Book Review: The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and The Illusion of Peace

A rarely documented account of two former heads of spy agencies come together – this time off the field – suggesting that they are ready to get on board for the sole purpose of creating and demanding peace between the two rivals; Pakistan and India. Yes, I am pointing to the book “The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and The Illusion of Peace”.

The book starts with Saadat Hasan Manto magic phrase – Pointing to the horizon where the sea and sky are joined – ‘It is only an illusion because they can’t really meet, but isn’t it beautiful, this union which isn’t really there.’

The authors of this book are the combination of two D’s, Former Head of RAW A.S Dulat and Former Head of ISI Gen. Asad Durrani along with Aditya Sinha who is a writer and a journalist. This is the kind of a book which feels like a dialogue session. The book contains discussion on the events (previous or fresh) by the two spymasters – mostly their own assessment or opinion.

It has 33 chapters. Each chapter focuses on certain events or topics – starting from the career of both the spooks and leading to the relation between the two. They developed trust bond after Dulat helped out Gen Durrani’s son on an occasion. Dulat while talking about that occasion mentions that the issue wasn’t that big but the time was critical. Gen Durrani’s son was on a business trip to Kochi. He wanted to take flight from Mumbai. Here Dulat came to help him. He did few calls and eventually, Durrani’s son was on board to take the flight back to Germany.

General Durrani writes that “Even if we were to write a fiction, no one would believe us”. The conversation between the two spymasters unfold the facts – in a storytelling style – from Kargil to Kashmir, Khulbushan to Hafiz Saeed, Burhan Wani to Uri and the Surgical Strike, Mumbai attacks to Soviets withdrawal, the US and Osama, to the harsh reality of Afghanistan, CPEC and the energy agreements (Gas Pipelines) and beyond which they referred to as “The Great Game”. Although, the two shared far-reaching information on what was or could be true, what could be done and how it could be done.

In addition, the two discussed the bitter and sweet relationship between India and Pakistan in detail. However, this still remains their own opinion from their own understanding and expertise. There are still many question marks and hypothesis for the readers to reflect upon because there isn’t a complete disclosure of events but readers should focus on the theme of this book which is to resume talks.

In my opinion, Gen Asad Durrani was more straightforward in delivering his commentary on different topics discussed in the book—-. Once on Aljazeera’s ‘Head to Head program’, he said: “if there is war there will be casualties”.  While his counterpart stressed on the peaceful dialogues which could prove a positive step for peaceful Indo-Pak relation. Both of them exchanged views on internal and external, domestic and international issues that the two countries are dealing with.

The book discusses almost all the issues in the previous or contemporary times between the two countries. Furthermore, both of them suggested a way forward to peace, confidence building, back channels, behind the scenes, trade routes, visa on arrival, a common currency in the South Asian countries, and a European Union type of setup.

The closing chapter is of extreme importance. In this chapter, Gen Assad Duranni and Dulat suggested strategies to overcome the hostilities between India and Pakistan. Gen Duranni suggested a durable structure for a long-term breakthrough, whereas Dulat advocated for confidence building between the two nations and the governments.

The book ends with “Deewangi Khatam” which includes the last comments from Gen Durrani and Dulat. Gen Durrani while recalling his memories of an event says that the host asked me “Yeh Deewangi Kab Khatam Hogi?”, to which his counterpart agreed that “there should be no more wars and the madness needs to end”.

The book has a lot of information but lacks depth which could be understandable for certain reasons i.e. length, time, and secrecy and so on. But this kind of work should be encouraged; this is the first step towards moving forward. Also, for the institutions, it is a roadmap which might help in solving many issues – not immediately but in the long run it might help.

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