“Let’s take the picture together when General sahib arrives,” said Amarjit Singh Dulat outside the New Academic Building of the London School of Economics. LSE’s Pakistan Development Society and South Asia Future Forum held an electric, revealing discussion tilted Can intelligence services do good. The discussion featured former ISI director general Ehsan Ul Haq and former chief of RAW Amarjit Dulat. The post and pre-event atmosphere was overwhelming as it gave me the opportunity to notice the behaviour of the two former spy chiefs towards each other — a significant departure from the hostile attitudes they harboured while they spearheaded RAW and ISI, respectively. The two men have long been known to be hostile to each other as office bearers. The outcry against Durrani’s involvement in Spy Chronicles shows that overtures, healthy discussion or even friendships with counterparts are considered an aberration — clearly an exception and not the norm. What happens to generals and chiefs when they move out of office and make such overtures to their Indian counterparts or vice versa? It’s the one question that’s been on everyone’s mind after the release of Spy Chronicles’, which has been co-authored by Dulat and Durrani.Perhaps, the two generals wish to engage in true negotiations despite being trained to only plan and execute wars. The content of the debate witnessed by students, American, Indian, French diplomats, members of faculty, and individuals of both embassies, wan unexpected. Dulat went on to admit that India is not making any gains in the Jammu Kashmir territory due to the rising insurgency, something the discriminatory Modi government would never admit to date. But most importantly for Pakistan, Ehsan agreed that the mainstreaming of militant organisations such as Tehreek e Labaik Ya Rasoolullah and Jamat Ud Dawa was ‘concerning’ and required a broad based consensus. This stance stood in stark contrast with the efforts of the military establishment’s terrible attempt to bring these right wing, religious fundamentalist organisations bordering on extremism into mainstream politics. The two former spies met many people during the pre-event reception and exchanged laughter and indulged in healthy banter. They chronicled their times;Ehsan commended Dulat on providing intel on a possible life threat to now embarrassed former president Pervez Musharraf. Truth be told, it was pretty unbelievable to see the attitudes of the two gentlemen who were once at immense odds in 2001 because of the military standoff at the LoC. This was right after the attack on the Indian Parliament Truth be told, it was pretty unbelievable to see the attitudes of the two gentlemen who were once at immense odds in 2001 because of the military standoff at the line of control. This was right after the attack on the Indian Parliament. The story then was the same as 2008. RAW made unsubstantiated claims that the attacks were carried out by ISI-backed terror groups of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.But the story at this dinner night in 2017 was different. The story at the actual event was even better as both chiefs agreed that there was a need for better dialogue between India and Pakistan. This is at a time when relations have hit the lowest ebb and both countries are a far cry from negotiations. The two individuals seemed to be at ease, confident because they were not held back by the immense bureaucratic pressures applied by their respective governments. For Pakistan, the problem has been that a large part of our identity has been constructed out of opposition to India, which is entrenched in our curriculum. In India, the Modi government is deliberately ignoring Muslim repression and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is cultivating anti-Pakistan rhetoric.The one sided version of history, which touts the absolute divide between ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’, is problematic. It has created a nationalistic mindset and led to blatant lies regarding historical facts, which are approved by both governments. However, that’s a different territory altogether, something to be explored in a future piece. The crucial point here is that the Pakistani military thrives on the ‘anti-Indian’ mindset. The portrayal of the Indian threat is vital to our existence;it is derived from a history riddled with exaggerations about murderous Hindus and a belligerent India. This narrative not only provides the largest chunk of the budget but serves the security state we have become. It is true that RAW has carried out covert activities in Balochistan and Kulbhushan Jadhav’s capture is reflective of that. But it is also important to note that this is where we are stuck in an echo chamber — our beliefs and concerns about India are amplified and solidified in a closed system. Similarly, majority of Indians are only concerned with the information presented by their authorities about the involvement of Pakistan-based terrorists in Mumbai attacks, which has fuelled an anti-Pakistan sentiment. The Indian military, although not as dominant as Pakistan’s in internal affairs, has also capitalised on the historically present anti-Pakistan narrative and the conventional threat we pose to them. A more nuanced analysis reveals however that their aims are now to achieve regional dominance whereas ours continue to revolve around protecting our ‘existence’ from India. The overall consequence is that this rigidity in the stance of both countries and massive inertia faced in pacifying those stances has translated into an impossible prospect for a serving ISI and RAW chiefs. It may not be possible for them to engage in constructive dialogue or move towards truthful cooperation on fighting terrorism. This also explains why Durrani felt comfortable in even agreeing with his co-author, when he said that Indians should invite Pakistan’s army chief for negotiations. After waiting for General Ehsan to arrive at the exit point, I finally got my picture alongside the two former spies. The former RAW chief was also accompanied by his wife who general Ehsan referred to as ‘Bhabhi jee’. It was pretty visible that that the potential for harmonising relations exists between the two nuclear powers but the echo chambers encompassing us and the deeply entrenched identities constructed out of the other, maybe more in one country than the other, have halted progress and hold us back. The writer is the President of the LSE Pakistan Development Society Published in Daily Times, June 24th 2018.