The former R&AW chief, with years of experience working in Kashmir, feels the situation there has never been as bad as it is now
Former Research & Analysis Wing chief A S Dulat’s connection to Kashmir goes back more than three decades. As an Intelligence Bureau officer, he served in Srinagar in the 1980s; as IB special director he supervised the intelligence network there. In the PMO during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, he was adviser on Kashmir, work that formed the basis of his book Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years. In this interview, Dulat discusses the current situation in Kashmir.
Critics of the government say the Kashmir situation is going from bad to worse. Do you agree?
Yes, the situation is turning worse. Is it worse than in 1990? My answer is yes and no. It is worse in terms of atmospherics. Because of alienation and the anger of youth, young Kashmiri minds have gone out of control. There is a sense of hopelessness. They aren’t afraid to die. Villagers, students and even girls are terrorism, that intensity of violence and militancy that we saw in 1990 is not there now. There were more guns then… Actual militancy was more then but today the situation is scarier. When stone-pelting is done by youth and girls it’s abnormal… Today, they are proud of being stone-pelters. They are no longer hiding. Schoolgirls and women are coming out to throw stones. The Kashmir situation has never been so bad.
What should be done about it?
Talk. In Kashmir, perceptions are so wonky. They say Kashmir is going to Pakistan. Some say Kashmir is Pakistan. Come on, 70 years have passed by, kahan gaya Kashmir? Kahan jayega Kashmir? Na Kashmir kahin jayega, na bichara Kashmiri kahin jayega. Marega! He knows he has nowhere to go. He doesn’t want to go to Pakistan. For them Pakistan had lost out… I interact quite a lot with Pakistanis in Track-II. They had just started avoiding discussion on Kashmir. they would say, “Uska koi hal nahin hai.” My point is there is no solution to Kashmir but why does India not want to give hope to Kashmiris? When India talks you give hope, shayad kuch ho jayen… I would again and again say, please talk. Talking to Kashmiris is not subversive. It’s not anti-national.
Do you agree, as is being argued in the government, that the unrest has erupted due to a deepening of radical Islam?
I don’t agree with this argument. Radicalism increasing in Kashmir is well-known. It’s also known that radical Islam is affecting more the youth than the older generation of Kashmiris, who still respect Kashmiriyat and Sufism. In fact, the older generation of Kashmiris, who find themselves so vulnerable, would be happy to have Pandits back… But among the youth, radical Islam is spreading, due to continuous conflict in their society. Unless we are able to lessen this conflict, whether by force or by cajoling or talking with them, radicalism will increase… It’s a hopeless Kashmir today.
What is in store in the short term?
It doesn’t look good… The sad part, frightening part and really scary part of Kashmir is that these boys and girls with stones in their hands don’t seem to care what their parents feel. There is so much distrust in Kashmiri families that a father doesn’t know what his son is doing and the son doesn’t care anymore what his father thinks.
How do you see the government’s efforts to improve relations with Pakistan? Its stand is that PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore helped set the tone but Pathankot brought hopes crashing.
I have never understood, why is India afraid to talk about Kashmir with Pakistan? They have more explaining to do. I agree Modiji started well. He surprised all of us by going to Pakistan. The snag here is what happened after it. The crux of the whole thing is that Pakistan is not an easy state to engage with. In a way it’s a mad state. But, our stand that talk and terror can’t go together is also meaningless vis-à-vis Pakistan. Here things happen at many layers. We have to talk disregarding incidents here and there. Surely, we need explanations for Uri, Gurdaspur and Pathankot. But I am told the NSAs of both sides are talking even now… Dialogue must happen between the foreign secretaries and PMs. Modiji is a master of theatre, so he can make it happen. Nawaz Sharif is also a karigar. In a sense, it’s an even scale… I am sorry to say but it’s easier to talk to Pakistan than to Kashmiris.
Do you agree with the government that Pakistan is behind the crisis in Kashmir?
Definitely it is. It goes back to last summer. When 9/11 happened President Bush had read the riot act to Pakistan. Since then Pakistan had withdrawn considerably… The uprising after the killing of Burhan Wani surprised Pakistan. They returned with a vengeance… ISI, Lashkar and Mujahideen are back… In the last five years, Pakistan tried its best to unite all factions of Hurriyat. They failed but now they have got together because this Indian government doesn’t even look at them… When we refused to even talk, what options do Kashmiri leaders have? They have only one fall-back position: show the green flag to Delhi. It’s a sad situation.
Isn’t it a failure of the government that it couldn’t anticipate and address the uprising after Wani’s death?
Yes, absolutely. Let me say that we have invited Pakistan back into the Valley. By October things had climbed down. Kashmiris hibernate in winter wearing firan and with their kangadsi. That’s the best time to engage Kashmiris. We didn’t. Last winter we didn’t exploit the relative calm. Now children are out on the streets. Modiji had an edge when he came to power. But talks didn’t happen.
There is a feeling in Delhi that talks are not necessary. Some bright sparks here think that engagement means pampering if not anti-national. “Why should we pamper Kashmiris?” — they think they have been pampered a lot. My view is that even if it’s pampering, it still helps. If it helps, then commonsense says no harm in pampering.
Maybe the government isn’t pampering separatists because the ruling party’s core constituency might not like it.
Of course. You know that. I don’t want to go into it.
This government is sensitive to so-called Hindu sentiment. Is that why it doesn’t want to pamper Kashmiris?
Possibly, yes, it is. But I want to say that pampering is good… Kashmiris are disappointed to see that nothing happened after Modi took over. Where has Vajpayee’s insaniyat ka daira gone?
Kashmir has turned into a challenge for the government. There is a demand for stronger action; do you agree?
Whenever and whatever actions are needed should be taken, but my point is there is no military solution for Kashmir. Anybody who had brains in our recent history understood it… Normally, I insist the Army should be kept away and the ground situation should be dealt with by J&K police and paramilitary. It is the state government that has failed in Kashmir today.
Do you think governor’s rule will help calm the situation down?
No. It’s not a good idea to impose central rule. At that time Mufti Saab had no option but to go for an alliance with the BJP. In Kashmir every chief minister knows that no government can survive without the Centre’s support. Mufti Saab had no realistic option even though the Congress and the NC had offered support. The ruling party at the Centre had expressed a desire to join and Muftiji couldn’t have ignored it. He would have failed on day one if he had opted for any other option.
What’s the best option now?
Mehbooba Mufti. The Centre should extend genuine support to her. She is not listened to in Delhi. Nobody goes to her. She is a chief minister and she should be fully supported. Governor’s rule will bea retrograde step and it will take a long time to get back to the democratic route… Modiji must show his support to Mehbooba. only then would things start getting better.
Who should take the blame?
Mufti saab was saying this PDP-BJP is a North-pole-and-South-pole alliance. I think it would have been a great alliance if it had been handled with care. Jammu would have come closer to Kashmir and the Valley people would have gone closer to Jammu. Instead the distance has increased, polarisation sharpened. An opportunity has been lost.
What will be the impact on bilateral relations if, just in case, Kulbhushan Jadhav is hanged?
It will have a serious impact. I think Pakistan can’t be so insensitive to human life. A level of decency is involved here. Whatever he may be — I am not going into the merits of case, I don’t know who he is, why he is there — whatever he may be, people are not hanged for the crime he is allegedly involved in. I must say that Pakistan has handled the case very clumsily. These types of matters are handled quietly between intelligence agencies… Unfortunately we don’t have communications between our intel agencies. The good communication is between the NSAs. I think at that level the issue should be discussed discreetly. I am sure they are doing it. I don’t expect Jadhav to be hanged.