Aditya Sinha: Militaries also have bureaucracies. When you were ISI chief, did you face bureaucratic sloth, or was everyone too afraid of the Deep State?

Asad Durrani: There is a bureaucracy, no doubt about that, one in the military and one in the defence ministry. They have power that the army cannot underestimate. Even when the military is ruling the roost, the ministry can ride roughshod over individuals.

Military bureaucrats are the ones at various headquarters as staff officers, etc. The attitude of these people is better than that of the normal bureaucracy. Not that they won’t create problems or write dissenting notes, etc. It’s just that the culture has no such thing as a staff officer sitting on a file. The civil bureaucracy is different: it can block a file, the demands won’t be cheap. That bureaucracy will not let things happen.

The comparison between the Indian and Pakistani bureaucracies is that ours has its strength and a few weaknesses. The strength is that whether or not anyone is happy, they recognise that they have to do their work. The weakness is it’s the military holding Pakistan together. The bureaucracy’s ability to keep its political masters in check is limited.

In India it is good: strong, efficient, connected, maintained, functional. It has held together. It has not let politicians run amok. Its problem is the same that the American establishment has. This establishment does not allow anyone to step out of line. If the prime minister is a powerful one like Modi or Vajpayee, yes, but it keeps a check on how much they can do. The bureaucracy can obstruct or facilitate matters.

In the case of America, the establishment’s attitude was, we’ll see Obama saheb how long you can go through with that.

AS Dulat: What you’re saying is interesting, sir, because Indian democracy is rated as one of the better ones the world over. I’ve watched the bureaucracy from 1990 when I returned from Kashmir to 2004, when I left government. What I observed was that the fault lay not with the politician but with the bureaucracy. Of all the great guys that I saw during my 14 years in Delhi, except for a couple of exceptions, the others were just bureaucrats, they didn’t stand for anything.

But in the case of Dr Manmohan Singh, he could not go to Pakistan, and while his party did not support him, it was sadly his bureaucracy which did not help. Whenever something went wrong, the fingers were immediately pointed at him.

Durrani: The bureaucracy is not popular anywhere, whether in the US, Germany or here.

Your remark is interesting that politicians are not to be faulted. In our case, we still are not fond of the democratic ways of doing things. Till that happens, not only politicians but sometimes the military leadership too shares the blame for spoiling the bureaucratic culture in Pakistan, making them ineffective, forcing them to give in to their demands. It is the old culture that did not want to be changed.

Dulat: Another significant point that general saheb has made is the traditional neutrality of the bureaucracy. Where does it exist now? In India it ended with Mrs Gandhi. Maybe in Britain it still exists, but that must be the solitary country, if it exists.

Durrani: Ayub Khan started tinkering with it, but more or less it remained steady.

Dulat: When you say tinkering, how many years after the Brits left did it survive?

Durrani: (ZA) Bhutto is when the rot started, Zia-ul-Haq expedited matters. Culture of corruption made it worse. The military bureaucracy too did not remain unaffected.

Sinha: You once mentioned the Soviet system’s problem was that it allowed no dissent. But is there dissent in a military system?

Durrani: Our culture has developed in a manner that if you don’t like something one would say, tumko zyada pata hai? That is the culture where the boss does not like people with different views.

Once I was part of an exercise with the German army. In the evening we were at the bar with the local command, a sergeant, some officers. Everyone paid for his own drinks. And they all were free to disagree with each other. We are not yet there.

Sinha: Does the RAW man in Islamabad have a tougher time than the ISI man in Delhi?

Durrani: I do not know. In my time – even though Kashmir was on the boil – I do not recall if there were any “unusual” complaints from either side. But I do understand when they protest that their government was not being as tough as the adversary’s.

Dulat: Actually, sir, it hasn’t happened of late thankfully, but some years ago some of our officers were roughed up in Pakistan. They had bad experiences.

Sinha: In the late ’80s there was an Uttarakhand IPS officer whose face was bruised. His photo was splashed in the papers.

Dulat: That’s right, UP or Uttarakhand cadre. He was roughed up.

Durrani: I was the DG, MI, so I don’t remember.

Dulat: I don’t remember his name because I don’t know if it was his real name or his cover name.

Durrani: Since this is a book about broader subjects, let’s say the diplomats, attachés, and cover officers from both sides face a problem. Not giving them a tough time would be exceptional.

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 dollars. 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 benfits of a civil nuclear deal.

Once a media organisation 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.

Excerpted with permission from The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, AS Dulat, Asad Durrani and Aditya Sinha.