New Delhi: In an interview that reveals some of the details of the secret contacts with former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah prior to the revocation of his detention under the Public Safety Act on March 13, former R&AW chief A.S. Dulat says that he visited Srinagar to meet Abdullah and that the government had cleared the visit and, additionally, national security adviser Ajit Doval was fully aware of it.
Dulat – who said he visited Abdullah in Srinagar on February 12 – has known the National Conference patriarch for decades and interceded with him on behalf of earlier governments on at least two previous occasions. Speaking to Karan Thapar for The Wire, he says Farooq Abdullah will respond if the Centre reaches out and that he has always done so.
In a detailed interview which will be put up on The Wire’s website at 10 pm on Saturday, 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.
Abdullah was detained the day the Modi government announced the scrapping of Article 370 last August. Though Union home minister Amit Shah had denied in parliament on August 6 that the NC leader had been detained, Abdullah appeared briefly before reporters in Srinagar outside his residence to say Shah was lying. He remained incommunicado after that and was formally held under the draconian Public Safety Act in September on the eve of a habeas corpus petition filed in the Supreme Court by the Tamil Nadu politician Vaiko
Dulat told The Wire that his involvement began when he spoke to Abdullah on October 31 to enquire how he was. He asked if he could come and meet him and Abdullah said that 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 February 9, he received a phone call from the home ministry saying he was free to go to Kashmir. Dulat says this phone call would only have happened with the knowledge and concurrence of Doval and this means the NSA was fully in the loop.
Although Dulat told The Wire his visit to Srinagar was a “private” one, he revealed that 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 short trip and Dulat was back home in Delhi by 6.30 pm the same day. 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 on the night of March 13t), some six hours after the latter’s release, and that 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 February 12, Dulat told The Wire that the NC leader was particularly concerned about the use of PSA against his son, Omar Abdullah, and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti. Dulat said Abdullah could not understand why this was done.
He says Abdullah also expressed concern about the impact of the reading down 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 he has had cataract operations in both eyes in the last four weeks.
The meeting with Farooq lasted for an hour during which time he also met Abdullah’s wife, Molly, and his daughter, Safia, and had lunch.
Dulat, whose 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 that the Modi government tried to form an alliance with the Abdullahs and National Conference after the 2015 state elections before choosing the PDP and the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed 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 Doval 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 said the present government was even more comfortable with Omar than with Farooq. With great confidence, he 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. He said that the people of Kashmir are still in shock after the abrogation of Article 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, radicalism has sharply increased in the last 3-4 months in particular, he noted. 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 abrogation of Article 370 has fuelled radicalism.
Equally worryingly, Dulat told The Wire he had been informed that 50 foreigners (Pakistanis, Afghans, Arabs, Turks) had crossed the Line of Control from Pakistan three or four 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 of Altaf Bukhari is a ‘King’s Party’. He said it can never replace the emotional hold of the National Conference on the Kashmiri people.
Finally, Dulat said 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 to The Wire. Watch the full interview below.