Moeed Yusuf's Interview To Indian Portal Tells You More About Sections Of Indian Media Than The Pakistan NSA

Venu Gopal Narayanan

Aug 01, 2021, 06:04 PM | Updated 06:04 PM IST

Pakistan NSA Moeed Yusuf
Pakistan NSA Moeed Yusuf
  • It also makes you wonder why the Pakistani army, the firangi jamaat, plus the leftie end of our media spectrum were, collectively, so awfully keen for a Pakistani NSA to get an Indian platform.
  • Geopolitics is about trying to connect hazy, moving dots, which is why diplomats and spies normally keep their public dealings rather opaque. It’s a guessing game; you don’t want the other side to read your mind, because if they can, then they will also be able to read your intent. The exception is the political appointee, who escapes because his or her answers blandly follow the party line, and little else.

    Even then, most professional spymasters and strategists shy away from speaking with their press, while in office, because juicy tidbits could slip inadvertently through, when complex concepts are dumbed severely down for public consumption. For that, and more, it is thus rarer for a senior functionary of the security-intelligence establishment to speak freely with an interlocutor from an unfriendly nation. It’s just not worth the risk.

    For benchmarking, imagine the fuss if our National Security Advisor (NSA), Ajit Doval, had given freely of himself, on camera, to an establishment journalist like Hamid Mir. The opposition here would have certainly questioned the wisdom of such an act, and been so fervently up in arms, that they wouldn’t have let parliament run for the next decade.

    So, eyebrows rose when Pakistani NSA Moeed Yusuf give a lengthy interview last week to a left-wing Indian portal called The Wire.

    For background, Yusuf has degrees from American universities, spent most of his adult life in American universities and think tanks, and is a self-confessed acolyte of the late Stephen Cohen – an American strategic affairs expert on the Indian subcontinent, who groomed hundreds of Indians and Pakistanis over half a century. Today, these Cohen-ites form the core of the puppy-jhuppy-aman-ki-asha brigade, be it in academia, government, uniform, or journalism.

    Yusuf’s astral rise in government commenced at the remarkably young age of 38, soon after Imran Khan became Prime Minister of Pakistan in late 2018. He was appointed to his present post in September 2019. It had a different title then, which kept changing until Yusuf was formally named NSA in May this year. The reading was: for someone so young to be given such a high post, he must be either brilliant, or brilliantly networked.

    Here’s what the interview shows: Yusuf’s response to an opening question, on a recent ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan, was to instead offer his condolences to Indians for the terrible tragedies wrought by the epidemic. And then he said: ‘…above politics, we’re hearing that the number [of fatalities in India] may be as high as 3-4 million, much higher than acknowledged by the Indian government’

    Such a mean-spirited statement, right at the start, was dishonorable apophasis of the crudest variety, which showed not just the man, but the government he represented, in extremely poor light. The objective was clear: establish frames of reference, by implying that if the Indian government speaks untruths on even public health issues, then how can anyone take India at her word on foreign affairs?

    Yusuf may have thought he was being laudably glib, but this was a mistake, because it cost him his credibility not a minute into his opening statement. He should have known better; that, to purportedly take the high ground by abjuring politics, and then to tumble off the summit so ungainly in the next breath, reflects a congenital lack of honor. And to top that, the Indian interviewer politely nodded his way through Yusuf’s crass remark, without a murmur.

    The next point deepened the pit Yusuf had dug, when he declaimed that India was perpetrating terror against Pakistan, in Pakistan. His country was the victim, and it was India’s fault. The solution, Yusuf said, was talks; they were ready, but India wasn’t, and that was apparently bothering the rest of the world so much, that ‘someone’ intervened to ‘put pressure on India’. Readers may note that this is the stock mediation bromide brought up by both Pakistan, and our usual suspects, whenever it rains. It’s raining now.

    Cohen’s former student was doing well, thus far. Talking about talks is a great source of moral refurbishment and sanctimonious image-building, especially when you don’t offer any details of ground realities or solutions, and conveniently, none are demanded by the interviewer.

    We also learnt that Pakistan was on a path of ‘geo-economic’ success through ‘regional connectivity’. You wondered who had scripted this, because ‘regional connectivity’ was the rationale devised for a new quad grouping scraped together by America just last week, in the wake of her humiliating departure from Afghanistan (read more here); and ‘geo-economics’ is the new buzzword doing the rounds in the usual circles (see here), after ‘greyzone’ sadly flopped last month.

    The fly in the ointment, as always, was India – specifically, a cabal running India. This is a point which the NSA repeatedly bolstered through snide remarks and smirks. For good effect, he also threw his hands up and shrugged helplessly a few times. What else could a poor victim do? It is best read as a reference to Modi, Amit Shah and Doval, who, in the jamaati worldview, are intransigently running India like a dictatorship, with disastrous global consequences.

    This was Alice-in-Wonderland stuff. Yet, strangely enough, these are also points on which both the jamaat and Pakistan concur. Modi is bad. Shah is bad. Doval is bad. It is the simplistic, reductionist binary which is employed to further arguments and agendas, stemming from the ideological fount of dead white men who lived a century or two ago.

    What was odd, though, was to see Pakistan’s NSA use these arguments without being contradicted by his Indian interlocutor. The other curious part is that this was actually Yusuf’s second interview to the same Indian journalist in nine months. And on both occasions, a chumminess reaching back into a common past was patently evident.

    In fact, Yusuf’s past interactions indicate that he is fairly comfortable speaking with our usual suspects. In late 2018, when he was still very much a minion of the occidental liberal establishment, Yusuf gave an interview, again to The Wire. Then too, the appellations used were of the first name variety. And then too, the set up was provided by our side, with an elaborate introduction, on how it was Modi’s rigid refusal to speak to Pakistan, which was stymieing Islamabad’s peace efforts. It was like Yusuf was talking to himself.

    Interestingly, that 2018 interlocutor finds repeated, grateful mention in Yusuf’s book, Brokering peace in nuclear environments. It is a tome which makes an elaborate case for third-party intervention in the Indian subcontinent, without offering solutions on what Pakistan has been up to for so long in Kashmir. Again, readers may note the similarity of that argument, to hopes expressed by some of our own earlier this week, that they expected American Secretary of State Antony Blinken to reprimand Modi while in Delhi.

    Still, as an educated man, and an academic, Yusuf should know that the more he scoffs at the one country he actually needs to deal with, by blithely mixing casuistry with pointless derision in such a cavalier manner, the less seriously he will be taken. That’s bad for his country, since national security is grave business, not a talk show, and they are probably laughing at him in Washington, DC and Delhi. John Le Carré put it best many years ago, that the more you mock your opponents, the less capable you become of tackling them, because scorn is self-defeating.

    Thus, what we learn is that Yusuf, when supplied the opportunity, is good at quietly pushing uncertainty into a conversation, in an elegant, refined way; after which, he spins the ball on demand. In December 2018, he sidestepped a question from The Wire on Imran Khan’s possible India policy, by suavely wondering what the outcome of the 2019 Indian general elections would be. He said: ‘I’m hearing that…after the recent assembly elections [in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, all three of which the BJP lost]…the field has opened up’. Translation: why should I reveal my cards just yet, when I’m trying to see how Modi can lose in 2019?

    But that only makes him a PR-wallah, not a security affairs specialist. Or, maybe that’s all he is. Yusuf comes across as just another smug political appointee who obediently does as he is told, by all his masters – foreign and domestic. His insouciance probably stems from the fact that, he is resigned to being used as a prop and a patsy rolled into one. He knows that becoming NSA of a nuclear power is about as good as it is ever going to get for him (unless the Pakistani army co-opts him into politics, or the firangi jamaat write him a new role); the fall guy, to be used and thrown as and when required.

    In which case, does it matter which leftist Indian web portal he speaks to, however frequently, if all he’s meant to do is a good salesman’s job of plugging his army’s line? After all, it is not like he is going to take, or will ever be allowed to take, a dozen pointed questions on camera from a publication like Swarajya, for example. Meaning, that Yusuf will be glib only as long as the boundaries of an interaction are kept within the family.

    For perspective, imagine Swarajya’s R Jagannathan in a blue suit (with one collar tip slightly askew), speaking to Yusuf for an hour on geopolitics. Conjures delicious visions of a memorable interview, doesn’t it? And yet, the truth is that, ceteris paribus, such an interview would never happen; not so much because the Pakistani army wouldn’t want their man fried to a crisp, but because there are enough East Coast liberals of various skin tones, at home and abroad, who would instantly nip such a move in the bud.

    And that’s the concluding point: the real takeaway is not that Yusuf is more mannequin than man, or more someone’s script than security expert, but that, certain sections of the Indian press are so cozily chummy with establishment liberals. Makes you wonder how deep the roots actually go.

    It also makes you wonder why the Pakistani army, the firangi jamaat, plus the leftie end of our media spectrum were, collectively, so awfully keen for a Pakistani NSA to get an Indian platform, to sanctimoniously justify his nation’s policies to an Indian audience – precisely when Islamabad is up to no good in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Now that’s a set of dots worth connecting.

    Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.

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