A.S. Dulat, former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) chief, known for Track II diplomacy under successive governments, speaks to Namrata Biji Ahuja about the recent arrest of an alleged R&AW officer in Balochistan and says that India does not encourage terrorism like the Pakistanis do.
Pakistan has claimed to have arrested a R&AW spy in Balochistan. Do you think the alleged R&AW role in Balochistan, as claimed by Islamabad, stands exposed?
Pakistan has a Balochistan obsession. It is not recent; it’s an old thing. They have a serious problem in Balochistan. I do a lot of Track II dialogue and I met some of these Baloch boys and they are very critical of Pakistan. They openly talk about disappearances and other things. So Pakistan is having a rough time in Balochistan. When you are having a rough time, you want to blame somebody else for it. The easiest thing is to blame the R&AW and India. It is all a figment of their imagination. That we would be in contact with Baloch leaders is a legitimate part of diplomacy, leave alone whatever the R&AW does. There is nothing wrong with that. As far as spies go or espionage goes, that is also an acknowledged part of statecraft. There is nothing new in that.
What do you think the arrested Indian was doing there?
A senior officer of R&AW, of the level of a naval commander, would never be caught wandering about in Pakistan. How he got there we do not know, and we might not ever know because the only ones who know it are the Pakistanis themselves. And they may never tell us even if they send him back. So the whole truth might never be known.
Every time we raise the Kashmir issue to talk of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, Pakistan can use this episode to embarrass us…
They have always been raising the Balochistan issue. But let us remember what is happening in Kashmir and when we talk of Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), there are international dossiers on those people. Now if Kulbhushan Jadhav (the alleged Indian spy) has an international dossier or if the Americans say this guy is your man, then it will have more credibility.
How big is this incident? Do you think it can have an impact on India-Pakistan relations?
This is a unique case, it has never happened before. I don’t know of any case of an R&AW officer being caught. Small spies are caught and exchanged. There was a Pakistani Brigadier, Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi, the military attaché at the Pakistani embassy in New Delhi, who was caught here spying nearly 25 years ago and declared persona non grata. He went back home. That was the most conspicuous case of a high-profile Pakistani officer caught spying and declared persona non grata. I do not think Pakistan should make a big deal out of this issue and it should not affect India-Pakistan relations. I am not too sure how long they would want to continue with the spy story.
Pakistan managed to give legitimacy to its Balochistan concern with India at Sharm el-Sheikh by getting it included in the joint statement. This case has given them added ammunition.
You are right, Pakistan had also raised the Baloch issue at Sharm el-Sheikh with then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And Dr Singh being Dr Singh said we don’t do these things, but since you are saying, we will have it looked into. Now that they have found an Indian in Pakistan, the best place for them to plonk him was Balochistan to give legitimacy to whatever they have been saying.
Do you think the ministry of external affairs’ response has been wanting in certain aspects?
We have been asking for consular access, but we have not got it. And their line is that if he is a spy, we do not need to give you consular access. I don’t think there is anything lacking from our side. I feel sorry for our high commissioner and he happens to be a new high commissioner.
We know about the severe conditions in Pakistani jails, amongst the worst in the world. The confession video of the Indian appears fabricated. Don’t you think we need to take up the issue more forcefully for Pakistan to come clean on the issue?
The video could be fabricated, but it is surely tutored. He has been tutored to say whatever they wanted him to say. To concoct stuff becomes necessary only if the guy is not cooperating. I think in this case he would cooperate. Just imagine the plight of an Indian stuck in Pakistan and to be told that you are an Indian spy, you are a R&AW agent, spill the beans. He would say whatever he knows. And this man says he knows some Anil Gupta in R&AW, but there is no Anil Gupta in R&AW at the joint secretary level.
What happens next? What should India be doing?
The good part about India-Pakistan relations today is that the Prime Ministers have developed a very good chemistry. I think the national security advisers are also getting along well. So I think this should be an NSA to NSA thing where you can say, Ok, an Indian has got into trouble and you have got whatever mileage you wanted out of it and you guys are obsessed with Balochistan. Now let’s devise some way of returning him. I think that’s how it should be done and I’m sure we are working on it.
Has it been a regular practice of the R&AW and ISI chiefs being in touch?
It has happened from time to time, but it has not been institutionalised, which it should be.