Former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) chief AS Dulat's revelations on a raft of issues ahead of the launch of his book have kicked up a political storm in the country.
Dulat has spoken about the Kandahar hijack incident and the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government's response to it, the 2002 Gujarat riots and Jammu and Kashmir among other things. Here are a few revelations made by the former spy agency chief:
Intelligence agency's payouts to militants, politicians in J-K
Indian intelligence agencies regularly pay terrorists, Hurriyat leaders and mainstream Jammu and Kashmir political parties including the National Conference (NC) and PDP, Dulat revealed in an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times on Friday.
"Nobody is immune to bribes, not the militants, not politicians and not the separatists. Over the years, they have all been paid by intelligence agencies. We paid money to demonstrate that what the ISI can do, we can do better, except kill people," said Dulat, who was posted in J&K as an Intelligence Bureau officer in 1988. He went on to head the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, and then became adviser to prime minister Vajpayee, serving in government till 2004.
"As militancy grew in the 1990s, so did the payments. They grew from the hundreds to lakhs of rupees," revealed Dulat. He said "there were some honourable exceptions in the Hurriyat who did not accept the money", but refused to name names. Dulat clarified that he could only confirm payments till 2004.
Speaking to Hindustan Times ahead of the launch of his book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, Dulat said the UPA government that came into power in 2004 made him "the villain of the NDA's Kashmir policy'', saying "I had bribed my way through Kashmir, but the fact is that when I was posted to Srinagar in 1988, the first thing I got to know was who was paying whom and how much. It is not a big deal. Intelligence agencies all over the world pay slush money".Both the NC and PDP denied the charges. "Our political party has been struggling and striving with the people of Kashmir and we have always functioned in a very transparent way. These allegations are unsubstantiated and we totally deny them," said the NC's Junaid Azim Mattoo.
PDP spokesman Wahid-Ur Rehman Parra said: "People say all kinds of things post-retirement. One needs to look into the timing of these allegations, why now and why not before. We don't know who Mr Dulat is trying to benefit and who he is trying to harm by these baseless allegations but he is definitely not helping national interest."
When HT asked Dulat what he thought of the Narendra Modi government calling off foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan last year over its high commissioner meeting with leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, he said, "There is no getting away from talks with the Hurriyat. You can't only be talking to Mufti Saeed. The Vajpayee government started a dialogue with the separatists and the Modi government should do the same. The Kashmiris initially welcomed Modi because they thought he would carry the Vajpayee policy forward. Calling off talks was disappointing."
The former RAW chief's book also reveals Vajpayee wanted to make NC leader Farooq Abdullah vice-president in 2002 while making his son, Omar Abdullah, the state chief minister. In a controversial disclosure to HT, Dulat said the Abdullahs did not walk out of the Vajpayee government after the 2002 Gujarat riots "only because he (Farooq) was hopeful of becoming vice-president". Later, in a bid to control the political damage in the Valley from this move, Omar had emphasized that not leaving the NDA government then was one of his biggest regrets.
Kandahar operation 'goofed up'
The operation to handle the Kandahar hijack was "goofed up" as no one wanted to take a decision fearing the loss of lives, according to Dulat.
Dulat, who was a member of the Crisis Management Group handling the 1999 hijack of the Indian Airlines IC 814 plane, said they could not decide that the plane should not leave Amritsar.
"Let me say, we goofed up... what was upper most in everybody's mind was security of the people," Dulat said in an interview to a television news channel on Thursday.
The BJP and the Congress engaged in a political slugfest over Dulat's Kandahar operation claims.
While the Congress sought Modi's apology over the "goof-up" by the then NDA government in the case, the Bharatiya Janata Party retorted that all decisions at that time were taken at the highest level.
He also said two of the three terrorists were in Jammu and Kashmir and then chief minister Farooq Abdullah was angry about letting them go.
Congress demands PM Modi's apology over Gujarat riots
The Congress has demanded an apology from Modi for the communal violence in 2002, which happened when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, after Dulat made some comments about the issue.
Dulat spoke about his last meeting with Vajpayee in which the BJP stalwart had said "humse se galti hui hai (we have made a mistake)" about the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Congress spokesperson Ajoy Kumar launched a scathing attack on Modi, saying "Dulat says that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee believed that he lost the 2004 elections in view of the Gujarat riots... Bharat Ratna Vajpayee has clearly condemned ... the shameful incidents of 2002."
'Vajpayee reneged on promise to make Farooq V-P'
Vajpayee in 2002 promised to make National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah the vice-president, but later reneged on his promise , a key member of his PMO has said.
Dulat revealed the offer was made at his residence on Vajpayee's behalf by principal secretary Brajesh Mishra.
Later, Farooq Abdullah told Dulat that both Vajpayee and deputy PM LK Advani confirmed the offer. The Kashmir leader, however, did not trust Delhi to carry out this promise.
Vajpayee then dropped the idea as his government felt Abdullah was "unreliable" and also because the package deal to make Krishan Kant the president did not happen.
With inputs from Agencies