“Ye deewangi kab khatam hogi?” When will this madness end? The disarming question from former Indian vice president Hamid Ansari prompted Pakistan’s ex-spy chief retired Lt-Gen Asad Durrani to agree to do a book with his friend, the former RAW chief, Amarjit Singh Dulat.
The Dulat-Durrani book explores Ansari’s poser from different angles. Luckily, it has found a clear constituency in India, whereas in Pakistan it has incurred censure, mostly. The duo slams right-wing hawks on both sides, usually their own. Others could find in the book a useful compendium of views and facts that are mostly known but rarely acknowledged officially. Above all, there is in it a much-needed self-criticism from both sides, without which their assessment of each other or of the Western hold on South Asia would perhaps not be nearly so credible.
For Indians, there was also an occult reason of interest. The book release last week coincided with the swearing in of a new coalition in Karnataka. Look at the dramatis personae in both places. They comprised opposition to the Modi government, virtually as a theme. The book is a discussion including agreements and differences larded with riveting banter between the former spy chiefs of India and Pakistan.
Moderated by an Indian journalist, its release attracted the presence of Dr Manmohan Singh, former BJP foreign minister Yashwant Sinha and Kashmiri factotum Farooq Abdullah among other critics of the Modi establishment. The Karnataka jamboree comprised one of the largest gatherings of opposition satraps in recent memory and it came about after foiling Modi’s chances of cobbling his own coalition there.
It is all too well known that the book contains criticism of Prime Minister Modi’s policy on Kashmir and Pakistan.
Which is more or less what the entire Indian opposition has been saying albeit in different decibels.
In Pakistan, where the book has not been released and I’m not sure why that is so, there has been mostly criticism of Durrani. He has been ordered to explain his conduct, according to reports, to the army headquarters for joining hands with Dulat, a rare spy who has headed the Intelligence Bureau and RAW at different times. It would have been far more rewarding for Pakistani politicians and other troubled souls to read the book before taking a view one way or another.
Consider, for example, Gen Durrani’s straightforward confession, which could have irked his former colleagues. “The establishments in the US, Pakistan and India are usually working for their own good rather than for the good of their public.” Who could disagree with that open secret, and how often do we hear such views so candidly expressed by those who have sat in the cockpit?
One can understand his colleagues being miffed with something Gen Durrani said, but why are the politicians so worked up?
After the initial fuss, the Jadhav issue has gone quiet, says the mediator, Aditya Sinha.
Gen Durrani agrees. “I’m happy if nothing is happening, such shor-sharaba has no place. There’s a way to go about it. We should not have broached it with the poor Iranian president while he was an honoured guest. And it was embarrassing that the faux pas was committed by the army chief.”
Dulat had correctly predicted President Trump’s victory, admits Durrani but claims to have backed the outcome regardless. “I give Mr Dulat credit that he said Trump is likely to win the election. I was wishy-washy about it though I wanted him to win because he was one of those that could shake up the establishment … Two, I considered Hillary Clinton a known disaster. Get rid of the known disaster and even if the other option was to be a bigger disaster. At least that’s not known yet. It soon became certain he would be a known and established disaster.”
The discussion about Trump’s Afghanistan policy is critical to the book, and both spooks seem wary of American involvement in the country. I think somewhere in the book or during the book release someone said that if you could solve Kashmir, Afghanistan would be a cakewalk. The discussion on Afghanistan gives the opposite impression — that if we can resolve Kabul we can untangle Srinagar in no time.
“We’re supposed to have a strategic relationship with the US,” says Dulat only to quickly question its feasibility. “Probably the Americans have in mind that India will provide a counterbalance to China. This is wishful thinking. Because (a) we are not in a position to do so, and (b) no government in Delhi would offend the Chinese beyond a point. They won’t play proxy for somebody else.” The truth of the assertion will be tested at the Shanghai group’s meeting in China next month.
The element of madness is not confined to India and Pakistan alone. As the book wonders, for example, what would be Trump’s reaction if there were a major terrorist strike in the US? Gen Durrani believes the response would be drastic if the origin was in Pakistan. However, an invasion or a spectacular attack was not likely as it is usually against a weak and indefensible country that can’t retaliate. “But what can Pakistan do? We need not talk about that. But seeing the power Pakistan has within the country and the region, I doubt an Afghan-type attack will take place. A few bombs here and there we’d expect.”
If hatred of each other, real or contrived, is an aspect of their madness how mad is the idea of their coalescing into a confederation? Find out the delightful truth about that dream too in the book.
Hamid Ansari deserves our gratitude for provoking this insanely candid discussion although it could have taken place less controversially had the deep state on both sides not put the Sharm el-Shaikh agreement in the thresher.