March 2003 News

Vajpayee Keen To Resolve Kashmir Issue

1 March 2003
The Daily Excelsior
M L Kotru

Jammu: On two occasions in the early Vajpayee years as Prime Minister I had ventured opinion that he would be keen to resolve the Kashmir issue during his premiership, if only to be remembered as the man who united the knot that had defied all his predecessors, beginning with Nehru. The first time I said it was when he took that unprecedented bus journey to Lahore to be met there by his then Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. The birth of Lahore declaration and the symbolic gesture by Vajpayee of paying of paying homage at the Minar-e-Pakistan convinced me at the time that he was on course. All that was undone by Sharif's handpicked Army Chief, Gen Musharraf who drove his Prime Minister out of office and into exile. Disheartened he may have been by the development but Vajpayee sought to pursue his objective by inviting the military dictator Musharraf for talks to Agra. Agra failed to achieve anything except for a media coup of sorts by Musharraf when he harangued a captive breakfast audience, comprising top Indian media personalities, about his own qualities of head and heart and making so much nonsense of Vajpayee's initiative. Much water has flowed down the rivers of India and Pakistan in the intervening, years. Musharraf for one thing has installed himself as the farcically elected President of Pakistan; he has even given himself an 'elected' Prime Minister who in the end seems to be no more than a pawn in Musharraf's struggle for survival. Vajpayee for his part appears to have fallen a victim to the compulsions of politics as practised by the Sangh Parivar which continues to see Pakistan-bashing as a subtler way of keeping the communal jinni alive. The more you bash Pakistan, the more suspect does who Indian Muslim become. Or so the parivar believes. And the Vajpayee Government in the circumstances does not seem to be particularly keen to make any more to engage the recalcitrant Pakistani General in a meaningful dialogue. The General for the moment is even less interested in reviving the process. So you end up in a situation wherein leaders both countries would prefer to maintain the status quo. Vajpayee, because it helps his Bharatiya Janata Party to improve its poll prospects in the State elections to be completed within a year, followed by General elections some months later. Ayodhya and Pakistan make a healthy potion to keep the BJP and the parivar happy. For the General it is unthinkable to talk peace with India given the situation he has landed himself in. He is surrounded by Jehadis of all hues, a problem - if he consider it one - he created for himself. When I say Jehadis I am not talking just of the militant outfits but also of the hardcore Islamic right which, thanks to Musharraf, has come to enjoy a most respectable place in Pakistani polity. Two provinces, NWFP and Balochistan, are directly under the rule of mullahs and the Punjabis and the Sindhis too are beginning to lose faith in his capacity to lead. Musharraf has now come to be seen as more of an American stooge than a Pakistani. And the tragedy of being. Musharraf is that even the Americans do not trust him fully, never mind the encomiums Bush and Colin Powell routinely lavish on him. His role in crushing the Taliban and Al Qaeda is of particular concern to the US. A matter of greater concern is Musharraf's inability to persuade the tribals in the NWFP and Balochistan not to harbour the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Americans are particularly biter that Musharraf had tricked them into allowing many Inter-service Intelligence agents it had captured in Afghanistan to return to Pakistan. These agents, the US has come to learn, had taken with them thousands of Al-Qaeda terrorists who later spread into Pakistan and Kashmir. After surrounding the 'cream of the crop' of ISI operatives and Al Qaeda in Kunduz during the early phase of the campaign in Afghanistan, the US was persuaded by the General to allow the ISI to escape and, while making good their escape the ISI men helped the Taliban and Al Qaeda men as well to cross over into Pakistan. Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter, has revealed in the US Public Broadcasting System network that the 'US is playing a losing game because Gen. Musharraf is certainly much more interested in his own survival than ours'. According to him the US allowed 3,000 to 4,000, perhaps 8,000, ISI and Al Qaeda men to get away who escaped and are now in Pakistan and in Jammu and Kashmir. According to him the US also knew that Musharraf was deceiving the, when he said that Daniel Pearl the Wall Street Journal correspondent, was alive though he knew that the Journalist was killed by terrorists. The US allowed the trapped ISI men in Afghanistan to escape because 'we believe Mr Musharraf was under pressure to protect the intelligence people from the military. If we suddenly seized in the field a few dozen military soldiers, including Generals, and put them in jail, and punished them he would be under tremendous pressure from the fundamentalists at home', Hersh says. Gen. Musharraf may have asked the US to protect him and 'get may people out'. That initial plan, Hersh says, was to take out the Pakistani military from the trap in Afghanistan. 'What happened is that they took out the Al Qaeda and Taliban with them. And we had no way of stopping it. We lost control. Once their planes began to go, thousands of Al Qaeda got out. And we were not able to stop it and screen it', Hersh said last week. The intent was not to let Al Qaeda out, says Hersh, but to protect the Pakistan military. 'What else can you do? We need the idea of some sort of a country as a bulwark.' 'The reality in Afghanistan today is that probably from Kandhar to Jalalabad and all of the southern part of Afghanistan is .... ISI it is Taliban .... Afghanistan is smoking today,' said Hersh. Interestingly he notes that there are very few US troops in northern Afghan terrories today. 'We are really at a square one even in Afghanistan. We have about 8,000 American troops.... facing some of the heaviest fighting they have seen in year. The Saudis are still a supplier of great deal of funds to Pakistan. We have got to a country that is teetering on the edge - we don't want Pakistan not be Islamic. We don't want nuclear weapons to go out of control', Hersh concludes. And this last hit is even more revealing for the US desperation to keep Musharraf in good humour. As it is according to a report which a leading British paper passed on to the country's military intelligence - it chose not to publish it although it eventually got printed in a European paper - five suit cases bombs were reportedly in circulation in the west. The authenticity of the report is to be judged against the backdrop of the extraordinary security operations launched in London last week which saw Security personnel checks anything - yes, anything go wheels - that moved. This extensive quote from the Hersh report above should bring home to the average Indian reader the precariousness of Gen. Musharraf's regime. If Vajpayee must keep off any positive Kashmir initiative to preserve the Hindu vote bank in the upcoming elections, Musharraf must keep the Kashmir pot boiling and refuse to stop the Jihadis from getting embroiled in terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir to keep the Jihadis happy. A former General who was also the first head of the ISI has described Musharraf as an American rather than a Pakistani General. The fundamentalists too have been gunning for him for what was initially seen as a softening of his stance which had barred US troops from engaging in hot pursuit of Afghan rebels into bordering tribal areas of Pakistan. Currently, the tribals are seething with anger over the bombing by US aircraft of a village on the Pakistani side. I hope it is only a coincidence that the Pakistani Air Chief's aircraft, killing two Air Vice Marshals, apart from the Air Chief, his wife and other senior officers, should have crashed in the tribal area. Equally puzzling is the helicopter crash which killed an Afghanistan Minister flying over Balochistan. The machine finally crashed into the nearby Arabian Sea. I am mentioning these two accidents in the context of the unexplained air crash that killed the former military leader Gen. Ziaul Haq, a decade and a half ago.


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