Why is former RAW Chief AS Dulat upset with Narendra Modi’s approach to Kashmir?

AS Dulat, former RAW Chief. The Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) is India's external intelligence agency.

Peaceniks who have begun a propaganda of peace amidst this ongoing India-Pakistan tension need to understand that the ongoing war in Kashmir is only against terrorists and terror masterminds. Any let-up in the operations will give a breather to terrorists. Even earlier, terrorists have used the lull moments to re-group and prepare themselves to launch fresh strikes later on.

AS Dulat, the former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) — India’s external intelligence agency, in his latest interview has made a rather strange observation. “Modi is milking the current situation to the extreme,” Dulat said in his interview to a monthly news magazine. He finds several strategic faults in the current standoff between India and Pakistan and reminisces of how New Delhi has lost the Kashmir plot from the highpoint where former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had steered it.

Incidentally, Dulat headed RAW during Vajpayee’s tenure and later on served as his Advisor on Kashmir.

Well, there can be different approaches to deal with exigencies but when it comes to something like a boiling pot situation in Kashmir then options get limited for any head of the state. India’s response to Kashmir had hitherto been to maintain the status quo. All advisors (Dulat included) to the government on Kashmir have wanted to maintain the existing situation. Nothing changed or moved on the ground over these years only because India’s polices were never aimed to change the ground realities.

However, if one goes with the intention to solve this Kashmir conundrum then the options available are very few, because this would mean striking at the roots of Islamic terrorism. And this is where Narendra Modi’s present handling of the situation after Pulwama terrorist attack is better than all his predecessors.

Let’s first make a quick assessment of the options available before India after the February 14 suicide terrorist attack in which 40 CRPF jawans were martyred. One, as has always been, New Delhi could have made some noise, raised the issue at international forums, given speeches, a few angry articles would have had been written, evidence and counter-evidence could have been exchanged with Pakistan, a few peaceniks would have talked about peace and an Aman ki tamasha (sham of peace) would have happened and India would have moved on and waited till the next terrorist strike took place. This is what happened after the December 13 Parliament attack, 26/11 Mumbai attack, IC 814 Indian Airlines plane hijack etc. In fact, the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament was an act of war by Pakistan’s deep state that took place when Dulat was the advisor to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Of course, the armies of India and Pakistan remained in an eyeball to eyeball situation for several weeks but there was no concrete action and India was back to square one. Pakistan Army dared to intrude Kargil peaks at the time when Dulat was at the helm of affairs of Indian intelligence. And despite this India did not cross Pakistani air space during the Kargil war in 1999. If the peaceniks, Dulat included, wanted something like this then they were in for a big surprise for how India responded after the Pulwama terror attack came in completely out of the script.

Indian fighter jets ripping apart the Pakistani air space after Pulwama terror attack speaks volumes of the changed mindset of the ruling establishment in New Delhi and of our confidence.

For the first time India struck at the roots of this much-hyped “Kashmir issue”. After the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971, India had crossed Pakistan’s airspace and bombed the terror modules at Balakot. It needs to be borne in mind that Balakot is not Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, rather it is Pakistan and is a part of their Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. There was a risk of this air strike escalating into a full-scale war but then a nation cannot go ahead with such actions without having confidence in the abilities of its defence forces, and without being sure of drumming up international support in its favour. India under Narendra Modi was confident of international backing for its air strikes. And the international community did come out in full support of India because the air bombings were targeted only at the Islamic terror infrastructure in Pakistan which is the root cause of terrorism in Kashmir and in other parts of the world. The spirited response of international community caused much heartburn to peaceniks who had expected some cosmetic Indian action, like always, and the diffident diplomatic support later on.

A senior intelligence officer with whom I had detailed discussions about the current state of affairs explained that talks about peace amidst the current tensions between India and Pakistan has different meanings, connotations and objectives for those in Kashmir Valley and elsewhere. So, there are two different categories of peaceniks—the politicians and dynasts of Kashmir Valley such as Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Ghulam Nabi Azad and similar others. The other bunch of peaceniks are from the rest of India that include civil society members, a section of political class, intellectuals, five-star activists and liberals.

The problem gets compounded when these Kashmir-based peaceniks drum up support towards peace process and insist for a suspension of operations against separatist and terrorist elements in Kashmir and in Pakistan. 

“This is where peaceniks from the rest of India fall into their trap. The lull and ceasefire against terrorists only helps Pakistan to prepare for the next spate of attacks,” explained the intelligence officer.

In fact, talks of peace look quite glamorous amid bomb blasts and air strikes. Yet, those talking of peace do not understand the complex dynamics of proxy war and the massive disinformation campaign unleashed by Pakistan. Those talking about peace need to understand that India is not acting against common people in Kashmir or even in Pakistan. The action is only against terrorists and their active supporters.

We need to understand that the times when there’s no action against terrorists is actually a golden period for terror masterminds. Massive efforts are being made to shift the current narrative towards talks of peace only because it will give the terror mongers a breather to re-organize and re-group for the next spate of offensives. “It is precisely for this reason that Kashmir’s peaceniks have begun missing the lull moments because under the current regime there is no let-up in anti-terror operations,” the intelligence officer added.

Modi had always wanted to bring a paradigm shift in India’s approach to Kashmir. From the day he sat on the hot seat of New Delhi he had made his intentions clear. He made it known that he would not like to talk to Hurriyat and has effectively side-lined them. Jamaat-e-Islami has now been banned in Kashmir, the accounts of the organisation frozen and scores of their cadres have been arrested. It is mostly the Jamaat cadre who work as Over Ground Workers (OGWs) in the Kashmir Valley. OGWs are the people who work as conduits for Islamic terrorists in Kashmir.

Now, if we put together these pieces the picture becomes clearer. On the one hand, India confidently violated Pakistan’s airspace and bombed the terror hideout of Jaish chief Masood Azhar. That there were no civilian casualties meant that New Delhi had no intention to wage war with its belligerent neighbour. This immediately drummed up international support in India’s favour because Islamic terrorism has become a gangrene for the entire world. The air strikes were immediately followed by incarceration of trouble mongers and rabble rousers (read Hurriyat and Jamaat) from the Kashmir Valley. These twin massive blows have struck at the roots of Kashmir issue that has become an industry of sorts for a section of peaceniks in India and of course for the Pakistani deep state.

Let’s also assess this so-called ‘peace gesture’ by Imran Khan of returning Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. The peaceniks in India have been crying hoarse that India should take the peace process forward, that India should reciprocate to Imran Khan’s offer for talks and that India should immediately begin the dialogue process.

Well, we are yet to hear about the agenda of talks either by Dulat or by any of the other peaceniks.

Moreover, for all those who have been saying that handing back of Wing Commander Abhinandan is a great ‘peace gesture’ by Imran Khan need to get their facts straight. Pakistan Army or its puppet PM Imran Khan never sent back Indian pilot Abhinandan due to their love for peace or because they follow the Geneva Convention in letter and spirit. Indian pilot was sent back only because of the immense international pressure on Pakistan to send him back safely to India. If there were no international pressure Pakistan would have physically tortured the Indian soldier or could have possibly even killed him. The treachery of Pakistan’s deep state were on full public display when they deliberately delayed the handing back of Abhinandan by several hours and released a doctored video just before his comeback to India.

India’s fighter pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman (in blue coat) just before walking over to India at the Wagha border. Abhinandan is accompanied by Dr Fariha Bugti (left), an official of Pakistan Foreign Office. (Photo: PTI)

What’s even more baffling in Dulat’s assessment is when he states that Imran Khan’s actions were a result of provocation by India. This declaration puts India in the dock, upturns the entire standoff on its head and shifts the blame squarely on Narendra Modi.

It will be good to recall Pakistan’s offensive-defensive policy that was formulated by General Mirza Aslam Beg. The basic tenet of this policy is that Pakistan while defending its borders will use the terrorist apparatus of the likes of Masood Azhar to create mayhem in Kashmir. Pakistan raising the bogey of its nukes, ongoing ceasefire violations is part of its defensive strategy while the lethal terrorist strikes of Pathankot, Uri, Pulwama is its offensive gambit. Scores of Jamaat-e-Islami cadre and those in the Hurriyat separatist camp are the foot soldiers in Pakistan’s offensive against India.

If the peaceniks insist on talks with Pakistan then let them state clearly that India will talk only about dismantling of terror infrastructure within Pakistan. This means Pakistan’s deep state will have to forego the offensive strategy of destabilizing India through Islamic terrorism.

And for Pakistan to prove its seriousness it must give credible evidence of acting against terror modules and terrorists holed up in Pakistan. Sending back our Wing Commander under immense international pressure is not a gesture of peace.

Yes, Narendra Modi is uprooting the seeds of terror in the Kashmir Valley and there should be no let-up in this hot pursuit. 

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