New Delhi: India should “not shy away” from discussing Kashmir with Pakistan even if they make it their core issue for talks, according to A.S. Dulat, former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and former Intelligence Bureau (IB) special director.
In an interview to ThePrint, Dulat, who served as an adviser on Kashmir in the Vajpayee PMO from January 2001 to May 2004, said Islamabad has reconciled with the fact that Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu & Kashmir, is gone. Even so, he added, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should reach out to Kashmiris, including their political representatives, and assure them that statehood will return and democratic processes resume.
“I don’t think we should shy away from Kashmir. If Pakistan says it’s a core issue, I don’t think we should have a problem with that,” he added. “Pakistan is certainly reconciled now with (Article) 370. They have understood that 370 is gone and is not going to come back, no matter what anybody says. That’s a given,” he said at his residence in Delhi.
“But these things cannot be one-sided. There has to be a little accommodation from our side as well. That accommodation could be revival of statehood and also revival of the political process in Kashmir,” he added.
Dulat’s comments come amid talks of a possible breakthrough in the frosty ties between India and Pakistan, which nosedived two years ago after the Pulwama attack by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and India’s ensuing retaliatory airstrikes on terror camps across the border in Balakot.
The first sign of a potential thaw in tensions came on 25 February this year, a day before the second anniversary of the Balakot airstrikes, when India and Pakistan issued a joint statement agreeing to the strict observance of the 2003 ceasefire along the border, where the exchange of fire has claimed many lives, including those of civilians, over the years.
Last month, Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa spoke about the need for New Delhi and Islamabad to bury the past and move on, a step he said would help unlock the full potential of South and Central Asia.
In March, PM Narendra Modi wrote to his Pakistan counterpart Imran Khan on Pakistan Day, expressing India’s desire for cordial relations, but adding that “an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility, is imperative” for it. Khan wrote back, saying peace and stability in South Asia is contingent “upon resolving all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, in particular the Jammu & Kashmir dispute”.
‘Violence in Kashmir is not over’
The revocation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir in August 2019, a decision heavily criticised by Pakistan, is believed to have stoked some concerns in the Valley about the possible implications of the move, including apprehensions about efforts to effect a potential demographic change in the region.
According to Dulat, if Prime Minister Modi can visit Kashmir and assure the people that there is “no intention” to change the demographic pattern, then the matter can be resolved completely and that is something Pakistan will also be able to “sell at home”.
If Prime Minister Modi visits Kashmir, it will “give confidence to the Kashmiris”. “Otherwise, once the summer comes, things generally tend to hot up in Kashmir,” he said.
“And Pakistan is not out of Kashmir, although they are holding back and they have held back, particularly after the ceasefire, but terrorist attacks continue and violence continues. We cannot claim that violence is finished in Kashmir,” he added.
He said if Modi can greet Khan on Pakistan Day, and wish a “speedy recovery” to National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah — a prominent Kashmir leader and former J&K Chief Minister — after he tested positive for Covid-19, then he can reach out to them for a meaningful dialogue as well.
Modi had also wished a speedy recovery to Khan after he was diagnosed with Covid-19 last month.
“If Modi ji can meet all the mainstream political leaders including (Peoples Democratic Party chief) Mehbooba (Mufti) … it will reassure the Kashmiris that they’ll have a level playing field whenever elections are held and whenever the democratic process moves forward,” Dulat said.
Dulat stated that the role of separatist leaders in the Valley under the “Hurriyat” umbrella is “over” but India should make an attempt to bring Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the body’s moderate faction, into mainstream politics in Kashmir.
“The Hurriyat is over, like the Pakistan story in Kashmir is over and abrogation of 370 is permanent. But having said, there is somebody in the Hurriyat who is important, who cannot be wished away, who should not be wished away, who has a role, and that is Mirwaiz,” he said. “So, the sooner we mainstream him and bring him into the political process, the better, and I think he needs to understand that. And I think Pakistan, too, should support that process.”
‘Doval, Bajwa communicating’
Dulat, who co-authored the book The Spy Chronicles (2018) with former ISI chief Asad Durrani and also penned Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years (2015), said National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Pakistan Army chief General Bajwa are now “communicating”, which is leading to easing of tensions between India and Pakistan.
As India and Pakistan begin to take “baby confidence-building measures” after the phase of post-Pulwama and Article 370 tensions, it is Doval and Bajwa who are controlling the channels of communication, he added.
“I have no doubt that the controllers on both sides are with General Bajwa and Ajit Doval. I think they are behind the whole process and they are the ones who are making it work and if it has to work, it has to work with these two,” he said.
Pakistan Prime Minister Khan and Bajwa are on the same page, as is their NSA Moeed Yusuf, he added.
“So, the whole triumvirate is together and that’s a great positive,” he said.
India and Pakistan are taking “baby confidence-building measures” that will soon culminate in both sides reinstating high commissioners in the other country, Dulat added.
Two days after the scrapping of Article 370, Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties with India and called back its envoy from New Delhi. India subsequently recalled its own envoy from Islamabad. Neither side has appointed a high commissioner for the other country since then.
“I think that upgrade is on the line. I think we should see a high commissioner (from Pakistan) back here soon, in which case we will also send a high commissioner to Pakistan. And once the new envoys take over, I am sure the visa regime will ease,” Dulat said. (ThePrint)