One of the more famous books by John Le Carré, titled The Spy who Came in from the Cold tells the story of a British agent who is pulled out of retirement and sent to East Germany as a faux defector to sow disinformation about a powerful East German Intelligence Officer—Karla.
The book also portrayed Western espionage methods as morally inconsistent with western democracy and its values. Similarly, Amarjit Singh Dulat, former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) was pulled out of his retirement and appointed an adviser to Prime Minister Vajpayee in Kashmir from January 2001 to May 2004, not to sow disinformation, (for the BJP had no IT cell at that time) but to build bridges between the government and the discontented segments in Kashmir. This period is amply narrated in his book Kashmir – The Vajpayee Years.
In his latest book A Life in the Shadows, Dulat reveals that spies are no saints; they must talk to enemies, insurgents, and terrorists, bribe them, break their loyalties and win them over. The spies are not bound by the moral code that governs other civil servants.
Popular National Spy’s Kashmir Connect
Dulat’s life while in the shadows is hardly spent in unlit narrow, cobbled streets wearing long overcoats, a hat and sunglasses at night but in sunny corridors of power at a critical juncture of the nation’s history with some of the most prominent personalities of our times such as Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, Jaswant Singh, Arjun Singh, Rajesh Pilot, Madhavrao Scindia, and many others.
An important part of his career was also spent travelling around the world with President Giani Zail Singh. But all that is of secondary interest. His most abiding passion is Kashmir. And his relationship with Farooq Abdullah is anything, unlike with other politicians. It was more like brothers in arms united for a cause. Probably, that proximity colored his thinking that Farooq Abdullah offered the best hope of a solution for Kashmir.
Yet he knows that for Abdullah, being on the right side of Delhi was an existential necessity for only then could he continue as chief minister.
He writes that Farooq Abdullah may have joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) if the telephone calls from Delhi had come at the right time. Obviously, loyalty to his chair was far above that of any cause. Was Dulat then right in implicitly trusting the Abdullah family as the only ones that would and could protect and defend Delhi’s interest in the valley?
This is also the reason that Dulat sees no hope of a solution to the Kashmir problem after the Abrogation of Article 370 and the revocation of the Special Status guaranteed under Article 35 A. But the pragmatic Farooq Abdullah knows that he must continue to do business with the very party that has undone the state of Jammu and Kashmir and has carved out two Union Territories thus, downgrading the very identity of Kashmir.
To a question as to whether Kashmiriyat is still alive, Dulat responds ‘ab Mahaul badal gaya hai’ (the atmosphere has changed now). Yes, the parameters have sharply changed. Instead of fighting for autonomy, the Gupkar alliance has to now fight to restore the status quo – not the one guaranteed by Article 370, but at least the return of full Statehood.
Dulat vs Doval’s Approach to the Kashmir Issue
The book makes an interesting comparison between Dulat’s approach to Kashmir and its leaders and that of Ajit Doval’s approach. Anyone familiar with the handling of the Kashmir problem knows that while Dulat advocated ‘talks and engagement’, Doval preferred using the full coercive power of the State and a ‘muscular’ policy of ‘tit for tat’ for the terrorists fighting the Indian state.
This is a time-worn approach to a problem – the ‘good cop, bad cop’ approach. Even their choice of leaders showed a marked difference and probably an inkling of their character traits. Dulat always preferred Farooq Abdullah while Doval preferred Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who became the chief minister of J&K in March 2015 with the support of the BJP. Later his daughter Mehbooba Mufti became CM from April 2016 to June 2018.
After the revocation of the special status of J&K in August 2019, she was put under detention till October 2020 by the very party that shared power with her earlier.
Did Dulat or Doval have a free hand in crafting their own doctrines? And is the Doval doctrine different from Home Minister Amit Shah’s doctrine which in turn is shaped by the ideology of the Sangh Parivar, ie, crush the militancy, subjugate the Kashmiris by the State break-up into UTs, remove all pretense of special status and try to change the demography so that the Muslims are reduced to a minority in the State and then hold elections? Dulat says that this policy has further alienated the Kashmiris and has clearly failed. So, what then is the solution?
Dynast Politics vs Centre: Will Kashmir’s Prolonged Crisis Have a Resolution?
The current narrative is that Kashmir has been historically held to ransom by three families – the Abdullas, the Muftis and the Gandhis, meaning the Congress party. Dismantle these three, what are we left with—Shabbir Shah and the Hurriyat conference, which is now reduced to Mirwaiz Umar Farooq? Neither of them has anything more than a self-centered representation and the Hurriyat has stubbornly refused to take part in the elections, thus keeping away from any legitimate process of joining the Indian State.
It is accepted that Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh failed to resolve the problem. Now Modi, Amit Shah and Doval are trying out their methods. Are they winning? Have they resettled the Kashmiri Pandits? Those who have been sent back with the promise of jobs and land, live in mortal fear over there. The killing of six civilians, including two children in brazen acts of terrorism in Dangri of Rajouri district in the first week of the new year, is a brutal reminder that Kashmiri terrorists may strike at will anytime, anywhere.
The fact that Pakistan is the big elephant in the room that will not permit any resolution of Kashmir issue without taking its pound of flesh has always complicated the matter. Both Dulat and Doval are acutely aware of it, and both have participated in dialogues with Pakistan either directly or through Track-II meetings. But we continue to grapple with the problem as a nation.
What comes out clearly in his earlier book on Kashmir and this book is that Dulat’s relationship with Farooq Abdullah is the primary determinant in his approach to that troubled State. The fact that Abdullah’s desire to remain in power shapes their own view and Dulat carrying that baggage is the underlying theme.
(Ravi Joshi was formerly in the R&AW, with the Cabinet Secretariat and is now a Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)