Former ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, who has triggered a controversy in Pakistan with a book he co-authored with his once-rival Indian spymaster, says that the army and the intelligence agency of his country have never stopped any civilian government in Islamabad from improving ties with India if done on the basis of “sound principles” of international relations. “The common belief (that civilian governments in Pakistan are subservient to the military when it comes to critical foreign policies) is seriously flawed. No one ever prevented a civilian government from improving relations with India – if it did that according to sound principles of relations between nations. Otherwise, even a military ruler like (Pervez) Musharraf could come to grief,” Durrani told IANS in an email interview from Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief was denied a visa for the launch of the book, “The Spy Chronicles: RAW ISI And The Illusion Of Peace”, which was released jointly by former Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Union minister Yashwant Sinha in New Delhi on May 23. He has since been summoned by Pakistan Army asking him to explain his position on views attributed to him in the book of dialogues that throws light on the perspectives, assumptions and observations of the two spymasters on Kashmir; Hafiz Saeed and 26/11; Kulbhushan Jadhav; surgical strikes; the deal for Osama bin Laden; how the US and Russia feature in the India-Pakistan relationship; and how terror undermines the two countries’ attempts at talks.
Asked about his remarks in a pre-recorded video played at the book launch in which he blamed the “Indian deep state” for being instrumental in denying him a visa, Durrani said: “Every country has a ‘deep state’- at times called ‘establishment’ or ‘nomenclatura’ (of the Soviet era) and is composed differently. “India and the US have some of the most powerful ones. They keep the political leadership ‘in line’.” Replying to a question about current border tension between India and Pakistan with talks stalled and all sports and cultural exchanges at a standstill, the former ISI chief said nothing was “forever” in ties between the two nuclear-armed nations.
“Thaws and freezes will come and go in the foreseeable future. The single most important factor that holds back is India’s entrenched belief that the ‘status quo’ suited her better. Any major change, even if seemingly of some good, would create a dynamics that India might not be able to control,” he pointed out. In the book, Durrani suggests that instead of having “a confidant of each Prime Minister, a team headed by someone considered suitable by the major political parties, the foreign office and the military”, should be engaged for talks “to ensure their long-time relevance”.
Asked how was it possible when neighbourhood policy of the two countries changed with their dispensation, Durrani said: “Precisely for that reason. If there was wider participation there might be more chances that the policies would not be fiddled with ‘too much’. Indeed, the government of the day has the prerogative but in most cases was unlikely to ride roughshod like (US President Donald) Trump.” Asked if he agreed with his Indian counterpart’s assertion that India should talk directly with the Pakistan Army, the former military general said: “Dialogues take place at multiple levels — official and unofficial. But a political umbrella for the process is the sine qua non (essential condition) for (its) success.”
About Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s remarks that India and Pakistan need to talk to solve all their disputes, including Kashmir, Durrani said it wasn’t unprecedented for any military chief to advocate peace talks. “I can’t read his (Bajwa’s) mind. But hardly any chief before him said anything different. (Former military dictator General) Zia ul Haq even used ‘cricket diplomacy’.” About Musharraf’s four-point formula to solve the Kashmir issue between the countries, he said it was quite popular in Jammu and Kashmir.
“But remember what I said about ‘sound principles of international relations’. If ignored even the best of ideas would not work-like they didn’t in the period you have mentioned.” The four-point formula was floated in 2006, when Manmohan Singh was the Indian Prime Minister. It advocated no re-drawing of borders in Kashmir but allowing free movement across the region for people on both sides of the Line of Control. It suggested self-governance or autonomy but not independence for the state divided between India and Pakistan.
The military ruler also suggested phased withdrawal of troops from the region and working out a mechanism jointly so that the road map for Kashmir was implemented smoothly. The idea never took concrete shape though it was for the first time that a Pakistan ruler was departing from a historical stance of seeking plebiscite for Kashmiri people according to the UN resolutions. The two spymaster in the book have suggested that the idea should be open for a revisit.