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Pak launched proxy war in 1989: Benazir Bhutto

Pakistan took a decision to launch proxy war against India in 1989, Benazir admitted at the HT Initiative.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2003 14:03 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent

Former Pakistan Premier Benazir Bhutto on Saturday publicly acknowledged that Islamabad took a conscious decision to launch a low-intensity proxy war against India in the late 1980s to draw the world's attention to Kashmir.

Bhutto’s admission of Pakistan's direct involvement in terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir came at the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative conference here.

"A joint politico-military decision was taken (by Pakistan) in 1989. The view was that low-intensity operations will help focus attention on Kashmir," she said during a question-answer session after her keynote address.

The acknowledgement confirms what has been generally known but never admitted by Islamabad. Pakistan has always denied involvement in J&K insurgency, arguing that it is an indigenous struggle.

Bhutto said during her two stints as PM, the violence engineered in Kashmir was "limited", suggesting that insurgency was a controlled and carefully calibrated affair restricted to the "disputed area".

"The violence was limited in its intensity. It was also limited to the Kashmir Valley. There were few attacks on women and children. The targets were mainly military," she said, repeating that "there were no attacks outside the Valley".

"But with the change of leadership in Pakistan, the intensity of violence in Kashmir increased. It spread outside the Valley. Mumbai blasts, the attack on Indian Parliament occurred during my stint in the Opposition," she said. Spreading the proxy war outside the "disputed area" was not on the original agenda, she claimed.

Bhutto said her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) reviewed the approach to Pakistan's relations with India after the 1998 nuclear tests and the attack on Parliament in 2001.

The PPP now feels a militant attack could spark off a war and, worse, a nuclear exchange. Bhutto said it was her determination to make a contribution to avoid a nuclear nightmare that made up her mind to participate in the HT conference.

"We've decided to go back to the Simla Agreement and follow (former foreign secretary) JN Dixit's Cyprus proposal that the territorial dispute over Kashmir be treated as a separate agenda and not allowed to impede Indo-Pak relations," she said.

"The new policy is based on new reality. Terrorism is a threat that could define international relations just like communism did for half a century. This should not be allowed to happen," she said, explaining the turnaround.

However, Bhutto did not favour the ideas of shared sovereignty for J&K and the LoC as border. "The LoC is an emotive word. We need to avoid issues which are emotive. Since the dispute is over territory, we should tackle it separately and see how we can reduce violence and unite the people of Kashmir socially and economically and let them travel freely without going into the question of territory," she said.

Asked whether there could be lasting peace till the military called the shots, she said the gap between Pakistan's military and political establishments on foreign policy was narrowing.

Bhutto was circumspect about the idea of open borders and a common currency espoused by Prime Minister AB Vajpayee on Friday. Instead, she suggested a step-by-step approach to emulate the EU model, warning against haste in tackling a problem that has festered for over 50 years.

Nostalgic Benazir yearns for home

In her address at the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative conference, Benazir Bhutto largely refrained from washing the dirty linen of Pakistani politics. But the pain of being banished from her own country showed.

Lauding the HT initiative, she hoped that a Pakistani newspaper would organise a similar conference, which she hoped she'd be able to attend.

Infusing an element of emotion, Bhutto said: "For now, I'm in exile. I'm banned from my country. I am banned from contesting for premiership of my country... banned from seeing my husband who is in the eighth year of his imprisonment, banned from entering my ancestral homes, banned from praying at the graves of my martyred father and brothers."

First Published: Dec 14, 2003 00:00 IST