People in Kashmir never had any problem with people of India, so why now?  

The former RAW chief says in an interview that only the courts can help the dust to settle in Kashmir, where India, he adds, can settle for a state of permanent sulk, a war or engage with people

Photo Courtesy: social media 
Photo Courtesy: social media

Ashlin Mathew

How long will this situation continue, asks Amarjit Singh Dulat, former Special Director of Intelligence Bureau and former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in this interview with ASHLIN MATHEW. Excerpts from the interview:

When the Government abrogated Article 370, detainedpolitical leaders in Kashmir, suspended Internet services in the two UnionTerritories and denied people even basic rights in August, 2019, did youanticipate that the situation would last so long and deteriorate so much?

Nobody knows what exactly is happening in Kashmir and thatis the reality. Neither does anyone know what Delhi is thinking. If there is awise person who can enlighten us on what Delhi is thinking or what Kashmir is thinking,we might be able to say what is right or wrong.

Some people believe that when Delhi says there is ‘normalcy’in Kashmir, it merely means that people are resigned to their lot there. Otherssee the lack of unrest and absence of protests differently. Author and activistArundhati Roy, for example, has described it as the loudest silence.

Once the lock-up started, we knew that it would last long;that it might last three months or even three years unless the courts took aposition. Now, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah’s sister has gone tothe Supreme Court against his detention and the court has admitted herpetition. Let the court decide how constitutional and how correct the decisionwas because otherwise no one really knows what New Delhi wants.

Have you heard from Kashmiris on the ground?

There is no one clear narrative that is emerging fromKashmir. The government’s narrative is normalcy. In a certain section ofKashmiris, there is certainly resignation, but at the same time, even amongpeople who are resigned to the situation, there is a feeling of betrayal.

I have heard that many Kashmiris have been saying that theydid not expect this from the people of India. Kashmir has always had problems with New Delhi, with the central government; but they never had any problem withthe people of India. So why have the people of India forsaken them? There are many Kashmiris who are asking this question.

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 do feel that they are being discriminated against and they wonder what their fault is.

The problem with Kashmiris is that they will complain when no one talks to them, but when the time to talk comes, they would not speak butwould look over their shoulders.

There is an imaginary line that is drawn by Kashmiris.  It is complex. While Kashmiris also look forhope and crave for peace, they also need to clear the cobwebs in their minds;they have to bury the ghosts of the past. They have to move forward.

In 2004-5, under the Dr Manmohan Singh government, several round tables were organised, but Kashmiris wouldn’t show up. Dr Singh would sit though those round tables. Mufti would not even speak to Farooq Abdullah then.So, isn’t there a problem in the Kashmiri mind then?

I have said it for years now that the most logical alliancein Kashmir is between the two Farooqs (Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq of Awami Action committee and Farooq Abdullah), which was there in 1986/87 and went on till Farooq Abdullah was in power. People called it the double Farooq accord. Why isn’t it happening now?

We certainly don’t hear of any resistance. What is the explanation?

The abrogation of Article 370 has been done and dusted. The Kashmiris may not accept it, but it has happened. The Kashmiris have to now think what next, especially because everyone seems to go back to their grievances. There is a need to move forward and take it head on. 

There are two narratives; the first is that of resignation and second is that the Kashmiris have become smarter. There is no need for the Kashmiri to come out and get killed or get into confrontation, especially when there is one soldier for every 30 civilians.

It is a question of waiting it out. The Kashmiri is waiting it out and even New Delhi is waiting it out. This is a waiting game. There is no shooting or killing happening on the ground. We can only ask Allah what will happen.

There is nothing political about troops being in Kashmir and not understanding this is a major flaw. 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 them, with politics.

Politics can mean various things in Kashmir, but I do not foresee elections happening in the state in the near future. Politics will have to come to play as otherwise the government is stuck in a logjam.

Former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao understood this best.From 1990 to 1996, there was six years of Governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmirand Narasimha Rao realised that it was a terrible situation. Ultimately, it had to be dealt with politically.

And to deal with it politically is only through engagement.I will go a step further and say that we must engage with Pakistan too on this issue. It may not happen now, and it may take several years. But it just cannot be ‘My way or the highway’; a bypass will have to be taken. Former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, who is a staunch RSS follower, also spoke to the separatists during his tenure. 

The question really is if the government does not think engagement or peace is an option, then what are the other options before it?

There are only two other options. The first is war and everyone believes it would be madness. The other option, which is even worse, is the state of permanent sulk. It is happening now. So, here are the options – talk, go to war or sulk.

Why do you think Pakistan has gone quiet on Kashmir afterraising the issue at many international fora?

Kashmir has always been complex and to fathom the complexities of Kashmir and Kashmiris is not easy. Pakistan has also gotten itself into similar complexities.

It is clear that Imran Khan wants peace with India and sometimes his frustration shows up. If people who have been

coming to visit from Pakistan can be believed, then even the Generals want peace with India.

Pakistan is in a bigger mess than us in India.I’m sure people in the South Block must be thinking about it, even though they are not inclined towards it just now. But we need to give it a thought.

Do you think Jammu and Kashmir is being turned into laboratory for anti-people laws and practices before they are tried out in the rest of the country?

If you are looking at it as a lab test, then the result of that test is yet to come. Are you testing negative or positive because the testis still on? J&K is still under a shutdown. When you send cultures to a path lab, it takes time for it to grow.

It does strike me that what is happening in Kashmir is not right and the Opposition surprisingly is quiet. Apart from P Chidambaram, I can’t think of any other leader who has meant what he said on the Kashmir issue. Rahul Gandhi spoke about it initially and a couple of days ago Priyanka Gandhi too commented on the Kashmir issue. But Congress has not taken sufficient interest in Kashmir. The family which is at the helm of the Congress also belongs to Kashmir. Whenever Pandit Nehru wanted to relax, he would go to Kashmir as did Indira Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi is the future of the Congress party and he must take the lead in the issue.

Something is amiss. Does everyone think that Kashmir has become a lab? Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah have been buddies. These two families have had a huge relationship. Despite Sheikh Abdullah being jailed in the Kashmir conspiracy case during the time of Pandit Nehru, he bore no ill-will. After his release, he stayed with Nehru.

Here is a man who was locked up for apparently no fault of his, and he still stayed with the family as Nehru’s guest. This shows that Sheikh believed in Nehru and there is still that relationship. One of the rare public meetings that Rahul Gandhi has addressed in Kashmir was with Omar Abdullah in Anantnag. What is happening now?

It seems we also need to remind ourselves that India is a great country. Its greatness is that it is a secular democracy. It will have its ups and downs, but India is greater than one leader. The country has proven that always. We have been lucky and had great leaders. We have many India’s within India. The moment you step out of Delhi, in any direction, there is another India. Th idea of India cannot lose hope, so India cannot lose hope.

Do you think PM Modi and BJP have been able to control the narrative around Kashmir?

This time the matter is attracting much more attention than in the past. But internally BJP has been able to control the narrative. Why else is the Opposition choking up whenever they speak on the issue?

But, internationally, it has attracted more attention than we would have liked. 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 concern.  Then 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 set to come to India next week and he has already said it twice that he is willing to mediate between India and Pakistan. That is not music to our ears as we don’t need mediation.

The Public Safety Act has been slapped on Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti among others. What do you think of the move?

The government can surely ask what the Abdullahs are complaining about. It was Sheikh Abdullah who introduced PSA, Farooq Abdullah used it and so did Omar. So, the issue is not really PSA and there needs to be a national consensus on repealing the Act.

The point really is that PSA has been slapped because the government has run out of other options to detain them. After all, there has to be some law to enable this. If you run out of legal provisions, then PSA comes to your rescue. The difference is that in the past, it was slapped on a militant and if he got out, then it was slapped on him again.  But now, it is happening to the politicians themselves.

The real question to think about is how long  does the government want to sustain detentions with the help of PSA?

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