A journalist had a series of joint interviews with A S Dulat, former RAW chief and Assad Durrani, who headed ISI in 1990, and published a detailed narrative about what spies think of the crisis between India and Pakistan. Last week when Durrani wanted to join the book launch in Delhi, India refused him a visa. Two days after he was explaining his utterances at army headquarters in Rawalpandi where a court of inquiry was initiated against him and he was put in no-fly list. Here is what Durrani said on key issues concerning Kashmir
In my time we predicted that India’s military build-up, after the Kashmir uprising (in 1990s), was not intended for war. I can pat my own back for that.
But the biggest failure was when the Kashmir uprising happened we did not know how far it would go. These things usually run their course in six months or a year. When it became lasting, we wondered how to keep a handle on it. We didn’t want it to go out of control, which would lead to a war that neither side wanted.
Could we micro-manage it? That was our challenge. ISI’s leverage on the Kashmir insurgency turned out less than successful.
In particular, I regret it till today why we did not take Amanullah Gilgiti more seriously. His group led the uprising. He started it, initiated it, spoke about it. I met him when I was at the ISI. He did not seem important at that time. In any case, his third option of independence was unnecessarily muddying the water. And what did independence mean anyway?
Gilgiti, though, was probably the most serious one, focused and connected. Like the rallies at Chakoti. Every year, on our side, October 27 is celebrated as Black Day. Gilgiti was the only person who brought his crowd in, disciplined, sober, serene, conducting the proceedings and the march without commotion. The others were non-serious, they came from here and there, made their speeches and left.
But going back to the evolution of the Kashmir uprising of the 1990s, I think the formation of the Hurriyat to provide a political direction to the resistance was a good idea. Giving up handle on the movement—letting the factions do what they bloody well wanted to—was not.
On Amanullah Khan
Amanullah was an early resistance fighter. His idea of the third option, independence, was not bad. But it put off many Pakistanis, especially the establishment. Its support was, well, to describe it as weak is not doing justice because some didn’t like him at all.
Amanullah had reason to be upset with us. So overwhelming was our desire that Kashmir accede to Pakistan, towards Sardar Qayyum, the slogan ‘Kashmir banega Pakistan’, to the Jamaat-e-Islami, that these got our political support. We tried to tell him, haan bhai, Amanullah, you are right, and that fellow is also right. But Amanullah was short-changed and he knew it, and he was right. I later realised our
He certainly was not the ISI’s favourite. Not the ISI’s favourite, not Pakistan’s favourite.
We had no business to make value judgments. Pragmatically we should have asked which country would lose more if Kashmir became independent. My own assessment was India would lose more because India had more. If after having been in India for 60-70 years they still want independence, that sentiment must count for something.
If independent they would keep good relations with India, I’m sure of that. They would reach out to China for various reasons. But Kashmir’s heart would be with its western neighbour.
That’s why if someone talks of independence then we have no business getting in the way. So Amanullah was not handled well by us.
The third option is saleable in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, without
Fore-thought, spoke of it during a visit to Iran in his first tenure. Ghulam Ishaq Khan said the UN Security Council resolution gave us a locus standi in the matter and should not be given up, but we could explore other options. It is saleable, except there will be hue and cry.
Once this phase of the uprising took place, I asked people who are involved in the Kashmir issue, not officially but otherwise, some of them old Kashmir hands: Will things be different? Yes, it looks different, people are angry.
Instead of talking of fighting, they are talking of embracing shahadat. ‘Martyrdom cults’, someone said unkindly. If it’s going to be unusual then the Indians will adopt unusual ways of handling it. Regardless of what India does, it will continue to manage on most occasions, it can contain whatever happens, it can suppress Kashmiris, appease them, accommodate them. It has happened, it will continue. If it continues 20 years from now Omar Abdullah might be the chief minister, but the problem keeps festering. But Kashmir uprising is only 28 years or so, there are things that have gone on for 50, 60, 70 years.
We also have an example, though not as severe, in Balochistan. In the last 70 years, five uprisings. Few people are involved, mainly 5,000-10,000 angry youth, but it’s a vast area so they are dispersed. It’s not united. We manage to contain it each time and have limited it to five or six districts out of. For most Balochis Pakistan remains the least bad option.
Despite their weaknesses and despite our ability to contain the unrest, the problem will continue. It is not only a problem of 5,000 people. Others who may not have taken that path and may still believe in Pakistan have grievances that aren’t less. There are inherent structural deficits in the politics and economics, all complex, so they will continue. It indicates that a problem is resolved by many short-term and long-term astute measures.
Similarly, things will keep happening in Kashmir.
Response to Uprising
Assuming there is nothing more than containment, crackdown, political management, hanging on to the policy that Kashmir hamara hai.
Kashmir has blown up so many times, not because we were doing something. This time it has blown up for one reason, next time for another reason. Because Kashmir is complex and needs something other than simple management by a Kashmir expert.
Some do talk of the Kashmiri’s unreliability but it’s typically a Pakistani or sub-continental or universal trait not to believe that anyone other than yourself could be reliable. In Pakistan, Punjabis cast aspersion on Pushtuns, Balochis and lately on Mohajirs; Punjabis say we are the largest community but we were also the most reliable for the British and Mughal empires. Since they—and the Pushtuns— acted as mercenaries, why should they be considered ‘more reliable’?
None of them think an independent Kashmir would be for the better. They are more worried about what would happen to Mangla Dam. Its water would come through another country, they argue.
The worst argument from a sensible person: If Kashmir would become independent it would get more foreign support and troops; America, Germany, Japan, all would be there. They’ll give money because Kashmir is strategically important. They’d like to establish bases, as they have in Afghanistan. Pakistan and India will both have less influence, and powerful Westerners will take over Kashmir.
That is why I suggest to our various Track-IIs to discuss the independence option. War game the different scenarios. If a large section, even a majority, of Kashmiris would take independence if given a choice, then let them have it.
I think it was yet another gimmick, because (Rex) Tillerson was coming to the region. In Pakistan, on such occasions, we would usually get hold of a few people to sustain the illusion of cooperation. In the good old days the Indians had a marvellous plan. A few weeks before an American visited they would create a hostile environment so that on arrival he was on the defensive. India’s not a small country that has to present itself in a good manner.
Now there is a nexus between India, the United States and Israel, with the Kabul regime playing the poodle. The bloc they target is Pakistan-China, with scuttling CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) as their immediate aim.
India wanted to tell Tillerson not to worry about Kashmir. You don’t even have to raise it; we’ve appointed a competent man—like your AfPak envoys—to take care of it. Tillerson in any case would have agreed; even if he had mentioned it he probably would have said, look, Kashmir continues to present a problem. He was not going to make much noise, but even that was pre-empted.
India’s Status Quo
For as long as I can remember India has been considered a status quo
Power, which for Pakistan meant no movement on Kashmir, frankly. We weren’t at that time thinking anything more than Kashmir. You may have added something about POK being yours, it was merely as a bargaining chip; but I felt that whenever the need arose we would say, let’s settle down and sort it out. No one took it seriously. Pakistan was the one that wanted to change the status quo because it was not happy with the state of affairs in Kashmir.
I arrived at the conclusion that composite dialogue that concluded in 1998 was an excellent framework to resolve or manage India-Pakistan conflicts. Its formula was good; its algorithm excellent, essentially saying that by discussing less intractable issues we could create an environment of confidence. Then we could start on difficult issues like security and Kashmir. At a later stage we could bring in ‘terrorism’.
This composite dialogue worked out, after many initial hiccups, when your foreign minister came to Islamabad in 2006 to sign a ‘milestone agreement’. It made plenty of sense, and there was plenty of excitement. I was among those invited to be at the Marriott Hotel for the announcement. I flew in from Europe.
The expectation was that the two sides would agree to kick-start the peace process by facilitating the Kashmiri leaders from both sides of the LoC to interact.
Some of us were hanging around outside the hall, quipping that they were going to start a bus, but what if the odd bus got blown up? Suddenly people emerged and said, yes a bus will run. I said looks a bit risky but a great symbol to kick off the process.
It was supposed to be only symbolic. Substantial things were to happen on other tracks, the easier ones. And when nothing happened, even on the simplest issues, that is when I concluded that India was serious about maintaining the status quo.
My argument is this. India believes that if the status quo was disrupted, the dynamics of change might be difficult to control. If the situation went below a certain threshold, it would not only harm Pakistan but also India. Similarly, an upward trend was not in India’s interests. Pakistanis might become more confident, more cocky; Kashmiris more vocal, more violent, and they might feel that in a new situation they could achieve something. So even if it was not comfortable with the existing situation, India must have concluded that it was better to contain any upward trend.
India is comfortable, Pakistan has problems. India is doing well, going places, being wooed by the world, 70 to 80 billion-dollar trade with China. Why upset the apple cart?
It seemed like sound reasoning. Also, a number a people outside the subcontinent but with an eye on India got the same impression. ‘This is the message we get,’ such people said.
India is thus not just status quo but a strictly status quo power. It will do everything to preserve that and not even move in a direction from which it may benefit, because to do so means giving up on old friends with whom you’re comfortable. The-devil-you-know argument.
I can then understand why Delhi did not respond to Musharraf ’s1 initiatives. If you don’t like something you respond by saying, thank you, we’ll study it, you’ll get our response in due course. The studied silence indicated to me that Delhi had no desire to respond. In diplomatic terms Delhi told us to get lost, go climb a pole, we’ll handle it our way.
A year or two ago Mr Dulat began saying the status quo suits Pakistan more, because there is a problem in Kashmir. I didn’t comprehend his reasoning nor did I go into its depth until the turmoil after Burhan Wani’s killing. Then I started toying with the idea that because of what is happening in the Valley, Pakistan should simply sit back and ‘watch the fun’. Perhaps India would be forced to change its original policy, its old threats, its old approaches. And then we might have a new status quo.
One could say that at this point of time, the status quo is not unfavourable to Pakistan. Pakistan could be comfortable with the unrest except that Kashmiris died.
Also, if it inevitably goes on and even if you want no part in it, there would be fallout on this side of the Line of Control. Still, we can not only live with it, but also get on with other things. I sometimes say our relationship has achieved strategic stability.
The status quo does not mean that there is no meeting, no movement, no going and coming. In fact, you can have all that so long as you ensure no change in the political arrangement. No change in the stakes that can provide incentive for further change. Nothing like, this bus started running so something else must happen; for then the bus is stopped in its tracks.
To the extent that when Musharraf spoke of a four-point formula that he thought was reasonable and partly aligned to the other side’s view, one found a reluctance (in India) to formalise it. Because today we may say LoC is irrelevant for trade, tomorrow they may want a European Union-type arrangement. That’s when I said strategic stalemate is India’s objective.
I believed it so because improving relations with Pakistan, even if not limited to Kashmir, meant peace but also meant compromises on certain policies, because it’s give-and-take. Therefore the saying: the price for peace is at times higher than the price of conflict.
Conflict is manageable, there will be occasional firing across the border, and people may die. But the price of peace may entail accepting the old division of Kashmir or arrangement with Pakistan, changing the former Indus Water Treaty, etc. That might trigger other dynamics.
But why get stuck on ‘status quo’? I only lightly mentioned it, and in the context of Kashmir. Now I see it as a status quo of compulsion, which leaves the alternatives, policies, strategies a bit risky and that’s why you stick to it.
Changing status quo through a ‘dhamaka’ event, like a bus yatra or an Uri, is one way. I am suggesting something more nuanced and gestures that are more substantial.
For example: Both of us talking, it’s not a ‘shosha’ to distract people but something for discussion. Maybe after a year or so the same thing would be discussed more seriously. That would be a change of the status quo for the better.
On Kashmir one has often talked about sending out a feeler. We know the type of noise it will create on both sides, so it must not be done officially. Unofficially it has already been done. Away from the spotlight people talk about the dangers or disasters of an independent Kashmir. A TV channel discussed what would happen and its implications. Would Pakistan suffer more or India? Such discussions break the mould.
India got divided into India and Pakistan. Pakistan got divided into Pakistan and Bangladesh. If before any of this happened someone had said, break up India, that chap would have lost his head. But at some stage it happened.
So the idea is to start a discussion like that of Quebec. You want independence, go ahead and vote for it. We want to change the status quo and improve it; but at the same time we don’t want to question our articles of faith. That status quo will not be broken but will worsen, as it has within six months. Another status quo was created, another quasi-stable relationship reached. The next time something happens, it will worsen.
We’re looking for a development that will raise the bar.
The Core Issue
On a couple of occasions I have heard Indians say they consider Kashmir the core issue. The first was Salman Haider, a co-author of ‘composite dialogue’. I don’t remember exactly but he said something like, yes it may be the core issue.
In a composite dialogue, the core issue need not be discussed at the beginning, but only as the peace process goes along. The initial focus is on improving the environment. Only then is it time to talk about the difficult issue: Kashmir. And later, terrorism. Some in India will concede that Kashmir is a major problem without calling it ‘core issue’; at the same time, however, they say that Pakistan believes the core issue must be discussed at the beginning.
The composite dialogue was for me learning about making peace. Earlier one had only learned and taught how to make war. I tried to see if the lessons of military strategy were applicable. Enough people agreed, including Salman Haider.
‘You and Shamsad (our foreign secretary) absolutely got to the core of our operations strategy,’ I told him. Operations strategy has two prongs: one is the battle, the other is the manoeuvre. You fight somewhere, create the right environment for the manoeuvre or break-out. It should be in such a manner that it creates a favourable environment for the battle. It’s a cycle of battle and manoeuvre. ‘You seem to have done it,’ I said.
This composite dialogue was the manoeuvre, and it was essentially creating a favourable environment for the battle, which was the resolution of Kashmir. A civilian version of the battle for Kashmir.
I saw that the concept might fit. I admired that these people thought of moving on eight talking tracks. In military strategy you sometimes launch an offensive and see which front makes progress. The one that creates an environment for your main battle, and not where you might not have made progress due to enemy resistance.
Yes, Salman said, whenever we worked on the evolution of composite dialogue, people spoke of Liddell-Hart’s strategy of ‘expanding torrents’. You start little streams, others join in, and the whole thing expands.
On intractable issues, unless you’ve gone through the crust you don’t get to the core. I’ve said this at home, that to get to the core issue you must negotiate through the peripherals.
India has made symbolic compromises in the past like the bus. The establishment’s paranoia is that an upturn will make Kashmiris confident. It will encourage them to blow the lid on the pot of their sentiment, the simmering that was handled technically will boil over.
How good would Kashmiris feel in a Pakistan-India patch-up? Some of them rightly believe that once our relations improve, on the Pakistani side Kashmir goes on the backburner. We’re doing trade, why bring up this contentious issue? The K-word becomes an irritation for the political leadership: Phir Kashmir? Badi mushkil se kiya.
Movements are usually hijacked by better organised parties.
Like the Iranian revolution was triggered by the Tudeh Party, a communist group, but then hijacked by the clergy led by (Ayatollah) Khomeini.
The Egyptian Arab Spring was started by the people but after a pause taken over by the army. Afghanistan’s problem began with infighting among the communist factions—the Khalqis, the Parchamis, etc.—but when the Soviets invaded, the ground was captured by the mujahideen and their Islamic supporters who were nowhere close to the communists. Now we have those who collaborated with the Soviets installed in Kabul with American help.
In Kashmir, Amanullah and others led the resistance, but the Jamaat was better organised and had more influence on our side. It’s a universal phenomenon that once a movement starts, the initiators are jettisoned in due course. They are ideologues, may have the good of the people at heart, but rarely the ability to steer it through.
There was consensus in Pakistan that in the post-Wani developments it should neither interfere nor be seen to be involved. Some schadenfreude (feeling pleased with the adversary’s plight) was understandable, but after Uri and the so-called surgical strike, we realized that sitting back and doing nothing was not an option. We would inevitably get involved. I’m sure the concern now is what to do
if the events of 2016 follow a course that Delhi is bent upon steering.
Making Kashmir A Bridge
The best that can happen and seems possible is to make Kashmir the
bridge. The two of us would love to work not for independence or reunification, but to provide a sense of comfort to the people.
When we get permission we don’t even have to talk about it. Neither side has to say this is about terrorism or a solution to Kashmir. But how to convert this process into reality?