Monday, August 29, 2016

Much narration, less intensification


Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, by A. S. Dulat with Aditya Sinha, HarperCollins Publishers (India), Noida -201301, Year2015, 342pp, Indian Rupees 599, Hard.

eographic and political inviolability suit a metaphor Big Brother for India among her neighbors—Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar et al. Co-authored by India’s former external spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Chief A.S. Dulat with journalist Aditya Sinha, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years is an impudent evaluation of South Asia’s biggest ever intelligence exercise on Indo-Pak relations in Kashmir context.

India had a visionary and statesman Prime Minister from non-Congress clout in Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His all-encompassing efforts prepared New Delhi for a political solution of Indo-Pak relations with counterpart Islamabad. Dulat served him in PMO after service to RAW and was assigned on ‘Mission Kashmir.’ This book narrates efforts that paved the way for Kashmir solution but author(s) haven’t projected the strategic plans Vajpayee had envisioned.

Without divulging intensifications on former Prime Minister’s initiatives this book rather emerges into an autobiography of a spy. It explains author’s days in service and has ample details on Kashmir issue by highlighting shortsightedness of politicians after Vajpayee which hampered India’s Kashmir policy. The book has rational description of roles by the consecutive governments to deal with the Kashmir issue that it was often simply managed rather than bringing it into the verge of concrete resolution.

Kashmir connection through regular postings paved the way for Dulat to play strategic roles as an intelligence head. He kept an eye on the troubled region and was vocal about it that had been often used like a pawn without any agency of it. A diatribe on India and Pakistan policies on Kashmir this book critically assesses political sycophancies.

Emphasizing on factors like New Delhi’s unwillingness for change of status quo to snub the perspectives of Jammu & Kashmir’s elected legislatives and leaders for their demands this book presents a valid perspective on significant matters. It raises key question of stances of Kashmiri leaders—from both separatist and mainstream sides. Repeated arrogances from New Delhi and Islamabad further worsened Kashmir conflict. Dulat hints that the issue had often been deliberately tailor-made to keep the conflict thoroughly ensued.    

Offering insights on Kashmir issue this book is incongruously less intensified on Vajpayee. Rather a biographic narration it summaries Dulat’s forays in Kashmir from early 1990s and roles to smoothen dialogues to talks from Vajpayee’s PMO. Besides planning ‘dialogues’ with Kashmiri leadership that included Shabir Shah and many others—separatists to former militants—it sketches politicians like high profile Abdullahs, Mufti and the rest. It becomes a reference literature to learn the Kashmir’s political diaspora.

While sketching Kashmiri politicians of numerous hues Dulat describes the misses of Shabir Shah to stands of Firdous Baba and rest blunders. Obviously, a former intelligence chief had to maintain certain parameters to open up intelligence operations expositions in a book in the context of a troubled neighborhood. He expresses political whammies bringing the mission into standstill time and again. In a placid highlight author(s) bring visions, statesmanship and seriousness of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to bridge Indo-Pak relations for Kashmir solution, albeit cursorily. India had best opportunity for a historic solution while NDA government led by Vajpayee was defeated and Dr. Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister. 

Dr. Manmohan Singh continued for a decade during UPA-I and UPA-II tenures but Mission Kashmir literally messed up due to lack of interest on this vital relationship having been developed earlier. Its prolongation could write the future of South Asia in Indo-Pak ties context. Relationship could mature with counterpart Pervez Musharraf having shown equal interest. Unwillingness by subsequent governments across the borders caused the standstill.
Political consequences from assassination of several Kashmiri leaders to split of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen separatist group besides role of its leaders Abdul Majeed Dar for a peaceful solution until assassination in 2003 have been thoroughly analyzed. Situations, Dulat explains, worsened further once several of Dar’s lieutenants were killed mysteriously.

Former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao did promise that “sky was the limit” for Kashmir solution. Dulat insisted that Rao aimed to coax Kashmir’s separatist politician Shabir Ahmad Shah to participate in 1996 state assembly elections. He could have emerged into big figure with proposed participation he missed and lost the chance for once and forever.

Likewise, rise and rise of Farooq Abdullah and his son in state’s political spectrum is also projected. This book points out stages of broken promises on state autonomy to Farooq’s promised escalation to the position of country’s Vice President that were not kept. Standing at the crossroads of being cheated he encountered the doldrums. Rejections on autonomy even though state government with ample majority passing resolution has also been debated.

Dulat recounts dialogue initiatives by New Delhi, and his vital roles in formulating them for talks with separatist and mainstream leaders. He confesses that primary motive of such talks were just to tide over the immediate crisis. Farooq, Omar and Mufti couldn’t achieve success in making New Delhi agree to remove the draconian AFSPA that still haunts Kashmir. 

He saw the culmination of a mission proposed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004 to initiate talks between Hurriyat moderates and New Delhi. Ironically it ended effortless in the absence of substantive willingness. Consecutive governments took Kashmir policy a status quo therefore hollow assurances on Kashmir proved futile.  

This book retaliates that at present New Delhi literally refuses to even acknowledge Kashmir dispute. This issue was taken into account with an extreme interest by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his all-powerful National Security Advisor Brajesh Chandra Mishra.

As a former intelligence chief of India—the most strategically important South Asian country—Dulat argues that for sustainable growth, prosperity and intelligence coordination between neighbors the need is to initiate regular interactions amongst intelligence chiefs and officers in neighborhoods. He emphasizes for mature relationship between Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies ISI and RAW for sustainability.  

Logical analysis of Kashmir and its mindset, this book extensively narrates the ground reality of contemporary Kashmir through outlining its history in last three decades. An eyewitness of state’s descent into chaos since 1980s while valley began to burn and Dulat was posted there until asked to monitor it from PMO between 1998 to 2004 he judged ongoing chaos and political gimmicks.

Through this book author(s) daringly expose how separatists were often been used by both India and Pakistan for vested interests. They emphasize that Vajpayee era from 1998 to 2004 was highly productive for Kashmir. Ironically that pace waned thereafter. As visionary Prime Minister Vajpayee laid down the foundation for future peace which hasn’t been sustained by any consecutive Indian and Pakistani government yet.

With the defeat of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2004 General Elections the lasting peace initiative for Kashmir was also lost. Suggested by then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an out-of-the-box solution in consistency to visionary ideas of Vajpayee was goofed up on the later stages. 

Proposed idea of “making borders irrelevant through allowing free movement of Kashmiris across the LoC (Line of Control); self-governance meant to offer autonomy but not independence; demilitarization and joint management mechanism” went in the back lane.  

The book under review appeared after the second coming of BJP in mainstream politics. With Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister now, Dulat fails to answer why the new government even didn’t have a strategic policy plan to revive the old venture which party under Vajpayee had for Kashmir by keeping Pakistan in loop. This book emphasizes on talks with Pakistan but narratives are less intensified on the concrete outcome. It is partial and one-sided hence a New Delhi perspective.

Had we get to hear Pakistan side of story this book would have become a definite reliance. Its current perspective lacks highlights on Indian security forces’ highhandedness in Kashmir. It is least focused on hundreds of missing youths from 1980s besides several other core areas not discussed at all. Indian security forces have often been alleged for indiscreet roles in Kashmir. 

The book has hardly pointed out that. It could aptly reply why sizable section of the Kashmiri population is alienated from the mainstream.

Although Dulat carefully reveals operational details through maintaining consistency of not a ‘tell-all’ approach his recounts offer good sense of tools used in an intelligence mechanism. A self-eulogized documentation with cursory explanation of Vajpayee’s insaniyat (humanity) framework this book fails to highlight the core idea of context.

An empirical account of happenings Kashmir encountered for decades, this book has a rare glimpse of state’s affairs. It therefore still becomes groundbreaking to catch reader attention. 

This review was first published in on August 28, 2016

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