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Kashmir is in pre-’96 era, Narendra Modi is in the best position to handle it: R&AW chief A S Dulat

In this Idea Exchange, former R&AW chief A S Dulat talks about money changing hands in Kashmir, says Delhi doesn't understand the "compulsions" of a Kashmiri politician.

Written by Muzamil Jaleel |
July 12, 2015 12:00:00 am
A S Dulat, RAW Chief, Idea exchange, Narendra Modi, Kashmiri politician, ISI Kashmir, kashmir government, indian Express R&AW chief explains why, on Kashmir, his book is just “the tip of the iceberg”.


A S Dulat’s relationship with Kashmir is as old as militancy itself. He has been a witness to and participant in major events in the Valley for two decades, first as head of IB from 1988-90 and then as the man in charge of the K-group. After becoming R&AW chief, he was actively involved in Kashmir and was eventually picked up by Vajpayee as his point-person in the Valley. His latest book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, is an insider’s account of the events that transpired in those turbulent times

Muzamil Jaleel: Why did you feel the need to write this book (Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years)?

The reason is as complex as Kashmir. I have had my head stuffed with Kashmir over the years. A lot of publishers approached me and said, ‘Dulat saab, aap ek kitaab likhiye’. I don’t know whether I know more or less than others because I don’t think there is a Kashmir expert. People have sent me messages saying that you’ve burnt your bridges. Now if bridges are burnt so quickly, then that also is an education. Also, if you follow Kashmir, it gets into your bloodstream and then it becomes an obsession. So I thought that now enough time has passed and, contrary to what some friends were saying, that I’m spilling the beans, that I’m telling secrets… What secret? What is not known?

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Ritu Sarin: Did you have to show your manuscript to anyone?

Nobody ever told me that I needed to show my manuscript to anybody. But if it’s a question which is being raised now, about vetting, it can still be vetted. I don’t think I have told any State secret. The one thing which some people are referring to is about Syed Salahuddin (head of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen). Many years ago, I was on an interview together with Salahuddin. I said to Salahuddin in that interview that you should also get involved (in talks). He said, ‘Hamare liye toh table par jagah nahin hai (there’s no space for me on the table)’. I told him there was enough space. So he said, ‘Hamare se to koi baat hi nahin karta hai (nobody talks to me)’. So if someone is objecting to what has been said now in the book — about his son being helped to get a transfer from Jammu to Srinagar — then somebody could also say that my conversation with Salahuddin was (in contravention of) the Official Secrets Act.

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Muzamil Jaleel: You mention how Brajesh Mishra calls Omar Abdullah and tells him to urge his father to accept President’s rule, ‘otherwise we know how to deal with it’. It shows how Delhi exerted its power, even in the way chief ministers were selected.

Firstly, chief ministers are not selected from Delhi. Delhi might have preferences, and that is what I have indicated in the book. His father (Farooq Abdullah) knows, he (Omar Abdullah) knows the truth. But he lost the (2002) election. If Delhi was meddling, interfering, then Omar sahab should not have lost that election. What I’m trying to convey in this book is that in Kashmir, there is no better way than engagement. If we have gone wrong, it is because of our inconsistencies. Mr (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee started a process. It was handed to the UPA government on a platter. I think Dr Manmohan Singh was more than keen to take that process forward. But it didn’t go forward. So something went wrong and you can’t blame the Kashmiris all the time.

Muzamil Jaleel: You also say that Narendra Modi’s government has been hostile to Pakistan. Can you elaborate?

The point is, prime minister Vajpayee was one of his kind. He was a great leader and a great politician. Despite all his problems, despite the fact that he was running a coalition government, and despite three repeated provocations from Pakistan, he never deviated from what he believed in. And his belief was that we need to move forward in Kashmir and we need to end this permanent confrontation with Pakistan. And that is where the process was headed.

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Muzamil Jaleel: What do you think about the present government?

What I think about the present government is what Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (Hurriyat leader) has said and what Mufti sahab has said. Mirwaiz said that we look forward to Modiji’s prime ministership and I’m sure that he will take the Vajpayee way forward. No one has been in a better position than Modi. Vajpayee headed a coalition government. Dr Manmohan Singh headed a coalition government. Now there is no coalition. So he doesn’t have to look left, right and centre and there is nobody to his right anyway. Today, I feel a bit like we are in the pre-’96 days …baatcheet ho sakti hai, politics ho sakti hai, which is what Kashmiris since 1990 have been looking for. And I have been talking to people since 1990-91. The Kashmiris have never said no to talking.

Ritu Sarin: You’ve said frequently that a lot of money changes hands.

Whenever governments change — this happens all over the world — people talk ill about the last gang which was there. So as far as the Kashmir policy went, I was made the villain, the scapegoat… Somebody said that he bribed his way through. Maybe I should not have reacted. And my own colleagues started saying that he has raised the rates in Kashmir. But what I have said is that the money issue in Kashmir goes back a very, very long time. It’s been happening and it happens all over the world.

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Muzamil Jaleel: You’ve said that this (handing out money) is an ethical way to deal with Kashmir and that nobody has come up with a better way.

We are being told all the time, ISI wale itna dete hain, wo itna dete hain, isko itna milta hai… I had said that if that is the only criterion, we can also do it. But I said that we don’t kill people, we don’t have people bumped off in Kashmir. Somebody may have got killed, but if you can give me one incident of a targeted killing — I don’t think there has been any — whereas you know how many people have been killed by the other side.

Muzamil Jaleel: But there have been cases of custodial killings, a point missing in your book. You were there during Operation Tiger — catch and kill. Then there is the policy of ‘categorisation’.

See, the categorisation that people are talking about, of militants and those who require bumping off, I’m not aware of it. I was not aware of it even then. That there were some custodial killings, of course I know. I’m not that naive and I won’t pretend that I don’t know anything. But this categorisation… it happened so many years ago, it’s hard to remember now. I’m not trying to conceal anything.

Muzamil Jaleel: You point out that there has always been management (of the conflict) through money and promises? Wouldn’t you agree that the Indian State has kept Kashmiris against their will?

It’s very unfortunate, this whole business of money. Let me tell you something. When I started talking to people, I gave them neither money nor drinks nor anything. It’s not like I went with a bundle of money and said, ‘Baat karenge aap?’. Nothing like that. Whatever conversation or dialogue happened, it happened spontaneously. It was a gradual process. It was not as if we were bribing people all the time. If you ask me, the money part, if it came into play, it came into play much later.

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Sagnik Chowdhury: What is your opinion on the release of Masarat Alam (the separatist leader released on March 7, 2015)?

The thing is that we in Delhi don’t understand the compulsions of a Kashmiri politician. That’s why I’ve said Dr Farooq (Abdullah) is the tallest of the leaders because he could carry that… he has the charisma and that personality. Also, he can create theatre, like he did in both those crises — IC-814 (hijack, December 1999) and the Rubaiya kidnapping (daughter of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed abducted in 1989 by Kashmiri militants). But now, for a politician struggling in Kashmir, even someone as astute as Mufti sahab, they have compulsions. So, if he released Masarat Alam, it was out of compulsion.

Muzamil Jaleel: You say that Kashmir today is in the same pre-1996 situation. Can you explain?

In 1996, the National Conference came to power because nobody else contested that election seriously. Today, the situation in Kashmir is not like that, but politically, either the clock has stopped somewhere or we’ve moved back a bit. The kind of terrorism we’ve been seeing of late is very scary. A lot of these boys (who become militants) are from fairly good families, middle class, upper middle class, qualified engineers. So why are they getting into this? That’s the scary part. I’m not worried about the waving of Pakistani flags, they can be stopped any time. If ISIS flags are raised or ISIS graffiti appears in downtown Srinagar, then somebody needs to look into it.

Muzamil Jaleel: How do you see the current situation in J&K?

Two, three things are scary. One is the character of the new terrorist. The second is that now boys don’t need to go to Pakistan, they can train themselves and each other. They’re not only training but the more scary part is that they’re testing each other, saying, ‘If you want to join, kuch kar ke dikha’. I’m told that’s part of the new drill. Nobody knows what’s happening in Sopore and sadly, even the government doesn’t seem to know.

Sagnik Chowdhury: When the Maharashtra ATS accused a saffron terror group for the Malegaon blasts, how did the intelligence community react? Were there signs in the past?

I don’t know if signs is the right word, maybe indicators, but there was a feeling that something might give. There was a sentiment in certain quarters that Hindus were at the receiving end for too long and it was time to fight back. I’m not talking so much about Malegaon, but more in context of Jammu in J&K, where there was such a feeling among Kashmiri Pandits. They had a rough deal, which brings up the question of their rehabilitation. And in the book I’ve mentioned that they need to go back in a natural, organic manner, rather than be put somewhere. I think the best way to take them back is for the separatists to make an appeal.

Muzamil Jaleel: Who was the most difficult separatist to talk to and did you ever try to meet Syed Ali Shah Geelani?

Well, it’s my mistake. I should have met Geelani sahab, I should have met him prior to the break-up of the Hurriyat, in the early ’90s some time. It was just one of those omissions. What happens is when you start talking, you look at people with whom it is easier to discuss issues, and Geelani sahab was never thought of as easy. Though everyone who has met Geelani sahab says he’s a very reasonable man. As far as the others go, I didn’t find anyone unreasonable.

Muzamil Jaleel: Was there any point during that time (while you were in the IB) when you felt that the State completely lost control in Kashmir?

I never felt that things were out of control or could go out of control, but that winter of ’89-’90 was a scary time. It was a horrific time, especially after the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed. Suddenly everything came out into the open and everything became very aggressive. Killings started, bombings started.

Unni Rajen Shanker: Before you wrote this book, you must have thought a lot about what to say and what not to say. What percentage have you withheld?

At the Delhi end I don’t think I’ve withheld too much, but on the Kashmir end, for obvious reasons, I’ve withheld a lot. I’ve not mentioned names except for the very obvious ones. In 2004, when I was involved in all this, I was asked to do a book, and I remember a journalist came to me and said ‘give me something on the Hurriyat’ and I said ‘I can’t, I just can’t, because I’m still in engagement with them’. But even now, in relation to Kashmir, you could say this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Coomi Kapoor: In your book, you’ve said Vajpayee has Chanakya’s personality and L K Advani was straight and listened to his officers. Which do you think was the more effective method?

The combination was great. The chemistry between those two great people had to be seen to be believed. And they understood each other so well and that was the great thing about that government. Poor Dr Manmohan Singh had it so tough. He wanted to do so many more things but he had nobody to support him. When Atalji said something, nobody questioned it.

Ritu Sarin: There is a sentence in your book which says Mr Advani had raised Dawood with Musharraf in Rashtrapati Bhavan before they took off for the Agra Summit (14–16 July 2001). How important do you think that was?

I got the narrative of Agra from two people. One, I will quote Mr Brajesh Mishra’s (then NSA) comments and his sense of disappointment, ‘ki Agra nahin hua’. He said the Pakistanis had made a tactical error. Now the other narrative that I have is by the Pakistan high commissioner at the time, Ashraf Qazi. He told me that nobody knew that there were 20 clandestine meetings between him and Advani and that they had built a great relationship. I asked Qazi, ‘You had such a great relationship with Advani, how did that relationship fail you?’ And he replied, ‘The Advani of Delhi was very different from the Advani of Agra’. I asked why, and his explanation was that the day Musharraf arrived, Advani went to call on him and somehow it started with Dawood Ibrahim, and that the General was taken aback and said, ‘Let’s at least get to Agra’, and so the chemistry did not work.

Rakesh Sinha: Do you think the Line of Control (LoC) can work as the boundary?

I think so. That’s what Dr Farooq has been saying since 1989-90, that the only way to resolve the issue is to make LoC the international border. But it’s not acceptable to Pakistan. It has to be packaged properly, there are cosmetics required. That’s why I keep telling the Pakistanis, ‘Look, you can’t do without the Hurriyat, we can’t do without the Hurriyat. Let us come to some agreement with the separatists. We’ll tell you what the agreement is, you sell it as your agreement.’

Rakesh Sinha: Could you tell us about the channel between the R&AW chief and the ISI chief?

Let me take you back to 26/11. Someone in the Pakistan government announced that the ISI chief would come to Delhi. Then they got cold feet and backed out. They missed out on an opportunity. In fact, I’ve been told that General Musharraf also conceded (that the engagement) helped. In 2004, when Jaish-e-Mohammad attacked him, one of the things that saved his life could have been the inputs provided by R&AW.

Muzamil Jaleel: Your book clearly sees Dr Farooq Abdullah in a very favourable light.

The thing about Farooq is that he has a certain magic to him; like Vajpayee had a certain magic. Dr Farooq is a damn good politician. People say he is not serious, his attention span is 30 seconds. I think he figures out things in 30 seconds, he doesn’t suffer too many fools. He used to tell me in those days that the DG would come to him and say , ‘I need this, I need that’. One day he said, ‘Get this bloody DG out of here, he’s always coming with problems. I need a DG with solutions’. So that’s Farooq. Omar can just tweet. He’s still tweeting.

Transcribed by Suanshu Khurana & Shantanu David

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