Former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief AS Dulat has maintained close contact with Kashmir, spending time here even after retirement. In an interview with Kashmir Reader Special Correspondent Moazum Mohammad, Dulat talks about his book, ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’, about militancy, and about the J&K government.
You have narrated anecdotes on how New Delhi handles Kashmir’s elected leaders. Were the tactics repeated when Mehbooba Mufti refused to take oath for two months?
Delhi has never resorted to arm-twisting, but they have persuaded. We worked hard to persuade Farooq Abdullah in 1996 to contest elections. That time, the state had been under extended governor’s rule and the government of India, particularly Narasimha Rao, was keen to revive the democratic process. Farooq was the obvious option but he was hesitant and he asked what will I go with before the people? He did come around and contested the polls.
Likewise, people have been persuading Mehbooba Mufti that she wasted three months, which should not have happened. I suppose she had her own good reasons. Ultimately, Delhi’s persuasion worked on her.
But she was demanding CBMs for three months.
CBMs were already in existence and I don’t think you need to talk about it. CBMs have been there since Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took over as the chief minister. The question really was the implementation of CBMs. Mufti sahib was happy with it. Mehbooba was looking for some kind of assurance that what has been assured or promised should be implemented. Because she waited for a long time, I don’t think she got any assurance. She went to the prime minister and the meeting went well, but the RSS promptly said we have not given any assurance. Everything was there in the Agenda for Alliance. Why did she waste three months. Obviously, there were lots of doubts in her mind and in the end it did not help her. To some extent, it made things more difficult for her.
Did you meet Mehbooba Mufti after she took over as the CM?
No. I messaged her a couple of times. I went to meet Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at AIIMS before the night he passed away. Nobody was there in his room barring security personnel and some staff. It gave the appearance as if things were not right. I asked about Begum sahiba and Mehbooba. She was not there and I texted her. Sadly, he passed away the same night. I have not met Mehbooba since but I did congratulate her.
Before Mehbooba’s takeover as the CM, you wrote that New Delhi did not forgive Mufti Mohammad over his thanking Pakistan and separatists?
I was there at the swearing-in of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at Jammu. Everything went well. It looked like a new beginning of an imaginative coalition in Jammu and Kashmir. Mufti sahib got carried away after the prime minister left for New Delhi. He addressed the media. What he said was not exceptional but some people did not understand it. There was a lot of pressure on Mufti sahib not to form coalition with the BJP, from here as well as from Pakistan. He explained his position to separatists and to Pakistan. In fact, he was called anti-national in New Delhi and some people didn’t forgive him for that. In drawing rooms people were questioning whom we have made the CM. People in the establishment would not have been amused with his comments. But he got carried away in a fit of excitement.
Was there any pressure from Pakistan on Mufti Mohammad Sayeed for not forging alliance with the BJP?
It looked like that, because there was talk of why hadn’t Mufti teamed up with the National Conference or the Congress.
Earlier, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was considered as moderate. Now he, too, is being put under house arrest. What does it signify?
These are political games. You can lock up Mirwaiz or set him loose. I have never seen this happen. Yasin Malik has been sent to central jail after a long time. Otherwise, he was in jail for two days and out most of the time. Geelani sahib is perpetually under house arrest and Shabir Shah loves it inside.
It conveys a lack of confidence. Mufti sahib would not have done this. Mehbooba is new and doesn’t carry much experience. She has to learn these things and understand what is happening.
Hers is the most difficult job in the country. She needs confidence and the key to whole thing is Delhi’s strong support. Without that she won’t be able to do much.
What’s the immediate danger in Kashmir?
The concern is the security scenario, which is not looking good. The killing of JK policemen and BSF personnel, it will affect the morale of security forces. It is a demoralising factor and a matter of concern. This sort of virus is growing. Although Srinagar is booming with tourists but you can sense a little anger and resentment in streets. That’s not good and what we call alienation needs to be addressed. Things can change overnight in Kashmir. It can be bad one day and good the next day.
There is the vulnerable Amarnath Yatra coming up and if it targeted, it is not good.
Militant activities have stepped up as can be seen from recent attacks. How do you see the situation?
Yes, but I can’t say there is a huge infiltration. This sort of killing does not require huge numbers. It is just 2-3 boys. The number of militants always varies. Somebody says 300 or 350. I say if it is just 50, it is bad enough. Some of the anger on streets is also because of unemployment. Also, a big problem is of drugs and liquor here. These are some portents of danger. It should be matter of concern to us.
During 1990’s when militancy was at its peak, the number of militants was big. Now, around 200 militants are being called as new wave of militancy. Is it mere hype?
It is disconcerting and doesn’t augur well. Somebody needs to look into the reason. A Hizb militant was arrested or surrendered and JK police claimed Burhan Wani is alone. Firstly, I don’t think there was need of that statement. As a sequel to that, Burhan Wani’s father said his son was not alone. That is scary: somebody’s parents are endorsing militancy. Somebody needs to talk to him and counsel him.
How do you see the setting up of Sainik Colony and Pandit township? Are people against such walled cities?
Sainik colonies, Pandit townships are unnecessary controversies. Mehbooba has already clarified about them. As far as Pandit colonies are concerned, they are composite colonies and should not be walled, should be as good as Karan Nagar, Hari Nagar. There are no Pandit homes left in the city. Geelani, Mirwaiz, Yasin, Dr Farooq, Mehbooba have asked Pandits to come back. It should not an exclusive or walled city and it should be a composite colony. People should come back in a natural, organic manner. How many Pandits are coming back? Various sections of Pandits don’t want to come back, but there are some who have been craving to go back home.
Is the state happy with you after your book made certain disclosures about covert operations?
There were colleagues who said that as an intelligence officer I should not have written the book. If I had given the draft to home ministry, the book would have never been published.
How does New Delhi see NC, PDP and other mainstream parties?
They see them as future of Kashmir until the separatists come into the mainstream. Let me put it like this, mistrust has been here. In Delhi’s mind, there is no mistrust.
Did any Kashmiri leader you named in the book complain to you about putting covert contacts in public domain?
Shabir Shah has not spoken to me since. But Mirwaiz and Professor Abdul Gani spoke and met me after the book launch. They were comfortable with the book.
While you named leaders in covert contact, did you ever try to make a covert contact with news outlets for changing the discourse or perception management?
Maybe it was one of my omissions! We were talking with friends in media. I never had problems with media. It was kind to me and had a good relationship with me.
That (1990’s) was a more difficult period. I still remember two main newspapers, Srinagar Times and Aftab. We did manage to talk to them. They took into account our point of view and it was not easy those days. We understood their compulsion and they understood our needs.
What does public sympathy and huge people’s participation in militants’ funeral suggest?
It is a symptom of growing alienation and a more benign face of stone throwing. It is a cross between stone throwing and intifada.
Do you accept you couldn’t massage the ego of Syed Ali Geelani because he did not give you audience?
I met him at the Pakistan embassy. I talked to him and enquired about his health. I never tried to massage his ego. I could have met him anytime. Our officers were meeting him.
What’s your expectation from the Mehbooba Mufti government?
Mehbooba has started well as the first woman chief minister. She needs everyone’s support. Most of New Delhi and Modi ji is supporting her. Sometimes I get a feeling that all is not well within her own party. I think she made a mistake leaving Altaf Bukhari out of the cabinet. Everyone says he was doing good work. She needs to get him back into her team. What this has done is that it has made a politician out of Altaf. I can tell you that in the next elections he is going to be a player.
Can you explain what prevented Syed Salahudin to not return to India as you claim you were in touch with him?
Salahudin was in touch with us. He made overtures and continued them till 2009-2010. He was willing to return.
Is there a policy shift towards Kashmir?
There is a feeling in New Delhi that the PDP-BJP government is our own and we don’t need to neutralise its significance. I think engagement with Kashmir should remain total. The Modi government doesn’t feel a need to start dialogue right now. Maybe they do it after some time. Separatists will remain relevant as they represent a certain thought. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a great opportunity in Kashmir as he enjoyed a huge mandate. There was a hope but he is a man in a hurry unlike former PM AB Vajpayee who was a visionary. Modi is a doer.
The lines among pro-freedom groups increasingly blur. How do you see them?
They won’t come together. I am telling you this with surety. Have you forgotten when Mirwaiz said who the hell is Geelani? Recently, during a Hurriyat Conference (Mirwaiz) meeting, the professor and Bilal Lone were against unity.