A.S. Dulat’s book celebrates Urdu poet Sardar Jaffri’s verse, Guftagu Band Na Ho
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A.S. Dulat’s book celebrates Urdu poet Sardar Jaffri’s verse, Guftagu Band Na Ho

Ghazala Wahab
Ideally it should have fallen in the genre of either contemporary history or memoirs. But every book has its own fate. And former director Research and Analysis Wing, A.S. Dulat’s book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, have joined the ranks of kiss and tell books, owing in huge measure to the proclivity of its author to name names and to tell tales.

Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years Little surprise, it has been a runaway success in Kashmir where everyone who think they matter are picking up the copy of the book to see what Dulat has to say about them. And quite unexpectedly it is being treated as a secret diary listing of who’s who in the Kashmiri pecking order. Those who are mentioned feign outrage; those who are not are secretly disappointed for having missed the bus!

Indeed, it is a delightful, racy story made even more readable by the skills of the co-author Aditya Sinha, whom Dulat gratefully acknowledges as ‘Boss’ in his introduction. But should this be a book to be taken seriously? Nah, not by the longest rope. This is why the outrage of those who, by their own admission, haven’t even read it (Omar Abdullah, Swapan Dasgupta to name two) is downright silly. And to allege that it compromises national security. Goodness, what will they think of next.

Despite the sensational interviews that Dulat gave during the pre-release publicity phase of the book, there is nothing revelatory in Kashmir. At least now. May be, if the book had come a decade ago, it could have said something that was not already known. In any case, the book is wrongly titled as The Vajpayee Years, because it is actually a chronicle of Dulat’s years of working ‘in’ and ‘on’ Kashmir, starting with Rajiv Gandhi (in 1988) and continuing till 2004, when Vajpayee-led NDA lost the General Elections.

Dulat’s first challenge in Kashmir was abduction of Rubaiya Sayeed, daughter of the recently inducted minister of state for home affairs in V.P. Singh’s coalition government which had taken office just a few days earlier. In Dulat’s words:

‘From December 1989, when I negotiated the release of Dr Rubaiya Sayeed… till July 1999, when I took over as the head of R&AW, I talked and talked and talked. I wasn’t a negotiator: in popular perception, that’s the guy who bargains urgently with the terrorists or kidnappers. I was, behind the scenes, building relationships with people who had lost faith in India…’

Without being nasty to well-meaning Dulat, it has to be mentioned that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Dulat talked and talked, but Rubaiya Sayeed was released by her abductors in exchange of five militants. Throughout his engagement with Kashmir, including when he worked in Vajpayee’s PMO and had an easy-going relationship with everyone from Brajesh Mishra to Prime Minister’s adopted family, Dulat ‘talked’ with everyone in Kashmir. And Kashmiris of all hues of nationalism/ separatism confabulated with him. There was camaraderie, mutual trust and probably even affection as many Kashmiris became Dulat’s friends for life.

Yet, to what purpose? During one of my early visits to Kashmir as a journalist, one of the senior Separatist leaders told me that they do not know the government of India. For them the only government was Dulat Saab. At that time, I had found it strange that the most trustworthy channel of engagement for the government of India in Kashmir was an intelligence officer and not a politician!

I finally met Dulat for the first time last year after the government of India called off talks with Pakistan over its high commissioner’s meeting with the Separatists. While fixing the appointment over the phone, Dulat asked me how much time I would need. I had only one question to ask: Was the government of India at any point of time since the breakout of violent insurgency serious about resolving the Kashmir issue? Or did it hope that over time the issue would disappear on its own?

Dulat was extremely generous with his time. We chatted for nearly two hours, with him recounting various episodes from his association in Kashmir, asking me about my interest in the subject, complimenting me on my writing and generally rueing the fact that Kashmiris feel let down by the Modi government because they thought he would take forward the process started by Vajpayee.

When I returned I realised that I hadn’t taken any notes. There wasn’t anything of import that needed to be jotted down. We just had a very amicable conversation, with some juicy gossip thrown in about Kashmiri and Delhi politicians. I enjoyed chatting with him, but my question had remained unanswered. He had deftly side-stepped it.

His book has the same approach. It is full of conversations, but no information. Even his central theme about Vajpayee wanting to cut the Gordian knot remains unanswered. How did he plan to cut it? What was his roadmap for Kashmir beyond talking? The book reveals nothing.

As far as paying money to Kashmiri politicians is concerned, this information is neither well-guarded nor a secret. Way back in 2003, I was told by a Kashmiri journalist that there were only two honourable politicians in Kashmir. One was Geelani because he took no money from India; the other was Farooq Abdullah, because he took no money from Pakistan.

Yet, I am happy Dulat finally wrote this book. There are suggestions worth heeding. For instance, formal meetings between R&AW and ISI chiefs; even the idea of establishing an open R&AW post in Islamabad is worth thinking about.

Finally, the book holds an important lesson for the government of India. Kashmir is a political problem. It needs a political resolution. Military and intelligence services can at best manage/ subvert the problem; at huge human and financial cost. When your friendliest spy couldn’t do more, who else can!

Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years
A.S. Dulat with Aditya Sinha
Harper Collins, Pg 326, Rs 599


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