By Sushant Sareen
In a recent TV interview to a Pakistani channel, the same Musharraf who was projected as a man who fought against terrorism and was a credible partner in peace has declared that he was “the greatest supporter of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)” adding that he knew that the LeT and its new avatar Jamatud Dawa (JuD) are fond of him. He disclosed that he had always been in favour of action in Kashmir…and pressuring the Indian Army in Kashmir, acknowledging that the LeT/JuD was the biggest force in Kashmir. In another interview some months back he had accepted that the jihadists like Osama bin Laden and Jaish-e-Mohammad were heroes of the Pakistani people.
The general is an irrelevant man today trying to regain a modicum of relevance with his love for the Lashkar/Jamat.
While Musharraf is an irrelevant man today, trying desperately to regain a modicum of relevance – deposed military dictators are like used toilet paper, never re-used – his love for the LeT/JuD and other jihadists is something that should serve as a wake-up call to any Indian leader who thinks he can do business with Pakistan.
A recent survey has revealed that a majority of Indians hanker for military rule. It is, however, India’s good fortune that despite the romance attached to living under the military jackboot, there is little chance of a man on horseback usurping power in India. But since the yearning for military rule cannot be fulfilled in India, Indians do the next best thing: fawn over Pakistani dictators and attribute qualities to them and sing hosannas to their style, bearing and frankness which even Pakistanis refrain from doing. Of course, all this is done without an iota of understanding of where the Generalissimo is coming from or what he represents. To the eternal shame of the Indian mainstream media and the so-called veteran editors (some of whom pretend to be Pakistan and Kashmir experts without knowing the difference between a mullah who is a politician and another who is a jihadi), their obsequiousness before the Pakistani military dictator, Gen Pervez Musharraf, at the Agra summit is something that is emblematic of the vacuity that underlines India’s understanding, approach and policy towards Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the vacuity over Pakistan in the Indian mind is not limited to only the pseudo-intellectual and faux liberal ecosystem, it also extends into the political and bureaucratic realm. The prime example of this is the political and diplomatic capital that was invested in the so-called ‘peace process’ and ‘back channel’ negotiations with the Musharraf regime to solve the issue of Kashmir. Any number of glowing accounts of those ‘halcyon’ days between 2004 and 2008 by journalists, politicians, and top security and foreign policy bureaucrats inform us of how close both countries were to ushering in stable, peaceful and normal relations between the two countries by finally settling the ‘mother of all issues’ – Kashmir. We are told that Musharraf was a partner in peace, that he had stopped the export of terrorism into India, that had his domestic political troubles not intervened, South Asia would have become a land of milk and honey, with people freely moving across borders etc. etc. Even after Musharraf was forced out of office, Indian media houses would fall over themselves to invite him for their ‘conclaves’ and ‘leadership summits’.
Well, it now appears that Musharraf made a ‘mamu’ of all our self-proclaimed ‘thought leaders’ and ‘discourse makers’. In a recent TV interview to a Pakistani channel, the same Musharraf who was projected as a man who fought against terrorism and was a credible partner in peace has declared that he was “the greatest supporter of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)” adding that he knew that the LeT and its new avatar Jamatud Dawa (JuD) are fond of him. He disclosed that he had always been in favour of action in Kashmir…and pressuring the Indian Army in Kashmir, acknowledging that the LeT/JuD was the biggest force in Kashmir. In another interview some months back he had accepted that the jihadists like Osama bin Laden and Jaish-e-Mohammad were heroes of the Pakistani people. Following his latest interview, Musharraf has expressed the hope that his party – All Pakistan Muslim League – can have an election tie-up with the JuD’s political party, Milli Muslim League.
After these disclosures, the tough questions to be asked are not from the Pakistanis – after all, if that is the nature of the beast, it is pointless to ask the beast about its nature – but from the Indians who rooted for Musharraf and placed their faith in this palpable fraud and despicable man who had not only been the architect of the Kargil war but had also feted notorious terrorists like Ilyas Kashmiri for beheading an Indian soldier. What is it after all about the Indian mind space that makes successive Indian leaders grasp Pakistan’s hand in friendship without realising that it is a booby-trap and there is inevitably a knife in the other hand that will be plunged into India at an opportune time? Why is it that even after 70 years of separation, Indians are so naïve that they simply cannot comprehend that just because the Pakistani general or even civilian they interact with is a whisky-swilling, womanising, mujra-watching, western suit wearing, English-speaking guy, he can still be a dyed-in-wool fanatic and Jihadist, or at the very least an India-hating, Hindu-hating loony. This is precisely the mistake that India made with Musharraf and which it makes with most other Pakistanis.
Looking back at the ‘golden period’ of the ‘back channel’ when it all looked hunky-dory between India and Pakistan – at least that was the impression given by the Manmohan Singh government – we now realise that there was something that didn’t quite gel with the public pronouncements of the Pakistanis and the actual ground realities. For one, the Pakistani rhetoric on Kashmir at international forums didn’t stop. For another, in these four years, there were around 17 major terror attacks in India which had the Pakistani finger prints all over them. Many of these attacks were carried out by the Indian Mujahideen that was linked to the LeT/JuD. Some attacks were directly attributed to the LeT/JuD. But somehow all these attacks were played down, perhaps because the pusillanimous government of Manmohan Singh thought it better to push ahead with the ‘peace process’ with Pakistan rather than worry about the security of Indian citizens.
As far as this fabled ‘peace process’ is concerned, the less said about it the better. It was a perfect case of India more or less conceding to Pakistan’s salami-slicing approach on Kashmir because no permanent solution was being negotiated. What was being negotiated was an interim solution, which the policy wonks and mandarins in the Indian establishment thought would eventually acquire a permanency. This is precisely the hare-brained approach of the Indian babudom and political class that has brought so much grief to India. For some strange reason, despite unrelenting betrayals and treachery from Pakistan, the Indian establishment seems to keep placing their faith on the bona fides of their Pakistani interlocutors. For instance, another feather of ignominy in Manmohan Singh’s turban is the trade concessions he allowed the European Union to give to Pakistan in 2010. This was supposed to be part of a deal that Pakistan would grant India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. In the process, the Indian government led by Manmohan Singh damaged the interests of Indian businesses by making them uncompetitive against their Pakistani counterparts in European markets. And all this in exchange for a post-dated cheque of MFN. Needless to say, the cheque bounced when the Pakistanis reneged on the deal after getting what they wanted.
Equally serious, however, is the fact that while the Indian public was being sold the lie that Pakistan had curtailed infiltration and had clamped down on the terror networks, in fact nothing of the sort happened. The drop in infiltration and export of jihadists was at best a tactical move. It wasn’t motivated by a change of heart on India but was, among other things, the outcome of a) enormous US pressure, b) a robust Indian security grid, including the fencing, c) fatigue in Kashmir with the relentless jihadist activity, 4) a change in strategy of Pakistan and its proxies to incite civic disturbances and create an impression of a civil insurrection. As is clear from Musharraf playing fan-boy to a terrorist like Hafiz Saeed and his terrorist network, the ban imposed on the LeT was a sham from day one. Quite aside the fact that the LeT ban was sidestepped by renaming the organisation JuD, the entire terror operation only went underground; it wasn’t grounded. The evidence of this is not only the attacks that have been routinely carried out in India by this organisation, but also by the fact that both during and after the Musharraf era, the LeT/JuD not only stayed in the business of jihad, but actually expanded its jihadi operations and even diversified its activities under Musharraf’s watch.
From jihad and dawah (proselytisation) to education, health, relief and rescue, and now politics, the LeT/JuD has steadily built a virtual empire which is perhaps rivalled only by the Pakistan army in terms of resources, influence and firepower. Popularity is, of course, another matter. Just as a former dictator, or even a general who might have delusions of being popular, receives his comeuppance at the hustings, so too in the case of most of high profile clerics. But the thing is that like the generals, the jihadis have a certain menace attached to them which generally leads to people exercising extreme caution before criticising them, forget about taking them on and exposing them. In the case of LeT, the oxygen of publicity has been restricted. Media houses are given instructions to play down their activities because of the damage this causes internationally to Pakistan’s already much sullied image.
While Musharraf is an irrelevant man today, trying desperately to regain a modicum of relevance – deposed military dictators are like used toilet paper, never re-used – his love for the LeT/JuD and other jihadists is something that should serve as a wake-up call to any Indian leader who thinks he can do business with Pakistan. Indians need to not only understand the low cunning they confront in their dealings with Pakistanis, but even more importantly, the fact that the Pakistanis see their conflict with India not as a dispute or contestation between two states; they see it as a civilisational conflict. Unless India can get this reality, India will keep making the mistakes it has made time and again over the last 70 years.