Sensation apart, by and large the book is a good read
No offence meant to A.S. Dulat, the former RAW boss, but his recall of the Vajpayee years when he was indeed deeply involved in New Delhi’s handling of the Kashmir issue, is to my mind, a mere retelling of events spread over a ten-year period. Known for the purposes “the Vajpayee years”, but certainly full of embellishments which may not be surprising to those incharge at the time.
That Dulat enjoyed a good personal equation with some of the dramatis personae goes without saying. As does the fact that at one stage during the period covered he enjoyed proximity to the then PMO and its king-pin Brajesh Mishra, the man, Dulat says, was virtually running the government – more powerful than deputy prime minister Advani, as he told Karan Thapar in a TV interview last week.
There is something to be said in favour of the Dulat narration, it’s straight, it has in part a no-holds-barred ring to it.
Like he tells us how Brajesh Mishra, referred to by many at the time as Vajpayee’s Chanakya tried to seduce Dr. Farooq Abdullah by offering him the vice-presidency of india, the offer later altered to a union ministership which obviously had left the former chief minister fuming.
Dulat’s references to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the present chief minister, are largely good natured and probably well-meant too.
But then who didn’t know of the low opinion Sheikh Abdullah, the tallest by far of the Kashmiri leaders of the day, had of the Mufti; the Sheikh, as a victim of extreme narcissism, indeed had a very low opinion of the motley that surrounded him in the state. Mufti himself laughs away the description “mufti whisky” saying it was a compliment coming from Sheikh Sahab.
And Mufti knew he had done his sums well, even the long years he spent in the state as a virtual plenipotentiary of Indira Gandhi. In the process he had proved that he wasn’t going to be a political pushover.
He had his own agenda, fine tuned in later years by his untiring daughter Mehbooba, who almost singe-handedly helped her father launch the People’s Democratic Party. Dulat goes wrong when he accuses Mehbooba of having had links with the mujahideen in those early years of PDP formation.
The truth is that she identified herself, more than any other Kashmiri leader, with the sufferings inflicted on innocent people during a particularly aggressive phase in the war against insurrectionary elements. She was a virtual agony aunt – no pejorative connotations, please – scouring the valley’s interior, offering what her father later called the healing touch.
As a young mother of two girls of her own, she was often unable to restrain herself from identifying with those suffering. Mind you, she was these many years younger then and probably unable to not show her anger.
In the world of spooks the existence of “mukhbirs” and “guptchars” and plain contacts, is accepted as a norm. It’s like the mole over your right upper lip. The secret agencies thrive on this tier of support. It has been like that ever since man was born.
And as man evolved so did the techniques of spying. History bears testimony to it. And our world, like all others, works on an unstated quid pro quo. So Dulat doesn’t surprise me when he claims that Salahudin, the Pakistan-based leader of the Kashmiri mujahideen outfits, had sought help from an Indian intelligence agency in getting his son admitted to the Srinagar Medical College and that then CM Farooq Abdullah had agreed to do it.
I haven’t checked out on it from the college records but such requests in the world of spooks are a common place. It’s plain trading. I am not sure whether it’s true or not but Dulat has done his cause no good by bringing it into the open.
In the run of the mill world of journalism no reporter worth his salt will give out the source of any story he may have done. Wonder why Dulat thought it necessary to mention the so-called request from Salahudin whose son had obviously continued to live in the valley even after his father had migrated to Pakistan to lead the mujahideen from there.
Dulat’s rather elaborate description of the hijacking of an Indian airlines aircraft to Kandhar and the release there of three top Pak militant prisoners does leave you with the lingering suspicion that the crisis could have been ended on Indian soil itself had the leadership in Delhi, Vajpayee, Advani included, forced the then Punjab chief minister Badal to act rather than sulk.
The very minimum that could have been attempted at the Amritsar airport without the hijackers coming to know of it, would have been for the ground staff to deflate its tyres; that would perhaps have led to casualties among passengers without a proper commando back up but a risk worth taking. It would have spared New Delhi the humiliation of seeing its senior minister Jaswant Singh waiting for those unending, agonising minutes on the Kandhar tarmac for the indian passengers to emerge from the aircraft.
Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. Dulat, one infers after a quick read of his little memoir, shares the view that the BJP government in New Delhi must not pressurise the Mufti, heading the PDP-BJP coalition in Jammu and Kashmir. Given the contrary pulls of regional interests of the Jammu-oriented BJP and the valley-centric PDP, New Delhi should not be seen playing petty partisan politics. Give the Mufti more space, he seems to suggest – and rightly so.
Dulat has also tried to put in perspective the Mufti’s so-called softness towards Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The Hurriyat leader he reminds has had a long innings in the valley as a Jamaat-e-Islami activist and legislator before formally donning the colours of separatism. He speaks of their closeness in the past as friends, though of different political orientations, and obviously suggests that no more be read into it. A good read overall. If it be sensation you are after, you may be disappointed.