Kashmir: Former India spy chief raises storm with memoir accusations

Amarjit Singh Dulat oversaw a successful counterinsurgency in Srinagar. His new memoir claims insurgent leaders were on the take. Critics say the account does what he did as spy chief -- divide the opposition. 

Prabhjot Gill/AP
Indian Border Security Force soldiers, left, and Pakistani Rangers, in black, stand face-to-face during the daily retreat ceremony at the India-Pakistan joint border check post of Attari-Wagah near Amritsar, India, Tuesday, July 21, 2015.

A former Indian spy chief is creating a political firestorm in the Kashmir Valley with charges that key insurgent leaders of the long time resistance movement, as well as pro-freedom sympathizers, have been taking payoffs from Delhi for years.

Amarjit Singh Dulat, sent to Kashmir in 1988 to work at top intelligence positions, details in a new memoir how India used money, favors, dialogue, and other covert strategies to reverse the popular insurgency movement that started the year he arrived and still continues.

The memoir, released in Delhi on Tuesday, recounts Mr. Dulat’s years in the Indian Intelligence Bureau and as chief of the Research and Analysis Wing in Kashmir, known as RAW, and notorious among a majority of Kashmiris.

Dulat recounts how these agencies “turned” militants, and intervened with rebels and members of civil society. But since it mixes accounts that are known to be true along with charges and claims about leaders that can’t be substantiated, it has fomented great anger.

Stories and accounts from the memoir have flown around Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, like a series of bombshells – forcing the popular resistance leadership to come together and reject Dulat’s claims.

Cooperating for cash? 

But Dulat, who critics say is trying to do with his memoir what he did as spy chief – create divisions -- has pointed to top leaders in resistance circles as cooperating for cash.

“If one were to take him [Dulat] seriously, the entire lot of Kashmir leadership … is a salable commodity [that] can be hooked merely by exploiting their devotion…” said a senior political commentator, Mohammad Sayeed Malik, in the popular online Rediff.

In Dulat’s telling, India was talking to militant commanders to neutralize them and to pave the way for further negotiations dating to the mid-1990s. Several senior anti-India leaders, including Shabir Shah and Abdul Gani Bhat of the umbrella-group Hurriyat Conference, have been depicted as India’s friends and guides in the Kashmir conflict.

Both men deny the accusation.

Another charge is aimed at Syed Ali Geelani, head of Hurriyat and known as the top anti-India leader in the valley, suggesting he aided and supported the creation of a moderate political force, the People’s Democratic Party, which last fall won the election in Kashmir. Mr. Geelani’s Hurriyat group has long stoutly refused to vote or participate in those elections.

Geelani denies the accusations.

Mr. Malik points out that the ex-spy chief's charges are inflammatory enough to bring possible physical harm to those he’s accused.

“Dulat's account leaves nothing to the imagination,” Malik says. “He has rather callously named names, harming the reputation of mainstream as well as separatist leaders and endangering lives.”

The latter points hits home since in the past, some figures in Kashmir portrayed as Indian collaborators have been killed.

Dulat's memoir says the use of cash and buy-offs is more ethical than direct killing of opponents and argues that such bribes and financial persuasion have a long history in Kashmir.

“Using money to win people over is perhaps the most effective tool at the disposal of the intelligence officers,” he writes in the 344-page memoir titled, “Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years." “Most agents are paid agents.”

'Absolute lies'

Pro-freedom groups here have tried to speak with one voice to denounce the book.

“Dulat has written a book based on absolute lies … he has once again tried to utilize his professional skills to create confusion and chaos,” said the Geelani-led Hurriyat Conference.

Last week, at his home in Srinagar, Geelani gathered pro-freedom leaders of different camps, including Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, to break the Ramadan fast together.

The leaders had also called a joint rally on July 13, the anniversary of Martyrs’ Day in 1931 when 22 Kashmiris were killed by troops of the Hindu ruler Hari Singh.

The memoir also includes details of the well-known case of Firdous Syed, a rebel commander in the 1990s who was turned and began to cooperate with India.

Nearly a decade ago, Mr. Syed sought public apology for his actions. In a recent article, after his relation with India became public, he wrote that the public apology was an effort to unburden his guilt.

In Kashmir, many pro-India figures have been snubbed as outcasts for years, and some, like Syed, have fought to reestablish their names.

“The challenge … was to rise from the abyss,” Syed wrote in his mea culpa. “If I fail to rescue myself, why should I hold my nation responsible for my failures? The struggle, however, continues.” 

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