New Delhi: While admitting to widespread communication restrictions in the Kashmir Valley and the resentment caused as a result, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval said Saturday that the month since 5 August was the first since 1988 when not one bullet had been fired in the Kashmir Valley.
He was speaking to a small group of senior Indian and international journalists in an over two-hour-long interaction in the Prime Minister’s Wing at South Block.
Kashmir has been under severe communication restrictions since 5 August, when the Modi government announced the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in Kashmir and bifurcated Jammu & Kashmir into two union territories.
Doval’s choice of 1988 as the year trouble began is significant. This is when he said a paper had emerged out of Pakistan detailing Operation Topac (Topac means ‘gun’ in Pashto). This entailed employing in India the strategy the Zia-ul-Haq establishment used to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan.
The conflict this strategy sparked, he said, has already taken more than 42,000 lives in Kashmir. Never since then, he added, had Kashmir seen one entire month when bullets were not fired and lives not lost, except the period starting from 5 August.
A paper called “Operation Topac” had indeed emerged, or “leaked”, in 1988-89. It was widely covered in Indian media and the strategic community. There were strong arguments for and against it between those who thought it was the real thing, and others who were sceptical and saw it as disinformation.
This is the first time somebody at such a high level in the government of India has formally given it credence.
Doval said the first step in Operation Topac was to set up a group of separatist Kashmiri politicians. Once chosen and recruited, they were then organised under the banner of the All Party Hurriyat Conference. Each one then set up a militant organisation under their cover.
The most important group in the Hurriyat was Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s Jamiat, Doval said. Its militant offspring was the Hizbul Mujahideen, he added.
The ISI funded them, but payments were linked to their performance, that is, how many militants they recruited and their actions, according to Doval.
‘Economic activity coming back’
He wouldn’t say how people had been detained in the latest clampdown and for how long. An aide, however, said that a large number had been held under ordinary sections of the Criminal Procedure Code, like 107, 151 (apprehension of breach of peace, detention to prevent crime), rather than the draconian Public Safety Act. Doval, in fact, clarified that no criminal cases had been filed and that the detentions were preventive.
Doval accepted that denial of communication, especially internet, had caused widespread inconvenience and anger. But, as the government, he said, the first priority was to protect Indian citizens’ lives.
He said economic activity was coming back. According to him, 750 trucks carrying apples left the Valley Friday. To a foreign correspondent’s question on whether trade and economic activity had been hampered by the internet restrictions, he said: “Let’s accept if there was internet, a thousand trucks carrying apples would have gone out instead of 750. But what if a few lives were lost too?”
He said restrictions were being eased gradually. Of the 199 police stations in Jammu and Kashmir, restrictions now remain in only 10, he claimed.
He did indicate, however, that the internet was a more sensitive issue. The Pakistani spy agency ISI uses encrypted messengers to communicate with terrorists, he said, “some of which we can even monitor”.
Until the ISI stopped that, he indicated, restrictions will remain. He said he accepted that the internet has become essential now, but added that life went on when it wasn’t there “10-15 years ago” and the first priority right now was to protect lives.
It’s a “stimulus-response” cycle, he said, and India has to watch it. It is the ISI which provides the stimulus and mainly through the internet.
‘230 terrorists waiting to cross border’
He said Indian intelligence was reasonably well-informed. At this point, he added, it seemed there were about 230 terrorists waiting to cross the border. Asked what will India do if Pakistan persisted, he said methods of “dealing with that” are available.
To a complaint that foreign journalists were barred from Kashmir and that it was “frustrating”, Doval said the restriction preceded 5 August. But in any case, he said, Indian nationals working for foreign media are freely traveling to Kashmir and keep writing “what they wish”.
Doval said he was “fully convinced” that the majority of Kashmiris support the abrogation of Article 370.
Article 370 “was not a special status. It was a special discrimination. With its abrogation we have brought Kashmiris on par with Indians”, he added.
In the removal of Article 370, “they (Kashmiris) see greater opportunities, a better future, more jobs for youths”, he said.
“There is a vocal minority that opposes it. It appears to people that that is the voice of the people. That is not necessarily true,” he added.
Article 370 was only a tool of the political class to make money through corruption, he said. “For the common man there was nothing.”
He said Pakistan is bent on creating trouble in Kashmir, and would very much like to see unrest in the valley, which would add grist to its anti-India propaganda. In a bid to achieve that aim, Pakistan has sent many terrorists into Kashmir with the intent of causing trouble, and to ensure that normalcy is not restored.
Questioned about the alleged human rights abuses by the Army, Doval said it was only the local police and central paramilitary forces that are deployed to maintain law and order. So, there is no question of atrocities by the Army, whose job is only to fight terrorists, he added.
ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta was among those who attended the interaction with NSA Ajit Doval.