There are few Indians who understand Kashmir as well as Amarjit Singh Dulat, former chief of RAW, India’s external intelligence wing. But even he throws up his hands and exclaims, “Nobody knows what is happening in Kashmir and neither does anyone know what New Delhi is thinking.”
There is not one clear narrative coming out of Kashmir, he says. While the Government claims normalcy, others maintain that Kashmiris are resigned to their lot. Some also believe that Kashmiris are being smart by not going out on the streets and getting killed, especially when there is one soldier for every 30 civilians.
But many Kashmiris do feel they have been let down by the people of India, he adds.
“Kashmir has always had problems with Delhi, but they never had problems with the people of India. We must introspect on this. Why has it become about people of Kashmir vs people of India when people of Kashmir are also people of India?”. They feel that they are being discriminated against and they wonder what their fault is.
“Once the lock-up of people started, we knew that it would last long. It might last three years or maybe a few months unless the courts take a position,” he adds.
Pointing out that the Public Safety Act (PSA) has been on the statutes for a long time, was introduced by Sheikh Abdullah and used by both Farooq and Omar Abdullah, Dulat says the real question is how long does the Government think it can sustain normalcy with the use of PSA.
“PSA has been slapped because the government has run out of other options to detain them. If you run out of legal provisions, then PSA comes to your rescue. But the difference is that in the past, if it was slapped on a militant and he got out, then it was slapped again. Now, it is happening to the politicians themselves,” he explains before saying that there has to be a national consensus on repealing the Act.
“Kashmir is being dealt through the security prism only, but it’s not just a security issue. It is a political issue, an emotive issue, a psychological issue. Sooner or later, the government must come to terms with the politics,” feels Dulat.
“The question really is if the government does not think engagement or peace is the option, then what are the other options?”
“There are only two other options. The first is war, which everyone would say is madness. The other option, which is far worse is a state of permanent sulk—which is happening now,” he says pointedly.
While internally BJP has been able to control the narrative ( Why else is the Opposition choking up whenever they speak on the issue), internationally, it has attracted more attention than the Government would have liked, says Dulat.
“Our narrative on Kashmir is, and rightly so, that it is nobody else’s business and at best or worst, it’s a bilateral matter. But, now it has become everybody’s matter. The narrative in the West has not gone in the way that we would have liked it to. Questions are being raised.”
“The US President Donald Trump is visiting India later this month and he has already said twice earlier that he is willing to mediate between India and Pakistan. That is not music to our ears as we don’t need mediation,” he points out.
(First part of the interview. To be concluded)