Revealing Little

Amarjit Singh Dulat is one of the many Kashmir specialists. He has handled Kashmir in the capacity of a senior IB officer and later as RAW Chief. Even later when he was in the Vjapyee’s PMO, he was one of the Kashmir-literate officials. In his memoir, the top spook has not revealed much barring upholding a strong case against the muscular policy in action, writes Masood Hussain

A S Dulat

Amarjit Singh Dulat has the distinction of operating from Srinagar at a time when Kashmir was, what he said, “unlivable”. The situation was changing very fast and the morning news would be a stale piece of information around noon. The interesting facet of the situation was that nobody had predicted the eruption of militancy.

As head of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) in Kashmir, they had a DySP rank officer, Sapru deputed to the IB. When the bombs started exploding here and there, Dulat once asked Sapru, what was happening around them. The response was interesting: “This is nothing really, all this going and coming is a routine in Kashmir. Nothing for you to worry about.”

Subsequently, it proved beyond a point that Kashmir has changed fundamentally. Even the IB lost some of Dulat’s subordinates in targeted and pinpointed killings within and outside Srinagar. This triggered a crisis. One day the IB staffers assembled on the lawns of the Gupkar office and sought his permission to leave Kashmir. As was expected, he refused the permission point blank.

“I absolutely understood their panic,” Dulat wrote in his memoir, A Life In The Shadows. “Loneliness can drive you to do and say all kinds of things, and out in the field, whether you are undercover or not, situations develop fast and teach you lessons that no amount of time on the desk can.”

Despite the fact that he heading the key intelligence agency at a time when Kashmir was changing and Kashmiri Pandits migrated en mass, he is willing to give Jagmohan – who hated his guts – a benefit of the doubt. “..I will say that he had nothing to do with it,” Dulat wrote. “In the midst of all the bloodshed he witnessed when he returned, he did not want the Kashmiri Pandits to be targetted – and hence, he was equally happy to see them leave.”

Picking The Game

Though Dulat was a senior officer and had many postings within and outside the North Block-run Bureau, he gives Kashmir the credit for offering him real training. He admitted that Kashmir taught him the “real game of intelligence”. It was on basis of his understanding of Kashmir that he has been able to create his own doctrine that revolves around talking and building bridges and not violence.

A S Dulat’s Memoir, A Life In Shadows (2023)

It was on the ground that he felt the net difference in seeing Kashmir from Delhi. Areas like Kashmir cannot be seen in the black and white as Delhi used to see it because the valley is “mostly grey and constantly in need of empathy, compassion and compromise”. That explains why “Kashmiri leaders talk a different language in Kashmir and a different language in Delhi.”

Talks, he believes, is the only way out. “I see no better way to gather intelligence than by talking to people,” he wrote. Kashmir taught him that “the gun is the most counterproductive means to an end,” an observation that eventually crystallised his line of thought: “We will all die by the gun, so why not talk?”

Dulat’s memoir has many references to anonymous Kashmiris who would meet him off and on, sometimes even without a formal appointment. Some of them, according to him, were scoundrels, Pakistani agents, who would come to him with stories. Rascals, Dulat has written, are the best agents. “My point is – yeh Pakistan ke liye kaam karta hai might be true – but does not that make him all the more important to us?”

Not May Revelations

When a former spook wrote a book, he runs the risk of compromising security. That is why there are no impressive anecdotes of his days in Kashmir as IB top man and with Kashmir as RAW chief.

The book has confirmed yet again that Rajesh Pilot as the central minister was routinely talking to JKLF in Srinagar and continued to keep the windows open even though the governor General (retired) K V Krishna Rao disliked him and his activities. Later, when he failed to settle Kashmir, Dulat wrote, Pilot wanted to depute Punjab DGP, KPS Gill to Kashmir, an idea Dulat and many others discouraged.

The book reveals that he was, as is already known in touch with almost all the separatist leaders. However, Yasin Malik disliked him. Once when he met him at a safe house, Dulat wrote, Malik leaned back in his chair, swinging his boots up onto the table.

That, however, was not the case with Hurriyat leaders who even met Ajit Doval, now NSA, at Dulat’s residence. He has mentioned an interesting anecdote. “Once, there were two guys on opposite sides of the Hurriyat spectrum who showed up at the same time and were, understandably, rather miffed at seeing each other. One of them asked me, in an aggrieved fashion: Iske samne mujhe kyun bulaya? I said: I did not call you; you came yourself. And I did not invite him either; he too came on his own. Now you manage.”

The book has many references to his meetings with Shabir Shah, whom he describes as the “cult figure” and “people’s hero” in the 1990s. Then, he wrote the top priority was to arrest him and it took the IB a year to locate his whereabouts and finally arrest him at Ramban in August 1990 when he was on his way to Poonch and cross over, Nayeem Khan accompanied him. When Dulat rang Dr Farooq Abdullah, who had resigned earlier in the year, he said: “Yeh toh Kamaal ho gaya.”

In the subsequent days, the security set-up remained in touch with Shah and gave him “importance”. The book offers sketchy details about how Dulat got the IB to agree to escort Shah to the Nepal border where he wanted to meet Mehmood Sagar. Dulat told his boss: “Let us see what he brings back to us”. However, the IB decided against it at the last moment leaving a furious Shah to sulk in Jammu and later when Dulat met him, Shah complained: “I tell you everything, but you do not trust us. If you do not trust us, how can we have a relationship?”

It was this sentiment that Mirwaiz echoed in one of his interactions with Dulat: “You accuse us Kashmiris of lying, but we have learnt it from you”.

Dulat reveals that Shah was being encouraged to participate in the 1996 elections. The top officer wrote that Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao was told that but it, might have happened in 2002, if not 1996. When persuaded, Shah agreed to talk. When Dulat briefed the Prime Minister, he was sent to Finance Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. After hearing Dulat, he asked a simple question: Does Dr Farooq Abdullah knows it?

Dr Abdullah

If Dulat writes or talks, it invariably ends up in Kashmir and in that talk, Dr Farooq Abdullah is always the hero.

In 1986 when Dr Abdullah signed an accord with Rajiv Gandhi, Giani Zail Singh, the then president commented: “This will be the beginning of the end of Farooq Abdullah. He will go the same way as Longwal.”

Dulat’s Kashmir Book, Vajpayee Years (2015)

Later during his posting in Srinagar, Dulat became a friend of Dr Abdullah and that was the reason why he was packed off to Delhi later. Dulat writes that while grooming Farooq for his future role, Sheikh Abdullah had told him: politics is like jumping into the Jhelum and swimming against the tide. “As I was to discover, Farooq decided to go with the flow, instead of swimming against the tide,” wrote Dulat, who added that when Dr Abdullah was a member of Dr Manmohan Singh’s cabinet – the man who shelved talks with Shabir Shah in 1996, he was never asked about Kashmir. In 1990, Dr Abdullah had told Dulat: “I have not gone into politics to spend my life in jail. Whoever is in power in Delhi, I am with them. We will remain with Delhi”

Disliked by Mufti Sayeed, Dulat has written that the PDP was reported to have been set up with the help of Doval and with the blessings of Delhi, especially Advani. However, he sees it just as a story.

Now, Dulat argues against the naysayers that PDP is finished. “I have always felt that she is still relevant” and has advised his friend, Dr Abdullah, the PAGD boss: “Do not let her go”.

Dulat was the only top person who was flown to meet Dr Abdullah and found him missing his golf. “Remove him from the political arena and all you will have left are pygmies, we might regret that one day,” argues Dulat.

Muscular Policy

It is against the backdrop of his understanding of Kashmir that Dulat argues against the muscular policy. Building his argument that it was the pro-engagement policy in Delhi, which he supported, that led to at least two rounds of formal talks with the separatists. In 1994, a group of erstwhile militant leaders had agreed to engage with the government and to meet them Home Secretary flew to Srinagar. Later, in 2003, the NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee met the Hurriyat leaders so his Deputy, Lal Kishan Advani.

“I cannot imagine, for instance, an Atal Behari Vajpayee or a Manmohan Singh implementing this policy,” Dulat believes. “But now, it is a different ball game, and one sometimes gets the impression that the IB is out of it”. Interestingly, he has written that when he was RAW chief, he retained Kashmir and it upset the IB. He told the then IB Chief: “As long as I am in the RAW, Kashmir will stay with me.”

Admitting that this was not the first time when the muscular policy is in vogue, Dulat sees the abandoning of the idea of engagement as preventing the mainstreaming of Kashmir and denying the security set-up the hardcore information. “Today’s more muscular policy hampers the process of engaging with separatists or, indeed, with the possibility of using militants as potential agents.”

Dulat sees the muscular policy as the paranoia of Pakistan. “So, what is happening in the face of this new muscular policy is the radicalisation of Kashmir. I would call that a failure of our policies in Kashmir.”

Kashmir Situation

The former RAW chief sees the Kashmir situation as a response to this policy. “The nightmare in the Kashmir mind has changed. It is the nightmare of being reduced to a minority in their own land. It is not something that is openly said, but it is a fear that hangs over them like a shadow,” Dulat wrote. “What the collective Kashmiri psyche fears most is chaos. Hence it is always pleading for India-Pakistan peace.”

The policy consequences are beyond that. When a muscular policy spills over the boundary between force and sheer harassment, people including politicians prefer self-preservation as it is natural. He admits alienation and hatred in Kashmir. “The boys I speak to on occasions tell me that nobody wants Azadi, but nobody wants Pakistan either. They are currently dying in the name of Allah,” he wrote.

With Geelani, whom he terms as “Pakistan’s last man standing in Kashmir”, gone, Dulat wants engagement, the only way to mainstream Kashmir. “The Hurriyat as it existed is dead, all that remains is Mirwaiz Umer Farooq who was always different from the others and should now be more than ready to enter the mainstream.”

Interestingly, Dulat sees in Kashmir, an exaggerated feeling of oppression and victimhood. On the reading down of Article 370, his argument is simple: “why deprive Kashmir – and the Kashmiris – of their long fig leaf of dignity”. He asserts that Article 370 is done and dusted. “Rhetoric aside, the Kahmsiris are by and large reconciled to it so long as they do not feel a sense of defeat,” he observes.

Dulat has been a frequent Kashmir visitor and one of the many people whose observations matter. On Srinagar streets, he writes he felt murmurs of the two-nation theory. When he met Dr Abdullah, he brought it up with him and was told: “I am aware of it, but it is the same people, those bloody Jamaatis”.

Dulat, in his book, walks the talk that has been there even before 1846. “If you threaten him, a Kashmiri will lie down, he might even play dead. But given the chance, he will rise again,” Dulat wrote. “Often I have observed this curious mix of aggrieved oppression and defiance: you might discriminate against them, you might not give them their due, but in the face of repression, they will get back on their feet again. Of necessity, Kashmir has learned over the years to be devious. It is, for them the key to survival. They will not trust you easily, and they will trust each other not at all. As Brajesh Mishra often used to say – the only thing straight in Kashmir is the poplar tree.”

Is it?


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