What some consider to be ‘the Dulat line’ sprang to mind when the Centre on Monday appointed a ‘representative’ to talk with any and all Kashmiris.
Not only did the appointment appear to be the sort of strategy the former RAW chief would back, it brought to the surface something that has been subtly apparent over the past couple of months, during which this accommodative approach has been in the works.
Dulat has been in touch with several prominent figures from Kashmir, and figures in Kashmiri society who have been closely associated with him have been promoted by the current intelligence operatives in the Valley.
A top man from the intelligence bureau personally escorted one such figure past a security barricade to visit Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the second week of September.
Dulat and Doval, and Their Contrasting Styles
It would normally not be remarkable for a retired intelligence hand to have so much influence. What is remarkable is that Amarjit Dulat, one of the three most prominent intelligence men to have dealt with Kashmir, is considered the antithesis of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who calls the shots on Kashmir in this government.
Doval has generally backed an uncompromisingly ‘hard line’ with regard to Kashmir and Kashmiris. Many associate him with covert, false-flag operations, while Dulat is viewed as an accommodating negotiator.
More so, Dulat has been associated with luring ‘separatist leaders’ with money, jobs, loans and other benefits for their families. Doval, on the other hand, is seen as being behind the National Investigating Agency’s probes into the funding of ‘separatist leaders’.
Not Surprised by Dineshwar Sharma’s Appointment
Dulat not only warmly endorsed the appointment of Dineshwar Sharma as the Centre’s ‘representative,’ the latter apparently went to meet him almost as soon as he was appointed.
Responding to an interviewer a few hours later, Dulat indicated that he has been in the loop. “One had been expecting something like this for quite some time,” he said. And, he added that “the Hurriyat and other Kashmiri leaders should also respond favourably”. In the past, several ‘separatist leaders’ have responded to Dulat’s efforts on behalf of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Prime Minister AB Vajpayee.
In the same interview, Dulat strongly endorsed Sharma for the task, calling him the best person for this job. “There is nobody better than him to start dialogue in Kashmir. He understands Kashmir and feels for it very much. I can say this because he had been for a long time a friend and a colleague. He has all the qualities that an interlocutor should have.”
Sharma Retains the Government’s Trust
Sharma worked closely with Dulat in Kashmir during the 1990s, when he would have been about 15 years junior to Dulat.
However, it was Doval who picked Sharma to head the Intelligence Bureau at the end of 2014.
Sharma retired at the end of 2016 after a two-year term.
He has evidently not been held responsible for the Bureau’s failure to assess and warn against the fallout of killing militant commander Burhan Wani – or the long and unsettling uprising that followed it in the second half of 2016.
That he retains the trust of the government was already evident when he was given charge of talks with insurgents in Assam in June this year. However, the task of engaging with Kashmiris, including separatists and backers of militancy, is not only daunting, it is extraordinarily high-profile.
‘Why Stop Dialogue?’ Asks Dulat on Indo-Pak Conversation
In an interview, Dulat highlighted the need to talk to Pakistan too.
“Why stop dialogue? Let’s admit that Pakistan is a factor in Kashmir,” he said.
That echoed the public line of former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, whom Dulat has strongly backed ever since he was deputed to handle Kashmir for the Intelligence Bureau in 1990.
Abdullah has recently taken a strikingly different line to the strongly pro-Indian stances for which he was known in the past. Although he is a Member of Parliament, he spoke to an interviewer of “their Parliament”.
It will be interesting to watch how any of those who have traditionally taken outright ‘separatist’ stances might position themselves when Mr Sharma begins his engagement in Kashmir.
(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas)