Vikram Sood is former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency.

Been there, done that

Published Jul 14, 2015, 12:51 pm IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 1:25 pm IST
Despite all bitterness, then PM Vajpayee took bus yatra and we faced the Kargil war
File photo of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shaking hands with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi (Photo: AP/File)
 File photo of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shaking hands with Indian counterpart Narendra Modi (Photo: AP/File)

It is perhaps best to describe the recent Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi meeting in Ufa as “been there done that” in the India-Pakistan context. The meeting doesn’t even qualify to be attempting to “breaking the ice” as the wording of the Ufa statement allows each side to give it a spin that suits it.  
It is quite possible that by 2016 we would still be skating on thin ice.

The Ufa talks, incidentally, were preceded by a totally unprovoked and bizarre threat by Pakistan’s defence minister Khwaja Asif to nuke India. Such is the nature of India-Pakistan relations. Sustainable relations require a clear exhibition of good intentions and faith, not wishful thinking. Acute mutual distrust has been a feature of India-Pakistan relations. Pakistan’s rulers, especially the military, are wary of the dividend of peace — the military will have to demobilise the jihadis and the politicians will lose their deniability if they can no longer pin their internal problems on the Indians.

 

Businessmen and traders worry about being swamped by the larger Indian community and Indian access to Afghanistan would mean further loss of Pakistani business to them. Access to the much larger Indian market does not appeal to this category. Thus a “no-peace-no-war” situation suits the Pakistani establishment best. It keeps the image of victimhood alive, the Islamists remain busy, the gravy train keeps running and the throne is safe.

Consequently, bilateral relations have experienced extreme turbulence in the past. Most of us in the intelligence business lived through the extremely tense decade of the 1990s, but no one saw Kashmir more closely than Amarjeet Singh Dulat who later took over as head of Research and Analysis Wing. His recently book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, is important and relevant where he describes the state’s history, efforts at securing peace and forecasting the future.

 

Despite all the bitterness, Atal Behari Vajpayee took the bus yatra in 1999 but we got Pervez Musharraf’s march to Kargil in return, followed by the hijacking of IC-814. India invited Mr Musharraf to Agra in 2001 and he gave us the Parliament attack in December that year. We say we helped save the Pakistan President’s life in 2004 and we got Mumbai 2008 as a thank you.

Mr Dulat was, perhaps, the best man for the job of handling and winning over the Kashmiris in those deteriorating conditions. There was no one else in India’s serving bureaucracy who understood and empathised with the Kashmiris more than he did. He was committed to trying and solving the issue even though at times one disagreed with his approach. Perhaps, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a mistake of letting Mr Dulat go in 2004. Maybe history would have been different had he been asked to stay on. The 10 years of the UPA were a lost decade for Kashmir.

 

There are essentially three avatars of Mr Dulat in the book: an Intelligence Bureau officer for over 30 years, where he developed his knowledge and empathy for the Kashmiris; as chief of R&AW, where he brought this “baggage,” as he calls it in his book, and then the three and half years he was in the Prime Minister’s Office. Mr Dulat himself speaks of his 16 years of association with Kashmir as a passion that became an obsession. His was the humane voice in a world driven by suspicion (New Delhi and Srinagar), revenge (Islamabad) and ambition (everywhere).

 

He takes us through this difficult journey describing the rise and decline of fortunes and hopes of the people of Kashmir and individual players. He writes about how separatist leader Shabir Shah, after showing so much promise went into auto-destruct; how unimaginative handling by New Delhi and Srinagar destroyed the political fortunes of the ebullient Hashim Qureshi, one of the founding members of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, after his return from Amsterdam.

The return of Syed Salahuddin’s deputy Abdul Majid Dar during Mr Dulat’s tenure split the Hizbul Mujahideen and was an immense psychological victory for the government. This was short-lived as Dar was assassinated, ostensibly by Hizbul Mujahedeen acting on the instructions of its masters. Similarly, another moderate, Abdul Ghani Lone, was lost to the bullet at a time when the Inter-Services Intelligence was getting extremely nervous at the turn of events. It was thus a sad tale of missed opportunities and insensitive political handling.

 

Mr Dulat asserts that both Kashmiriyat and Sufism need to be revived to keep the growing radicalism away. Also, that Kashmiri Pandits must be helped to return to their original homes and not confined to separate ghettoes. He sees the future of Kashmir with Omar Abdullah, Maulvi Mirwaiz Farooq, Mehbooba Mufti and Sajjad Lone.

Mr Dulat feels that India should let Hurriyat talk to the Pakistanis preceding an India-Pakistan dialogue on the subject. The trouble with this line of reasoning is that if Kashmir is an internal matter between New Delhi and Srinagar, then Pakistan has no role to play. If we insist that the Kashmir issue has been settled through a series of free and fair elections, then an unelected Hurriyat does not represent the wishes of the people. Besides, Pakistan finds it difficult to modify, much less abandon its Kashmir agenda. Instead, it wants to keep the issue unsettled and its jihadi forces alive.

 

Twenty-five years of mostly weak coalition governments may have closed political options, but now that we have a majority government in New Delhi, decisions may be easier.

The writer is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency

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