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Pakistan is a neighbour you can’t wish away: A.S. Dulat

A.S. Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing and former special director of the Intelligence Bureau.   | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

A former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing and former special director of the Intelligence Bureau, A.S. Dulat is in the eye of the storm over a book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI, and the Illusion of Peace, that he has co-authored with a former Director-General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, Lieutenant General (Retd.) Asad Durrani. Mr. Dulat and Gen. Durrani discuss in the book, published this month, solutions to the India-Pakistan conflict and the situation in Kashmir. In this interview, Mr. Dulat speaks of the need to enlist the Hurriyat to return Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, establish a permanent dialogue between Indian and Pakistani intelligence, and invite the Pakistan Army Chief to India for talks. Excerpts:

Your discussions in the book focus on Kashmir and Pakistan. On Kashmir, last month the government announced an internal cease-operations and re-established the ceasefire at the Line of Control. How close is this to the 2003 situation that led to the India-Pakistan dialogue process and considerable years of peace in Jammu and Kashmir?

I think this is quite different. In 2003, we had Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the whole way of thinking was quite different. This time it seems more contrived and more conditional. I think the announcements are a positive step forward and if we can continue as we did in 2003, at least we can ensure the border remains quiet.

Does it also mean that the tougher policy announced a year ago, Operation All Out, is being put aside?

Well, we’ve been ‘all out’, we’ve been muscular, the Army has played its part, and the security forces and intelligence agencies have done well. But all this force and military might have their limitations. Our Generals have said so too. The problem in Kashmir is that when politicians are expected to play their part, they don’t, and things get stuck again. We do this cyclical thing of tough action and the healing touch, but politicians keep failing to do the next step.

Where does the solution lie?

Delhi needs to do much more. There are two standard excuses from the establishment in Delhi. One is, who do we talk to in Pakistan, and the other, what is the point of speaking to anyone in Kashmir if they are controlled by Pakistan? It’s a negative way of thinking. You need to find people to speak with in Pakistan and in Kashmir. There is no Sheikh Abdullah any more, but there are several leaders, not more than eight or 10 people, including the separatists, who need to be kept engaged at all times. I can’t understand why this is so difficult for New Delhi to do.

In your first book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, you made the sensational claim that the government was funding the Hurriyat. In Spy Chronicles, you say the Hurriyat plays as “Pakistan’s team” in Kashmir. Now you say, keep them engaged. Where exactly do you see the Hurriyat’s role?

It started as Pakistan’s team certainly, and in the book General Durrani acknowledges that a time came when it was necessary to have a political front in Kashmir. But we should have been able to turn them around. They are living in India, and we should have been able to manage their presence much better. Let me tell you, the Kashmiri does not want to go to Pakistan. What the Kashmiri wants is the best deal possible where he is. Azaadi means accommodation, dignity, honour and justice to them. That is the minimum the Kashmiri should get. Beyond that, if you have the imagination, the government should consider proposals of the past, like on autonomy.

In the book you also say that when there is peace in Kashmir, New Delhi doesn’t want to talk and when things are not all right, the Hurriyat doesn’t want to talk.

Well, the Mirwaiz has said many times that New Delhi only wants to talk to us when there is trouble. He is right. I think the Mirwaiz should always be a welcome guest in New Delhi. If [Syed Ali Shah] Geelani Saab speaks a reasonable line, he must be engaged. I had very high hopes from [Chief Minister] Mehbooba Mufti. But she has disappointed Kashmiris. Mufti Saab [Mufti Mohammad Sayeed] could not be pushed around beyond a point. In 2003, once I was told to tell Mufti Saab to put Geelani [in prison]. He said no, there are better ways of dealing with him. Mehbooba Mufti hasn’t been able to stand her ground with the Centre.

What’s your advice then, to the Mehbooba Mufti government as well as the Modi government?

Talk. Engage. Start again. Don’t give up so easily. Keep it going. When I spoke to [official interlocutor] Dineshwar Sharma, I said, please start the process. Even if nobody believes in it, even if you think it’s a fraud, start talks and keep talks going. The Kashmiri is craving peace and looking for someone to talk to. Now that the Home Minister has reiterated that he is willing to talk, I am hopeful. It will take time but it needs to be done.

Should the State government reach out as well?

They should, I think. Mr. Geelani, for example, has an old link with the Mufti family and would have some regard for Mehbooba. I would also wish for [Opposition leaders like] Omar Abdullah to reach out to [Mirwaiz] Umar Farooq, as their fathers once did [Double Farooq Accord of 1987 between Farooq Abdullah and Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq]. They all need to use their imagination.

You say in the book that the Islamic State and pan-Islamic jihad haven’t attracted Kashmiri militants. Why do you think so?

Because I think Kashmiriyat is not dead yet. I know it’s an old idea that many reject today. There is radicalism, but it can be reversed if we develop a proper understanding and get the Hurriyat involved, and we must bring back the Kashmiri Pandits. If we want to bring the Pandits back to the Valley, we need the Hurriyat to take a stand, and Mirwaiz and Geelani Saab and others will have to go and say that they want them back. It will be gradual, but not with separate colonies. Shabir Shah [of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party] at one time would visit Pandit camps in Jammu and speak to people about coming back. They should restart that.

Isn’t the situation too polarised for that now?

No, I don’t think so.

Even if all of this happened, and even if by some miracle the Kashmir conflict was resolved, will that fix India-Pakistan relations? Doesn’t the Pakistani establishment still need India as a sort of “permanent enemy”?

Well, clearly at one point General [Pervez] Musharraf as President had realised that a permanent enmity with India was not in Pakistan’s interest. Mr. Vajpayee too saw the futility of a never-ending war, and so have leaders on both sides since then.

But it’s well known that each time leaders decided to fix relations, something terrible happened. Kargil followed Mr. Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore, Mumbai attacks occurred when the Pakistan Foreign Minister was in India, Pathankot happened after Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Lahore, Uri after Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Islamabad. So, why take the chance?

Pakistan is a neighbour you can’t wish away and we need to have a Pakistan policy. Ignoring Pakistan is not an option. Is another war, even a limited one, an option? So, engagement is the only way.

If the Deep State is responsible for attacks, we need a serious engagement with them. Which is why I suggested that we should invite the Pakistan Army Chief, General [Qamar Javed] Bajwa, here. General Durrani and I also agreed that the intelligence chiefs must meet, and we must institutionalise a mechanism for their meeting. Of all our intelligence dialogues, the India-Pakistan one is potentially the most important one for India.

There are already National Security Adviser-level talks at present.

There is an imbalance in the NSA talks, because our NSA, Ajit Doval, is all-powerful, while I’m not sure General [Naseer Khan] Janjua has that kind of clout in Pakistan. So maybe our NSA and the Pakistan Army Chief could talk. But we need to find a new mechanism that works.

Could Kulbhushan Jadhav be a test case for the kind of dialogue you suggest?

Yes, because firstly I don’t believe Pakistan will hang him. I also think that if bilateral ties were to improve, we could bring him home.

What makes you so optimistic? After all Mr. Jadhav’s arrest came at the same time when the government allowed a team of Pakistani investigators to take a tour of the Pathankot base. So, despite Indian concessions, Pakistan went ahead and publicised it.

Yes, it was handled very clumsily by Pakistan. But if they do release him today, relations can move forward very quickly. Maybe that sounds unrealistic today, but who knows? In our Track II negotiations, we have repeated again and again the need for such gestures. Some years ago, I suggested that Pakistan invite NSA Doval to visit, and if they had the gumption they would have. Now I am suggesting we do the reverse and invite their Army Chief here.

What about Hafiz Saeed? In the book General Durrani says quite clearly that the political cost of prosecuting Saeed is “too high”; yet this is the man India believes is the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks.

I think the Mumbai trial must be completed at the earliest. Even the former Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Riaz Mohammad Khan, has said that the Mumbai attacks did huge damage to Pakistan’s credibility, particularly in Kashmir. If the trial is completed, we may see Hafiz Saeed being brought to justice some day.

To come back to your book, what do you think of the reactions to the book? It has been criticised both in India and Pakistan.

Well, in Pakistan the criticism is much more open and it is official. It’s very unfortunate and sad that General Durrani should be targeted in this way. There are even insinuations that he was trapped. He is not someone who can be led so easily. People don’t seem to realise that this book took two and a half years to make, because we had to meet, along with the writer Aditya Sinha, on the sidelines of the Ottawa Dialogue. That it came out now is just a matter of timing.

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 2:40:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/pakistan-is-a-neighbour-you-cant-wish-away/article24089836.ece

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