June 13, 2002


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Hamid Mir

India, Pakistan should lose a little to gain something

Post-September 11, the Indian government has tried its best to exploit the situation and use the opportunity to curb militancy in Kashmir. The government thought that if it increased the deployment of troops on the border, Pakistan would come under pressure and eventually stop supporting the Kashmiri freedom fighters.

Support to militancy, along with the attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, and the Kaluchak army camp on May 14 in Jammu, contributed to the rising tension.

Also, one must not forget that the ruling party in India is under tremendous pressure from the opposition owing to the events in Gujarat and their defeat in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election. I think it was a golden opportunity for the BJP to increase pressure on Pakistan, increase troop deployment and prove to the voters that the party leadership was capable of handling national security.

Similarly, Pervez Musharraf was under strenuous domestic pressure and tried to exploit the situation -- like the BJP -- to gain political mileage. There were many complaints about the referendum, and he himself admitted it in his speech of May 27.

The West, particularly America, is insistent that Musharraf crush the jihadi movement. How can he do that? If he tries to do that, the people of Pakistan will ask: "Why then did you throw Nawaz Sharief out?"

Sharief was ousted because he invited Vajpayee to Lahore. He initiated the peace process with India, he played defensive with India. Now, how can Musharraf do the same thing?

India and Pakistan's domestic compulsions have contributed to the tension at the border. In fact, till recently, the Pakistani people, government and government-controlled media were not worried about war. PTV was repeating that there was no threat of war. The people in Pakistan believed the Indian government was playing a pressure tactic by deploying its army. We considered this exercise a part of India's political game plan.

Till the second week of May, Musharraf believed that since US troops were in Pakistan, India would never think of attacking Pakistan. But after the attack in Jammu on May 14, the murder of Abdul Ghani Lone and heavy firing across the international border, the Pakistani government for the first time believed that the Indian government was serious.

It then started informing its people that there was a threat of war. Till then Pakistan was distanced from war phobia, but when the Karachi stock market crashed and US President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell said the situation was tense, the people of Pakistan took the threat seriously.

As a result, Musharraf, who had lost substantial credibility and was isolated after the referendum, started gaining some lost ground. Indian leaders like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Home minister L K Advani's statements against Musharraf helped him immensely within Pakistan.

Slowly the public realised that Musharraf may not be a good politician or a statesman, but since the country faced a threat of war, they should support a military ruler. Many intellectuals and writers who had opposed him asked their readers to support Musharraf in view of the threat of war.

Musharraf is a beneficiary of a war-like situation like Vajpayee, but I feel the people of both countries will suffer. A few days back, President Musharraf had invited 20 selected media men. In that meeting he asked us whether there would be a war. A majority of us told him war seemed imminent.

He then asked us whether Pakistan should support the freedom struggle of the Kashmiris. Of 20 leading editors and columnists, three said Pakistan first and Kashmir second. But the chief editor of The Nation, Majid Nizami, said in a straightforward manner: "If you think of withdrawing support to the Kashmiris, you will be thrown out of your chair." He insisted that Pakistan should think before any decision was taken.

Musharraf has his limitations. If he withdraws support to the Kashmiri freedom fighters, there will be an armed struggle to oust him -- in Punjab, the frontier provinces, and Azad Kashmir. Vajpayee and Musharraf can't back out because of domestic compulsions.

How can you forget that since the last 12 years the Pakistan Army has been nurtured on the Kashmir issue? Kashmir has been ingrained in the minds of the people and the army so well that now it's too difficult to get Kashmir out of our mind.

Indian critics always forget that jihadis are not the creation of Musharraf. They were raised, trained, financed and armed by America in Pakistan. Once the battle for Afghanistan was won and the Soviets were defeated, the CIA went away without destroying the infrastructure they had created. Now that energy has been diverted to Kashmir.

Due to a few mistakes of the Indian establishment, a few Kashmiris teamed up with Pakistani jihadis. Now America wants them to stop fighting for Kashmir. How can America ask the same jihadis to lay down arms who the CIA trained to fire AK-47s and lay mines? And now when Musharraf is trying to talk to the jihadis to shun violence and adopt a peaceful process to solve the Kashmir issue, jihadis are asking Musharraf why did he not talk of peace when Afghanistan was attacked.

Now jihadis are threatening President Musharraf -- "If you arrest us while crossing the border or try to put us in jail or put restrictions on us, we will create problems for you. Better leave us alone and create problems for India."

We believe the main culprit is America. Americans should own up to the responsibility of creating this monster.

After the January 12 speech, Musharraf cracked down heavily on jihadis. But after the Gujarat riots there was a heated debate within the establishment. Pro-jihadis in Pakistan argued that if Muslims could be hit so severely in Gujarat, then Kashmiri Muslims would not be spared. And later, the missile test by India changed Musharraf's perception. The anti-Musharraf lobby mounted pressure on him to release the jihadis.

The Pakistan government remained silent on the issue of Gujarat for many weeks. Musharraf was criticised for it. The anti-Musharraf lobby made wild allegations about Gujarat. Musharraf is a military man and not a politician. He doesn't know how to handle allegations. He succumbed and released the jihadis.

If Vajpayee agrees to withdraw a few thousand troops from the border Musharraf will regain strength to crack down on militants and stop cross-border terrorism. At least Musharraf can then also show that India is giving away something and his action is not one-sided.

Both countries should mutually agree to provide some benefit to each other. If Vajpayee is not ready to withdraw a few thousand soldiers, I don't see any option but war. Pakistan is ready to allow the monitoring of its border after 15 days, once India decides on the withdrawal of troops.

In these circumstances, most editors agreed that Pakistan should talk to India. The president asked for a possible solution, and most of us said: "Somehow create a space, an opportunity, so that some give and take from both sides becomes possible."

We believe India should lose a little to gain something, and so should Pakistan. President Musharraf claimed that Vajpayee was not ready for it.

Musharrafsaab repeated that in Agra too an agreement was ready and Jaswant Singh was ready to sign, but Mr Advani sabotaged it. He told us that Agra couldn't be repeated. He also told us that if he showed some flexibility at this crucial point, Mr Vajpayee would construe it as his weakness.

In our meeting he never said India, he used the word 'enemy'. His utterances made us think he himself was prepared for war.

The role of the West has been quite negative towards Pakistan. Instead of offering logic, it's imposing its logic on Pakistan over the issue of Kashmir. We believe they impose their logic on India too. I strongly believe the Indian and Pakistani media and intelligentsia should play a positive role. The West should not come in our way. America, Russia, Japan or Britain can't mediate between us.

Let a joint delegation of Indian and Pakistani intellectuals and editors meet Musharraf and Vajpayee. Only we, the people of Pakistan and India, can solve our problem. No other country can. I feel Western countries are pushing us towards war. America has military bases not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan. America is unhappy over the handing over of Gwader port to China. That is the reason Americans are putting pressure on Pakistan; it's not because of India's request.

I don't think we will have a nuclear war. Pakistan will use conventional weapons. Our policy makers are of the view that India will face a situation in Kashmir like we faced in Bangladesh in 1971.

Nawaz Sharief and Benazir Bhutto are lucky they were out of power when 9/11 happened. Otherwise they would have faced a lot of problems from the army. Now Pakistan's army is trying to get the support of both leaders against India.

Last week, US officials in Islamabad sent an independent report on the situation at the border to Washington. According to sources in Islamabad, US officials haven't found any evidence of infiltration on the LoC in the few days.

Richard Armitage has told Pakistan that if it can stop infiltration into Kashmir, America can help restore relations between the two countries. The Americans are asking Pakistan to keep the peace at the borders and let Kashmir go through elections.

Pakistan has told Armitage that it refuses to take the responsibility for violence during the election in Kashmir. Pakistan has demanded international observers for the poll.

On the other side, importantly, with the help of a few Kashmiris who are settled in the US, the state department is directly talking to the Hizbul Mujahideen. Americans are trying to sell them the idea that if the Hizb stops the use of guns, they will eventually get included in the peace talks between India and Pakistan, which are expected to start after the Kashmir election.

Hamid Mir, Osama bin Laden's biographer, is an editor for the soon-to-be-launched GEO Television Network -- Pakistan's first 24 hour Urdu news channel. He spoke to Sheela Bhatt.

Terrorism Strikes in Jammu: The complete coverage

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