AS Dulat, former Secretary of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)
As a quixotic, classical spymaster, Amarjit Singh Dulat, might have lost his swagger in the BJP government’s ever-evolving statecraft of ‘offensive defence’, but the ‘old Kashmir hand’ still counts on his conventional assets and traditional methods for the way forward in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
His famous ‘Dulat Doctrine’ was one of the cornerstones of India’s Kashmir policy in the troubled decade of the 1990s and even beyond. His views, therefore, merit special consideration, with the government of India recently breaking political ice in the Kashmir Valley.
The erstwhile Chief of Intelligence Bureau (IB), believes talks is the only way forward in Kashmir, which is currently being managed with the help of military muscle, especially after the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.
“Whatever happened on August 5, 2019, the people of Kashmir were disappointed with it,” says Dulat. “I think the Centre should restore the statehood for Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir’s mainstream leaders are demanding it before the elections. This is a genuine demand, which will help to carry forward the dialogue,” he said in an exclusive interview.
Amid this internal politicking, Dulat reckons that the rise of the turbaned force in Afghanistan will not have any bearing on the Kashmir Valley. “Taliban will now seek international recognition, including from India. Why would they get involved in Kashmir,” he reasons.
In a candid chat, the former Secretary of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) delves upon Kashmir, Kabul and the crisis within. Selected excerpts:
Q. How do you see the recent political outreach to Kashmiri political leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
A. It’s a welcome step, and a good beginning. I’ve always said that the solution to Kashmir lies in dialogue. It can’t be dealt with militarily.
Q. But the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) has expressed disappointment with the June 24 meeting in the “absence of any substantial confidence-building measures (CBMs)”. What do you think went wrong?
A. Yes, they’re disappointed at the outcome of the meeting due to the absence of some confidence-building measures, which I believe is important. But at the same time, I also believe that the dialogue should go on, and it shouldn’t stop. Both sides should think about how to carry forward the dialogue.
But we also need to understand that there are people beyond the PAGD like Sajjad Lone and Altaf Bukhari. They’ve a role to play. Both of them know New Delhi very closely. Now it’s up to them what they want to do.
At the same time, we have the main party, National Conference, in PAGD, which is also the largest party in Jammu and Kashmir. I think not just the political process, but also the democratic process should now be started in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). I think it’s the time to conduct assembly elections in the Union Territory (UT).
Q. How do you think conducting elections and restoring statehood, as you say, will help?
A. See, the thing is, whatever happened on August 5, 2019, the people of Kashmir were disappointed with it. The state was bifurcated into two Union Territories. At that time, the Centre had promised that they would restore statehood. Now, I believe that BJP is going to reverse the decision. Only the Supreme Court will decide.
So, I think, the Centre should restore the statehood of the UT. Kashmir’s mainstream leaders are demanding it before the elections. This is a genuine demand, which will help to carry forward the dialogue.
Q. What do you think prompted the Modi government to reach out to Kashmiri politicians, whom they had derided and demonized after the abrogation of Article 370?
A. New Delhi would know a better answer, but I think they must have thought that we’ve to resolve it politically. Over the years, we have ultimately come to realize that we need to solve all the issues politically in Kashmir.
During (Atal Behari) Vajpayee ji’s time, we even had to speak with Hurriyat. This has been the history of Kashmir and I must say confidence-building measures are must to carry forward the dialogue. At the time, even the Hurriyat demanded release of some prisoners as confidence-building measures, and we did it, and moved on.
Q. Despite that, New Delhi continues to look at Kashmir primarily from a state-security perspective. Do you think it’s the right thing to do especially when the international community has been raising the humanitarian angle of the issue?
A. See, as I told you, New Delhi needs to see it politically too, although the security angle is also important. But if we want to resolve the issue, we have to see it politically.
Q. What do you think will be the impact of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan on Kashmir?
A. I don’t see Taliban’s interference in Kashmir. They will have to handle Afghanistan now. US troop withdrawal will only facilitate a political power moment in Afghanistan.
Q. Do you think Pakistan will push Taliban into Kashmir and if they do, what can be the repercussions?
A. I don’t think Pakistan can do that. Taliban will now seek international recognition, including from India. Why would they get involved in Kashmir? I don’t believe that the Taliban will now dance to Pakistan’s tunes; they have their own independent agenda.
Q. More than 20 militants were killed by forces in recent weeks. Meanwhile, GOC 15 Corps has said there are still around 200 militants active in the valley. So despite serious setbacks, militant groups have been able to find recruits. What is your take?
A. Militancy and its numbers have been there for decades. The number goes up and comes down but what concerns me is that militants are home-grown, particularly from the southern part of Kashmir. Most of the militancy in Kashmir is indigenous; of-course foreign elements are also there, but most of the militants killed are locals. That is why I am saying, you need to seek a political solution—though law and order is a separate issue.
Q. In a write-up, you claimed that Pakistan is reconciled now to the abrogation of Article 370. On the other hand, Islamabad seems adamant that they will talk to India only when it reconsiders the August 5 changes?
A. See, the thing is, rhetoric and reality are two different things. If Pakistan wants India to undo the August 5 decision, then why did they go for a ceasefire on the borders and start talking with India? There is a reconciliation Vis a Vis Article 370 in Pakistan and I must tell you General Mushraf would always say that whatever solution is acceptable to Kashmiris, we will accept it. So if Kashmir’s mainstream political leaders have accepted the decision, why won’t it be acceptable to Pakistan?
Q. But there has been no positive development after the ceasefire between the two countries in February this year and Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Moeed Yusuf has said the talks have been abandoned. What went wrong?
A. Moeed Yousuf must be saying this to calm down his people, who might be questioning Pakistan's policy regarding Kashmir. But I don’t think Islamabad has abandoned talks with India. Pakistan was very excited after the ceasefire and a lot of positive and satisfactory things were said and at the same time, our side remained silent because they have to see what all will happen in the future. How will militancy work and other things.
So, the talks must be going on, even when people feel the talks aren’t taking place. Countries don’t abandon talks. It's just that we don’t know its intensity and fallout in the future.
Q. We have been hearing a lot about the possibility of a two-front war. What do you make of it?
A. I don’t see a war. People have realised throughout the world that war is the last bad option, and nobody wants it.
Q. You recently said the role of separatist leaders in the valley under the “Hurriyat” umbrella is over but New Delhi should try to bring Mirwaiz Umar Farooq into mainstream politics in Kashmir. Why do you suggest so?
A. Hurriyat has been dismantled in Kashmir entirely, but Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is still an important leader in the camp. He has a religious and political role as well. So, he has a big role to play in future and New Delhi should start a dialogue with him. To keep him out will be neither helpful for New Delhi nor for him.
Q. But do you think New Delhi will be able to persuade him to join mainstream politics especially after the August 5 decision and the ensuing ground situation in the valley?
A. See, I must tell you that Pakistan’s pressure on separatists is a great disservice to Kashmir. They should not stop them from joining the mainstream political parties in J&K. When Omar Abdullah went to Pakistan and met General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader was very impressed with Mr. Abdullah, and said these people are better than Hurriyat because it is easy to talk to them.
Mirwaiz has his own constituency and he can play a role. If he contests elections, don’t you think that he can become Deputy Chief Minister? In the end, what matters is what is acceptable to New Delhi and Kashmir, which ultimately Pakistan will have to accept.