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Interview: A.S. Dulat, former chief of RAW

‘The Kashmir issue is a convenient whipping boy’

Print edition : Mar 15, 2019 T+T-
A.S. Dulat.

A.S. Dulat.

Interview with Amarjit Singh Dulat, former chief of RAW.

Amarjit Singh Dulat, retired chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), is an authority on Jammu and Kashmir. Also known as the master spy, Dulat is believed to have vast knowledge on cross-border terrorism, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and of course, Kashmir separatists. Having spent a large part of his career on dealing with insurgency, Dulat was appointed to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s term, where he played a key role in advising the Prime Minister on Kashmir issues. During Vajpayee’s tenure the two countries witnessed a period of peace that had not been seen in years. Dulat has authored a book on Kashmir and recently collaborated with his Pakistani counterpart, General Asad Durrani, to write one on RAW. Both books have been well received.

While speaking to Frontline about the Pulwama tragedy and the current crisis in the Valley, Dulat alludes to the lack of maturity in the present government’s retaliation policies. An advocate of “aggressive diplomacy”, he suggests that the only way forward in India-Pakistan relations is through a sensible long-term diplomatic approach. Excerpts from the interview:

The February massacre goes beyond any other terror attack in Kashmir. The Valley is facing yet another period of intense strife. Will this tragedy change the discourse?

A terrible tragedy. The worst attack that we have seen in Kashmir in the past 30 years. There have been lots of attacks, suicide attacks in the past, but never have 40 people been killed. I have never seen this kind of attack in the three decades that I have watched Kashmir. The sad part is that the men were mostly outsiders serving with the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force], some of them south Indian and from other parts of the country. What was their crime to be killed in this manner?

Let me put it like this. The two important Kashmiri leaders, Mehbooba Mufti and Dr Farooq Abdullah, have pleaded very strongly for reconciliation and peace. They have said it in different ways, but they have said it. This is in spite of their being opposed to each other. The Kashmiri has long lost whatever love he may have had for Pakistan. The Kashmiri also realises that Kashmir is going nowhere and that India is not going to let go of Kashmir. And you have to make peace within this whole thing.

When people talk about azadi, my take on that is unless you understand politics, the so-called separatists, there is going to be no azadi. However, we should at least provide the Kashmiris accommodation. By accommodation I mean peace with dignity, honour, justice. That should not be difficult; after all we say Kashmir is our “atut ang” [integral part]. It does not, if not, deserve this. Why should we raise issues of Articles 370 or 35A? There is nothing left in Article 370. It is only a fig leaf. Why do we rake up these things? As far as Pakistan goes, the government should do what it thinks is right. If war is the answer, then…

What are your thoughts on moving forward, the peace process, for instance? Has it come to a grinding halt?

There hasn’t been a peace process for quite some time, nor does one expect at this point of time any forward movement on peace because people are so riled up and passions are high. There is a feeling that Pakistan must be taught a lesson. I don’t expect anything on peace now.

Reports say there was an intelligence tip-off on terror movement but it was not given the required attention. There is always a blame game after such an attack. Do you look at this as an intelligence, policy or political failure?

When something like this happens you can always say there is a failure on various fronts, but Kashmir is going through such a difficult time right now that we have to look at so many issues.

Let us say there have been 25 successes and then there is a failure like this. It is the failure that shows up, and the successes go unnoticed. This is the problem with intelligence agencies; what they do never gets known and when there is a failure it becomes a big thing. When you say there was a tip-off, a tip can be very general. For instance, the Jaish [e-Mohammed] was going to do something big or that something is going to happen in Pulwama.

South Kashmir has been on fire for a very long time. Obviously, the tip-off was not good enough. I don’t think anyone can provide a tip-off for a suicide attack. This was a lone youngster deciding to go and blow himself up. You can’t get inside the minds of such people. In the West they say the lone wolf is the most dangerous. There also if it is a lone youngster his parents will not know, his father will not know. This is happening with regularity in Kashmir now. Not blowing themselves up, but boys taking to militancy. Taking to the gun and then dying within 10 days or so.

The insurgency is back; some reports say it is as bad as it was in 1989. Are we seeing more of this draw towards militancy?

I would say yes and more in the last two and a half years.

The excuse or the catalyst was Burhan Wani. He was killed in July 2016. I was there in June that year and you could sense that everything looked good, everything looked normal, but you knew something was going to give. The Kashmiris were talking about “let’s just wait and see what will happen after Id”. This happened even before Id. Burhan Wani became a sort of icon and that triggered off a lot of friction. It need not have, but the way the situation developed, he was made out to be much, much bigger than he really was. Mainly because of what followed. Otherwise, he was just a poster boy.

In a recent interview you used the words “aggressive” and “coercive diplomacy”. Could you expand on this?

People ask what the government should do [following Pulwama]. In the past, during Vajpayee’s time, Kargil and the attack on Parliament, what was used was aggressive or coercive diplomacy, and it did work. After all, when Kargil happened, [Bill] Clinton did summon Nawaz Sharif and said enough is enough. Stop this. On July 4, 1999, the war ended abruptly. If we get our diplomatic act together, Pakistan will feel the pressure. Right now, however, China is supportive of Pakistan. They call them their all-weather friends. Even the Russians are not with us. They are maintaining equidistance between India and Pakistan. In fact, I would say they lean a little more towards Pakistan.

What are we missing here? By all accounts it seems a diplomatic mess.

The thing is we have these two big neighbours. China is a huge neighbour, and you can’t wish away Pakistan. It is a nuclear state now. Common sense says at least on one side we should have a good relationship. Which of the two is more dangerous for us? I think our diplomats and security apparatus should figure out that not having a good relationship on either side makes us vulnerable. In fact, in the neighbourhood even Nepal has been acting difficult from time to time.

If you are counting on Donald Trump, he may be a great friend of India’s but he is too far away. We need friends closer home. Diplomacy is all about national interest. When things calm down, we need to think whether it is in the national interest to have a relationship with Pakistan or not. Because you cannot wish it away, as I said earlier.

Have we not tried reconciliation several times?

Yes, we have. That is why there have been times of peace. If you go back to Vajpayee’s time from 1999/2000 right up to 2008, we did have a period of peace in Kashmir. That is because 9/11 was a watershed and [Pervez] Musharraf was put under a lot of strain because [George] Bush read him the riot act saying, either you are with us or against us. That impacted a lot on Pakistan and Musharraf, and it changed his thinking. Indirectly, we benefited from 9/11.

The approach of the current regime and the Sangh Parivar is quite different from yours on this issue. Your comments.

It’s very difficult to comment on that. I can say that Vajpayee did what he did. Dr Manmohan Singh followed in Vajpayee’s footsteps. And [Narendra] Modi had the best opportunity of all. He had a majority in Parliament. He could have done whatever he wanted but he didn’t. When he became Prime Minister, the Kashmiris, even the separatists (who he is removing security from), welcomed him. Unfortunately, at some stage, national security and elections have got mixed up.

Given the jingoism and absurd nationalism that is surrounding us, would war be an answer to other agendas as well?

Vajpayee realised war was not an answer. Dr Manmohan Singh, despite Mumbai, realised war was not the answer. If somebody thinks war is an answer, so be it. But he should realise the price for it. I don’t expect war. There can be other ways of dealing with Pakistan.

This issue is intense and deep because we bring politics into it. Everything is election-oriented. It’s not just general election. It’s State elections, etc. etc. The Kashmir issue is a convenient whipping boy.