Kashmir resents Delhi effort to change character of the Valley: Ex-RAW chief AS Dulat tells Firstpost

Former RAW chief AS Dulat has worked in Kashmir for several years having served as the Intelligence Bureau's (IB) special director in Srinagar during former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure. Not only did he supervise the intelligence network during this period, but he was also advisor on Kashmir in the PMO during Vajpayee’s tenure. He went on to write an insightful book titled Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years providing details about how Vajpayee handled this challenging state.

Dulat spoke to Firstpost about the equation with Pakistan, the government in Jammu and Kashmir and militancy. Edited excerpts follow:

The situation in the Valley is changing rapidly. Would you say Pakistan presently has gained an edge in the Valley?
No, I don’t think Pakistan has an edge, nor do I think Pakistan will ever have an edge. Whatever edge Pakistan had ended in 2001 with the 11 September attacks when then president George W Bush read the riot act to Pervez Musharraf and told him firmly there no scope for any further dilly-dallying over the issue of terrorism. The Kashmiris realised they could no longer depend on Pakistan. If they (Pakistanis) were incapable of taking care of themselves, how were they going to be in a position to take care of Kashmiris?

Another watershed occurred in 2008 with the 26 November attacks in Mumbai. The Pakistani thinking class realised this was a grave mistake and Islamabad could not afford to indulge in such acts — they felt genuinely apologetic about it. If you remember, then president Asif Zardari announced he would send the director-general of the ISI to Delhi to help India investigate the attack, but the Pakistan Army made him backtrack on his statement.

During the past few months, Pakistani leaders had actually stopped talking about Kashmir. Imran Khan had asked that Kashmir be put on the backburner. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has not uttered a word on Kashmir for a long time. The developments that took place in the Valley since last summer has given them (Pakistan) an invitation, an opening to start fishing in troubled waters once again.

File image of protests in Kashmir. PTI

File image of protests in Kashmir. PTI

Are you saying that the present PDP-BJP coalition has mishandled the situation?
If you see the results of the 2014 Assembly election, there was no other way but for the BJP and PDP to join hands. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed described it as an alliance between the North Pole and the South Pole. Both sides have looked at the coalition differently. Mufti Saheb wanted to bring Jammu closer to the Valley and in doing so, he hoped he would get a lot of support from the Centre. That never came about.

The BJP looked at the alliance differently. It provided them with an opportunity to enter the Valley. This is where Kashmir resentment began with Mufti Saheb having emerged as the villain for bringing the RSS into the Valley.

Do you think the RSS has entered the Valley in a substantive manner?
I don’t know. It seems the RSS has made some headway. This is what I have heard, but whatever you hear is hearsay. The Kashmiris are resentful. They feel there is an effort in Delhi to change the character of the Valley. Their ultimate nightmare is that they will be reduced to a minority in the Valley and that is the core of what the present disturbance is about. One thing has led to another.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made no effort to reassure the Kashmiris that this will not happen?
Modi doesn’t seem to have made any overtures to reassure them.

In that sense, there seems to be a world of difference between the approach of Modi and Vajpayee towards Kashmir?
There is a world of difference between the Modi and Vajpayee approach. The difference is obvious. Vajpayee was asked at the airport when he was leaving for the capital whether his dialogue with the Kashmiris would be held within the ambit of the Constitution. To which Vajpayee replied, "Phasuul batein kyon karte ho? Insaniyaat ki daire mein hongi."

The present government says, "We will not talk to separatists." My point is, where is the question of holding talks outside the Constitution? Everybody knows that when the Government of India talks, it is not going to talk outside the Constitution. Why say this so loudly and put this as a precondition (for holding talks)?. In 2003 and 2004, the Hurriyat held two rounds of meetings with then deputy prime minister LK Advani — there was no mention of talking outside or within the Constitution. Neither did Advani say this, nor did the Hurriyat.

In fact, the Hurriyat leaders said privately, "For goodness sake, don’t bring in the issue of the Constitution or we will have problems in Srinagar." Why is the present government determined to run the Kashmiri nose into the ground?

The impression this present government is giving is that it does not feel the need to talk to Kashmiris and there's possibly a good reason for it.

Does the present government not realise how strategically important the Valley is for India ?
Strategically, it is a vital state. Maybe it has only half a percent of the country’s population, but it is the only Muslim majority state in the country. If this goes, what happens to Muslims in the rest of the country? They comprise 14 percent of the nation’s population.

Is such an attitude developing because of an undercurrent of an anti-Muslim sentiment?
How can I say anything? Ask (BJP national general secretary) Ram Madhav. There is also a school of thought that says that we have been engaging with the Kashmiris for 70 years and it has produced nothing. Maybe it’s time to try the other approach. We have been giving them far too much importance.

File image of Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

File image of Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

But is Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti not delievering ?
The BJP is in alliance with Mehbooba, but no one talks to her. She is not taken seriously. She has been reduced to a convenience. She should get more support. In Kashmir, she and her party have lost out. That is why there is a lot internal debate and bickering within her party. There is now a lot of talk and demand for Governor’s Rule.

Do you think the Centre should impose Governor’s Rule ?
It would be going backwards. It would be a retrograde step. It was PV Narasimha Rao who, in 1996, decided the time had come to end Governor’s Rule and to allow the democratic process to be put in place. In case of Governor’s Rule, there is no buffer between the Centre and the public. The blame will come directly to Delhi. Let it continue as it is at present.

In the 1990s when things were hotting up, I was in Srinagar. Jagmohan came in as governor in January 1990 and Farooq Abdullah put in his resignation. There was a debate on whether to dissolve the Assembly or not. Jagmohan, in his wisdom, decided to dissolve it. It was a mistake; he should have kept it in suspended animation.

Look at the scenario today. The bye-election on 25 May in Anantnag has been cancelled. The situation is so bad that the holding of elections is unthinkable. The next elections in Jammu and Kashmir are due in 2020. Let the Assembly continue in the hope that the situation will improve.

The situation is going from bad to worse. We cannot forget that China today has a substantial presence in the north. President Donald Trump has also recently spoken about his willingness to negotiate on Kashmir?
There are signals coming from the West and the East that we need to talk, we need to engage with the people. As people across the world are saying: Why don’t Pakistan and India settle this dispute?

How close were we to arriving at an agreement in Agra?
Agra was a big misfortune. If something positive had emerged in 2004, before Vajpyaee’s term ended, he would have achieved something and possibly been re-elected too.

Does this show a certain insensitivity?
Obvious insensitivity and a 'couldn’t care less' school of thought. We have been engaging with Kashmiris for the past 70 years and it has produced nothing. Maybe it's time to try the other approach.

The government believes that maybe we have been giving them far too much importance.

The first signal for this changing stance came a couple of years ago when foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan were called off. Then Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit met (Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party founder and president) Shabir Shah. The Centre’s attitude was "If you talk to Hurriyat, we will not talk to you". This goes back to Rao’s time, when he had declared, "What is this rubbish? If they want to meet Hurriyat, let them do so. If the Hurriyat wants to go to Pakistan, let them go."

From 1995 to 2015, Pakistani high commission officials were interacting very freely with Hurriyat. Musharraf met the Hurriyat before he reached Agra for talks. What was the big deal? That was also BJP-NDA rule. Interestingly, it was Advani who was the architect of Agra; it was his idea to hold the summit in order to arrive at an agreement.

Which Indian leader played the villain there?
Advani played the villain. Pakistan made a tactical mistake. They did not give Advani the sort of importance he deserved.

The talks there are reported to have fallen apart at the last minute.
I don’t know. A few words here and there — we wanted more emphasis on terrorism, Pakistan more stress on Kashmir.

File image of AS Dulat. Screen grab from YouTube

File image of AS Dulat. Screen grab from YouTube

We seem to have travelled a long way from there.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh missed the bus in 2006-2007 even though there was a clear window of opportunity. Singh was expected to go to Pakistan, he did not go. Musharraf got into a scrap with lawyers and that was the end of him. Time is of the essence in matters of State.

There is some apprehension that we are gearing up for another conflict.
So be it then.

Former prime minister IK Gujral received flak for removing RAW operatives who were operating in Pakistan.
There are stories and these get exaggerated. Prime ministers do not say 'pull out operatives'. Gujral was a man of peace. There was possibly less skulduggery during his time than earlier. I was not there then — we should try and be fair to the man.

The question being asked is what is the way forward?
The government has declared that terror and talks do not go together. When dealing with a State like Pakistan which has been the factory for producing terrorists and is now on the receiving end of terror, then an exception has to be made. If we go by this premise, we can never talk to Pakistan.

What then is the way out ?
We have come a long way from 1947 to 2017 and we need to recognise that. The Kashmiris are saying, "Allow us to live with honour." Today, Kashmiri itna pita hai, he has put up his hands. When you talk to them face-to-face, they say they have gained nothing from guns.

The older generation of Kashmir emphatically states that they have been destroyed. The boys who are throwing stones comprise such a small percentage of the population. They reflect the hopelessness around them. Today, even the girls are out. They are openly saying, "We are willing to die." Such is their state of mind.

Updated Date: May 09, 2017 10:52 AM

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