Delhi’s new Kashmir envoy: The ex-spymaster who ‘oversaw’ a crisis only to become its ‘manager’

Despite Joint Resistance Leadership dismissing Delhi’s new interlocutor’s appointment for Kashmir as a ‘time-buying tactic’, the ex-intelligence chief is back in Valley after 15 months. He last came on a covert mission only to derail uneasy calm and now, the ex-sleuth’s ‘homecoming’ is largely seen as the traditional task that his sneaky tribe is known for doing in Kashmir.

When the director of Intelligence Bureau (IB) suddenly landed in Kashmir on July 7, 2016, it was read as a routine visit — just like the customary IB bulletins that keep the security apparatus always on toes. But Dineshwar Sharma—the man whose first posting in Kashmir came during its thickest years of war—wasn’t on the routine round. The intelligence had it that the boy militant whose online onslaughts had challenged the Indian state in Kashmir was finally traced in a south Kashmir hamlet.

A day after his visit, the soft-faced Sharma—schooled in ex-Nazi occupying territory of Poland and Zionist Israel—was having a luncheon with Governor NN Vohra. He arrived after 12.00pm on July 8, 2016 in Raj Bhawan and stayed there for a few hours talking to Vohra, while his colleague Joint Director IB Harmeet Singh was seated in a separate room. No sooner did the meeting conclude, Sharma was driven to Srinagar airport where he boarded the evening flight to New Delhi.

But well before his departure, Kashmir was mourning over the passage of its darling commander. Burhan Wani had finally fallen to guns—shadowing him for years in woods—along with his two brothers in arm.

Sharma apparently created a crisis for chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. As the rebellion went rampant, she gave a clean chit to gunners, saying they weren’t aware of the presence of Burhan Wani in the militant hideout—“and if they had known, then he might have been given a chance.”

But Sharma’s presence in Kashmir not only deflated her claims, but also made it clear that Wani’s killing was planned at the highest level—for which, the IB chief was personally flown in to oversee the operational details to get the top insurgent.

15 months later, Sharma, now the ex-IB Director has been given the responsibility to initiate sustained dialogue in J&K with an aim to bring peace. The appointment of the intelligence chief as the fourth interlocutor since 2001 once again drew attention to the Delhi’s secret war played at behest of sleuths in Kashmir, which otherwise is a long, resounding war-cry in the region.

Even a commoner who holds regular political discussions on shop-fronts reckons how Kashmir has become the conflict playground being coached by covert agency people. That Delhi’s so-called intelligence set-up has been doing this for decades is the widespread belief.

It was in this backdrop that Sharma’s appointment instilled a sense that Delhi is once again counting on its agency veterans to handle Kashmir after floating certain deadlines and military ops in a bid to reclaim the defiant region.

But playing interlocutor might not be the usual intelligence briefings for Sharma, who’s already predicting Syria in Kashmir.

In Srinagar, however, a bunch of roaming sleuths offer a different take on the man whom the Narendra Modi government dispatched for dialogue shortly after the NIA raids and braid-chopping incidents created a wave of uncertainty in the Valley. Some of these spies see shades of Operation Chanakya in Sharma’s “homecoming”.

Conducted by India’s overseas spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) during nineties, the celebrated Op was meant to infiltrate various militant groups in Kashmir to cut them to size. By the end of the Op, R&AW was quite a gung ho about how they created a split in a pro-Pakistan militant outfit Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and floated pro-Indian groups—like Ikhwan—in Kashmir.

“It looks like the reincarnation of Op Chanakya in new political atmosphere dented by NIA raids,” says a Srinagar-based intelligence officer. “They haven’t defined the stakeholders and by talking to anyone, they want to push the Hurriyat camp to margins and creating new stakeholders in Kashmir—the strategy that once drove the R&AW’s Chanakya in Valley.” The sleuth’s remark has a bearing with State BJP president Sat Sharma’s latest remarks, “By 2022, we should have a Hurriyat-free J&K.”

Since 1990s, such shenanigans to manage Kashmir are no more a secret. “We paid money to demonstrate that what the ISI can do, we can do better, except kill people,” the former intelligence chief Amarjit Dulat, whose book Kashmir – The Vajpayee Years became the talk of the town, said.

But beyond what Dulat says, Sharma has become the part of an effective crisis management apparatus — an arm which takes over after both intelligence and physical security measures fail to yield the desired outcome.

“After NIA failed to create desired results for Delhi,” says a Hurriyat leader, “they have now used this reliable intelligence man to break an ice for them.”

Perhaps that’s why chief minister Mehbooba Mufti told the cops to play their part and create a congenial atmosphere on ground to make the dialogue process successful.

But inside a quiet Srinagar cafe tucked in the medieval buildings, an intelligence officer has his own theory to offer behind the Sharma’s appointment as interlocutor.

“More than anything else,” says the officer, inside a smoke-filled corner of the cafe, “his appointment is meant to check the over-projecting the personality to the level of hero worship —which, in this case, is Hurriyat and militant leaders.”

Notably, the larger sense still prevails in Delhi and Srinagar power corridors that it was Burhan Wani’s larger than life image that triggered a massive uprising in Kashmir last summer.

“I believe the unspoken strategy remains to cut people to size and expose them in public,” he says. “That’s what they’ve been doing in case of Hurriyat leaders—particularly with Geelani. The plan is to cut a public unfriendly image of him and his tribe.”

In this background, the doctored tapes and fabricated stories—meant to malign the militant commanders including Wani and Dujana—certainly appear to be an extension of the old war doctrine: Significance of psychological war lies in projecting the adversary as irrational beings.

But now, when Delhi has already institutionalized the talks, the ex-spymaster Sharma has been given the rank of Cabinet Secretary.

“I think,” says Mubeen A. Shah, a Srinagar-based trader and prominent civil society member, “a politician would have been better suited for the job than an intelligence man.”

Mubeen Shah

Even after repeated ‘assurances’ by Delhi, Shah feels the process is nothing more than a ‘trial balloon’.

“There’s no clarity of thought,” he says. “They’re confusing people by saying that they’ll talk to all stakeholders. Who’re those stakeholders? They just want to see how people react.”

But those aware of the intelligence dealings in Kashmir see the larger mandate on Sharma’s hands: Creating Nagaland, Mizoram and Punjab in Kashmir.

In those onetime militant states of India, Delhi promoted the economic development as the sign of the peace with a belief: Once the economic and social development of the states affected by insurgency moves forward, the insurgent groups are bound to wither away.

“But even India knows it,” says Mohammad Yaseen Khan, Chairman of the Kashmir Economic Alliance who recently got NIA summon in Delhi, “that Kashmir is a dispute.” They’re confused, he says. “They want talks and judicial onslaught on Kashmir to go hand in hand.”

Infact, so many times, Khan continues, they’ve said that civilian killings should stop; pellets guns wouldn’t be used. “But has anything been done in that regard. No!”

Mohammad Yaseen Khan

But now, being Delhi’s man in Kashmir, the Bihar-born, Kerala-Cadre IPS officer of 1979 batch has been tasked to understand “legitimate aspirations of people in J&K”. He’ll be relying on his Kashmir experience to understand the regional aspirations.

Sharma has served in Kashmir in 1992, when militancy was at its peak, and handled it from the IB headquarters. That’s why he termed his appointment as “homecoming” with “a big responsibility” on his hand.

“But what’s the need to appoint another person as interlocutor? Didn’t Padgoankar hold sustained dialogue for two years,” Dr. Farooq Abdullah, National Conference patron and former union minister reacted over the appointment.

Soon after 2010 uprising thawed in Kashmir, the UPA government appointed a three-member interlocutor team, comprising former information commissioner M M Ansari, senior journalist Dileep Padgaonkar and academician Radha Kumar. Their report, and that of their predecessors’—then deputy chairman of Planning Commission KC Pant (appointed as interlocutor on April 5, 2001) and the former home secretary and current J&K governor NN Vohra (who took it forward till 2008)—have been gathering the dust.

And now, Abdullah said, the new appointment shows Doval’s doctrine of suppressing Kashmiris has failed. “Kashmiris showed that the more they are suppressed the more they rise.” Even the former Home Minister P Chidambaram (now throwing his weight behind Greater Autonomy for Kashmir) believes that Sharma’s appointment is a failure of Delhi’s muscular approach.

Amid the raging talk, Sharma is no quiet man. As the traditional stakeholders seem miffed over his appointment, Sharma says he’s even ready to talk to a riskshawala.

For that, the ex-DIB—whose appointment came before the visits of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and US secretary of state Rex Tillerson—will be mostly operating from Delhi where his appointment is being hailed as a departure from a security-led strategy. The appointment is the third prong of ‘sustained and structured dialogue’ to the J&K strategy, the home ministry officials say.

“But this is another jumla (sentence) from BJP,” GA Mir, state congress chief said. “… Till there’s no result-oriented dialogue, a fully explained list of the stakeholders and a clear roadmap about the dialogue process, Congress will keep its fingers crossed and won’t welcome the announcement.”

Despite the political snub, the crisis that Sharma apparently helped create on July 8, 2016 when he surfaced in Valley on a covert mission has now beckoned him back to sort out the political crisis.

For the erstwhile sleuth, the appointment has indeed come full cycle.

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