“There is something beautiful about Kashmir; its gentleness, its kindness, its a old world charm. It’s a different world,” waxes AS DULAT lounging at his home in New Delhi.
The former head of Research & Analysis Wing and senior to the present National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval in the Intelligence Bureau, looks a satisfied man after the release of the Abdullahs from detention. He holds forth on Kashmir and its future, an obsession perhaps with him as with many Indians.
Excerpts from the conversation he had with ASHLIN MATHEW:
You were the first to say that both Farooq and Omar Abdullah would be released. Were you negotiating with them on behalf of the government?
No such thing. I had called on Dr Farooq on February 12, as has been reported, and I wanted to meet him for the past three months. I just wanted to enquire about his welfare as it has been a long association. I was then told that I could go in February and I went.
Why didn’t he attend Parliament after his release?
I was hoping he would come to Delhi.He was keen to speak in Parliament. But then the virus took over so he said he wasn’t coming because he has a problem of immunity. He is diabetic, hypertensive, has a heart problem and over and above everything, he has had a kidney replacement. It’s not easy for him to come here. Now, he is in a further lockdown. I don’t see him coming here for the next four months.
Now that Omar Abdullah has been released, what do you think his main job would be?
Omar has a huge load going forward as I see it because he has to revive his party. National Conference is one party in J&K, which is spread all over the state and in the Kashmiri psyche that is their party. It is Sheikh Abdullah’s party. He had converted the Muslim Conference to National Conference in1932. This is Kashmir’s party.
Why did Delhi want Omar Abdullah as the CM in 2002?
I think somewhere the Prime Minister AB Vajpayee felt that may be they could do the switch between Farooq and Omar. Maybe the feeling was that Farooq Abdullah had been in Kashmir for too long. It was of course not for the Centre to decide it, but the Centre has been deciding such things and this was one of those things. And Farooq Abdullah was promised Vice-Presidentship and that was how the switch was contrived. But Omar lost the elections. Although National Conference emerged as the single largest party, they could not form a government. Or maybe they did not want to form a government.
So, Omar had to wait for 6 years. In 2008, National Conference came back to power and finally Omar Abdullah became the CM. It was a learning process for him. It takes time. I remember Farooq telling me in 2002 that he would have preferred Omar as an understudy for six months before he took over. Anyway, Omar had to wait for six years. He had problems. Just before he took over there was the unfortunate dispute about the Amarnath land take-over. That created a gulf between Srinagar and Jammu. There was a lot of bad blood after that.
So, it was not in the happiest of circumstances that he took over. I am sure the next time around, he would be a better CM as he would have learnt a lot. What is happening now, if you notice both the father and son, have said almost the same things after being released. They have been stressing about the release of others. I think that is very important. Mehbooba’s release is very important. She is a big player and she knows Delhi in contemporary terms better than anybody else. And she was in an alliance with them and she would know how to work with them.
What do you see as the political future of J&K?
In Kashmir there is always a talk of everyone working together, but the Kashmiris have not been good at it in the past. Dr Farooq and Mufti saab could never work together. But I think it’s easier for Omar and Mehbooba to work together. Farooq went to Mehbooba’s house and met her mother and also Iltija. That was thoughtful of Dr Farooq to do that as that shows that as far as the Abdullahs are concerned, they have no issues with Mehbooba or PDP. Another interesting thing which happened is as soon as Omar was released, Sajjad Lone’s party People Conference welcomed his release and stated that others should also be released.
So, at this point in time, everyone is saying the same thing, which is a positive sign for Kashmir. Whether they will stick to it or not, only time will tell. What we should not forget is that on August 4, 2019, 15 of them did come together under extreme stress.
You have said a couple of times that Omar Abdullah is likely to be the next CM. Why do you think so?
He is the obvious person. National Conference is the obvious party. They can create an Apni Party or whatever, but in the face of National Conference, they are a puny little party. Even Altaf, on two occasions, has spoken well of Omar. I think the signs are that maybe everybody could get together.
The arithmetic in J&K needs to be understood. For a while it has been understood that no single party can get a majority in the state. PDP will come into the picture if Omar and Mehbooba see eye-to-eye. In 2014, BJP talked about Mission 44 and desperately as they tried, they only got 25. Next time, they will find it difficult to get that much even. If the Congress wakes up, Congress can get more seats.
If Omar and Mehbooba get along, then it should be as inclusive as possible. Nobody is prepared to even be the Deputy Chief Minister. Who know, maybe the Mirwaiz Umar Farooq might agree.
I feel Sajjad Lone also has a role, if they go about it the right way. So does Imran Ansari. He has a role because his father Iftikhar Ansari was the topmost Shia leader and there is a considerable Shia population in the state. Politically his father had a bigger following and Imran has some of that following. What he makes of it one has to see.
In Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, there is a line ‘Adversity makes strange bed fellows’, but compulsions can also make strange bedfellows. Farooq also has a huge role to play as a mentor like Prospero in The Tempest.
If Congress does not wake up and if Omar and Mehbooba don’t see eye to eye, then BJP will find itself having a chance. It can also be National Conference-PDP-Apni Party as anyways Apni Party is seen as the King’s party. If this happens, it means the BJP is there in the government.
Arithmetic in J&K is such that without the Congress or BJP, there cannot be a government in the state. This was Mufti saab’s compulsion in 2014. So, Kashmiris have to remember this.
The mainstream parties need to also focus on Pandits and get them involved in the political process. This will be one way of getting Pandits back to Kashmir.
Will the Separatists have a role to play now?
I think it all depends on the mainstream parties and on Delhi. Will Mirwaiz Umar Farooq talk to Omar Abdullah? I think they must talk to each other, but that’s me voicing my opinion. They may not want to talk to each other.
I see a role for the Mirwaiz. Umar has everything but guts. He has no guts because his father was assassinated when he was a 15-year-old kid and you cannot forget that. His mother has been concerned about his survival and I don’t blame her. It’s been a long time and I don’t think Pakistan will want to kill him now. He has to reckon whether he wants to be Pope for life or be a politician too.
What do you think is next on the cards for Jammu and Kashmir?
I was hoping for the political process springing to life immediately, but that is not going to happen due to the lock-down. It has slowed down the process, but maybe it is a blessing as it gives everybody time to introspect.
I think the Kashmiris need to think about their future now because they have to come to terms with certain realities such as the abrogation of Article 370. It is not going to come back. It’s done and dusted.The issue of statehood is also going to come up and Delhi has committed itself to return its statehood. Both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have said so in Parliament. It is most likely going to be Leh and Jammu and Kashmir. If people of Kargil would want to be with J&K and not Leh, Delhi will have to take notice of that.
Kashmiris should now learn to live without Article 370, but the removal of Article 35A will rankle Jammu more than Kashmir. The Dogras and the Jammu residents will have to think about it. Here some kind of compromise will take place, I feel. It is going to affect Jammu more because of it is an open market, the locals there will be overwhelmed by the Punjabis because Pathankot is right next to Jammu. You have Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar all quite close by. In the past there have been Punjabi business families operating in Jammu and Kashmir, but they had to leave because of terrorism. I don’t think the Jammuite will be too happy about the loss of Article 35A. The case is now in the Supreme Court, so let us what happens.
What do you think Pakistan’s response is going to be?
I don’t know. But, let me repeat that we need to talk to Pakistan. The narrative that we have been hearing, particularly out of Kashmir and also from the Pakistani side is that they have not reconciled to the abrogation of Article 370. But, my answer to that would be if the Kashmiris can reconcile to the abrogation of Article 370, then Pakistan will also have to. Here I quote General Musharraf always because he said whatever is acceptable to Kashmir, will be acceptable to Pakistan. This is a good starting point.
When are elections likely to take place in J&K?
I think elections are likely in 2021.Before the elections are held, the demand for statehood will be raised. If elections are to be held under a Union Territory, then it may not be easy to rope in mainstream parties to contest the election. I don’t think any of them will want to be a Kejriwal. Before that there will be the delimitation process, which will take six months. This is to increase the number of seats in Jammu. So, it will be either March-April 2021 or Oct-Nov 2021.
In between is the tourist season so it will be before or after that. Hopefully, tourists will be back next year. Ideally, statehood would be grated, then delimitation. But, there may be delimitation in anticipation of statehood.This means that Jammu stands more of a chance. Let’s not forget the National Conference also has influence in Jammu than most parties in the region. For example, if the National Conference to put a Sikh candidate from Jammu, he could win. They have in the past and have won. In earlier NC governments, there was always a Sikh minister and a Pandit minister.