Book Review | India-Pak: Is peace via dialogue flawed?

An insightful dialogue between the two former spooks recorded in the form of a book

Update: 2024-06-08 18:35 GMT
Cover image of 'Covert: The Psychology of War and Peace' by Amarjit Singh Dulat, Asad Durrani and Neil Krishan Aggarwal. (Image by Arrangement)

Four years ago, spymasters Amarjit Singh Dulat and General Asad Durrani, in association with a journalist, brought out a highly successful book titled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace. The book was a hit because it brought together for the first time the heads of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, two rival organisations known for their bitter enmity.

An insightful dialogue between the two former spooks was recorded in the form of a book.

Neil Krishan Aggarwal, a New York-based psychiatrist, seems to have attempted a sequel titled Covert: The Psychology of War and Peace, bringing together the same duo to talk about their lives and reflect on how dialogue might help further peace between two ruthless antagonists.

Aggarwal believes that the two governments despite their antagonistic relationship could work together on a few issues, including drug trafficking and religious tourism.

However, he remains realistic about resolving the bigger or core issues: “All the other tracks in the composite dialogue -- for example, Sir Creek, Siachen, water sharing and, of course, Jammu and Kashmir -- require societies to truly reflect on the psychology of intractable conflict.”

Gen. Durrani does not think that Track II diplomacy holds much promise. “I don’t think Track II has had much influence on Track I. There is no interest in the corridors of power in New Delhi or Islamabad, people don’t ask, ‘You’ve been there -- what did you talk about?’ or ‘Is there anything that you want to tell us?’ Even if you volunteer to give a briefing, sometimes they might reluctantly agree to give you a few minutes out of courtesy. The value of Track II is always overestimated.” Mr Dulat concurs when he admits: “Ultimately, it comes to naught”.

The authors at several point in the book admit that Track II diplomacy does not really get anywhere even though they have participated in the process since 2008!

Perhaps then the fundamental notion of peace through dialogue is flawed. The authors refer to an interesting exchange between the famous scientist Albert Einstein and the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. The former asked the latter if there was “any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war?” In the letter, Einstein added: “Is it possible to control man’s mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychoses of hate and destructiveness?”

Freud’s reply was pessimistic: “There is no likelihood of our being able to suppress humanity’s aggressive tendencies… Why do we, you and I and many another, protest so vehemently against war, instead of just accepting it as another of life’s odious importunities? For it seems a natural thing enough, biologically sound and practically unavoidable.”

If that indeed is the case, one might ask: what then is this book all about?

Covert: The Psychology of War and Peace

By Amarjit Singh Dulat, Asad Durrani and Neil Krishan Aggarwal

HarperCollins India

256 pages; Rs 699

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