Former ISI chief Asad Durrani feels it is too early to assess how Prime Minister Narendra Modi will handle the Indo-Pak relationship and each of the steps taken so far can be rationalised in an individual context. Taken together, he says, these steps “reflect a persona that loves to keep others guessing and basks in the media glare, both traits that are politically helpful but are inimical to stable relations, especially in the fragile Indo-Pak equation”.
Durrani comes up with these arguments in his memoir “Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters”. “All the steps he (Modi) has taken so far – inviting Nawaz Sharif to his oath-taking, and then reading him the riot act; heating up the Line of Control between the two countries; calling off the foreign secretaries’ symbolic meeting on a fabricated pretext (our high commissioners used to routinely meet the Hurriyat leaders, including before such visits); the Ufa non-event; the 167-second huddle in Paris; melodramatically crash-landing in Lahore after giving an earful to Pakistan in Kabul; the ‘nuanced’ reaction to Pathankot – each of these can be rationalised in an individual context,” he writes.
On a solution to the Indo-Pak issue, he says that he had believed that India would defend the status quo at all cost.”But I must admit that I had not considered including a caveat: what if there was a revolt in Kashmir that India was unable to contain with the methods that had worked in the past? When that happened in the ‘post-Wani awakening’ of 2016, even the status quo became tenuous.
“Considering that such events could recur, we have to be prepared for more explosive times. I still think that all our earlier efforts to service this relationship were useful and conflict management efforts will be resumed in due course. If the lessons we learnt, some of them ‘on the job’, are only kept in mind and the urge to find ‘final solutions’ checked, then the next rounds of negotiation could be more productive,” he argues.
According to Durrani, his account is an attempt to describe how most of what happened in his country was the outcome of their own decisions and not because of a hidden hand at the wheel. Readers expecting a former head of the ISI to reveal many sensational plots will be disappointed, he says. “I do not believe that our establishment, civil and military, or, for that matter, our political leadership, went around crafting deep designs,” he writes in the book published by Westland.
Durrani, however, says a few of those who “worked with us certainly had ambitions which were not always in the country’s best interests”. “At times, they even tried to realise them through unsavoury means, but I am not aware of any entire institution that collaborated to pursue an underhand agenda. That external powers had the ability to strongly influence our decision-making is also a great exaggeration – beyond creating a bit of mayhem and confusion, there was not a great deal outsiders could do,” he says.
Durrani served as a three-star general in the Pakistan army and later headed the Inter-Services Intelligence agency from 1990 to 1992. His time in service encompassed the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and dissolution; shifting regional and international alliances, particularly with the US; and contending with India’s economic recovery.
On the home front, Pakistan passed through a transition from military rule to a so-called democratic order. In the book, he reflects on his time in office – refined by distance and by diplomatic stints in Germany and Saudi Arabia, and assesses the challenges faced by Pakistan in the last decades.