Spies, soldiers and academics

The powers that be on both sides of the LoC are in for a tough time at the hands of the bull they have provoked

I have been under the weather for the last few weeks. Often on the eve of deadline for my column I feel burnt out, lazy, incoherent, confused and don’t feel like sitting at the computer to write.

This being election time, we pen pushers don’t want to miss opportunities to pen down our unverifiable electoral prognosis so we can say “didn’t I tell you so”, especially now when even a new born babe could name the winner. Election forecasts made by looking at the umpire’s finger is easier said than done. How would one make a mistake when the latest election manifesto promises rivers of milk and honey, millions of houses, 50 million jobs and perhaps even free travel to mars and a piece of the moon.

On top of all this, I had a commitment to attend the launch of a co-authored spy thriller by India’s ex-RAW Chief SA Daulat and Pakistan’s most outstanding and forthright former DG ISI, Lt General Asad Durrani, who has earned international fame for his bluntness.

Besides yours truly, RUSI’s prestigious podium was shared by yet another eminent man and political leader, Dr Farooq Abdullah, who is known for calling a spade a spade. Prominent TV anchor Aftab Arif Siddiqui read out a message from General Durrani who could not come, although there was a vacant seat for him. According to Daulat, his counterpart had been restrained from travelling outside Pakistan after the publication of the book.

Civilians — howsoever powerful — do not understand the Kashmir issue the same way soldiers do

Since the book was only available at RUSI last Monday, I had no means to know what was in it. However, two factors dragged me out of bed to be at RUSI. I had read Daulat Sahib’s earlier book on Kashmir. I found it to be quite balanced and it gave the impression he had a real desire to bring to an end to the bloodbath in Kashmir. I did read reviews of Spy Chronicles, but one can’t do justice to it without reading it.

I have had the pleasure of meeting General Durrani a few times. Both of us were appointed ambassadors by martyred Benazir Bhutto, possibly at the same time in late 1993 or early 1994 — him to Bonn and I to the Court of St. James. During his appointment to Bonn in early 1994, the Prime Minister invited us to a quiet dinner for free exchange of views as well as to brief us on Pakistan’s core issues, her government’s socio-economic agenda and to highlight Kashmir as an indigenous human rights issue.

General Durrani was candid and made no bones about his view on national problems. However, my admiration of the man got epitomised when he boldly and without fearing consequences laid bare for the posterity the conspiracy most foul under the then Army Chief General Aslam Beg and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to deny PPP leader Benazir Bhutto a landslide victory in the 1990 elections. Earlier too, in 1988, his predecessor General Hameed Gul in collaboration with Beg and Ishaq established IJI under the leadership of their puppet — Mian Nawaz Sharif — to what he called “stop the landslide victory of PPP and to block democratic dictatorship of PPP.”

General Durrani put everything on record, cataloguing all the monies paid to Nawaz Sharif and others to defeat Bhutto. Despite a massive hullabaloo raised by the late Air Martial Asghar Khan, as well as former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, nothing has been done about this so far.

Rather, it is divine retribution that instead of being punished for his electoral misdeeds committed in 1988 and 1990, Mian Nawaz Sharif — rightly known as political heir of General Ziaul Haq — is being punished now for corruption.

Back to the RUSI book launch, being in no proper frame of mind, I was expected to contribute something without letting the organisers realise that I was a blindfolded man asked to identity the elephant in the room. Last time I attended a dialogue between AS Daulat and yet another Ex-DG ISI — Lt General Ehsanul Haq — months backs in LSE, I had discovered that Daulat Sahab has a sense of humour. He made that dry affair rather lively.

I confessed that I had not read the co-authored book, however I had seen the two Bollywood movies Eik Tha Tiger and a sequel Tiger Zinda Hai — with Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif playing the lead role. Salman represented RAW and Katrina ISI. Both were trying to serve the interests of their two countries. Daulat Sahib dismissed it as plagiarised version of the book.

In his brief introduction, Daulat Sahab put it straight — war is no solution. The only way forward is dialogue. This was echoed by Dr Farooq Abdullah. Indeed, I have heard Dr Farooq in the past too. He does not want compromise on the rights of the people of Kashmir but he is also very clear and rightly so, that neither rulers in India nor Pakistan can survive after seceding territory to the other side. My solution was very simple! Lock the Pakistani and Indian generals in a room, don’t let them come out until they have resolved the issue. And I meant it. Civilians — howsoever-powerful — do not understand the Kashmir issue the same way soldiers do. Regardless, the immediate step needed here are demilitarisation, an absolute ceasefire on the LoC, improvement in human rights conditions and increased confidence building measures.

It was nice outside the RUSI auditorium, the cool breeze provided immediate relief and Nadir Cheema and I headed to SOAS to meet friends, especially prominent columnist Raoof Hassan Sahib from Pakistan, Professor Amin Moghul and expert on Palestine, Tariq Suleman later joined by Asma Jehangir’s daughter lawyer Sulema and a couple of other upcoming academics. In the end, we concluded that notwithstanding all the engineering, desertions and flirtations— the powers that be are in for a tough time at the hands of the bull they have provoked.

The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist

Published in Daily Times, July 11th 2018.