By Husain Haqqani
27 June, 2018
There is nothing in the book that is not
already known to most knowledgeable observers of Pakistan’s internal and
Pakistan witnessed its latest storm in a
teacup soon after the publication in May of the book ‘Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI
and the Illusion of Peace’ (Harper Collins India, 2018), co-authored by former
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. General (Retd) Asad Durrani and
former head of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) Amarjit Singh Dulat. The
storm has since subsided but not without the Pakistani military – which nowadays
refers to itself as ‘the institution’ – having made its displeasure over the
book clear to the world.
There was nothing in the book that was not
already known to most knowledgeable observers of Pakistan’s internal and
foreign policies. But that did not stop Pakistan’s hyper-nationalist media from
raising an outcry about Durrani having imperilled national security by
co-authoring a book with a former Indian spy chief.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif demanded
an emergency meeting of the National Security Committee just to get even with
the army that had called for a similar meeting over Sharif’s remarks
acknowledging Pakistani support for Hafiz Saeed and others responsible for the
2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Durrani was subsequently summoned to the GHQ by the
military, and a formal Court of Inquiry was ordered to probe the matter.
The head of Inter-Services Public Relations
(ISPR) and army spokesman, Major General Asif Ghafoor, felt compelled to
clarify that “the institution itself took notice” of the book, not in response
to the media outcry or on Sharif’s suggestion. Apparently, a serving Lieutenant
General of the Pakistan Army will conduct the inquiry against Durrani, as if
the retired general has committed a crime or breach of national security.
General Durrani might have overlooked a
regulation that requires army personnel to seek a no-objection certificate
before publishing books that discuss military matters even after retirement.
But considering the Pakistan Army has overlooked violations of the constitution
by coup-making generals on a regular basis, a Court of Inquiry over a book
devoid of any secrets seems out of place.
In any case, serving generals should be
devoting their time and energy to current deployments securing the country’s
borders. Asking them to set time aside to interrogate a 77-year-old, who
retired from the army a quarter-century ago, about his ruminations on war and
peace would be deemed a waste of time anywhere else in the world. Surely, 25
years is a long enough time for any secrets he might know from his years in
service to have become redundant.
No Endgame Plan for Kashmir
So what, if anything, was General Durrani’s
‘crime’ that merited so much attention? The mere fact that an ex-ISI chief
co-authored a book, however bland, with an equally out-of-touch Indian spy
chief runs contrary to the controlled narrative in Pakistan (and, increasingly,
India). After all, if spymasters Dulat and Durrani can engage as friends and
tell everyone about it, how would the average Pakistani or Indian remain
suspicious of his acquaintances from across the border?
Durrani’s ‘transgressions’ in Spy
Chronicles include admitting Pakistan’s role in Indian-controlled Jammu and
Kashmir. He recognises the ad-hoc nature of Pakistan’s approach to the Kashmir
issue, and recognises that Pakistan has no endgame plan for either Kashmir or
At the beginning of the Kashmir uprising in
1989, Durrani notes the absence of adequate Pakistani expertise on Jammu and
“The deficiency on our side,” he says, “was
that those who got involved were surprised, they weren’t experts, maybe
ignorant, and their assessment was not up to the mark.” Most of the time,
Pakistan “dealt with the development from event to event, as a person saw fit,
not clear till late what actually happened, how far it would go”.
General Durrani also notes that Pakistan
has repeatedly upset its Afghan neighbours just as India manages to rile Nepal.
Pakistan is “much smaller than India, and Afghanistan much bigger, more potent
and more problematic than Nepal. Yet Afghan generals come and say, ‘you think
we are your fifth or sixth province, kya baat kar rahe ho’? Some of our people
say, ‘you are our younger brother’. They immediately respond: ‘Younger brother?
We were there 200 years before you came along. We had never heard of you in
Regarding Osama bin Laden’s death, he
agrees with the conspiracy theories of Seymour Hersh, which I (among others)
have methodically questioned. According to Durrani’s conjecture, “At some
stage, the ISI probably learnt about” Bin Laden’s presence and “he was handed
over to the US according to a mutually agreed process. Perhaps we are the ones
who told the Americans ‘Isko Le Jao, we are going to feign ignorance’.
If we denied any role, it may have been to avoid political fallout. Cooperating
with the US to eliminate a person regarded by many in Pakistan as a ‘hero’
could have embarrassed the government.”
Considering that Durrani was nowhere near
decision-making at the time of the 2011 US raid in Abbottabad, his embrace of
an unsubstantiated theory he read in the newspapers is just the opinion of one
of the many commentators. The same applies to his explanation of why Pakistan
does not act against Hafiz Saeed or the Afghan Haqqani network – that the
“political cost” would be too high and going after them would be a “suicidal
Best Intelligence Organisation
None of Durrani’s observations seem like
punishable revelations. If anything, these are reminders of the inadequacy of
Pakistan’s military-led decision-making. Governance requires broader
consultation and genuine debate about policy choices. Soldiers are good at some
things but must defer to civilians on others.
His statement to the effect that the ISI is
an autonomous institution inside Pakistan, which operates with little
interference or constraints, is also a widely known truth. He says that
describing ISI as “larger than life” was “a little exaggerated”, but he takes
pride in its efficacy, which is not very different from the ISI’s self-created
image for itself.
If anything, the ISI should be grateful to
Durrani for creating an opportunity for a former R&AW chief to praise the
Pakistani agency. Dulat, who does not come across in the co-authored book as
particularly knowledgeable or wise, says that the “best intelligence
organisation because of its influence is ISI”.
The ISI’s efficiency and cleverness is the
result of the circumstances faced by Pakistan, its defenders assert. In
Durrani’s words, “India is big enough, Afghanistan is hot enough, Iran is
experienced enough and sometimes independent enough, and the US also still
meddles in the region’s affairs. The ISI had to juggle many balls.”
But the praise for the ISI was not enough
to save Durrani from rebuke from his own service – ‘the institution’ – which is
deeply invested in maintaining conformity in the way Pakistanis understand
various issues – ‘the narrative’.
It is this obsession with ‘the narrative’
that makes the army of a nuclear-armed country react to every tweet, social
media post, website, article, or book that offers a different account of what
might be Pakistan’s national interest and how events, contemporary or from the
past, might have unfolded.
Although the military’s objective is to
enhance Pakistan’s security, its unwillingness to tolerate diverse analyses,
views, and stories creates an air of insecurity that might not exist if the
responses and reactions were milder. How secure can a country be if its
security is seen to be jeopardised by every unauthorised sentence?
Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson
Institute in Washington DC, was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from
2008-11. His latest book is ‘Reimagining Pakistan’.