Review of "Tryst with Perfidy: The Deep State of Pakistan

Lt Gen (retd) Kamal Davar’s book on Pakistan joins a number of recent books by Indian and foreign analysts reflecting growing concern about Pakistan’s multiple crises and the belief that Pakistan’s security establishment or deep state, its ideology and its policies are at the heart of these crises. In Davar’s words “Among the intelligence agencies in the last four decades that truly reflect a ‘state within a state,’ Pakistan’s ISI would easily be the most powerful among all.”

Some of the books in the last two years are: Hein Kiessling Faith, Unity, Discipline: The Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan (Hurst publishers, 2016), Owen Sirrs, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate: Covert Action and Internal Operations (Routledge, 2016), Tilak Devasher Pakistan Courting the Abyss (Harper Collins 2016) and Prabhoo Singh Pakistan ISI: The Invisible Parallel Government (GB Books, 2017).

Lt General Davar served for over four decades in the Indian army, is a veteran of the 1965 and 1971 wars and retired as Director General of India’s Defense Intelligence Agency. His book starts by nothing that Pakistan is “one nation in South Asia which is at the core of creating regional instability and unleashing and fostering fundamentalist violence, not only for other nations in this expanse, but also for itself.”

Yet, coming from a family of freedom fighters and pacifists, Davar’s reasons for writing a book on Pakistan’s deep state are realist: examine the problem so as to find a solution for the entire region of South Asia. In his own words “In the larger interests of the neighborhood and mutual well-being, we wish those who broke away from us, seventy years back, well.”

The book is an easy read, provides a historical timeline for key events that occurred in Pakistan’s history while retaining its focus on Pakistan’s army and the ISI. The book is an in-depth examination of the ISI “an institution which is driven by a medieval ideology, and has acquired unbridled powers which, in my considered view, has accentuated unnecessary and uncalled for troubles and travails for South Asia.” As Davar rightly states “hyper nationalism based upon mere religious fanaticism” or “unbridled ambitions of a general gone astray” or “base motivations” should not define a country’s policies.

Each war between India and Pakistan from 1948 to 1965, 1971 and Kargil in 1999 is examined in detail in a separate chapter. There is also a complete chapter on Pakistan’s military that incorporates and builds upon work by Stephen Cohen, Husain Haqqani, Shuja Nawaz and Christine Fair to provide a comprehensive overview of what Pakistan inherited at partition, the British legacy, the changing social background of the officers and soldiers, the rising Islamization, military and strategic doctrine and the legacy left by each army chief.

The standalone chapter on the ISI provides extensive details about the formation of the institution, its history under both military and civilian leaders of Pakistan including their views and impact on the ISI. According to Davar the ISI is “more than a pillar of the Pakistani Deep State.” Rather it has “driven Pakistan’s domestic and external agenda” and is dubbed by many as “invisible government.”  

There are also chapters on Pakistan’s nuclear program, the corporate interests of the Pakistani military, as well as Pakistan’s involvement in Indian Punjab (including support for the Khalistani militants), India’s north east and Jammu and Kashmir. The Afghan question and Pakistan’s relations with the United States are examined in detail in the book as well.

Davar starts and ends his book by pointing out the similarities between Pakistan and Indian at the time of independence in 1947. He argues that by “running away from its roots” Pakistan has in many ways become “directionless.” The question Davar leaves us with is one he asks at the start of his book: where will Pakistan’s obsession with its western neighbor – India – lead the country?