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. Continue reading “Review: The Spy Chronicles”

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Political Engineering in Pakistan. The Military View

From our regular contributor, Dr Hamid Hussain

Following piece about recent clouds on Pakistan’s scene was mainly for non-Pakistani audience as many questions/confusions came my way. 

 This is an attempt to understand the view from barracks although I strongly oppose such moves from military.  This is first of two part. Second part will deal with modus operandi.

 Hamid

Political Engineering – View from the Barracks

Hamid Hussain

In July 2017, disqualification of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif by Supreme Court again opened the debate about the role of country’s powerful army.  This was one of the most politicized decision of country’s Supreme Court.  In April 2017, Supreme Court not only ordered formation of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) but went ahead and nominated its members.  It included a serving Brigadier Kamran Khurshid of Military Intelligence (MI) and a retired Brigadier Nauman Saeed of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Supreme Court disqualified Sharif based on JIT investigation.  In the aftermath of Sharif disqualification, many political changes including change of provincial government in Baluchistan achieved by defection of several members, defeat of government’s nominee for Senate chairman position and defection of many politicians from ruling political party Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) to rival Pakistan Terek-e-Insaaf (PTI) were alleged to be orchestrated by the army brass.

Continue reading “Political Engineering in Pakistan. The Military View”

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Kargil War

This topic comes up every once in a while on twitter, so I am reposting an old post with a few new links and videos added at the end.. The main point is simple: Musharraf and a few of his cronies (Javed Hasan, General Aziz, General Mahmood), without having thought it through, conducted a foolish operation in Kargil that cost hundreds of lives on both sides and set back (perhaps destroyed forever) the chances of peace between India and Pakistan (set in motion by Vajpayee’s historic bus journey to Lahore). The operation was not only a strategic disaster, it was a tactical disaster..

First, some links with details about the operations: Continue reading “Kargil War”

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For “Strategic Reasons”, Did Britain Want Pakistan in 1947?

I got these via an email from an author who apparently wishes to remain anonymous. Since any post about partition gets a lively debate going, I though I would put these up (again, I did not write these points, I am just the messenger 🙂 ):

Continue reading “For “Strategic Reasons”, Did Britain Want Pakistan in 1947?”

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Pressure on Social Media in Pakistan

A recent BBC report discussed how contractors employed by ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations, the media arm of the Pakistani armed forces) monitor and harass people who are perceived as being disloyal or anti-military. Today I saw an email from a friend who is a very patriotic Pakistani with mainstream (pro-democracy) views, who was just kicked out of an “elite” Whatsapp group because the group admin was under pressure from “sources”. I am excerpting the relevant part of the email here with his identity removed; to me the interesting part is that this is a relatively small group of people, and they are not Left wing activists or ethnic nationalists or starry eyed peaceniks, they are mostly bankers and Westernized members of the elite, deeply committed to Pakistan and the idea of Pakistan.. that someone was looking at them and making specific requests to remove members is a new and rather extreme step in the spread of XiJinping thought in Pakistan..

“Yesterday, this member-moderator along with two others became its victims when we were unceremoniously removed from a so-called “prestigious” WhatsApp group of “who’s who” by its moderator without notice or assigning any reason. Our sin? Arguing against the Miltablishment’s policies in the context of Nawaz Sharif’s interview. One member out of 250 in this WhatsApp group took a principled stand by voluntarily opting out in our support. Some other members I understand are writing in our defense. Surprisingly, those Miltablishment supporters who had initiated the debate on this issue (Nawaz Sharif’s interview) and had used the filthiest and most polarizing of languages against the group’s stated policy were neither touched nor even reprimanded.

The moderator of this WhatsApp group subsequently and reportedly explained to someone that “continuous bashing of military (sic)….was landing the group in trouble” and that “he was under pressure from some quarters” to take action (remove the members) – this could be a reference to outside monitors (intelligence agencies) or inside die-hard supporters of Miltablishment. Either way, the thought-police is out in full force. If a WhatsApp group of 250 is monitored, the power of the Miltablishment is complete and total.

Having come back to the country after X-years, I have been incredibly saddened and depressed at the strident polarization one is a witness to. No one is listening to the other side and temperatures are as high as I clearly remember they were at the time of military action in Bangladesh in 1971, when a brother was pitted against a brother..”

An extract from the BBC report (which is worth reading in its entirety):

By establishing the email address associated with the metadata of the document, Amnesty researchers traced it to an Islamabad-based cyber security expert, Zahid Abbasi.

When confronted by the BBC, Mr Abbasi confirmed he had previously worked for a year for the Pakistani military’s public relations team (ISPR) and that the document was genuine.

He admitted his role included tracing the IP addresses of “people abusing institutions” online and “compromising their accounts” by, for example, sending them fake Facebook login pages.

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Shaheed Rani. Hasan Mujtaba’s Poem for Benazir Bhutto

The poet Hasan Mujtaba wrote a famous poem on the occasion of Benazir Bhutto’s martyrdom (December 27th 2007), and it is an absolute classic. I have translated it with his approval  (the full urdu text is here, and it also posted at the end of this post):

How many Bhuttos will you kill?

A Bhutto will emerge from every home!

This lament is heard in every home

These tears are seen in every town

These eyes stare in the trackless desert

This slogan echoes in every field of death

These stars scatter like a million stones

Flung by the moon that rises so bright tonight

How many Bhuttos will you kill?

A Bhutto will emerge from every home!

Continue reading “Shaheed Rani. Hasan Mujtaba’s Poem for Benazir Bhutto”

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CPEC

Before I share the notes on CPEC I thought I would share the Achievements of the Punjab Govt.

I attended a round table discussion on CPEC (I believe it stands for China Pakistan Economic Corridor).

A few salient points I gathered from the talk:

(1) there seem to be two routes for CPEC; one via West Punjab, Sindh and the other via KPK/Baluchistan.

(2) the Brits historically conceived as India ending West of the Indus and the start of Central Asia. British strategic planning in what was to become West Pakistan (West of the Indus) was essentially security related; to prevent incursions from the North West. Hence the discordance of railways in inner India and the lack of connectivity in Outer India (West of Indus). British approaches to West Pakistan would later formulate colonial approach to much of Africa (mitigation & mining as opposed to management; as the academic used the shorthand “diamond & slaves approach).

(3.) CPEC is a “black box” at the moment; very little information available on it at the moment. Criticism is also very muted and in fact there are reports of Pakistan societies in the UK being coerced to “shut up” by governmental authorities.

(4.) I raised the point that CPEC could never really be an economic endeavour but is a masquerade for PAK foreign policy. Lahore-Delhi and/or Bombay/Khi Links would generate tremendous eco-cultural several orders of magnitude to CPEC.

I’ll add more points as they come to mind..

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China’s Israel

My friend Ammar wrote up this very informative article for The News on ChinPak relations:

In 1960, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s natty and cocky minister in President Ayub Khan’s cabinet, abstained from voting on, instead of voting against, China’s membership of the United Nations. Using his discretionary powers as head of his country’s delegation to the United Nations in New York, Bhutto, by abstaining, had sent a personal signal to China about his preferred direction for Pakistan’s foreign policy. However, his action elicited strong protest from Washington, Pakistan’s closest ally, and Bhutto’s discretionary powers were revoked by Pakistan’s foreign minister.

Hardly a decade after independence from the British, Pakistan, at that time, was firmly entrenched in the Washington camp as a member of anti-Communist blocs such as CENTO and SEATO. On the other hand, India and China, during the 1950s, enjoyed a close relationship as leading anti-colonial and non-aligned states equidistant, politically, from both Washington and Moscow. The winds of change began to blow in 1959 when Tibet crises erupted and led to a full-blown Indo-China war in 1962; it resulted in a humiliating defeat for India and provided an opportunity to Islamabad to improve relations with Beijing.

Six decades after Bhutto’s flirting with the Chinese at New York, the relationship between Pakistan and China has mutated into a reputed “all-weather” friendship; it also shows how strategic interests can successfully trump a bewildering array of cultural, economic, physical and security obstacles. It was the mutual hostility towards India, the common neighbour, which brought Pakistan and China together for the first time; over the decades, China has become Pakistan’s chief diplomatic partner, its main arms supplier, and the most trusted friend to whom it turns at the first whiff of trouble or peril.

Pakistan tried to play China card in 2011 after American raid on Abbottabad to capture Osama bin Laden. It is important to note that China, at that time, rebuffed Pakistan’s efforts and advised Islamabad to mend its relations with Washington.

In the coming decades, with the recently signed US $60 billion economic projects, known as China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), China is slated to become the principal financier of economic projects in Pakistan. CPEC has been touted as a game-changer and forms an integral part of China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ strategic vision for the region. Athough China’s relations with India, since the 1962 war, have improved significantly resulting in billions of dollars’ worth of trading deals, Chinese investment and interest in Pakistan’s economic projects form the centre-piece of its confident economic and strategic policy for the whole neighbourhood.

Apart from India, Pakistan’s nuclear programme and its relations with Washington, situation in Afghanistan, war on terror and against militants after 9/11 are other important areas on which Pakistan-China dialogue and cooperation have focused. In the early 1970s, Pakistan played the matchmaker role between Washington and Beijing when China became member of the United Nations and established diplomatic relations with the United States.

China sided with Pakistan during its two wars with India in 1965 and 1971 but did not intervene or open any front with India; Washington discontinued military aid to Pakistan in 1965 and failed to exert any meaningful pressure on Indira Gandhi in 1971 despite then recent and successful diplomatic efforts by Pakistan to bring Washington and Beijing closer to each other.

Pakistan was disappointed by the failure of both Chinese and Americans to come to its rescue in the 1971 war against India; both countries paraded their sympathies without offering much in material support to Pakistan who lost one-fifth of its territory and half its population in this catastrophic war. Pakistan realised the limits of diplomacy or military alliances, when it came to its two allies, and turned towards a strategic deterrent, the nuclear bomb option, to bolster its defense against traditional rival India.

Although China did not intervene during the 1971 war with India, it has emerged as the main arms supplier to Pakistan. More importantly, as Andrew Small argues in his book, it was in the realm of nuclear cooperation that Pakistan-China relationship bound forward and assumed a distinctive character of its own. Andrew Small has written a fascinating and compelling book titled The China-Pakistan Axis — Asia’s New Geopolitics.

Small has worked on Chinese foreign policy and economic issues in a number of capitals across the globe and is presently serving as a Transatlantic Fellow at the George Marshall Fund in Washington D.C. His book crackles with insight and information on topics such as Beijing’s extraordinary and essential support to Pakistan’s nuclear programme and defence planning, their strategic cooperation on India, the United States and Afghanistan, and the implications for counterterrorism efforts.

China, as a matter of its policy, has eschewed military or defense alliance with Pakistan but has whole-heartedly supported its hugger mugger efforts to acquire nuclear capability — the ultimate means of self-defense — and develop or upgrade ballistic missiles system. Pakistan, on its part, has also extended full support to China by readily giving access to western military equipment, including the American missiles which landed in Pakistan or the US Marines’ helicopter that crashed in Abbottabad in 2011 during the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, so that Chinese engineers can copy western military equipment through reverse engineering.

In 1966, a few months after the war with India, when Chinese Premier visited Pakistan he was cheered by jubilant crowds and welcomed by a phalanx of Pakistani officials in Lahore, prompting the US Consul General in the city to bemoan that “Pakistan is lost”. Decades later, China’s military chief General Xiong Guangkai, during his exhaustive parleys with his American counterparts, remarked that Pakistan is China’s Israel. China has also timed its missile sales to Pakistan, Washington noted, as a retaliatory move to US sales of F-16s to Taiwan in 1992.

Strategically, Beijing views Pakistan as a counter-balance to India but at the same time wants Pakistan-US relations to be robust as this places limits on the scope of US-India relations. It also means that Pakistan does not become an issue of tension in US-China ties and more importantly does not impact Sino-Pakistan security ties due to Washington’s pressure or sanctions.

After the Lal Masjid incident in 2007, terrorism in Pakistan assumed menacing proportions till Pakistan army cleared the militants from FATA and Swat following a series of failed agreements. China, as a matter of policy, has advised Pakistan to control and combat militancy which is a threat to both Pakistan’s society and state and can potentially derail Chinese growing investment in Pakistan’s economic projects.

More importantly, Pakistan has become the most dangerous overseas location for Chinese workers. China may have been sympathetic to the blowback argument used by Pakistan’s officials in the past to justify its reluctance to move decisively against militants but as China’s stake in Pakistan’s economy expands, Pakistan’s security apparatus will likely come under increasing Chinese pressure to step up its anti-militants drive.

On Afghanistan, a stable settlement, which also includes reconciliation with Taliban, is the preferred option for China who does not want Afghanistan to become a safe haven for Uygur militants, actively operating in China’s provinces, or descend into chaos so that it becomes a threat to China’s growing interests in the region. It is not in China’s interest that Washington should walk away immediately leaving Afghanistan without a workable solution and at the mercy of militants.

Despite military cooperation with Pakistan over the decades, China, during the Kargil war in 1999, coordinated its efforts with Washington and prodded Pakistan to de-escalate the situation by pulling back its forces from the theatre of war. However, in 2002, following attack on Indian Parliament, and later in 2008, in the aftermath of Mumbai attacks, China, in coordination with Washington and other Western capitals, exerted pressure on India to bring down the temperature as the situation had become quite tense and febrile on both occasions.

Small forcefully avers that if the US approach to India over the last decade has been one of de-hyphenation from Pakistan, China’s has been one of re-hyphenation. In response to US-India nuclear power deal, China has signed up new nuclear power plant agreements with Pakistan. China is heavily involved in developing Gwadar, Pakistan’s deep water port off the Balochistan coast. In 2015, Pakistan and China signed a US $5 billion deal for sale of eight Chinese submarines to Pakistan, making it the largest Chinese defense deal to date and facilitating Pakistan’s nuclear capability in the shape of sea-based deterrent.

There is a consensus on the side of Pakistan’s both civilian and military leadership to sign up to CPEC. If Pakistan’s relations with China were unaffected by Bhutto’s hanging in 1979, despite Chinese efforts to save him, it is quite certain that Pakistan-China relationship is not hostage to any political or military leader’s presence on the scene or staying in power of any specific political party in Pakistan.

Pakistan tried to play China card in 2011 after American raid on Abbottabad to capture Osama bin Laden. It is important to note that China, at that time, rebuffed Pakistan’s efforts and advised Islamabad to mend its relations with Washington. In the past, China has made limits of its support clear to Islamabad on different occasions. However, as Small argues, China’s increased investment and involvement, during the last decade, in Pakistan’s economic landscape and security deals might have changed the nature and calculus of Sino-Pakistan relationship.

China will increasingly defend Pakistan in face of future American pressure but at the same time will exert more pressure of its own to steer Pakistan towards a path which is economically beneficial but will place constraints on the free hand that Pakistan’s military and civilian elite has hitherto enjoyed in their decision-making.

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Too light-skinned to be Pakistani?

We had a Pakistani Dinner late and it was quite a laugh (even though I’m quite Indianised these days & constantly rant about Muslims, I do love my Pakis). One of my friends brought along a white lady who joined us. As we left the dinner she asked me if I was fully Pakistani because I was lighter than the rest and they looked “more Indian.” She then mentioned that I could pass off as a Spaniard, which frankly was BS 🙄🙄🙄.

I was much annoyed (not faux-annoyed because it seemed like she was giving me a compliment) because I’m instantly taken for an Indian (& happily so) whereever I am in the West (not Arab not Middle East not even Persian). I am usually seen as Indian or Muslim (especially when I wear a beard, which is what I am, the collision of the Ummah & Mother India) in an all-white context; it takes a very discerning white person to see me as anything other than those.

A good rule of thumb is that the rounder my face the “desier” I look, the leaner the more Persian I get (an Iranian friend told me that and it makes sense).

What I found interesting is that in an all-desi context (which has been a while) my “otherness” admittedly did jump out (I felt it myself but then this was a predominantly salt of the earth Punjabi table, where the Urdu spoken has a nasal quality to it).  If I had been with Muhajirs (of the KGS strata) or Pathan-Punjabi mixes it wouldn’t have felt so stark; this was a case of regional rather than national differentiation. But Punjabis own Pakistan and good for them, some compensation for the horrid they had to undergo at partition.

I find this bestowing of “light privilege” by white people to be ridiculous and micro-aggressive (microaggression is a thing!).
It’s not that we don’t have our colour fixations in South Asia (and the Middle East) but colour is a spectrum/gradation rather than a stark barrier. There are dark Brahmins after all (even though I once heard a quip in Kampala that never trust a dark Brahmin lol) the Aryans seemed much more partial to mixing & mingling than Southern Slaveholder Landlords.

The divide & rule concept with which goras have categorised and classified coloured people borders on the ridiculous. One can be considered coloured if they have two or more of the following; dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin. The distinction between Meds & Middle Easterners (swarthy Sicilians are essentially like Levantines) does get more hazier but I do have to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that I find the concept of “white” to be more of a political than a racial construct. Human societies have always grappled with light & dark (with preference for the former usually but then with few exceptions invaders tend to stem from the icy north) but black & white is a distinction that seems to have arose in the slave-holding societies in the New World (don’t take my word for it I’m not a scholar!)
Adios (gotta practise my Spanish now)
Ps: while my wife has done a very good job in Indianising me; as soon as I am in a Pakistani crowd my Pak-narrative conditioning kicks in and I blend in like a chameleon (that’s what my best friend calls me since I like to constantly blend in). I’m such a Munafiq!

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