I am yet to read former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief AS Dulat’s book “Kashmir—The Vajpayee Years”, so a comprehensive review is not possible. However, the book has already created a political storm in Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India. The book is selling like hot cakes and in Srinagar, Gulshan Books, the premier publishing house, has sold 100 copies in a few hours. But not many authors are as lucky as Dulat. Kashmir is otherwise a reason for a book to be hit if it has some sensationalism in it. And before its launch, Dulat promoted it through interviews on TV channels and print media, making people more curious about the “revelations” he has made.
Going by his interviews and the excerpts that are out in the media, one can only say that it is a memoir of a leading spymaster who has seen, rather dealt with, Kashmir very closely. While there is not much to read about his chequered career of over 35 years, his focus in the book, as the title suggests, is on Kashmir, and that too during the eventful years of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister of India. That period was surely the most significant vis-a-vis a process in and for Kashmir taken up by both India and Pakistan. Since Pakistan was on board for the first time, under General Pervez Musharraf’s rule, to push for a process to find a solution to the problem, it made sense that those among the separatists in Kashmir would be part of it. It was surely with the concurrence of Islamabad that a major section among the separatists, who were later bracketed as moderates, became part of the process.
It is a well known fact that Musharraf publicly maintained that all separatist leaders except the hardliner Syed Ali Geelani were on board as far his four-point formula and other parts of the process were concerned. And if Dulat has detailed about the same, it is just the repetition of the stories we have heard for long. But it certainly is seen as an “official stamp” when it comes in black and white from a person who was in the thick of things.
Dulat has made some other “revelations” as well. But again some of them are already in public domain. He has talked about how militancy was being funded in Kashmir, how Shabir Shah was pinned to be the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, and how former militant commanders who were involved in killings and kidnappings came around. These are certainly some of the “secrets” he has taken the lid off of. But if we take the revelation of funding militants as truth, then it becomes a serious issue. I am not sure whether Dulat is mixing the support of pro-government Ikhwanul Muslimoon with that of the separatist militancy. If we take it in case of the latter, it raises more questions than it answers. We as Kashmir observers all believe that militancy has been aided and abetted by Pakistan. But at what time did India support it and why did it do so? A pertinent question here is that Dulat was heading the Kashmir branch of the Indian Intelligence Bureau from 1988 to 1990, the formative years of the militancy. It needs to be seen as to what his role was in those years as the head of the Indian IB. Was he in some ways shutting his eyes when thousands of boys were heading to the other side of Kashmir to become militants? This, if true, somehow vindicates the ever present “cynical view” in Kashmir that New Delhi also wanted trouble in the state. The revelation about Shabir Shah is also explosive and merits a debate.
Here the issue is not about the book and the “secrets” it has revealed. Whatever he has written in the book, as brought out in some reviews and interviews, reflects how the state has been dealing with Kashmir. As rightly pointed out by Jonathan Powell, the architect of Northern Ireland peace accord: “At the end we realized that peace was not an event but a process”, Dulat’s book has not contributed to any such process but has rather shut the doors on it. More than 25 years have passed, only a short-lived process was initiated and some results were achieved in the shape of the Confidence Building Measures across the Line of Control. With Dulat “exposing” all those who believed in Delhi to support that process, it is unlikely that any such force would be willing to become part of it.
Those who had taken part in that process had not done anything wrong, but the lessons for them to learn are simple, and that is the repetitive exercise the Indian state has been doing. Engage with people, leak it selectively to the media or now through a book, and discredit the leaders. The book largely tells us about the machinations of the Indian state and its murky deals in Kashmir. Such accounts may be “exposing” the leaders but it does not paint a rosy picture of New Delhi’s dealings in Kashmir. To discredit the leaders in the eyes of public has been a long-standing policy of the state and that is why there is no reconciliation between Srinagar and Delhi.
People in Kashmir have never believed Delhi and vice versa. Apart from projecting certain people as “informers” and “traitors” in the eyes of the people, Dulat has also tried to discredit the Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Salahuddin, who had fought the 1987 elections and was believed to have been defeated even after winning. Projecting the migration from one medical college in Jammu to Srinagar as securing admission is a big error in the book. It completely changes the context of the issue. One thing that is heard now is that the management of Acharya Sridhar College in Jammu was at pains to see that migration materialized as having Salahuddin’s son in the campus was becoming a problem for them. They used the “friendship” with Farooq Abdullah and got his migration done. But Salahuddin surely needs to counter the allegation that he had contacted the then Indian IB chief in Srinagar.
One important thing that cannot be ignored is the friendship between Dulat and Farooq Abdullah. In an interview to Suhas Munshi of Catchnews, he says he first talked about the idea of writing this book with Farooq Abdullah. That is why the flavour of friendship is evident in the book. Farooq Abdullah and the Congress were mainly responsible for the militancy in Kashmir and many more developments that also centre around him. So the book also needs to be read in that backdrop. The question here is: Has Dulat written the book to shut all the doors on any process aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the problem? The only man who stays clear in this book is Syed Ali Geelani and surely his stock will improve and justifiably so. What is the objective of writing this book at a stage when no process exists at all merits an answer.
Tail Piece: Imagine if a Pakistani spymaster dealing with Kashmir writes a memoir, many more skeletons are bound to come out of the cupboard.