ISLAMABAD: Former ISI chief Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, while suggesting an institutionalized mechanism of meeting between ISI and RAW chiefs, has disclosed that he being the chief of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) held a secret meeting with his Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Indian counterpart in Singapore in 1991.
“It took place in Singapore, sometime in 1991. Bajpai headed RAW. We met over two days, exchanged developments. I’m sure the Kashmir uprising was the focus of our meeting, because it had already taken shape when I joined ISI in August 1990. After the so-called Gates Mission, things were getting ‘hotter’, so, on an initiative by our foreign office, all credit to them; we met around six months later. Once you meet someone for the first time, you spend most of your time judging the other side, assessing how much they want to reveal or talk about. It’s always the second, third or the fourth meeting where you might figure that out, but the first is always a probe,” said Durrani in the book “The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace,” which he co-authored with former Indian RAW chief A.S Dulat. The copy of book is also available with this correspondent.
The book is a narration of the marathon meetings between two former spy masters moderated by Indian author and journalist Aditya Sinha.
In the chapter, “The Intelligence Dialogue” Durrani, while giving more details about his meeting with his RAW counterpart of that time Mr. Bajpai, adds, “Nothing earth-shattering took place. We met. I was clear about one thing: the person on the other side of the table was an experienced intelligence hand. He’s the chief of the RAW. He must have spent his life in his career. On this side was a person still learning the ropes, and I don’t think one can in a year, or the combined time I spent in MI and ISI. I must have been extra careful.”
He further said, “So Bajpai and I met once, but it was not followed up. If both countries had better sense, they would have followed it up correctly. But they can’t because of their paranoia. Otherwise, Hamid Gul’s meeting with A.K. Verma, my meeting, and others, these could be institutionalized. Without having to be announced every time. But they don’t meet, so each time two chiefs meet, it starts afresh. There’s no continuity of process. It doesn’t happen that after (Musharraf’s) four points, you pick up from there.”
At this occasion, the discussion between Asad Durrani, A.S Dulat and Aditya Sinha was following:
Dulat : Because it’s not institutionalized. If you think intelligence chiefs are too big then take down a level or to the middle level. But let there be meetings, if it is institutionalized then something will flow out of it.
Durrani: In any case, anyone who knows the functioning of the State knows that just because the RAW chief and the ISI chief want to do something does not mean it will happen. The whole establishment gets involved.
Dulat: I agree with you entirely, Sir. I’m only interrupting you to say, please give the ISI chief and the RAW chief a chance. A fair chance in which they should believe. It’s easy for us to believe because we are now out of this. But if you have an ISI chief and a RAW chief who believe, then things can happen, even small things.
Durrani: That chance won’t be given for the simple reason that when I met my counterpart I did not know him and I don’t think he knew me well. Our conclusion was, we will keep at it. But he was not allowed. In my case someone merely had to say, haan bhai karte raho. There was a deafening silence instead.
Dulat: Now it seems there’s no meeting, nothing.
Durrani: Are you sure there are no meetings now?
Sinha: Are the current RAW and ISI chiefs meeting?
Dulat: Who knows? We should not know.
Durrani: This is the right answer. If they are really meeting seriously, then we should not know.
Dulat: I certainly don’t know. I also don’t know when they last met. General Saheb has met, Ehsan Saheb has met.
Sinha: You didn’t meet General Mahmud?
Dulat: No, I’ve not met.
Durrani: When I met Bajpai only five-six of our people knew. And for many years, I denied it — even after B. Raman had written about it in his book. Then a time came when I decided to say yes, I met the RAW chief.
Dulat: It’s something I always wanted to do. I’ve more than made up. Pakistani friends have helped, and I’m the only RAW chief who’s been to Pakistan, not once but four times. I’ve been on Pakistan TV. Our friend Ejaz Haider put me on TV and later had tea with me. He said: thank you, for me this is the greatest thing because nobody in Pakistan has had the RAW chief on TV.
Durrani: Someone who knew I never watch TV rang me up when I was sitting doing something else, not necessarily more productive. ‘Quickly, quickly, switch on that channel,’ he said, and Mr Dulat was there. I just caught him say, yes, of course I have a friend in Pakistan, and he took my name.
Sinha: In your book you said the best intelligence organisation because of its influence is the ISI.
Dulat: I maintain that. General Saheb was kind to pay tribute to the RAW but the fact is what we think of the other side is not always accurate, no matter how many books are written about it. When he and I talk, we’re talking facts, if we’re honest. Otherwise it is just an assessment, and the rest is hearsay.