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Let's be clear about what we're up against

Every time we suggest that Pakistan is offering safe haven to terrorists or sending militants across the border to India, its leaders react with anger and outrage. This is a lie, they insist. Vir Sanghvi writes.

columns Updated: Oct 10, 2010 01:51 IST
Vir Sanghvi
Vir Sanghvi
Hindustan Times

Every time we suggest that Pakistan is offering safe haven to terrorists or sending militants across the border to India, its leaders react with anger and outrage. This is a lie, they insist. These terrorists have caused havoc within Pakistan itself. Pakistan is, in fact, a victim of terrorism.

Then, these Pakistani leaders lose office and travel the world, talking about their achievements. Suddenly, they begin to sing a very different song.

Take Nawaz Sharif. The official Pakistani position is that Kargil was a Mujahideen operation that only involved the Pakistani Army when Indian forces crossed the line of control. Except that Nawaz Sharif, who was prime minister at the time, has now told us that the entire operation was planned and executed by the Pakistani army from start to finish. As chief of staff, General Pervez Musharraf called the shots, working in collaboration with the so-called mujahideen and keeping the prime minister out of the picture.

This may well be true. But it sure as hell wasn't the Pakistani position at the time. In those days, we were told that brave Kashmiri mujahideen ‘freedom fighters' waged a lonely battle against the might of the Indian Army.

Or take the case of Benazir Bhutto. When she came to India, she told interviewers (including myself) that militants were trained and armed by the Pakistan army and the ISI. Further, she said, retired generals formed a parallel establishment and ran private armies. Often, it was these generals, working in concert with the ISI, who sent across the militants.

And now, we have the example of Musharraf himself. The general has now entered politics and guess what he is claiming as one of his achievements? That, under his leadership, Pakistan sent militants to India. Encouraged by the response from his cheering supporters, the general repeated his remarks to the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

When those remarks set off the predictable global uproar, Musharraf back-pedalled slightly. Speaking to HT's Dipankar De Sarkar a few days ago, Musharraf said that Der Spiegel had accurately quoted him but had nevertheless managed to convey the wrong impression. "They have not distorted, but they have extracted the wrong meaning of it," he declared, perhaps mindful of the fact that an electronic recording of his remarks probably exists.

So, what was the right meaning?

Pakistan did offer safe haven to terrorists but that this was done by Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.

So, there you have it: three Pakistani leaders all blame each other. But regardless of who was actually responsible, what nobody is disputing is this: Pakistan offers a home to terrorist groups that launch attacks on India.

So much for what these guys say when they are in office. Yes, of course, Pakistan is now a victim of terror. But the terror emanates from the very beast that Pakistan so lovingly raised and nurtured.

Some of us argue that even if Pakistan's leaders have lied about their country's support to terrorism in the past, the situation has now changed so dramatically that Pakistan has no alternative but to crack down on militants.

Well, yes and no.

This argument was first served up by the Americans in the aftermath of 9/11. It was true, Washington said, that the Taliban was created by the ISI and that Pakistan had close links with militants. But once George Bush had delivered his threats, the Pakistanis had abandoned their old allies and joined the global war on terror.

In fact, as the experience of the last decade demonstrates, Pakistan's support for Washington's crusade has been half-hearted at best and frequently, it has been downright duplicitous. The CIA now concedes that the ISI has maintained its links with militant organisations. Most of the terror plots directed at the West emerged from Pakistan. And last week, Europe and America were on high alert after Europeans of Pakistani origin were arrested. These were people who had gone to terrorist training camps and had been tutored in the execution of Bombay-style attacks on the West.

The obvious question: if the West is willing to accept that terrorists are produced in Pakistani training camps and that these terrorists then plan attacks on Europe and America, then how can anyone dispute that terrorists produced at such Pakistani camps also target India?

Worse still, from our point of view, is that the West has moderated its stance towards Pakistan. The current thinking is that Pakistani public

opinion is so hostile to any cooperation with the war against terror, that Pakistani regimes (and the ISI) must be given considerable leeway and not expected to necessarily crack down on all terrorists. Otherwise, goes the argument, there will be an Islamic revolution in Pakistan and al-Qaeda will take over.

What this means, in real terms, is that the West has bought Pakistan's line that it is best to do a deal with the ISI's old protégés, the Taliban and the Haqqani network, and to then get the hell out of Afghanistan. As long as Pakistan keeps the CIA and Western agencies informed of attacks against America and Europe, Washington will let Islamabad do what it wants.

As for the argument that because of the rising tide of attacks within Pakistan, the government will have to crack down on all terrorist groups, this is an over-simplification. Pakistanis make a distinction between the terrorists who explode bombs in Karachi and those who attack India in the name of Kashmiri liberation.

In his autobiography, A Journey, Tony Blair writes about a conversation with Musharraf. "Surely," Blair told him, "economic development is the key challenge for Pakistan?"

"Of course," Musharraf replied, "But the reality is today's Pakistani politics is about nuclear weapons and Kashmir."

Indians underestimate the hold of Kashmir on the Pakistani psyche at their own peril. No matter what the reality is, Pakistanis see Kashmir as a part of Pakistan that has been illegally occupied by the Indian Army which murders and rapes the local population for its pleasure. Because the Indian role in Kashmir is caricatured in such terms, it becomes morally acceptable to launch violent attacks against those who operate a reign of terror against the suffering Kashmiri people.

That's why Pakistani politicians brag about their support for Kashmiri militant groups. And that's why it will always remain politically and morally valid to launch terrorist attacks in Kashmir. We laugh when Pakistanis call Kashmiri militants ‘freedom fighters'. But here's the frightening thing: they really believe it.

All this should make us apprehensive about the future. Pakistan's leaders all admit their country nurtures Kashmiri terrorism. The Americans admit that there are terrorist training camps in Pakistan. The West is giving Pakistan considerable leeway in its dealings with jihadi groups in an effort to placate Pakistani public opinion. And attacks against ‘the oppressors of the Kashmiri people' have a moral legitimacy within Pakistan.

So yes, let's try and make peace with Pakistan. Let's even break bread with Musharraf. But let's be under no illusions about what we are up against.

The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Oct 09, 2010 23:08 IST