Delhi, Kashmir and the shawl-walla

Dulat, the IBís pointsman during Vajpayee years, fails to explain intelligence failures in the troubled region

Aasha Khosa | August 22, 2015




Kashmir’s political and social turmoil makes it a fascinating beat for professionals – security experts, sleuths and perhaps journalists. Most of them instantly fall in love with the beautiful land and her people. Next they aspire to change the situation for better and follow a set course. In their quest to understand the seemingly complex Kashmiri psyche they would, invariably, meet a friendly Kashmiri (chances are he is a trader, jokingly referred to as shawl-walla) and get smitten by his charm. The ‘professional’ sees in him a guide who can lead him to the mystical cave which houses the key to the gridlock called the Kashmir tangle.

Should a state as mighty as the government of India tread the same path to undo a situation that is a deadly mix of proxy war by a rogue neighbour, a well-curried rebellion and bloodletting of unprecedented level? In his book, ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’, AS Dulat tells us a pathetic story about the Indian state’s fragility, lack of vision, and a non-existent institutional memory in taking on the diabolical plans unleashed by the ISI in Kashmir in the late nineties. The author’s account of talking, talking and talking to all he could possibly, at best, is an attempt at treading through the wilderness in search of a destination. His search for peace in Kashmir, unfortunately, ends with spawning a new breed of ‘middlemen’, ‘agents’,  inconsequential leaders, and small-time self-seekers with no clout whatsoever.

Dulat was posted in Kashmir at a time when the rebellion by a handful of boys armed and trained in guerrilla warfare in Pakistan had captured the imagination of the ordinary Kashmiris. Emotions surged to a deluge and swayed everyone. Political leadership was forced to abandon their posts and armed militants took control of streets across the valley. Pro-Indian leaders and professionals like the intelligence bureau (IB) officers were being gunned down in broad daylight; the army and paramilitary forces were trying to regain the lost ground.

The fragility of the Indian state was evident in Kashmir. Firstly, the government seemed to have been caught unaware on Pakistan’s massive plans on Kashmir. Secondly, the state looked helpless in stopping the surge of the Kashmiri youth to “aapoor” (across the border, in Kashmiri) via “kapwoor” – that is, Kupwara, the border town in north Kashmir – for training in arms and sabotage. Not only the IB had failed, the research and analysis wing (R&AW) did not have a clue to the impending situation in Kashmir. The author, who has the distinction of heading both the intelligence agencies, is conveniently mum on this.

Going by the book it becomes clear that the government of India had no action plan in mind while dealing with Kashmir. This vindicates a common Kashmiri’s view, that Delhi has no Kashmir policy; it’s only ad-hocism. While the author pats himself for engaging the separatists in talks, he, inadvertently, also reveals that Delhi’s helplessness in countering unrest in Kashmir was in stark contrast to Islamabad’s near absolute control over its players in Kashmir. Pakistan’s K-rant was a reality for which Delhi seemed to have neither a short term nor a long term counter plan.

Imagine, as IB chief, Dulat had put his bets on as naïve a person like Shabir Shah, whose penchant for being called Nelson Mandela of Kashmir had already made him a butt of jokes in Kashmir. Shah was released from prison on what appears to be Dulat’s engineered plan for making him give a clarion call for peace. Shah dithered and soon he lost his halo. Dulat took months and years to understand that Shabir Shah was not made of the stuff the leaders are; had no capacity to topple the Pakistani game plan in Kashmir. Firdous Sayeed, a separatist who realised his folly soon, is quoted in the book as desperately asking the author why the government does not have psychologists to analyse personalities before entering into negotiations with them. After reading Dulat’s account most Indians would ask him the same question. Why didn’t he have a background dossier on Shah’s personal traits before wasting time and efforts on him? Is this the way the Indian intelligence agencies function?

To most Kashmiris, Dulat has revealed no secrets, neither about the negotiations with the Hurriyat nor about his fondness of Farooq Abdullah. His account has only reconfirmed their views that Delhi engineers all developments in Kashmir keeping personalities in the loop. The sentiments of the people of Kashmir or others living in the state do not matter much to these machinations. Dulat’s efforts revolved around making the separatists talk to the government in the hope that one day they would contest elections. In this endeavour, Delhi had grossly underestimated ISI’s pre-emptive plan of creating the Hurriyat as a control switch to ensure no single element can hijack insurgency and talk to Delhi. In the process, a number of serious leaders like Abdul Ghani Lone and Majid Dar, the Hizbul Mujahideen commander who wanted peace and negotiations, were killed.

‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’ shows the former prime minister in brilliant colours. What his predecessor PV Narasimha Rao with his generous offer of ‘sky is the limit’ (on Kashmir autonomy) could not achieve, Vajpayee did it with his poetic ‘insaniyat ke daire mein baat karenge’ offer. Rao should get credit for ending political vacuum in Kashmir by going in for risky elections in 1996 but he had gravely erred in creating an emotional connect with the people in Kashmir. The latter were hugely offended by his choice of Burkina Faso, the West African nation, to address the Kashmiris on television to make his famous ‘sky is the limit’ offer. The buzz was that the PM did not have time for Kashmir as he chose a hitherto unknown country to address the Kashmiris.

Vajpayee’s bold initiatives of talking to the Hurriyat and then striking peace with Pakistan have become benchmarks for politicians’ role in resolving complex problems facing the nation. No wonder even today BJP uses Vajpayee’s name to garner votes and support in Kashmir. Most Kashmiri politicians wish another Vajpayee emerges to resolve the festering problem.

However, I, as a Kashmiri and a journalist who has covered insurgency in Kashmir, found the book woefully lacking on two counts. Dulat, as IB chief, shows no respect for his officers – who happened to be Kashmiri Hindus – killed in cold blood. He even paints them in a bad light hinting that probably they were not doing their job (of conveying vox populi) to Delhi properly. Given the reputation of the Indian intelligence agencies in Kashmir, admitted by the author, Dulat’s officers would have to be only Kashmiri Hindus while most of the agents would be Muslims. He sheds no tears for them, though many of them were betrayed and killed in cold blood.

Also one wonders why Dulat never dealt with the controversial subject of surrendered militants taking on the Hizbul Mujahideen and making a huge dent in the stronghold of pro-Pakistani groups. The leader of surrendered militants, Jamsheed Shirazi alias Kukka Parrey, had donned the mantle of a politician – he contested elections and became a legislator. However, one wonders why Dulat did not nurture Parrey like he claims to have done to Firdous Sayeed alias Babbar Badr, who became a legislator, and Sajad Ghani Lone, a minister in the Mufti government.

jayakhosa@gmail.com, Twitter @AashaKhosa

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