Former Indian spy agency R&AW Chief, A. S. Dulat has urged the Government of India to hold talks with all mainstream political parties as well as Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.
In an interview that reveals some of the details of the secret contacts with Farooq Abdullah prior to the revocation of his detention under the Public Safety Act on Friday the 13th, former R&AW Chief, A. S. Dulat, says that he visited Srinagar on the 12th of February to meet Farooq Abdullah and that the government had cleared the visit and, additionally, NSA Ajit Doval was fully aware of it. Dulat, who has known Farooq Abdullah for decades and interceded with him on behalf of earlier governments on at least two previous occasions, says Farooq Abdullah will respond if the government reaches out. Dulat says he has always done so.
In a 43-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, which will be put up on The Wire’s website between 9 and 10 p.m. tonight (14/3), Dulat revealed details of how this secret visit came to happen and the sort of clearance and support he got from the government in Delhi as well as the Intelligence Bureau in Srinagar. He said it began when he spoke to Farooq Abdullah on the 31st of October to enquire how he was. He asked if he could come and meet him and Abdullah said that it depends on the authorities. Dulat then contacted a former colleague in the IB in Srinagar who said he would need to get clearance from Delhi. Dulat then contacted sources in the Home Ministry in Delhi but they did not give him permission to meet Farooq Abdullah. However, on the 9th of February, he received a phone call from the Home Ministry saying he was free to go to Kashmir. Dulat says this phone call would have happened with the knowledge and concurrence of NSA Doval and this means the NSA was fully in the loop.
Although Dulat told The Wire his visit to Srinagar was a private visit, he revealed the IB in Srinagar provided transport to take him from Srinagar airport to Abdullah’s residence at Gupkar Road and back to the airport. It was a one day trip and Dulat was back home in Delhi by 6.30 p.m. Shortly after his return he was rung by the Home Ministry to find out how the trip had gone.
Dulat told The Wire that he spoke to Farooq Abdullah late last night (13th), some six hours after Abdullah’s release, and Abdullah told him he would probably come to Delhi in 15 days’ time. This means Abdullah is likely to miss the present session of parliament altogether.
Speaking about his meeting with Abdullah on 12th February, Dulat told The Wire that Farooq Abdullah was particularly concerned about the use of PSA against his son, Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti. Dulat told The Wire Abdullah could not understand why this was done.
Dulat says Abdullah also expressed concern about the impact of the abrogation of Article 370 and all the subsequent developments in Kashmir on his grandchildren. He said he himself was fully committed to India and had brought up his children in the same way. But now he did not know how to answer questions his grandchildren may ask.
Dulat told The Wire that Farooq Abdullah looked tired and was certainly not looking his best. He confirmed that Farooq Abdullah has had cataract operations in both eyes in the last four weeks.
Dulat’s meeting with Farooq Abdullah lasted for an hour during which time he also met Abdullah’s wife, Molly, and his daughter, Safia. He had lunch with the Abdullahs and Mrs. Abdullah offered him a choice of either asparagus or mushroom soup.
Dulat, who’s book ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’, reveals that in 2002 Vajpayee and Advani seriously considered making Farooq Abdullah Vice President and discussed this with him, told The Wire that the present government felt equally comfortable with Farooq Abdullah. He revealed the Modi government tried to form an alliance with the Abdullahs and the National Conference after the 2015 state elections before choosing the PDP as a partner. At the time Farooq Abdullah was in London and in hospital and the government sent an emissary to meet him. Farooq said that he was unwell and not in a position to decide and referred the emissary to Omar. Dulat concludes that Omar rejected the deal. Dulat confirms that NSA Dulat would be fully aware of all of this.
Dulat told The Wire he was confident the government would also find some way of talking to Mehbooba Mufti if it had not already done so.
Talking about Omar Abdullah, Dulat told The Wire the present government was even more comfortable with Omar than with Farooq. With great confidence, Dulat said Omar Abdullah would be the next Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir i.e. whenever the state elections are held.
Speaking about the general situation in Kashmir, Dulat said he found Srinagar perfectly normal. He said shops were open and there were traffic jams in all the places you would expect to have them. Children could be seen going to schools which, on enquiry, he discovered were actually coaching centres because schools were at the time shut. Dulat said that people of Kashmir are still in shock after the abrogation of 370 and this is one reason why there have not been widespread popular protests against the abrogation. The other reason is the heavy presence of security forces. As Dulat put it, Kashmiris do not want to die cheaply.
However, Dulat told The Wire that radicalism has sharply increased in the last 3-4 months in particular. Dulat said the Jamaat-e-Islami, which was originally limited to Sopore and a few other places, has now spread through the Valley. He said there is no doubt that the abrogation of Article 370 has fuelled radicalism.
Equally worryingly, Dulat told The Wire he had been told 50 foreigners (Pakistanis, Afghans, Arabs, Turks) had crossed the LoC 3 or 4 months ago and seem to have disappeared. If this report is correct he is worried that this could be a potential terror threat. He specifically said he was very worried.
Dulat told The Wire the newly formed Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party is a ‘King’s Party’. He said it can never replace the emotional hold of the National Conference on the Kashmiri people.
Finally, Dulat told The Wire that if Ajit Doval were to ask for his advice about what next steps the government should take, his answer would be “talk, talk, talk”. Dulat said the government must talk to all mainstream political parties as well as Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Dulat also said he would tell the government to start talking to Pakistan.
The above is a paraphrased precis of A. S. Dulat’s interview with The Wire. The video of the interview is available here.