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Opinion

June 1, 2018

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The world of Track II

Asad Durrani’s intriguingly titled ‘Spy Chronicles’ is essentially a compilation by an Indian writer of his set of interviews over time in different locations of the world with Durrani, a former Pakistani Lt-General and DG ISI, and A S Dulat a one-time head of RA&W, India’s premier intelligence agency.

What makes the book extra special is the fact that the two nations are sworn enemies and engaged in active operations and counter-operations against each other as a part of, and/or independent of, the larger war against terror that the region is engaged in. The two did not head their respective agencies at the same time, thus their respective frame of reference in intimate knowledge about events varies, though what they opine on constitutes the abominable bilateral relationship. Far removed now from what used to be their primary occupation, they only seem to be reflecting. And, true to form, it has blown a storm.

Having known both well over the years to be familiar with the nuances which make their persons as well as their views, it is equally important to understand the nature of the Track II world where the two first met. Intense activity was generated in this domain after the rather tragic event of Mumbai in 2008. Donor-nations and agencies, almost all West-based, rushed in with money to get retired senior officials of India and Pakistan together to make sense of where South Asia may be heading. I was drafted in a number of these as a delegate.

While Track IIs seem to trundle along in quiet corners of the world, at a certain level different agencies of the government are informed about the nature of representation and briefed on what might be of value to them. When done in the right spirit and with the right intent, Track IIs can trigger complementary initiatives and generate ideas for conflict management, conflict resolution and peace and stability. These are well meaning Track IIs; Neemrana and Chaophraya come to mind.

There are others, event-bound, which culminate when a situation subsides. A US-Pakistan Track II was instituted following the Salala incident of 2011 which had led to a functional suspension of relationship between the two countries and closure of Nato supplies through Pakistan. This was a major blow to the US’ immediate interests in the region and put on hold Pakistan’s long-to-medium-term relationship with the US. A group of senior officials – including some highly placed administration officials – from both sides congregated in the US to work through the impasse. Over a few iterations, they recommended remedies woven into policy reviews on both sides – and the relationship resumed.

In the India-Pakistan Track IIs, however, while active politicians, parliamentarians, and advisers to governments are a frequent presence the core is usually composed of retired bureaucrats, military officials, subject specialists, academics and journalists. At times separate streams of specialists are also grouped to address issues from a similar professional standing. While there is a host of them running in the parallel (the Ottawa Dialogue is one such example), a significant contribution is rare to come by. This mostly stems from the primary nature of state-to-state relations between the two countries which are ground in stagnating public rhetoric. The Track IIers may find it difficult to breakthrough such shackles in their conception and a lot of time is wasted on reiterating known positions bordering on rants. When a particular Track II suggested an agreed mechanism to resolve Siachen – once a low-hanging fruit – the Indian participants of that particular track were harassed back home with belittling taunts and excommunication from usual circles of interaction. Pakistanis, on the other hand, are mostly found committed to the process and its objectives, appearing far more enterprising and flexible in seeking solutions. Over time Indians have become haughty and arrogant, unable to break from rhetorical mould; this makes them look insecure and unsure.

Some Track IIs are a slippery slope. Obviously formatted on helping the region avoid conflict, their basic aim is to glean information about the two countries; the nuclear programme remains an object of perpetual interest. One such is probably the longest going track with iterations of many hues – nuclear, army, navy, intelligence. This is where Dulat and Durrani met frequently and under whose auspices the project was conceived and in all likelihood supported.

Such targeted interactions between a host of organisers tapped from specialised areas of functioning of Western capitals and Indian and Pakistani participants are far more perilous unless handled with care. Not only is each side attempting to seek information about the other, the third party too has its interests and is not loath to settling for information trading or manipulation to achieve its own objectives. It remains a dialectic thus of not only contending wills but also contending intents. It helps that the nuclear security construct of the country makes it impossible for anyone to know all, or even most. Yet many continue to play ball in bait. Sometimes one slips.

Interaction during Track IIs exposes participants to situations in which they may become unwitting enablers of useful insight to the opposing side. When matters are organised as joint projects like a book or a paper what might emerge may carry strategic value which gets used in multifarious ways. Hence the standing need to submit such writings for official review before being published. When this is not done, something as embarrassing as the ‘Spy Chronicles’ comes about. Thankfully, the general retired 25 years ago while the project undertakes discussion of issues of the recent past. The information contained in the book is dated, irrelevant and based on hearsay, never on exact knowledge except where the participants were directly involved. It may not help the general’s cause to note that most focus is around events related to Pakistan’s security; nothing rooted in India comes to the fore. And where it does, Dulat adeptly waltzes around it.

Gen Durrani’s style of narration is patently benign though. As he enters his twilight years, like the good old man he is, he casts a long eye on issues plaguing Pakistan’s security. Some of those remain highly sensitive to Pakistan’s discomfort. His style is open-ended and his sweep – as indeed his writings which this nation has been a fond purveyor of – rather long. He usually does not say anything definitive, leaving a lot to imagination of the receiving eye. Luckily, his information on the issues that they discuss in the book is mostly received. That has limited the damage. His omissions are obvious, his commissions may not be many. And that may turn out to be his saving grace. The gentleman he is, with a great sense of honour, he will surely acknowledge his indiscretion and a lack of good judgment.

More importantly the event must not keep others from seeking truth and speaking their minds, within reasonable restraints please. And if you write on something sensitive do submit your manuscript for review. In the meanwhile, remember: discretion is always the better part of valour.

Email: [email protected]

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