LONDON - For the first time in history ISI and RAW Chiefs face off each other in an event in London titled Spymasters Speak . The discussion was held in a packed Sheikh Zayed Theatre of the meritorious London School of Economics where General (r) Ehsan ul Haq and Amarjit Singh Dulat apprised audience of the challenges, limits and potential of spy agencies towards domestic and international security issues.
The gathering was one of its kind for both the countries deeply entrenched in long-standing rivalries starting from Kashmir conflict to the recent episode of Kulbhushan Jadhav.
The discussion, arranged by South Asia Future Forum was majorly appreciated by the attendees as it pointed towards the civilised nature of both countries and their bigwigs.
Starting off the debate, General Ehsan expressed that Jammu & Kashmir dispute continued to haunt India-Pak relations, highlighting that terrorism was also an issue exacerbating the strained relations.
He said that the relations between Indian and Pakistan became fraught after the latest phase of uprising in the restive valley, referring to the martyrdom of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani but hastened to add that the rebellion was not surprising as the Kashmir issue could not be washed away.
Ehsan also deplored the use of pellet guns in the valley declaring that Kashmiris were living in the most militarised zone.
“After many years Kashmir has regained sensuality & raised tensions escalating Indo-Pak acrimony,” said the Pakistani representative.
He continued that Indian bid to pacify the region did not bear fruits as a politico-humanitarian approach could solve the crisis.
The former ISI boss clarified that on terrorism, Pakistan was ready to fully cooperate and discuss ways to get rid of the scourge.
The retired military men categorically made it clear that Pakistan was concerned about the Indian sponsored terrorism in Balochistan.
“Kulbhushan Jadhav case provides irrefutable evidence of India’s involvement in Baluchistan” he observed and alleged India of not cooperating with Pakistan over the issue of Samjhota Express tragedy which left many Pakistanis dead.
Gen Haq said that war was no more an option in the two countries and both should move meaningfully toward dispute resolution.
He noted that one should not hope for any breakthrough under Narendra Modi government as he had employed harsh rhetoric which does not bode well in the current circumstances.
General Haq manifested that the intelligence cooperation must continue to work even if there is a breakdown at diplomatic & political level.
“Cooperation between agencies is the last resort for preventing & pre-empting crises. Unfortunately that has not been the case in South Asia” he revealed.
After having concluded his discussion and fully presenting Pakistan’s case, Indian counterpart was invited to fend off the allegations and express his viewpoint to enlighten the audience.
Amarjit Singh Dulat kicked off his speech by taking up the Kashmir issue first saying that for the last 15 months Kashmir was never mentioned by Pakistan.
He noted that heavy-handedness never worked in Kashmir and this approach did not prove successful even in case of Spain.
“Pakistan has long gone out of the Kashmir equation and the Kashmiris realise there is nothing more to be gained from Pakistan” he claimed.
The Indian representative blatantly clarified that Kashmir was a part of India and was not going anywhere.
“We need to deal with Kashmir in a more civilised manner” he indicated and added that Article 370 which grants special autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir was not going anywhere.
He cited communication gap as the main reason behind the two states while quoting that even during the cold war the CIA (US spy agency) and the KGB ( Soviet Union’s spy agency) never stopped talking.
“Communication saved the world from a possible world war so there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot cooperate,” he said.
He called upon the need to look at the bigger picture and visualise the future instead of simply spot-healing the current crisis.
To a question about the possibility of cricket diplomacy between the Asian neighbours for detente, Dulat expressed that Cricket should be played between the two countries as it was put to a halt due to the security situation.
Pakistan’s spy bigwig opined that the Cricket was a symptomatic issue and a change in mindset was needed between the two competitors.
The other discussants included Rahul Roy Chaudhry, senior fellow for South-Asia and seasoned journalist Aamir Ghauri while the event was chaired by Dr Mukulika Banerjee, Director South Asia Centre, who also shared their views for devising solutions to the problems faced by the tense neighbours.
Aamir Ghauri conveyed that Kashmir might be an integral part of India but wondered whether Kashmiris were an integral part of India as well.
He said that we live in a post 9/11 world with rules of engagement and estrangement and the new hardline approach was ‘you are either with us or against us’.
On the surface, the huddle stirred multiple questions owing to the quintessential cynicism keeping in mind the Kulbhushan case and regional threats to Pakistan but in essence, the conversation kept the audience on the edge of their seats, many of whom expressed delight to have seen a polite and meaningful conversation between the officials of neighbours, otherwise seen censuring each other.