Book review: A life in the shadows, by former R&AW chief, Amarjit Dulat - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Monday 16 January 2023

Book review: A life in the shadows, by former R&AW chief, Amarjit Dulat


Title                :           Amarjit Singh Dulat

Author             :           A life in the shadows: A memoir

Publisher         :           Harper Collins Publishers, 2023

Pages              :           255 pages

Price               :           Rs 699/-


In countries like India, where archives remain classified and inaccessible for years, even decades; memoirs, biographies and autobiographies of decision makers are often the only window into important events. Such publications, therefore, are to be welcomed, especially when the author has been the country’s top spy – the chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) – at an important juncture; and an officer in the Intelligence Bureau for three decades preceding that. Sharpening Mr Dulat’s professional perspective is a wicked sense of humour, which suffuses his writing.


This is Mr Dulat’s third book. The first one, “The Vajpayee Years” was published in 2015 and the second, co-authored in 2018 with Asad Durrani, the former director-general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was the eminently readable: “The Spy Chronicles: R&AW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace”.


Mr Dulat is no ordinary author-spook. In a country full of self-styled Kashmir and Pakistan experts, he can genuinely claim to be one. In 2000, after his retirement from the post of R&AW chief, he was recalled to service as Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Special Advisor on Kashmir. During this five-year period, Mr Dulat ranged far and wide in Kashmir, holding informal discussions with separatist leaders and militant commanders, and building the trust that eventually transitioned Kashmir from the bloody era of the 1999 Kargil conflict to the Line of Control (LoC) ceasefire that Prime Minister Vajpayee offered Pakistan in 2003, leading to a period of sustained peace.


In describing these turbulent years, Mr Dulat does not hide his affection for the Kashmiri people. During the last three decades of insurgency, many Kashmiris have accused “India” (since they don’t consider the state as Indian) with wanting only the land that is Kashmir, while regarding its inhabitants as a dispensable nuisance. The author, in contrast, flaunts his close relationships with Kashmiris of all stripes, from the man on the street to leaders such as Farooq Abdullah, who Mr Dulat regards as an Indian patriot. New Delhi, the author argues, has passed up the opportunity provided by Farooq and his considerable political clout in the Valley.


Mr Dulat appears to believe that, while operating as the prime minister’s Special Advisor, it was sufficient to build close relationships with mainstream political parties such as the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, and their leaders like the Abdullahs and the Muftis; and, to a lesser extent, with the so-called “soft separatists” such as Shabir Shah. Mr Dulat is dismissive of the most influential separatist leaders, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik, both of who commanded large followings in the Valley; and without whom no peace settlement could have stuck. One wonders whether the short shrift Mr Dulat gives the hard line separatists is due to the Abdul Majeed Dar debacle. Mr Dar, who was the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) chief commander in Jammu & Kashmir, was negotiating to lay down the gun and return to the mainstream along with a large number of HM cadres. However, New Delhi took too long to react and HM fighters who remained loyal to Pakistan were induced by the ISI to scuttle the plan. A HM hit team gunned down Mr Dar in 2003, registering a body blow to New Delhi’s influence in the Valley.


The book starts with a description of Mr Dulat’s family, and his school and college days in the easy-paced 1950s and 1960s. Eventually he joined the police and, early in his career, sidestepped to the IB. One of the most interesting chapters in the book, titled “Wilderness of Mirrors”, describes the confusing, deceptive world in which intelligence agencies operate, at the heart of which “there is crookery, double-dealing and cold transactions, even if and when it is all done with a smile.” The author provocatively poses the question: Which country has the best intelligence service? Answering it himself, he says: “I would say we are pretty good, better than the ISI, with which we are constantly compared as professionals. As much has been conceded even by my friend, the former ISI chief, General Asad Durrani.”


Another enjoyable chapter in the book describes the author’s dealing with various characters that the author had the privilege of dealing with. These include Ashwini Kumar (“a legend and inspiration”), Yasser Arafat (“No airs and graces”), Prince Charles (“gave me a pair of cufflinks”), Margaret Thatcher (“There’s something about the British”) and Lee Kuan Yew (“a leader who shaped history”). There are also well written descriptions of people who the author regarded as close friends: Rajesh Pilot, Madhavrao Scindia, Giani Zail Singh and Farooq Abdullah, who rates an entire chapter. Also held in the highest esteem is MK Narayanan, the former IB chief who served as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s National Security Advisor (NSA) and who the author several times refers to as “the great MK Narayanan.” 


The book closes with a fascinating description of the former IB chief and current NSA Ajit Doval, who Mr Dulat rates as “the better spook of the both of us”. This includes Mr Doval’s’ climb up the ladder of Prime Minister Modi’s affections, even though he began his rapid ascent as a trusted official of LK Advani.


The book is well produced and is indexed and bookmarked in detail. Mr Dulat’s light and self-effacing writing style offers a welcome change from the turgid prose that too often characterises biographies by senior officials. The book will find a place in the bookshelves of those who follow Indian politics, security and intelligence.




No comments:

Post a Comment

Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last