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The Rediff Interview/A S Dulat, Kashmir expert

'You can't just wish away problems in Kashmir'

December 31, 2008

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A S Dulat is a retired intelligence officer better known for his extraordinary insight into the Kashmir issue acquired through years of handling of the state. As a senior officer of the Intelligence Bureau he has personally and professionally cultivated the entire leadership of Jammu and Kashmir [Images]. That makes him distinct because through his close contacts with Kashmiri leaders, and in some cases through their friendship, he is able to see Pakistan as seen by Kashmiris.

Dulat has this unique advantage and strength when it comes to analysing the Kashmir issue. When he was chief of the Research and Analysis Wing Dulat had a rare chance to understand the diplomatic and strategic side of both India and Pakistan vis-�-vis the Kashmir issue.

And now the winter of 2008 has brought in many changes in Kashmir. In an interview with Sheela Bhatt, Dulat discusses the entire range of issues connected with the Jammu and Kashmir elections and the bigger issue of resolving the Kashmir problem.

What is your broader view on the elections in Jammu and Kashmir?

It is a good result. It is a victory for democracy and victory for everybody who has participated in this election.

Actually, if you look closely, nobody has lost in this election except may be marginally the Congress lost. It was understandable. It was partly due to anti-incumbency and partly due to the Amarnath agitation. The Peoples Democratic Party and Bharatiya Janata Party gained because of the Amarnath agitation. If elections were held in May or June the National Conference would have got 7-8 seats more and the PDP would have got 7-8 seats less.

When you claim the PDP gained due to the Amarnath agitation, what are you implying?

During the Amarnath agitation the whole issue of Kashmir and Kashmiriyat came up. And, talk of Azadi was very much in the air. From the Kashmiris' point of view, at that point of time the National conference was dilly-dallying. Omar Abdullah [Images] was saying they will not consider an inch of land but Dr Farooq Abdullah [Images], on the other hand, was being reasonable. In fact, in the Valley Doctorsaab (Farooq Abdullah) got a lot of flak. The PDP came out aggressively for Kashmiris' rights and Kashamiriyat and what is now referred to as soft separatism. They gained because of it.

In the same way, the BJP gained in Jammu for speaking up for the people of Jammu. Hardliners on both sides have gained. Overall, I would say nobody has lost substantially. It has been a very good election. Lines are clearly drawn. Whether the people like it or not, there has to be a National Conference-Congress alliance. I wish there was an NC government without Congress support because for the sake of Kashmir it would have been better. Now, the obvious alliance is NC-Congress. The only thing wrong with the NC-Congress alliance is that it takes people's mind back to 1986-87.

People say that was when the problem started, because of this alliance. Therefore, if you are going to have a repeat of it, it will not help. We all hope that it will not be a repeat of it. My gut feeling was that Omar Abdullah will be chief minister.

Why?

I told you in last May also that Omar is set to become the CM. It is time for the younger generation to come forward. I still maintain that Doctorsaab is the tallest and the best of Kashmiri leaders we have right now. There is nobody of his stature. But, I think, Omar deserves a chance.

He is young and has in him that dynastic arrogance�

Yes, it's a fact that Doctorsaab understands Kashmir better. It will take a while for him to learn. But, some people feel that as an administrator Omar will be better.

A good thing about Doctorsaab is that he can manage three regions better. The NC is the only party which has done well in all three regions. The NC is the only pan-J&K party in the true sense.

One of the great challenges for the new government is how to manage Jammu.

Acute polarisation has taken place. Managing Jammu will be a problem. The opposition in the new assembly will be robust. When the NC was in the Opposition they were mild and reasonable but Mehbooba Mufti or the BJP will not be as reasonable towards the NC. They will be much more aggressive. Hardliners of both sides are together in the Opposition, which will make life difficult for the coalition government.

Do you agree with the view that there are traces of communal voting in J&K this time? After all, Kashmir is the land of Sufism so it is an extraordinary trend.

I won't call it communal, I won't use that word but yeah, it is polarised opinion, unfortunately. Because of that silly issue which should have never been raised, there has been polarisation. It is unfortunate. I think for some time to come we will have to suffer that.

But, what will be the long-term impact if this polarisation continues?

That is why I said that whichever government comes in they will have to carry Jammu along with them. In one sense, just for the sake of debate, ideally a coalition of the NC-BJP would be better in some ways but they don't match and Omar has said that he will not have an alliance with the BJP.

But that suggestion is doubtful because an NC-BJP combine can provoke separatism.

Why will it get provoked? Why? The NC represents the valley as much anybody else represents the valley. They still have one seat more than the PDP. Why should separatism come up?

Anyway, my point is that the new government will have to make an effort to carry Jammu along. Unfortunately, in Jammu, they are going to come up against a hardliner BJP. This time the management of Jammu has to be tactful.

Do you believe that in Kashmir, accommodation of soft separatism is to be desired?

Surely, in Kashmir soft separatism and separatism will have to be heard. Accommodation of all opinions is important. This election provides a great opportunity.

I know the point you are trying to make. There is some merit if you argue that the Congress-PDP alliance may be better than the NC-Congress alliance. There is some merit in the argument. But, this time, you cannot keep the NC out of power. They are the largest single party. Last time they stayed out of power because they thought they have lost the mandate of the people. Last time, Omar had lost the election. This time father and son both have won. There is no justification for the Congress or anybody to keep the NC out of power.

Also, independents who have won this time would largely go with the NC. Their number is much less this time but they won't support the PDP. 

Therefore, a Congress-NC alliance is the logical one. While Delhi [Images] will have to keep in mind a larger Kashmir picture, a coalition of NC-Congress will have to take care of Jammu.

But, what about the sentiments raised by the PDP? How will it be addressed?

Just because we had a good election, if we think the Kashmir problem is over then we are taking things too much for granted. Somewhere or the other serious issues will start cropping up. It can be in the assembly, it can be by coalition partners, it can be by the Opposition parties and it can be raised by separatists or it can be by artificial insemination by Pakistan.   

Kashmir always throws up new challenges. Some of it can be unpredictable. Kashmiris themselves are so complex and unpredictable, you can never know them.

So, you can't just wish away problems in Kashmir.

How will New Delhi handle the Kashmir issue in the post-election phase?

You can't have a better picture of Kashmir than this. You need to talk. You know, Doctorsaab is the last person who will talk about having a dialogue with the Hurriyat. He will just dismiss the proposal saying, 'Who are these people?' Now, even he is saying that the government should talk to the Hurriyat. He has also begun to realise the need to talk. Separatist thought needs accommodation in some form. I am not saying that should be the overriding thought. Kashmiris' alienation and grievance has to be addressed by the new leaders in power.

On Sunday, as the results came in, Farooq Abdullah thanked Pakistan for a peaceful election because militancy was absent and people could vote.

Absolutely right! I agree 100 per cent with him. If militancy came down it's not only because of Pakistan but also because our security forces are doing their job and they too deserve credit. But, we must acknowledge that Pakistan has brought down militancy considerably. Infiltration and militancy have come down. Even Geelanisaab (Syed Ali Shah Geelani, chairman of a Hurriyat faction) said similar things. I think Geelani did not know what he was saying, what he said was very right.

When somebody asked him why did your boycott of elections fail he said, 'Because there was not enough violence.' This means he is acknowledging that their politics is only based on the gun. Without the gun it is difficult for them to sustain it. This argument, if we take it further, is also an acknowledgment of what exactly General Pervez Musharraf [Images] had begun to indicate when he invited Omar Abdullah to Islamabad [Images], that as far as Pakistan goes, the mainstream parties of J&K were all right. If they are the ones who represent Kashmiris, then what is the harm? It is all right. They are quite happy with the mainstream parties and leaders.

But, India needs to talk to separatists because it's important to know the people's grievances.

What Farooq said also suggests that Pakistan remains pivotal in the game.

Pakistan is not "pivotal". New Delhi is pivotal. But, when New Delhi doesn't do anything then Pakistan becomes pivotal in Kashmir. We allow Pakistan to become pivotal. We should seize the initiative and keep it with us. It's our absence of action that makes Pakistan pivotal.

Even when Pakistan withdraws and you also don't do anything, then Pakistan will again come into play. Right now, as far as Pakistan is concerned, there are no issues. But, it doesn't take time for issues to be raked up. A testing time for Pakistan has always been summer when the snow melts, to know what new intentions Pakistanis have in Kashmir. We have to wait and watch.

Do you think there is any life left in the Hurriyat?

Pitaai to hui hai, lekin jaan abhi bachi hai (They have been beaten but there is still life in them). It all depends on what is New Delhi's vision for the next round of action. And, Pakistan intends to do in summer. Right now, Pakistan is not doing any mischief to encourage the Hurriyat so the boycott by Hurriyat almost failed.

I think 2009 is a huge opportunity for India to move forward on the issue of Kashmir.

What will happen eventually?

I am not sure if the thought of separatism is as deep and alive as it used to be. Surely, the Hurriyat represents a certain thought. I think that is dwindling. The more they keep themselves isolated, the more it will dwindle. It's time for them to come into the mainstream. In 2002 some separatist leaders were regretting that they didn't participate directly. This time their regret will be much greater. Sajjad Lone would be regretting because his party would have impacted more than 5-6 seats in Kupwara, North Kashmir. Now, they will have to wait for six years more and by then, they will be six years older. The Mirwaiz is a religious leader so he will have his standing otherwise also, but the Lone brothers could be forgotten. How long can you sustain yourself on artificial gas?   

See, through this election what is the Kashmiris' message? It is something like this. Let me say that the Kashmiri understands that this movement has been a failure. The idea of Azadi has failed. The guns have failed. Nobody is going to get Azadi. But, Kashmiri leaders say at the end of the day don't rub our nose into the ground.

I too believe the Kashmiri people must get some accommodation. That is what they are looking for. That's where the matter stands. The main concern is to see that the peace process must go forward. Because they have suffered so much in the last 20 years. So many Kashmiris have died. They must be given some honourable settlement. They voted this time because, as Barrack Obama [Images] said, Americans should come out and make their vote count.

I think the Kashmiris voted to make themselves counted. What is the point of sitting at home and being irrelevant? Why has the peace process been halted? There lies their redemption. Kashmiris are worried that if India and Pakistan go to war they will be killed in the crossfire. That's why he wants a little more understanding and accommodation from India. 

The new chief minister's agenda has to be good governance, dialogue with a variety of political spectrum, and development. 

While commenting on the Mumbai [Images] terrorist attacks some Western commentators say that the unresolved issue of Kashmir is linked to terrorism within India. Some say in the last four years the issue has not moved an inch.

No, I don't want to connect the Kashmir issue to the Mumbai attacks. But, the point really is that the peace process should have moved forward much more. I do think India missed an opportunity when General Musharraf was firmly in control in early 2007. And, after that the peace process doesn't have much impetus. I don't see anything happening in the coming six months. The Kashmir issue will be in cold storage due to many factors for six months, at least.

But, there is no alternative to take this issue further. What we do in retaliation to the Mumbai attacks is another matter.


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