January 18, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Dr Ajai Sahni, Executive Director, Institute of Conflict Management

Ajai Sahni has been studying Pakistan closely and watching President Pervez Musharraf's moves since Kargil 1999. Dr Sahni is executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, New Delhi, which researches various issues connected with terrorism and brings out a quarterly called Faultlines, which publishes articles written by the best experts in the country on various issues of conflict in the world.

In a conversation with Ramesh Menon, Dr Sahni said Musharraf was acting under pressure from the West and there was nothing new in what he had said in his address to the nation, except that he had admitted that terrorism was alive in Pakistan, which had made some grave mistakes. Excerpts:

Whom do you think President Musharraf was addressing when he spoke on Pakistani television?

After a weeklong build-up, Musharraf finally delivered his dramatic and historic speech, ostensibly to the people of Pakistan. To give an element of credibility to this pretence, the speech was in Urdu, but its audience was very apparently the rest of the world, particularly America and other Western nations. The charade of sincerity was strengthened by an appearance in conservative civilian apparel, not the dictator-president-general's uniform that he often dons in his many combative addresses, where he habitually issues a number of gratuitous warnings to India regarding any possible 'military adventurism'.

Did you see a change in his position?

There was much 'live' interpretation on several news channels about Musharraf's 'body language', dress, choice of words and change of tone -- and subsequent reams of commentary in the print media.

But is there really a dramatic shift in Musharraf's position? There was no radical shift in his position at all. In fact, way back on June 5 last year, he had been even more harsh in his critique about fundamentalists when he was addressing ulemas (Islamic scholars). But despite what he said, his support for fundamental elements and jihadis continued. Musharraf continued with his practices. He continued to support terrorism and was actually doing the opposite of what he was saying.

That there is a shift is a fact that cannot be escaped. But it is far from a willing transformation or voluntary embracing of a new and enlightened perspective. It is, rather, the result of the comprehensive and cumulative collapse of Pakistan's policies -- in Afghanistan; in Kashmir; internally, in the exploitation and management of sectarian conflicts; and internationally, in the brinkmanship that helped generate worried Western financial relief in the past.

What would you say the speech uncovered?

Today, the entire cover of 'deniability' has been ripped off, and the world has become fully aware of Pakistan's culpability in the rising tide of violence that culminated in the outrage of September 11 in USA, but which was manifested over decades in bleeding wars in Kashmir and other parts of India, that directly produced the tyranny of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that created an international network of Islamist terrorists across the globe.

Was he acting under pressure?

It is only a series of coercive diplomatic initiatives that has eventually produced the succession of gradual and grudging concessions -- beginning with Pakistan's reluctant membership in the international coalition against terrorism -- that have now been articulated in a speech that Musharraf manifestly drafted under enormous US pressure.

Was not President Musharraf aware of what was happening within Pakistan all these years?

Any objective assessment of what Musharraf said cannot ignore the fact that the speech represents a complete falsification of recent history. It is also a falsification of the Pakistani State's -- and Musharraf's own -- role in Afghanistan and Kashmir, and in the rise and consolidation of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism across the world.

Was not the president of Pakistan making it seem that he was at the helm of a major war against terrorism...

The speech seeks to project an activist Pakistani State under Musharraf that has consistently sought to contain and neutralise Islamist extremist institutions and activities sourced in Pakistan.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What about his statements on Kashmir?

For all the politically correct platitudes that he may articulate, the inescapable fact is that the fundamental ideology -- and, consequently, character -- of the Pakistani State remains intact.

This was underlined by Musharraf's statement that "Kashmir runs in our blood". A shift in strategies may have been necessitated by events, but the objectives remain unchanged. Pakistan has long held that Kashmir is the core issue in its relations with India, and this position remains unchanged.

Is Kashmir the issue here? Or is it Pakistan's politics?

His position is misleading, if not incorrect.

The core issue is not Kashmir; it is Pakistan itself, and the ideology of hatred and exclusion -- the two-nation theory that claims that people of different faiths cannot live together. This is what lies at the root of the conflicts in South Asia.

This ideology is in irreducible opposition to the Indian pluralist, liberal, secular, constitutional democracy.

The conflict in Jammu & Kashmir is not about a piece of land or about the five million Muslims in that province. This is a pan-Islamist ideology that commits Pakistan not only to seek the secession of the Kashmiris, but of nearly 150 million Muslims in India.

The tension in the region can end only when this ideology itself is abandoned. When this happens, the wars of our time will appear absurd and irrational -- even as the Cold War between Russia and the US, or the tensions between the two Germanies, appear so unnecessary and wasteful after the ideology of Communism collapsed.

So, apart from President Musharraf's rhetoric, nothing has changed...

It must be abundantly clear that Pakistan's root ideology of religious exclusion and hatred has not been abandoned.

Indeed, this is something that cannot be abandoned on a military dictator's fiat -- voluntary or coerced -- but can be based only on radical transformations in the ways of life and thought that are accepted by large majorities of the people and of the politically influential classes.

Do you see something happening on the ground in Pakistan?

Given Pakistan's current circumstances, even the reluctant and coerced measures that have been initiated will severely circumscribe the sphere of Islamist extremist violence in the region. And also of Pakistan's proxy war against India. Economic, political and coercive diplomatic pressures as well as an international media spotlight will require at least apparent compliance on demands to control the madaris, the Islamist extremists, and visible subversive interventions by the ISI.

It is, however, necessary for this pressure to be sustained. On the issue of Islamist extremism and its covert war against India, Pakistan under Musharraf will continue to concede no more than is forced out of them -- and this, again, is evident on the general's assertion that "there is no question of handing over any Pakistani" accused of terrorism (in the present case, by India). The general claims that "this has never been done" -- but he apparently forgets, or conveniently glosses over, the manner in which Mir Aimal Kansi and Ramzi Ahmed Yusuf were handed over to USA.

What does it all mean for India?

India must, consequently, predicate policies and responses, not on the basis of what is said -- or on the theatrics of unsolicited 'handshakes' -- but on the objective circumstances and events on the ground, and on the realpolitik of shifting national, regional and international power relations.

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