Spy Chronicles is an exceptional book in many ways but one of the most profound discoveries that I made as I read these conversations between two ex-spymasters who once were number one in their respective organizations, is the popularity of Vajpayee and Lalu Yadav. Gen Durrani says that while Vajpayee was popular due to his poetry, Lalu was liked for his drama. And I said to myself, how very apt, because this, in many ways, sums up what Pakistan as a country is: loves poetry and drama. Little wonder then why Hindi films and our TV shows are popular in Pakistan.

To me, both the speakers came across as gentlemen. Bold, direct, friendly, they articulated their views very well indeed. I could almost visualize them sitting right across from me as I read this book. So, full marks to the sutradhaar–is there a better word–Mr. Sinha, who accepted a prominent editor’s suggestion as he says in his acknowledgments, and kept the format flowing and conversational

If this is the wisdom and depth these guys have then, and with due respect to the media on both sides, they are the only ones who can be trusted to solve matters that have remained unresolved for seven decades. Our, layman’s that is, understanding of Pakistan as a state is based on what the media says, and this book is a good counter to suggest that more often than not what the media says is false or at best an unintelligent conjecture. And yes, as ironical as it may sound, the sutradhaar is a man from the media.

This is a highly readable book and presents the many sides of politics, diplomacy, the historical baggage of partition, the wounds of wars, and of course, the festering wound of Kashmir.

It was heartbreaking to learn how the two former spies discuss Kashmir as a problem that can’t be solved and how the controlled bloodshed in the valley keeps the two nations on an even keel. The initiatives taken by leaders from both sides from time to time have been discussed in detail. Though, later in the book, they do tone down and suggest solutions to address the Kashmir problem.

The spymasters agree on most things when it comes to India-Pakistan relations and at the heart of their agreement is intelligence sharing: structured, institutionalized, and transparent sharing of intelligence on a regular basis. In fact, Mr. Dulat cites one example when he says, “In 2003, a tip-off from the RAW to the ISI saved General Musharraf’s life.” Then after a few pages, we find him saying, “I was once asked by a TV channel in Karachi what I thought of the ISI. I said, ISI is great, I would have loved to have been the DG ISI.”

General Durrani minces no words in his criticism of Nawaz Sharif. Clearly frustrated, at one point he says, “India’s advantage is the capacity or capability of the state. You have Modi and Doval vs Janjua and Nawaz Sharif.” About his preference of Vajpayee over Modi he says, “I prefer someone like Vajpayee who did not deliver but his approach was right. A person who manages the relationship well will not keep you on tenterhooks. Not that there is any intention to equate Vajpayee with Modi. World of difference. We would be happy if someone like Vajpayee was prime minister in Pakistan. Poet, philosopher, he could have been a good prime minister for us.”

Continuing with his assessment of Nawaz Sharif he adds, “With Mian Saheb, it is not the chemistry that works because Mian Saheb does not work chemically. He works at best instinctively or probably driven by business and financial consideration. He understands how to survive politically at home, but on international relations, he has the acumen of a camel.” When Sinha prods him and asks him what he thinks of Modi as he had called Trump a duck earlier, Durrani says, “A fox.”

Dulat, while appreciating the Indian Muslim, shares his thoughts on why did the Indian Muslim reject the idea of ISIS, “The Indian Muslim is a cool Muslim: he’s rational, moderate, and not interested in getting involved in nonsense. They would rather stay out of this mess.” Yet,” he adds, “radicalism is growing perhaps as a result of our muscular policy. Jamat certainly is growing.”

Durrani, as is evident at a few places, likes his drink and I must quote at least once of his fondness for alcohol, which, as all of us know, is considered illegal in Pakistan. He says, “… took me to a club in Delhi where I had the best gin-and-tonic and fish tikkas.”

The two have also spoken their mind on Kulbhushan Jadhav, Afghanistan, Baluchistan, China, America, Russia, Iran, and of course Kashmir. This is a must-read book. Five hours later, the reader will be in a never before position to understand the complexity of the India-Pakistan relations. The two gentlemen have given some solutions too, which, to my mind, do have the potential to set a course of probable happiness and mutual coexistence.