In the wake of Lethpora attack and the subsequent development, Saima Bhat interviewed A S Dulat, the former RAW Chief and one of the top security experts on Kashmir in India, on situation, politics, diplomacy and talks
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): How has the Lethpora car bomb impacted the overall situation?
AMARJIT SINGH DULAT (ASD): I would say it is a huge setback for Kashmir. As of now, things are bad. We have had bombs, suicide attacks before but never had that been as big as this; this tragedy is very sad. So it is a setback to Kashmir and unfortunately, because Pakistan comes into this when Jaish is mentioned, it also impacts the India and Pakistan relationship which is pretty low right now, if (at all) there is any relationship.
KL: The security setup had said that the Jaish has significantly reduced to a few recruits and then the blast took place. Were they incorrect in their assessment?
ASD: I agree Jaish had been minimised in Kashmir, but over last two and a half years, post-Burhan Wani’s killing, militancy has grown again. Militancy was almost dead in Kashmir in a big way and now it has grown again so everybody is back in business here. If you go back to June 2016, one heard of only the occasional attacks by the Hizb, but after 2016, what has been happening in south Kashmir: Lashkar is back in a big way; Jaish is back and other smaller outfits as well which we had not heard of for years, are active now. So it is sad that is how the situation is. South Kashmir is pretty much out of the control now.
KL: Do you see Burhan Wani as the face of new age militancy in Kashmir?
ASD: No, I think Burhan was only a catalyst. He has been made out to be bigger than what he may have been. He was a poster boy but sometimes what happens is some incident just triggers out things. Wani’s killing triggered off what was below the surface because I happened to be in Kashmir in June 2016 and Kashmir looked great then. Hotels were full of tourists. I mean everything was better but you could sense under the surface, things were not all right and there was a murmur in Srinagar that Eid key baad daikhain kya hota hai. I think things were just waiting to happen and it started with Burhan Wani’s killing.
KL: Pakistan claims India has accused them for the blast without any proof. Is Imran Khan correct?
ASD: Imran Khan may be correct but he is not wholly correct. This is where a huge communication gap lies. Imran says it is not a Pakistani who is into this suicide attack; to that extent he is right. But India is also right that the headquarters of Jaish are in Pakistan. Masood Azhar is in Pakistan and keeping him in protective custody, which means he is with the ISI. So in that sense, Pakistan is involved.
KL: Pakistan claims they have designated Masood Azhar’s outfit as a proscribed entity. But in the UN, China has prevented any designation of Azhar as a terrorist unfit. How is China into it?
ASD: China is with Pakistan. (laughs). They are supportive of Pakistan that is why China does not go along with us or with America. As they say, Pakistan is China’s all-weather friend, and definitely close now. China will not do what we want, although China has its concern with terrorism. I think China is more frightened about terrorism than we are.
KL: People in Kashmir are saying that a lot of explosives reached in down south that was used in the car bomb. Why the security grid had not even a whiff of it till it exploded?
ASD: Where did this come from? Where did it go from? I also don’t know but I am also surprised that so much of the explosives were collected. As per JK police sayings, 300 kilos. How was it transported? Somebody should be asked these questions.
Whenever anything goes wrong we say it was the failure of intelligence, but yes, if 300 kgs of RDX or whatever explosive was transported or being collected, that certainly is somebody’s failure. But you can’t get intelligence about what is inside the mind of a suicide bomber. What he is going to do because nobody knows that, not even his father knows that. So it is like that.
KL: In the aftermath of the bomb, Prime Minister said he has given the forces a free hand. What does that mean?
ASD: (laughs). Don’t you think that the security forces already had the free hand? Security forces have had a free hand. Kashmir is not just a security issue. It is not just a law and order issue. Kashmir is a political issue, an emotive issue, even a psychological issue now. I think you got to deal with it in that way.
KL: How you see the reaction of the civil society in India in the wake of the fact that Kashmiri students and traders were forced to go home?
ASD: Mostly, there is no reaction. It is only some jingoists who made noise and stared up passions but I don’t think in civil society these matters are talked about too much. More important thing is that it is elaboration that some students from Dehradun were asked to pack up and leave. There are Kashmiris living all across India and I didn’t think there was any issue. I was in Bombay two days ago where plenty of Kashmiris were there and they didn’t feel uncomfortable. And as many Kashmiris are in Goa and other places, they are quite fine. There is no problem so I don’t think Kashmiris have to worry about their safety. There are people who have been doing business for the last 30 years in different parts of India. Kashmiris are safe you don’t need to worry about Kashmiris outside Kashmir. I think what we need to worry about is Kashmir itself.
KL: Doesn’t it mean the government abdicated from its responsibility of protecting its citizens and leaving them to the mercy of lynch mobs? How is it going to impact the Kashmir psyche?
ASD: As I told you this is a minor aberration at a small place or maybe two places, it is not a general thing. I have already given you so many examples. In Delhi, even Kashmiris are quite safe. I meet many regularly and nobody told me that they were asked to run away. So there is no problem with Kashmiris. As I say the problem is in Kashmir which we need to sort out.
KL: There were war cries everywhere. Is a larger escalation between India and Pakistan going to happen?
ASD: I don’t know but I don’t think so. This is not the first time that we have had a crisis like this. It has happened before and Mumbai was a much bigger thing. Dr Manmohan Singh did not go to war and I don’t think Prime Minister Modi is also going to war. But yes sentiments do erupt. People do get quite rise what is happening, why does the government not react but war is not the best option. The government has to think about the options. I think a diplomatic option is a good option and ultimately when things settle down you need to start talking.
KL: New Delhi does not want internationalisation of Kashmir. In the wake of the attack, do you think there was a policy reversal on this front?
ASD: No, there is no internationalisation. That is the only diplomacy. The Saudi crown prince was here and he is a very good diplomat himself so he balanced everything nicely. He didn’t say anything against Pakistan yet he said things about terrorism so that is how it is.
KL: You have always advocated for dialogue between India and Pakistan. After Pulwama attack what do you suggest for the two neighbouring countries to ease the tension?
ASD: I still advocate it. My views have not changed but I think immediately a dialogue between India and Pakistan will not happen because tempers have raised and there is a lot of disconnects, but in due course, it has to happen. There is no other way but we need to talk to Kashmiris first, I think so.
KL: Do you see any role of China in the relation between India and Pakistan?
ASD: Yes, there is a role in China. China sides with Pakistan so they have a role but we need to have our own relationship with Pakistan and China also without bringing in the other party.
KL: Are Lok Sabha and assembly elections taking place in Jammu and Kashmir?
ASD: Lok Sabha certainly will take place. I also want the assembly elections to take place. The sooner, the better; the governor’s rule for more than six months is not a healthy thing. After all, we want democracy in Kashmir. It should come back as soon as possible. Why should you defer it and the more you defer it, the more difficult it will become.
KL: Was Interlocutor preparing an election doctrine here during the last two years?
ASD: Dineshwar Sharma Ji is the nicest human being that you can have. But I wish instead of going to Raj Bhavan and talking to the Chief Minister and the Governor, he could have gone to meet the Mirwaiz and Geelani sahib instead. What election manifesto he can prepare? Election manifesto for whom? He is a very good man.
KL: How is the car bomb attack going to impact the upcoming Lok Sabha elections?
ASD: I don’t think it will impact too much except for south Kashmir. I think Kashmiris, instead of looking at Pakistan for all the times, you need to think for yourself that elections are important. And the more participation you have, the better the representation you will get because you need your representation in Delhi and in Kashmir. There is no point in Kashmiris boycotting elections or not participating wholly or fully in the elections. Elections are important for Kashmir and Kashmiris. Kashmiris need to understand that.
KL: Any impact across India?
ASD: No, I think it will stop in Jammu.
KL: What impact will the politicisation of Lethpora mean for the politics of Kashmir, the PDP and NC? Now, both seem to be pushed to the wall and their responses are identical?
ASD: It is good if they are identical because they are both nationalist parties. If Mehbooba and Omar thought on the same lines it is good. Their position is pretty good this time. It will be most likely NC representative or PDP and Congress joint representatives.
KL: You always come here, meet people, take their suggestions but later they were never implemented?
ASD: I think you have forgotten that it has been 18 years since I have retired and it has been almost 15 years since I left government, so who is going to bother about my suggestions. My suggestions are only suggestions. I talk, I write, and I speak and I do sometimes pass on something. Nobody is bothered what I say.