AS Dulat: There is no solution now for Kashmir

If politicians fail to engage then military and intelligence chiefs of India and Pakistan and indeed the people of the two countries must carry the engagement forward, suggests the former RAW chief

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@ameertarin
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@ameertarin

Ashlin Mathew

Indo-Pak relations may improve but there is no solution in Kashmir under the present circumstances, says AS Dulat, who has been in the news ever since he jointly ‘authored’ a book with Lt General Asad Durrani, a former head of Pakistan’s ISI and Aditya Sinha. Moderated by Sinha, Dulat, a former chief of Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) and an old ‘Kashmir hand’, and Durrani dwelt at length on Kashmir in the book. National Herald caught up with him to elicit his views on the situation in Kashmir today. Excerpts from their conversation:

Do you think the ceasefire in Kashmir can still work?

It’s a good thing. I hope it lasts. Small firings will keep happening. At last, somebody has realised that there is merit in ceasing fire. People on the border on both sides are suffering greatly. I don’t know much about that side, but this side we do know there’s trauma, a lot of displacement and a number of people are crippled, on wheelchairs. Vajpayee understood this. That’s how we had the 2003 ceasefire and that’s how he unilaterally declared a ceasefire in 2000 during Ramzan. What he went and said in Pakistan and Kashmir had a huge impact on both sides. No other leader is looked upon with so much affection as Vajpayee is in Kashmir.

But how do you explain the renewed violence, rise of militancy and infiltration?

Violence was already growing in 2016. I was there in June that year and there were a record number of tourists, flights and the hotels were all booked. The boulevard was totally choked on Sundays. But, under the surface, you could sense that all was not well, something was going to give. Then I started hearing the whispers that after Eid something would happen. And in the meantime, Burhan Wani got killed. That proved to be the catalyst for the renewed violence. It is a political problem, a psychological problem and an emotive problem. So, we should never stop engaging, never stop talking.

The appointment of Dineshwar Sharma as an interlocutor had raised hopes. Why hasn’t it worked?

Today I read an interview given by him; he is a very nice man, a gem of a man, but I was disappointed to hear him say that we have to wait for things to calm down and then he says himself that this is a chicken and egg situation. So, I think he has got the chicken and egg mixed up. Once, you start talking, so many things happen, so you divert attention. It provides hope to the common Kashmiri who is craving for peace. And then, the separatists, whoever you talk to, they begin to think about their future. Now, they think they have no future other than leaning towards Pakistan. I know that Dineshwar knows the art of talking, he is a good man, an honest man. What is holding him back you ask him, because it is not him, that I can tell you. Maybe he doesn’t have a brief yet to talk.

“I don’t think BJP is going to be around in J&K much longer. It will be Congress-NC” 

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has also said that there is a need for a healing touch, but Ram Madhav, BJP’s points man for J & K and Army Chief General Bipin Rawat seem to hold a different view…

The Army has to do what it has to do, the J&K police has to do what it has to do. And Dineshwar Sharma should be doing what he should be doing. Once a dialogue starts, people you engage with will ask you for some favours, you will ask them for some favours – that’s how a dialogue proceeds. That’s a part of confidence building. Then if the Kashmiris were to say that the ‘Army needs to take it easy’ or that ‘we can’t talk to you while our people are being killed, then Dineshwar would look into it. At least, you are talking, and you would have a feel of what the other side thinks. Right now, it’s all in the air. But, I’m hopeful because the Home Minister is on record saying that they would talk to everybody.

Do you think AFSPA can ever be repealed in J&K?

Omar Abdullah was right when he demanded the gradual withdrawal of AFSPA and he was only asking for it in Srinagar and a few surrounding areas. The then Home Minister Chidambaram supported it, but unfortunately it never happened. It has to happen sometime. Generals have said so. One of our former Generals, VP Malik, he has said that Army has been in Kashmir for too long. It becomes counter-productive after a while.

What do you think is the solution now for Kashmir?

There is no solution now. I have been a great optimist of a solution and I thought a solution was there for our taking. But, today, I think there is no solution. At least not under the present circumstances. The solution was there, which Dr Singh missed, Musharraf missed. That was the solution. Now, let us not dream of solutions. Now, let’s hope they start talking. It will take a while. Let’s have a proper ceasefire, border attacks should stop and I would say to the Pakistanis, like I have many times, that by putting pressure on the Hurriyat, you are doing a great disservice to them and to Kashmir. Give them a longer rope, a little more freedom and let us talk to them. We could then move towards the solution. It has to start with an understanding between Delhi and Srinagar with Islamabad being in the know of it.

But, how long will talks go on? The earlier government also held talks. What happened to those talks?

We should still be talking. We have to start all over again as many times as necessary. You can’t say like what Dineshwar said that he would also prepare a report and that there were many reports collecting dust. I don’t think dialogue is about reports. This is not an essay writing competition. This is where your talking skills and your honesty come into play. Can you convince the Kashmiri that you are being honest? One of the problems we have in Kashmir is that the Kashmiri doesn’t trust you and he lies to you. He lies to you because he thinks you are lying to him, so he pre-empts your lying. That’s the grey world that Kashmir is. We need to understand that. It is long, patient tedious process. It cannot happen just like that. In 2004, during Dr Manmohan Singh’s time, I was once asked, if I could go and check if the Hurriyat leaders were willing to talk. I checked and reported back that they were willing to talk. I was told that Dr Singh was going to Srinagar the next week and I was asked if I could arrange a meeting with the Hurriyat next week. I replied that I couldn’t. This isn’t a ‘Gogia Pasha’ show. I replied that I could arrange a meeting in three months. I am reporting that they are prepared to talk, they are inclined to talk and they would like to talk, but you can’t tell them that since someone is coming, line up on Friday.

“Omar Abdullah was right when he demanded the gradual withdrawal of AFSPA” 

When the current government decided in favour of a muscular policy in Kashmir, wouldn’t they have taken inputs from IB and RAW?

I don’t know whose idea it was to follow such a policy, but I’m sure they get inputs from everyone, but I’m not sure whose viewpoint counts. I’m guessing Ajit Doval would have a say in it. I suppose they reckoned that this pussy-footing in Kashmir had to stop and they needed to get tough there. But, you can be tough and still talk. The years 1989, ‘90, ‘91, ’92 were among the worst, but even then, we were talking all the time. But, now dialogue has stopped. I suppose the government would argue ‘how do you know we aren’t talking’. Maybe they are, but the impression that Kashmiris give is that no one is taking any notice of them. That is sad.

If you were to have the mandate, what would you do differently?

Most of the guys in Kashmir I know and if they knew I was of any consequence, they would talk to me. Most of them don’t talk to me now; they used to till about six-eight months ago. I have no role left. Since, I know them I have that little advantage. I also know what they are all about. This is extreme wishful thinking, but if somebody were to give me a mandate, then all I would ask for is one officer of my choice. He would do it on the field and he and I would discuss what he would be doing. I could be a mentor. I would suggest that they keep talking and not tire of talking. Get these guys back on track to where they were in 2003. Today it is much easier because the Hurriyat is at the end of its tether, in those days they were always getting instructions from Pakistan. Not that they don’t now, but despite that we succeeded in weaning them away to a great extent.

You say in the book that Omar Abdullah could be the next CM. You think he will be able to provide a solution?

I will say it even more emphatically that he will be the next Chief Minister unless some bad luck strikes. I hope sitting in the Opposition would have made him a better politician. He will never be able to match his father, but he has a lot of qualities of his own. He is one of the hopes of Kashmir. I see him as the Chief Minister for the next 15 or 20 years. He has age on his side, brains on his side. He is candid and upfront.

The only thing he needs to learn is that politics is a little different and politics in Kashmir is trickier than anywhere else. He has to learn that. Mainstream Kashmir politicians have to understand that they can’t afford to be completely independent of Delhi. Dr Farooq Abdullah understood that after he was dismissed. They have to be on the right side of Delhi, but within that there is no reason to be pushed around. You must stand up. But, that is something poor Mehbooba has not been able to do. You couldn’t push Mufti like this. No question of pushing Farooq Abdullah like this, he would push you further back, if the push came to shove. So, I think Omar understands things and I don’t think he will get pushed around. I don’t think BJP is going to be around in J&K much longer. Politically, Kashmir has turned a full circle, it will be a repeat of 1986-87. Congress-National Conference.

What do you think the Kashmiri wants?

He wants peace. They are asking for ‘azadi’, but let’s at least give them the bare minimum – accommodation, honour, dignity and justice. That for the Kashmiri will be a lot of ‘azadi’. We also know that India is not going to let go of Kashmir and they also know that, but once at least that much happens, it is easier to placate the Kashmiri further. Everybody gets excited talking about ‘autonomy’, but that doesn’t mean going back to 1953. Let’s reopen 1975. There’s plenty in 1975 or even the National Conference resolution of 2001.

Are we being short-sighted in denying visas to Pakistan and Chinese nationals?

This is for the government to decide, but I don’t understand why we should deny visas. Now, General Durrani was denied a visa for the launch of his own book and a number of people here said that it doesn’t make sense, but obviously it made good sense to the government. They must have some good reason for denying visas. I think the visa regime should be eased a lot. People to people contact is very important. Even in case of Kashmir, people there will tell you that if you allowed more travel, Kashmiris would understand how life is so much better on our side than on their side. You should let them go and see. Our side is far more developed than that side. It is a pity that the window of 2006-2007, when Pervez Musharraf had suggested the four-point formula. Even Manmohan Singh, while demitting office had said that it was ‘almost done’. How I wish it was done. I think it would have given us about 15 years of peace in the valley. I have been watching Kashmir for 30 years and I can say that no other Pakistani leader has been as reasonable as Musharraf on Kashmir. His four-point formula was accepting the line of control as the solution with little more cosmetics.

Do you think Manmohan Singh government could have sorted the India-Pakistan issue?

Dr Manmohan Singh was more sincere than anybody else. He wanted to solve it, but it just didn’t happen in time. Then we said, Musharraf is gone, it’s too late. But, it should have been done much earlier, in 2006-07. That was the clear window. If you go back to 2004-05, there was so much bonhomie between India and Pakistan. Musharraf came here to watch cricket in Delhi, our team went to Pakistan and was cheered. Balaji became a great hero there. Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi also went to watch a Test match in Karachi. MJ Akbar had also gone there and when he came back he wrote a column stating the hospitality he got in Pakistan can never be reciprocated in India. It was that kind of season, that kind of time. It’s sad that now it is like this.

Do you think the Indo-Pak problem will move forward towards a solution?

I see India-Pakistan relations moving forward in the next few months. There will be an improvement in relations; there will be some talks. But, Kashmir won’t get solved in a hurry. It has to happen someone time. But, I don’t see India-Pakistan behaving like neighbours at least in my lifetime. It will take time for both sides to realise how much we are losing in just opposing each other. Bureaucrats temperamentally haven’t changed even now, but the advantage is that Modi’s is the last word. That is the difference. Even if anyone challenges him, he will not take notice of it. Dr Manmohan Singh is not that kind of person. Ajit Doval can do it.

This story was updated at 7.42 am to correct an error

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Published: 09 Jun 2018, 7:27 AM