AMARJIT SINGH DULAT has provoked a hornet’s nest both within the ruling BJP and the Opposition with his book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years. He is a former special director of the Intelligence Bureau and served as chief of the Research and Analysis Wing. After he retired, he was appointed as an advisor on Kashmir to the Prime Minister’s office. In his own words, it was a rise he had never imagined when he joined the IPS in 1965. It certainly never even crossed his mind that he would end up in the PMO when he joined the IB in 1969 as a young assistant superintendent of police. His journey has been punctuated with numerous historic events. In a freewheeling interview to India Legal’s Managing Editor RAMESH MENON, he talks about his career as one of India’s top intelligence sleuths.
What triggered off the idea that you should write this book and let the world know some small truths?
This is a question as complex as Kashmir. I had a 27-year association with Kashmir. When I left the government in 2004, many publishers approached me but it was not appropriate at that time. But now I have had the time to think. I have learnt more after retirement and wanted to pen it down.
Why have so many eyebrows been raised since your book has come out?
Some say it is too forthright. But If one has to tell a story, it should be told truthfully. I have tried not to offend anyone. But in the flow of telling the story, some do get offended.
Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary in the PMO and NSA called the shots in the Vajpayee government? How did he became so powerful?
Brajesh became powerful as he was close to the Prime Minister. He was the Principal Secretary and also the first National Security Advisor. It is a heady cocktail and so he was naturally powerful. But he did not flaunt his authority. He oozed confidence and did not need to demonstrate authority. He also delegated confidence.
You have said that Brajesh was the main cause of tension between Vajpayee and Advani. How did it manifest itself?
Vajpayee and Advani had great regard for each other. In one of his interviews, Brajesh suggested that the post of NSA should be scrapped as it brought it in conflict with the home ministry as both dealt with national security.
Is it true that many of the ministers were not kept in the loop when major decisions were taken by the PMO during Vajpayee’s reign?
Not at all. In fact, it was a great cabinet. Not only did you have a PM like Vajpayee, you had a deputy prime minister like LK Advani and ministers like George Fernandes, Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh who were strong personalities. George Fernandes complemented both Vajpayee and Advani as he was an excellent defence minister.
Do you see any similarity between the style of Vajpayee and Modi?
They are very different people. Vajpayee was heading a difficult coalition. But, Modi can do what he likes as he has a comfortable majority. Modi can do much more for Kashmir and Pakistan than Atalji or Manmohan Singh could do.
Is Modi doing enough?
He is meeting Nawaz Sharif. He is also visiting Srinagar during Eid which is very good. No PM has ever visited Kashmir during Eid. This is imaginative thinking on his part. The alliance of the PDP and BJP in J&K can be taken forward if they bond well. It can bring Jammu and Kashmir together. This is what we need today.
You said that the NDA goofed up on the 1999 IC-814 hijacking. It will be good if you graphically describe what exactly happened.
The hijacking bit was handled well in its totality. If you scrutinize it today, we had 50 minutes in Amritsar and it was an opportunity we did not utilize. I cannot give an answer other than this. KPS Gill was quite critical of the way Punjab police handled it, saying it showed weakness.
What was the flaw?
There was no flaw. It was handled in the best way we could. Other than the Amritsar question. We all goofed up. Everybody thinks that their system is the best. The UPA said that they would not negotiate with terrorists. Jaswant said that everyone negotiates when the need arises. Even the Israelis have been known to negotiate.
Was it the fear of lives being lost that resulted in no one taking a decision or was it just bad strategy?
It was bad strategy. The safety of the passengers was uppermost in the minds of everyone. It was not an easy call to take. In hindsight, you can say anything. But it was an unnerving situation.
The hijackers initially wanted over 100 terrorists to be freed.
The militants asked for the release of over 100 but we whittled it down.
“Post 1996, we came to understand that dialogue was important and much better than the gun. It was a masterstroke of Narasimha Rao to revive the democratic process.”
How much do you think was the payoff to the militants at Kandahar to secure the release of passengers?
Zilch. There are so many stories like the fact that boxes of cash were sent. Had there been a plane full of cash it would have been hijacked.
Farooq Abdullah was furious over the deal with terrorists during IC 814 hijack. He vented his anger for three hours and then rushed to Governor Girish Chandra Saxena to resign. The governor calmed him down with two glasses of whiskey and then he relented. This is what you say. What exactly went through Farooq Abdullah’s mind at that time?
Farooq was opposed to it in principle. He wanted the theatre to play out to the full. When we got to the Raj Bhavan, the governor told him to calm down and not to throw in the towel. Farooq said that the idiots do not know what they are doing. The governor said that Delhi had probably thought this out and we had to go with it. Farooq then relented. He respected Governor Saxena.
You did have open lines with Kashmiri militants. How far was it successful and what did it yield in real terms?
Some say it yielded nothing. But it yielded a lot. The 1996 election was a crucial one as it revived the democratic process. Some militants came over ground and some even came to Delhi to meet Union Home Minister
Whatever happened to “friendly militants” who were being cultivated?
It helped a great deal in fighting militancy. Post 1996, we came to understand that dialogue was important
and much better than the gun. It was a masterstroke of PM Narasimha Rao to revive the democratic process.
It is said that politicians like Syed Ali Shah Gilani and Mirwaiz Farooq and other separatists were paid by both sides (India and Pakistan)…
People have been paid for ages in Kashmir. It is nothing new. It was always there since 1953. Money has been there in the Kashmiri DNA.
How do you see the February 1987 rigged election in Kashmir that was reportedly done with the full knowledge of Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah?
I was not there in 1987 and was posted there only in 1988. It was not such a big issue then. Kashmiri boys had started going across. Pakistan had this policy of “a thousand cuts” and 1987 was a catalyst of something that was already simmering in the system.
At some point or the other, numerous leaders like Sheikh Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah and others have played the India versus Pakistan card, sometimes on the side of India and sometimes on the side of Pakistan.
Farooq never played the Pakistan card. Whenever Kashmiri leaders come under pressure, Pakistan provides a fall-back position. It is a convenient cushion to fall back on.
Do intelligence agencies take the approval of the government before establishing contact and offering financial support to militants?
Nothing in our system can be done without government approval. But every time we do something, there is no need to tell the government everything.
What would you say are the failings of the Indian intelligence agencies and what corrective steps should
Having spent 30 years in the IB and 2 in RAW, I can never say that we have had failings. We are as good as anywhere in the world. There are failings and every time something goes wrong, intelligence is blamed. 9/11 would not have happened without an intelligence failure. It happens all over the world.
There are manpower shortages in the IB in particular. RAW needs language experts and also some Muslim officers. Agencies need more recognition from the government as they function under extreme stress and it is not just a job. It requires expertise. It is not a bureaucratic job.
The winter of 1989-90 was so bad that all the central government officers in Srinagar left because of threats and only the IB and RAW officers stayed put. We were also under threat. We did not leave. We lost four officers in five weeks. This is how we function. It’s a very stressful life. Families get affected very seriously. There is very little glamour. People think we live the life of James Bond.
Should intelligence agencies like RAW and IB be held accountable to parliament? Should their accounts be subject to audit? Or do intelligence agencies have to operate in utmost secrecy and remain opaque?
Time will come for accountability. But it should not come all of a sudden. We are an open democracy and a great one at that. But we are not the United States of America.
Is it a healthy trend for politicians to use the IB for political reasons?
Not at all. It has been used before but let me say, mostly sparingly.
Was the Kargil War an intelligence failure? Did India become complacent after Pokhran-II? It is said that with Pakistan and India having achieved nuclear parity there was a perception within the political leadership that there would be no conventional war. There was even talk of paring down troops along the LoC.
The intelligence bureau had sent a report indicating unusual activity that something was amiss. The Kargil Committee said that this report did not find its way to everyone who should have been informed. If it is going to the home ministry, it is taken for granted that they would keep relevant people informed.
Did the bonhomie shown during Vajpayee’s bus ride to Lahore add to the overall complacency?
There was no complacency. We know that the worst damage to intelligence services are during times of friendship.
You have said that you used to enjoy a drink with Mufti Muhammed Sayed. How would you describe him as a politician and what was his relationship with Farooq Abdullah?
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was one of the tallest leaders in Kashmir, little shorter than Farooq. He was extremely astute. He was also a union home minister. He had a complex relationship with Farooq. He wanted to compete with the Abdullahs. In 2014 we saw that he had become a regional force.
How do you rate the current government’s policy on Pakistan and Kashmir?
They are maintaining a go slow. The status quo is never good enough.
You were the special advisor on Kashmir in the PMO during Vajpayee’s time. What was your point of view then on the Kashmir issue and what is it today?
My point has not changed. I learnt much from Vajpayee. We needed to move forward in Kashmir and we
needed to end permanent confrontation with Pakistan.
During his visit to Lahore, Vajpayee said hum jung na hone denge (we won’t let a war break out) and Pakistanis loved him for that. Kashmiris loved it when he said let us talk within the ambit of humanity. Anybody who talks to anybody cannot talk outside the constitution. Why are we repeating this all the time? When the Hurriyat came and talked to Advani, it was not outside the constitution.
How has Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir changed?
It keeps changing. The most realistic position was what Musharaff had taken when he said that whatever is acceptable to the Kashmiris is acceptable to Pakistan. When people now start mouthing views saying let’s go to the UN resolution, there is no point. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh said that they wanted peace. That is the point. When Vajpayee visited the Minar-e-Pakistan, he wrote in the visitor’s book that a strong and stable Pakistan was in the interest of India.
Why didn’t Vajpayee take a strong stand on Modi after the 2002 riots? You have said that he was upset about it.
I am not aware I am not aware of his wanting to take action or if he was upset. He did say that maybe Gujarat was a mistake and may have affected election results (in 2004).
Why do you think the Agra summit failed? What really went wrong?
The Pak perception was that Advani was the architect and spoiler of Agra. The Indian perception was that it was almost done and just slipped off at the last moment. Tactically, Pakistan made a mistake by putting too much pressure on the Indian prime minister.
The BJP claims that the book is not your voice but the voice of Aditya Sinha, your co-author. He has clai-med that he had to dress up the book.
It’s a fact that Aditya Sinha helped me to write this book and maybe, without him, this would not have been finished. But it’s not his voice. The voice is mine. He is only the playback singer.