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|May 22, 2002||
Pakistan's double game
Satish Chandra, secretary of India's National Security Council is a childhood friend of mine. While professionally brilliant, Satish has always been a low key, self-effacing person, given to understatement. He was my predecessor in Islamabad when Nawaz Sharif made the fatal mistake of appointing Parvez Musharraf as the army chief after forcing the unceremonious exit of the highly respected General Jehangir Karamat.
According to the report of the Kargil Committee, Satish assessed Musharraf in his report to our government in 1998 as being duplicitous and unreliable. He added that Musharraf is "an ambitious and scheming individual" and a "hardliner" on India. Prophetically, Satish predicted that it would not be surprising if Musharraf acted "either to install another civilian Government or to frontally take over from the [Nawaz Sharif] Government." Sadly, for reasons of professional integrity I am not in a position to state what my views on this subject were during my tenure in Islamabad!!
One of the fundamental requirements of national security is the ability to correctly assess a potential adversary. Interestingly, at the time of the Kargil conflict, the assessment of the Clinton White House about General Musharraf was not very different from ours. Writing about the American approach to the Kargil conflict, President Clinton's Special Assistant Bruce Riedel has noted that while Nawaz Sharif appeared keen to stick to the commitments made during the Lahore Summit, his Army Chief General Musharraf was cast in a "different mold". He describes Musharraf as a "hardliner" on Kashmir and a man who was "determined to humble India once and for all."
It was after all the very same General Musharraf who had proclaimed on April 12, 1999, just before the Kargil conflict heated up, that low intensity conflict with India would continue even if the Kashmir issue were resolved. The one mystery that still remains is why despite such clear assessments about the character of the president/ chief executive/ army chief of Pakistan, our government still chose to embrace him in Agra and subjected our armed forces to the humiliation and torture of presenting him a guard of honor last year.
As the terrain along Line of Control and the International Border heats up both because of the summer sun and the prevailing strategic environment, it is important that the people of India understand the ambitions, compulsions, prejudices and motivations of the military rulers across the border. The Bush Administration knows that while it cannot publicly acknowledge that Bruce Riedel was professionally accurate in his assessment of General Musharraf, it is dealing with a general very adept at what the Americans call "double dealing."
They will urge "restraint" and tell us that General Musharraf really wants to end cross-border terrorism and that he should be given more time to do so. But within their inner councils they surely know what the good general is all about. We will also have no dearth of simplistic pundits in our media who will aver that the attacks on the J&K Assembly, the Parliament and on innocent women and children in Kaluchak on May 14 were caused by irresponsible terrorists opposed to General Musharraf.
But when you ask these worthies how such terrorists acquired their weapons, communications equipment, maps, funds, local contacts and targeting information, there will be a hushed silence. After seeing the way the Pakistani media has responded to the farcical referendum of April 30, it would be no exaggeration to say that there are perhaps more apologists for General Musharraf in India than in Pakistan!!
New Delhi is slowly running out of diplomatic options to directly turn the screw on General Musharraf. Measures like expelling the high commissioner, further reduction of diplomatic staff and withdrawal of MFN status are not likely to impress the hard-boiled military establishment next door. No doubt for good reasons, the ministry of external affairs seems squeamish thus far, about using the potent leverage of the waters of the Indus and its tributaries to squeeze Pakistan.
Thus, further turns of the screw will necessarily have to be done with a military element. There is considerable loose talk in India about us emulating what is being done by Israel. One should never forget that despite the rapaciousness of its leadership, the Pakistan armed forces are professional and motivated organisations.
The balance of power on our borders is not exactly similar to that between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Thus, even as we pursue the present process of coercive diplomacy, we need to ensure that actions that we take are carefully thought out and internationally justifiable. We should ensure that apart from the United States and its NATO partners, Pakistan's friends like China and Saudi Arabia are persuaded to ask their friend to see reason. Both these countries did play a useful role in persuading Nawaz Sharif about the folly of Kargil. We should also not take the friendship and understanding of our traditional friends in Russia for granted.
America's war against terrorism is now shifting from Afghanistan to Pakistan. After considerable debate and discussion, the Pakistan army is now said to be hunting elements of the Al Qaeda and Taliban in Waziristan along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This is going to be something of a wild goose chase, as there is no dearth of Taliban and Al Qaeda supporters in the ISI and amongst elements that the United States so generously allowed to escape from Kunduz, who will ensure that their former comrades are protected.
Mullah Omar has recently publicly threatened attacks on the White House and other sensitive American targets. We are also seeing the emergence of new Jihadi outfits bearing weird and ominous names like the Lashkar-e-Omar, the Hezbullah Alam and the Lashkar-e-Jihad-ul-Islami. Virtually all these groups are united in their hatred for the Americans and their allies. The leaders and cadres of these groups have invariably had long-standing links with the ISI. There is no doubt that groups like the Lashkar-e-Jihad-ul-Islami that have fled from Afghanistan and regrouped in strength in POK will be used by the ISI in Jammu and Kashmir. But one hopes that the United States has learned from its past follies and recognised that Islamist terrorist groups inevitably have inter-linkages and multiple targets.
Pakistan is going through turbulent times. The attack on French technicians in Karachi is just one manifestation of how highly motivated jihadis are likely to cause havoc in that country. For over two decades now the Pakistan army establishment has misused the name of Islam for promoting its interests within Pakistan and across the world. The chickens are now coming home to roost.
There is no need for us to shed tears over General Musharraf's predicament of using jihadis to bleed us on the one hand, while assuring the Americans that he wants to build Pakistan into a "moderate Islamic State" on the other. Nor need we be too concerned that if Musharraf is replaced, a full-blown fundamentalist like General Aziz Khan will succeed him. Pakistan's Generals are too used to the comforts of life. Most of them have familial and other connections in the USA, UK and elsewhere. They will see reason in dealing with India and eschewing efforts to bleed us, only when they are compelled to realise that the cost of pursuing such policies far exceeds any possible benefit.
Speaking at a function on March 11 to remember and respect those who died on September 11, 2001 President Bush proclaimed: "There will be a day when the organized threat against America, our friends and allies is broken. When the terrorists are disrupted and scattered, many old conflicts will appear in a new light, without the fear and cycle of bitterness that terrorists spread with their violence. We will see then that old and serious disputes can be settled within the bounds of the world beyond the war on terror. With courage and dignity we are building that world together."
One sincerely hopes that persons like Secretary of State Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary Christina Rocca who never miss an opportunity to shower praises morning and evening on General Musharraf, will apprise the good general about this vision of the war against terrorism of their boss.
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