Two former spymasters talked publicly for the first time about one of the subcontinent’s thorniest issues. Athira Suresh reports

The London School of Economics and Political Science was the setting for unprecedented event on October 6. Amarjit Singh Dulat, former head of the Indian intelligence agency R&AW and Ehsan ul-Haq, one-time chief of its Pakistan equivalent, the ISI, appeared in public together for the first time to hold a discussion entitled ‘Can intelligence services do good? A conversation between Indian and Pakistani former chiefs’.

With them on the panel were Aamir Ghauri, founder and Director of South Asia Future Forum and editor of The News, Islamabad, and Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Dr Mukulika Banerjee, Director of LSE South Centre, chaired the event.

Dulat stated that, over the past fifteen months, India has created ‘a mess’ in Kashmir. ‘If there is one message that comes out of Kashmir, not today, not yesterday, but for as far back as one can remember, [it is that] you can achieve a lot through love and compassion but you can never achieve it by force,’ he said. ‘This is the mistake we have made in the past fifteen months.’ Shying away from talking about the Kashmir issue does not make sense at all, he insisted, and dialogue between the two nations is the only solution to the Kashmir issue.

The former R&AW chief also pointed out how a potential third world war had been avoided largely because the intelligence services of the US and the then USSR, and the nations’ leaders Kennedy and Khrushchev, had constantly kept in touch, even during the coldest days of the Cold War.

The Kashmir issue, regarded as the world’s oldest unresolved international dispute and the core issue in India-Pakistan relations, has taken a turn for the worse since last July, said ul-Haq. The former ISI chief expressed his concern that, if left unresolved, ‘the Kashmir issue will return as a crisis with increasing intensity’.

Dulat reminded him that, even though there is hatred and disgust against India among Kashmiris, there is ‘no love lost’ for Pakistan, which he described as a convenient fall-back position for Kashmir. Kashmir is an integral part of India, he said, and it is ‘not going anywhere’. But the former R&AW chief underscored the need to deal the issue in a civilised manner.

Both men agreed that the intelligence services of India and Pakistan should keep their channels of communication open, however bad the situation may be at a political level. ‘That sometimes becomes the last resort to prevent crisis,’ said ul-Haq, though he declined to confirm whether, in 2003, he had secretly met his then Indian counterpart, CD Sahay. Dulat not only credited the secret meetings but he also pointed out that a tip-off from India saved the life of the then President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, in 2003.

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