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No ISI guy ever defected or caught on camera: ex-RAW chief

ISLAMABAD -UNS : The retired spy chiefs of arch rival nuclear armed Pakistan and India point out strengths and weaknesses of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Research and Analysis Wing of India (RAW) while admitting that each agency is as good as the other is.

“Once an American journalist with poor posture came up to me at a conference, casually posing a question, how do you rate RAW?,” said Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani while narrating his point regarding what he thinks about his rival agency in the latest book published in India titled, “The Spy Chronicles, RAW, ISI and Illusion of Peace,” available to this correspondent.

In the chapter of the book titled ISI vs RAW, Asad Durrani further adds that, “It was obviously not so casual a question and was probably intended to catch me off guard and provoke me into analysis and say nothing. He was likely to go to the RAW chief and say look, this is what the other fellow said, and get the response from him.”

Durrani said instead almost reflexively I said, “at least as good as we are.” The book is based on marathon sittings of former ISI and RAW chiefs namely retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani and A.S Dulat moderated by Aditya Sinha, an Indian author and journalist.

Former ISI chief Durrani in this chapter further says that, “About 10 years ago, a ratings website called Smashing Lists came out with, among other lists, the world’s 10 best spy agencies. Out of the blue, ISI was number one, followed by Mossad, CIA, and all the others”.

He thinks, “For me, the best way to judge ISI was that during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, it got all the help from most of the big players in the West but allowed no interference in its role, organising the resistance. But then the Cold War was over and we had to change our objectives in the region, and the ISI was key to that. Another accomplishment is that none of our operators ever defected or was ‘caught on camera’.

When Aditya Sinha questioned both Durrani and Dulat regarding the greatest failure of ISI and RAW?

Dulat said our biggest failure against Pakistan is that we’ve not been able to turnaround an ISI officer or have an ISI officer working for us. Or not to my knowledge, at a level where it counts. If you go back to the Cold War, what was the main task of a CIA officer? It was to somehow find a defector. If a CIA guy found a defector then for the rest of his career he didn’t need to do anything, because he had done what was supremely required. On our side, I don’t think we’ve even imagined it properly and I don’t think we’ve succeeded.”

Sinha pointed added asking,” Even if we had a mole inside ISI, nobody would know? Former RAW chief Dulat replied saying, “Moles are easier to have than defectors”.

On this, Durrani said, “At the operational level, the 1965 war, we could claim we got good information about the other side, how they are assembled for war. But it was a lost effort. In the 1971 war, the ISI was unable to anticipate the attack in East Pakistan. In my time, we predicted that India’s military build-up, after the Kashmir uprising, was not intended for war. I can pat my own back for that. But the biggest failure was when the Kashmir uprising happened we did not know how far it would go. These things usually run their course in six months or a year. When it became lasting, we wondered how to keep a handle on it. We didn’t want it to go out of control, which would lead to a war that neither side wanted. Could we micro-manage it? That was our challenge. ISI’s leverage on the Kashmir insurgency turned out less than successful. In particular, I regret it till today why we did not take Amanullah Gilgiti more seriously. His group led the uprising. He started it, initiated it, spoke about it. I met him when I was at the ISI. He did not seem important at that time. In any case, his third option of independence was unnecessarily muddying the water. And what did independence mean anyway? Gilgiti, though, was probably the most serious one, focused and connected. Like the rallies at Chakoti. Every year, on our side, October 27 is celebrated as Black Day. Gilgiti was the only person who brought his crowd in, disciplined, sober, serene, conducting the proceedings and the march without commotion. The others were non-serious, they came from here and there, made their speeches and left. But going back to the evolution of the Kashmir uprising of the 1990s, I think the formation of the Hurriyat 6 to provide a political direction to the resistance was a good idea. Giving up handle on the movement — letting the factions do what they bloody well wanted to — was not.”

In this chapter, Dulat shared that in India RAW and Indian Intelligence Bureau work together and they cooperate. However, Durrani admitted, “If in India you are working together, you are one step ahead of us, we hardly see any cooperation in our agencies.”

When Adity Sinha questioned the role of media, Durrani openly accepted that investment of agencies in the media war against each other, adding India initiated this. On the media wars they had the following discussion.

Sinha: What about the two agencies and their use of the media?

Durrani: One thing in common between the two are the media wars. They even finance TV channels in the belief that these will work for them. They have no idea how to go about it. The first such channel was an Indian one, it was paid.

Dulat: Who paid it? ISI?

Durrani: ISI came to the field much later.

Dulat: He’s saying an Indian TV channel was sponsored by an Indian intelligence agency.

Durrani: By RAW. If I remember correctly, $25 million. In those days it was not a small figure.

Sinha: Even today, it’s not a small figure.

Dulat: But what was this for? Never heard of it.

Durrani: To start a channel to work for RAW. This is what intelligence agencies everywhere believe, that the media must be financed to wage psychological warfare. Much as I consider the CIA a third-rate service, on this front they manage to persuade the media. It brings journalists around on core issues such as Pakistan bashing, or benefits of a civil nuclear deal. Once a media organization establishes credibility, the agencies start on core objectives: micro-managing, choreographing, managing from behind the scenes, steering the type of coverage, etc. My country on this front has not been impressive. The Americans and British do this the best. Manufacturing facts, creating an environment for when you go to war, these people do it with the help of the media.

Sinha: Why didn’t the ISI just sponsor an Indian channel?

Durrani: I believe that a prime minister and the NSC woke up to the idea and said creating assets in India and managing perceptions might not be a bad idea. Whether they came up with the right asset or not, I do not know. How subtle they are, let me give an example. An article was once published under either a Hindu or Sikh name in The Nation, Lahore. I saw that this could not have been written by anyone other than an ISI officer. The man who was given to publish it did not even change the terminology to Indianise it. I’m thankful you people didn’t say, ha ha ha, is this all that can be done by you idiots, come and learn a lesson from us.

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