiers. Two months later, a suicide bomber took the revenge on Zarrar battalion when he blew himself inside a highly secured area killing 22 SSG soldiers. (This information is from various sources with first had knowledge and confirmed by a senior officer who was in a position at that time to know the details.)

Durrani’s views on Osama Bin Laden raid are nothing new. He has expressed his theory years ago that Pakistan army brass may have made a deal with Americans on this issue. This is his personal view although he does not have any concrete evidence. In my own conversations with dozens of officers, about half believe their own brass was in the loop while the other half believes they were in dark. Durrani mistakenly calls CIA sponsored vaccination program run by Dr. Shakeel Afridi as polio vaccination. It was Hepatitis B vaccination. Polio is administered orally while Hepatitis B vaccination is given by injection. Objective was that if a family member living in the compound was given vaccination injection, then the small amount of blood left in the needle could be used to test for DNA for positive identification. CIA had collected blood samples from Bin Laden’s family members in Saudi Arabia. If DNA matched from the sample collected from a family member in the compound then it would be certain that the ‘tall pacing man’ in the compound was Bin Laden.

Commenting on Brigadier Muhammad Yusuf and Mark Adkin’s book The Bear Trap, Durrani provides an interesting anecdote that is relevant to the upheaval caused by his own book. Durrani was head of ISI when book was published. Someone from his own organization asked if ‘we should get hold of the man, court martial him, issue a rebuttal?”. Durrani replied that ‘there must be 20 people who have read it but once we do something, 200 people will read it’. The timing of publication of his own book caused problems for GHQ. In normal circumstances, a few days of high pitched noise in electronic media and then everything evaporating in thin air as a more interesting and colourful election season is at hand. Army is very sensitive about its public image. Few days earlier, GHQ was very upset about Nawaz Sharif’s controversial statement and forced government to summon National Security Committee meeting and issue a strongly worded reprimand to Sharif. Now, GHQ had to take some action as people started to compare two cases. Hopefully with this action of GHQ, more people will read the book and make their own judgement.

Durrani was confident when asked about his institution’s possible reaction to his interaction with former RAW chief. He said, “they must have had enough confidence in my ability to hold my own’ and that ‘no one has ever accused me of indiscretion’. In this case, Durrani was proven wrong and within days of launch of the book, he was summoned to the headmaster’s office at GHQ. His name is placed on Exit Control List (ECL) and an inquiry committee headed by Lieutenant General will review his case. This will take some time and in the meantime, many more interesting topics will be in headlines and this issue will fade away. In the end, we will see whether headmaster simply gives a stern warning to the errant boy or decide on canning.

This book should be read by anyone interested in India Pakistan relations as it provides a window to thought process of members of intelligence communities of two countries. One can disagree with some of the opinions expressed by Durrani but I didn’t find any evidence that he broke the norms and divulged any classified information. Serious outside observers interested in India and Pakistan know much more than what is written in this book.

General Asad Durrani
AS Dulat
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14 Replies to “Review: The Spy Chronicles”

    1. As a Pakistani, the military in Pakistan is definitely institutionally anti-India and the Afghan policy is definitely about keeping India out of our backyard. Quite a lot of my maternal extended family is in the Pakistan Army.

      Durrani Sahab is being very politically correct.

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      1. What do u make of “we need peace is S-Asia” rhetoric from Pak army which has started coming in right from Kayani but nowadays more( this rhetoric was never there before). Do you think it has to do with the increase in power differential b/w Indo-Pakistan and the army wants to maintain the status quo(in terms of relative strength) and come to a sort of mil-mil arrangement because every year the disparity is growing.
        Its interesting that in the 90s Pakistan mil hardly used this rhetoric

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        1. I think Pakistan’s establishment realizes that it is better for Pakistanis if there is not trouble at the border and the flashpoint of Kashmir is resolved in some way. We obviously still want to discuss Kashmir as an issue and have not accepted India’s stand that it is an “integral part” of India. But we would also like to move on. I think our friend China also doesn’t want us to confront India too much.

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          1. That’s true but what i was wondering is how much is driven by genuine belief that there should be peace and how much is driven by pure calculation considering the disparity.

            For example in the 90s even in face of higher violence in Kashmir and Kargil ,India always felt this compulsion to talk to Pakistan similar to what India does with China because there was less disparity b/w India and Pakistan.

            Today even when there is less violence/interference from Pak, India feels it has the option not to talk or talk to Pakistan. What would happen in 10 years if we move in the same trend? India might just feel it does not need to talk Pakistan anymore. Think of it this way in the 90s, Indo-Pak talks had Kashmir as the core issue of Pak, as 2000 rolled around Kashmir became “one” of the many issues , as we move ahead i forsee India making “terrorism” its core issue similar to Pak 90s stance and Kashmir getting relegated even further.

            Thoughts ?

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          2. If India insists on talking “terrorism” and Pakistan insists on talking about Kashmir, we are just not going to talk. That is what is happening now.

            I don’t foresee us talking until after India has its election in 2019. Pakistan is going into elections in two months and we have a caretaker government right now. Who knows what kind of government will be formed in Islamabad after elections. If Congress or some kind of non-Modi government gets into power in Delhi, India’s non-cooperative stance may change.

            Or if Pakistan makes enough of a nuisance of itself (which we know how to do).

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    1. Its interesting how much has the peace lobby shrunked in India, someone like Jyoti Malhotra would have been in the peace camp in the 90s , but today even she backtracks and says she wants ‘normal’ relationship with Pakistan and not a votary of ‘good’ relations with Pakistan.

      Case in point how she gets flustered and defensive on the whole distinction between Pak army and Pak people question. For me the best part came at the end where the guy in blue shirt gave the vibes this whole Indo-Pak thing is your north Indian obsession, i am out of here.

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      1. I think “normal” relations are the best we can manage. As long as the elephant in the room-the disputed territory– is not resolved even “normal” is not going to happen.

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          1. You mean the Musharraf-Manmohan plan?
            Musharraf must have supported it when he suggested it. In Pakistan, it doesn’t really matter what the people feel on Kashmir, if Pak Army decides an accord is in its interest that’s what’s going to happen.
            To be honest, I think most Pakistanis (who are not of Kashmiri origin) don’t really care about Kashmir, other than to pay lip service to how awful India is to our Muslim brothers and sisters. Those of us who actually can trace our ancestry to the Valley are obviously a bit more bothered.
            I think that most rational Pakistanis and certainly the Pakistani State understands that the Valley of Kashmir is never going to become Pakistani territory. We would like it to become an independent territory because we think that Kashmiri Muslims will never settle for living in Hindu India. My own opinion is that if today, Pakistan were to say “we don’t care anymore”, the fight between Kashmiri Muslims and Delhi would still go on for another few decades. However, the Kashmiris will feel majorly betrayed by Pakistan. At this point, the Indian Army has committed enough atrocities against Kashmiris (and continues to, a boy was run over by a tank the other day) that winning Kashmiri Muslim “hearts and minds” is all but impossible for Delhi, even if Pakistan were to back off entirely. But you could perhaps give them some kind of autonomous status and reach a solution that would not entail India giving up territory. Separate the Valley from Jammu. I don’t know. Not Pakistan’s problem really.

            As far as Pakistan is concerned, we should just accept the LOC as the border and make AJK and G-B provinces of Pakistan. I don’t know if India can accept this and stop crying about “Pakistan Occupied Kashmir”, but realistically with two nuclear-armed states, no one is getting an inch of territory that currently belongs to the other. Pakistan will never give up G-B in any case because that is where our border with China is and it is a major part of CPEC.

            The Kashmiri people on both sides probably hate the LOC but the average Pakistani really can’t be bothered. I suspect that the average Indian really doesn’t know the intricacies of the conflict either and is just following hardline nationalist propaganda. One of your cricketers recently called for Kashmiri Muslims to be crushed (I think it was Gambhir). This kind of attitude will never endear Kashmiris to “mainland India”. I feel Kashmiri and Indian opinion is becoming more polarized and some kind of even more violent confrontation is coming.

            The only solution is talks between India, Pakistan and a broad section of Kashmiri Muslims, including those calling for “Azaadi”.

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