There will be no memorial for Lini Puthussery. The 31-year-old nurse succumbed to the Nipah virus knowing she would die and knowing that there was no time for her to mourn her impending death. But just enough time left to prevent others from catching death. She smothered feelings to set eyes on loved ones – husband and two children, aged 5 and 2 – and hold them close to her chest, one last time. Like the Nightingale she went with nothing left to chance. No memorial. No book.
But spies do get memorials of sorts. With books that expose the two-timing world they infest, the dark world of espionage, where enemy lines are blurred. Releasing May 23, 2018 was Spy Chronicles RAW ISI And The Illusion of Peace by spooks AS Dulat, Asad Durrani and journalist Aditya Sinha.
Of the three aces – with an ‘A for…’ to share – the only one who was not spy was Sinha. The other two – Dulat and Durrani – are retired spooks, and the Chronicles are about them. Dulat was head of RAW and Durrani chief of the ISI, Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence. The same ISI which masterminded the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Ajmal Kasab and his killer squad that landed on the Mumbai coast bore the ISI’s signature.
The book was slated to be released 6pm, May 23, 2018, in Delhi, one of two events that would mark the day, the other having been the oath-taking ceremony of the Congress-JD(S) alliance in Karnataka. To take place at a hotel close to 10 Janpath, to be on attendance were a galaxy of individuals not exactly friendly with the Modi regime. Among them ex-BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, Farooq Abdullah, Kapil Sibal and former NSA Shiv Shankar Menon.
All these gentlemen were to engage in a panel discussion based on the book. And the discussion to be moderated by, guess who, journalist Barkha Dutt! General Assad Durrani would have felt happy for that choice for a moderator. Barkha has, if not the confidence of Pakistani big-shots, the reputation of being cross if it was required when debating or moderating matters India-Pakistan though there are a legion who will laugh at the “derisive” assertion.
Anyway, excerpts from Spy Chronicles was to be read out at the event by Suhel Seth, the silver-haired, smooth-cheeked, so-called brand-guru, who lives in Gurugram but is mostly likely to pop up in London. Seth is the guy who knows more words in the dictionary than Shashi Tharoor but is not in the habit to stress it that far. Seth also has a voice that would go well with the narrative of the Spy Chronicles by Aditya Sinha.
Part of that narrative is Durrani asserting that current NSA Ajit Doval didn’t change Indo-Pak policy, that he is just “more hardline”. Of course that’s to be expected. Doval has not spared the ISI since being chosen NSA after Modi came to power. Durrani, probably, chooses to forget the Doval Doctrine that compelled Pakistan to reset its nuclear policy – the “cold start” and “tactical nuclear weapon”…
Dulat begs to differ. He argues that “his colleague and good friend”, also “Modi’s henchman”, Doval is “as far as his capabilities go” one of India’s “outstanding operational guys”, a “field man”, meaning he differs from Dulat in as much as the ex-RAW chief Dulat is a ‘thinker-spy’, the policy wonk that Durrani doesn’t credit Doval with.
Retired ISI chief Durrani makes it plain in the book that Doval’s experience in Pakistan guided Doval’s thinking on Pakistan; that the hateful neighbour should be dealt with an iron fist and no quarters given. “He hasn’t changed policy. He’s just a little more hardline but it’s still what I believe has been India’s policy for a long time. He shouts more, like Trump does, a lot of hot air. He provides that masala,” Durrani says in Spy Chronicles RAW ISI. “The upshot is he is just doing what his boss wants done. Maybe more muscularly, more vocally.”
As if Durrani was all along doing what his bosses in Pakistan didn’t want him to do! Dulat, however, has another take on Doval though even he doesn’t lift Doval out from the Durrani-pit. “The trouble, though, with people who are so much into themselves, is that they are lonesome and they aloof. In A Legacy of Spies there’s a relevant line that says, the trouble with spooks is that they find it difficult to invest in trust,” says Dulat. “Ajit Doval is a guy who won’t trust anybody.”
Dulat agrees with Durrani that Doval “toes Modi’s line” and that Doval also toed Mani Dixit’s line and that Doval “is convinced that Modi is the greatest thing that has happened to India, that I can vouch for.” As if on cue, Durrani adds that “Doval matters nowadays, as Modi matters.”
The Spy Chronicles RAW ISI has a lot on Doval and Modi but it’s also about a collaboration between two chiefs of spies of two enemy countries. And because it was impossible for Durrani and Dulat to meet with author Aditya Sinha in India or Pakistan, Sinha had to arrange meetings in Istanbul and Kathmandu and other such “out of places” to “guide the narrative”. The book will add to the trove of “spy-books” and Sinha, who writes in an easy style, promises that it will be good read. It was also not known if Durrani got a visa to participate in the book release.
Senior fellow, ORF, Sushant Sareen, however, doesn’t agree. “Whatever little faith I had in IB/RAW has been shattered by the very first page of AS Dulat’s book. It’s nauseating in its professions of quest for befriending paks. Worse, if he didn’t know what an Islamofascist Abdul Sattar was, than we should just disband both IB & RAW,” the Economics student turned self-styled history-buff tweeted.
Spy Chronicles RAW ISI is a book that can spook. But nothing like Nipah! If anybody deserves a memorial it’s Nightingale Lini. Not a pair of aging spooks. Of the four, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, the least honourable is the spy. And the nurse, she’s is in a class all her own.