By Junaid Rather:
Amarjit Singh Dulat has served as the director of the Intelligence Bureau and has always been involved in matters related to Kashmir. He was an advisor on Jammu and Kashmir in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s office and has played a crucial role in bringing both, India and Pakistan closer on discussing situations in Kashmir.
He has co-authored a book with senior journalist Aditya Sinha titled: “Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years.” The book has created a lot of controversies in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and India. It was in the book that Dulat has mentioned how intelligence agencies often paid militants and separatists along with politicians and political parties over the years, to gain influence over the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Kashmir is one of the most contested and counterclaimed territories of the world. A couple of decades back, it used to be the most sought after tourist destination but is now the world’s most militarised zone, locked between three nuclear powers: India, Pakistan and China.
The uprising in Kashmir has been on for more than 100 days and was triggered when Hizbul Mujahideen’s poster boy Burhan Wani was killed on July 8. This is the longest uprising in Kashmir since 1947 and has resulted in the death of more than 80 people killed by the Indian security forces, more than 1000 left partially or completely blind and more than 13,000 injured. More than 10,000 people have been arrested, as per reports by the local media, under the Public Safety Act.
In this interview with Mr Dulat, he explains the nature of the Kashmir problem and emphasises on the need for dialogue between the two nations and pro-freedom leaders in Kashmir.
Junaid Rather: With so much happening in Kashmir, how do you review the present situation?
A.S. Dulat: Kashmir has not been in good condition in the last few years. It has been quite a mess. It is sometimes; it seems worse than early the 1990s.
Junaid Rather: As you have earlier said that Mehbooba Mufti is politically immature, do you feel the present situation in Kashmir is because of that immaturity or you will buy that narrative of the uprising being Pakistan-sponsored terrorism?
A. S. Dulat: There are various problems. I think at this particular point in time, what is happening is the fallout of the PDP-BJP alliance. The late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed thought that only one alliance was possible in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and he underestimated Modi. The kind of support he expected from Delhi, never came. Instead, this alliance saw the BJP’s entry in Kashmir, something that has been resented by many Kashmiris. Mehbooba took three months to decide whether or not she wanted to form a government. Mufti Sahib’s ‘North Pole and South Pole’ idea didn’t work so well. The BJP-PDP alliance was an obvious but an unnatural one, therefore there have been problems from the start. That is why you’ll see that most of the problems in the current uprising have emerged from South Kashmir. The Muftis live in South Kashmir, and it is also a stronghold of the PDP. The situation in Kashmir has improved. We can say that it is going back to normalcy, but this normalcy appears to be of an abnormal kind. Let us hope that Kashmir will overcome this period of turbulence.
Junaid Rather: So you don’t blame Pakistan for the uprising?
A.S. Dulat: Things that are happening in Kashmir are happening spontaneously. It was a spark that started the whole thing. It was a catalyst, but once these things happen or we provide an opportunity, Pakistan automatically comes in. So this may not have been started by the Pakistan, but now Pakistan is there.
Junaid Rather: Since you talked about South Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahideen (a militant group operating in Jammu and Kashmir), is also gaining a lot of acceptance there. Does it worry India?
A.S. Dulat: It is becoming vulnerable day by day. Every day something is happening. Even as we are talking, some militants are holding up in that building at Pampore. There is an encounter, and it seems to happen all the time.
Junaid Rather: Wth Burhan Wani becoming a youth icon, militancy is gaining its base in Kashmir. Does it bother India?
A.S. Dulat: Militancy is, unfortunately, becoming fashionable as more boys are getting into militancy. It shows disgruntlement, unhappiness and, in some cases hopelessness.
Junaid Rather: The Indian Army says that there are 250 Pakistani militants in the Valley? What is your take on it?
A.S. Dulat: I think the figure is a bit exaggerated, but even if there are 50, the local boys are getting involved, but there are boys that are coming from Pakistan as well. Some boys are associated with different organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, etc.
Junaid Rather: Since you have been an intelligence chief, do you think it was a failure of the intelligence that they couldn’t prophesise or update the government about the repercussions of Burhan Wani’s death?
A.S. Dulat: I don’t think it is really Burhan Wani’s death that evoked all this. As I said, Burhan Wani was just an excuse. I think, if there was a failure, it was the anger that was sidelined for long. There was anger at the state; there was anger on the street. There was anger in people and this anger erupted with Burhan Wani. He was not a great figure. He, no doubt, became an icon as the so-called militant who put himself on Facebook. He was a good looking boy and appealed to the people as somebody who had volunteered to become a militant. He wasn’t even hiding. And everybody knew who Burhan Wani was. But under the circumstance, there was anger, and this anger has been growing since the PDP- BJP created an alliance. This is my understanding.
Junaid Rather: Do you think the Islamic State (IS) can ever create an alliance with militants in Kashmir?
A.S. Dulat: I don’t think there can be any alliance between with the Islamic State. In any case, the Islamic State is not a state that way. It is just an idea, or I can say a thought, like the Al Qaeda. I don’t think IS has influence in Kashmir.
There were few cases last year when IS flags were raised in Srinagar University. But whether it is black flags or a Pakistani flag, they come out because of anger and frustration. I don’t think if you suddenly raise 500 flags, it doesn’t mean that people have turned Pakistani. The Kashmiri, if he is angry with Delhi, he is never happy with Pakistan too. And that is our saving grace. The problem India has, Pakistan reflects the same problems in Kashmir.
Junaid Rather: Did the surgical strikes really happen? I ask because Pakistan and the opposition parties in India have questioned it.
A.S. Dulat: It is all politics. The point is we should not go into politics. Something obviously happened. When the DGMO says that we have done what we wanted to do and Pakistan says nothing has happened, it means that it’s a successful operation. It can’t be better than that. We have done what we had to do. He also said that they didn’t want to do anything more. The matter should have been closed, but because of the political happenings, it is being talked about so much because of the elections.
Junaid Rather: Do you think these surgical strikes were just a trick to divert the attention from Kashmir?
A.S. Dulat: Something has happened, and we did not invade Pakistan. Whatever happened has happened. It was a retaliation.
Junaid Rather: Do you think India is in a position to afford a war?
A.S. Dulat: I don’t think anybody has ever considered war as a serious option. It is alright to talk about these wars, but it is not a serious option. Kashmir is a political cause and can be resolved through dialogue. War is a serious call to take among two nuclear nations.
During the cold war, there were times when once or twice Russia and the United States came close to war, and it didn’t happen because of the same reason. It could have led to the destruction of a large part of the world. Here again, it can result in the destruction of large parts of South Asia again. There is no other option than talking. Even in the worst days of the Cold War, the KGB and the CIA never stopped talking. In our equation, we either go and embrace, or we don’t talk at all.
Junaid Rather: Do you think the Government has failed to create a platform for dialogue?
A.S. Dulat: Here I don’t blame the PDP. The blame is on New Delhi. Unfortunately, we have been quite happy; when the going is good, we think everything is alright. But that was the actual time to build on the political side. At the end of the day, Kashmir is not a military or a law and order problem and not even an economic problem. It is a political issue, and it has to be dealt with politically. The army has said so, so many times. Our generals have said so too.
Mehbooba is entangled. She doesn’t know what to do. She is in an alliance with the BJP, and the BJP is the authority in the centre. So you have to stay on the right side of the centre.
Junaid Rather: Hurriyat has always been dealt with a soft hand. Is the approach more iron-hand now?
A.S. Dulat: Basically, they are not talking. They stop talking. And you have to start talking, and that will provide the platform. Kashmir needs a way out of this mess, and that can be achieved only by talking.
Junaid Rather: Pakistan is always accusing the Indian intelligence agencies of running a proxy war in Balochistan, what is your take?
A.S. Dulat: If they run so many proxies here, and if we run a proxy there, how does it matter? Even I don’t know about a proxy war. But the point is, who is Pakistan to talk about proxies in Balochistan, even if we are running a proxy there. They have relied on proxies for so long in Kashmir, then proxies in Punjab. So what is that? We are the ones who should complain of proxies. They have proxies sitting there. Salahudeen has been sitting there since 1989.
Junaid Rather: What according to you is the way forward? Whom to talk to? Should it include the Hurriyat too?
A.S. Dulat: Talking, talking and talking. Of course, I feel there is no other option but to talk to the Kashmiris. We also need to talk to Pakistan.