NEW DELHI: The release of a book authored by two former spy chiefs of India and Pakistan here on Wednesday saw some sharp criticism of Delhi’s policy towards Islamabad and appeared to unite the opposition in an urgent quest to end a brutal repression of Kashmiris in their homeland.

“They are using this so-called muscular policy in Kashmir, and we all know that a policy that uses brawn lacks brains,” former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said in a discussion on the book co-authored by former RAW chief A.S. Dulat and former ISI chief Lt Gen Asad Durrani. The senior BJP leader is a vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an advocate of a humanitarian approach to bring peace in the disputed state.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former vice president Hamid Ansari were the chief guests, giving the occasion a sense that the opposition was uniting against Mr Modi’s foreign policy. The day also saw disparate opposition leaders coming together in a show of strength in far removed Bengaluru where a Congress-backed coalition took the oath of office in the southern Karnataka state.

Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah said he was going to join the chief ministers from different opposition parties with the Gandhi family in Bengaluru but decided that the book release was equally important. He is discussed in some detail in Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI And The Illusion Of Peace. The book is mainly a series of discussions conducted between the two former adversaries on a range of topics by senior journalist Aditya Sinha.

Speaking through a recorded video message, Gen Durrani said it was a blessing in a way that he was denied permission to participate in the event.

“By denying me a visa they have saved me from the wrath of my hawks,” he said to applause. He said the book was Mr Dulat’s idea but at no time was it considered as an occasion to spill any secrets. Gen Durrani said he met Mr Hamid Ansari during a visit to Delhi in October 2014, and the seeds for his participation in the book were sown at the brief meeting. “Mr Ansari asked ‘Ye deewangi kab khatm hogi’. (When will this madness end?) And that one humanist sentence spurred me to join this endeavour.”

Dr Manmohan Singh declined to comment, but former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon singled out the former prime minister’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, where the two had signed an unusually bold agreement, as a landmark moment that was squandered by the bureaucracies on both sides. The two had agreed on a joint mechanism to address terrorism together, opening the path to bring their intelligence agencies in a shared mission. That was not to be, but the book offers similar suggestions for cooperation between intelligence establishments.

Mr Dulat fended off criticism that the book though well meaning and seeking to encourage peace between India and Pakistan was a mere romantic idea. “I am hoping to see progress way before the 2019 elections,” he said confidently.

He may have had the fact in mind that the two armies were planning a first joint participation in a multinational exercise against terrorism in Russia under the aegis of SCO. Senior officials of both sides have also spoken albeit softly about the possibility of resuming their talks.

Asked by moderator Barkha Dutt about his advice that India should invite General Bajwa for talks in New Delhi, Mr Dulat said such a meeting could take place with the Indian NSA and “surely the prime minister would meet him too.” He felt the civilian establishment was weak at present in Pakistan and it was difficult to figure out who to talk to.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2018