Kargil intruders were freedom fighters till United States told Nawaz Sharief to rein in the mischief-maker General Musharraf and forced him to withdraw the Pakistani regular army from Indian territory. Taliban were good muslims with whom Musharraf wanted to keep lines of communications open till United States told him to stop these daily briefings against US interests by the black-turbaned mullah on the Pakistani territory. Till a short time ago, in the publicly expressed opinion of Musharraf, Lahskar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad were charitable organizations working for Kashmiri refugees who had to take shelter in Pakistan to escape Indian atrocities. Then, a week later, directed by the United States, the same general froze the assets of these organizations acknowledging their activities as undesirable. Now, following the American decision, Pakistan has made arrests of the terrorists relating to these organizations.
In all these cases, the general refused to accept the bodies of his soldiers and citizens as this would have proved his country’s involvement on the side of the aggressor. During Kargil intrusion, after the debacle of the renegade regime of Taliban and after the failed attack on the Parliament of the largest democracy in the world, the bodies of Pakistani citizens and soldiers suffered the disgrace of being refused a decent burial by the government of their own country even though the effort at hiding the involvement of Pakistan was rendered futile in all these cases by the subsequent events. The indifference shown to the mortal remains of their own people did not bring any gains to the dictator or his country.
Yet, once again, the general is asking for concrete proof. He is on record having asked for it for his soldiers’ involvement in Kargil and in Afghanistan. He has done it again for the 13th December terrorists. The proof lies within his own country. He seems to be tempting India to come and get it.
But does anyone need a proof even after Jaish-e-Mohammad has issued a statement that they will hit targets in India? Do we need to give proof that Maulana Massod Azhar is a terrorist even after his release was secured through hijacking a plane and killing an innocent passenger? Do we need more proof after BBC aired on 29th December 2001 shots of heavily armed Pakistani and Afghan terrorists on Indian Territory? But in the lawless territory called Pakistan, carrying weapons and collecting money in the name of so-called Jehads is a profitable pastime of every pseudo-religious leader. It is equally the faith of every political leader in that unfortunate country that one can rule only with the support of these unscrupulous Maulanas. So, while he ignores these glaring proofs and asks for ‘concrete’ proof, it is beyond the general’s might or will to bell these cats. Therefore, much need not be read in the utterances of the general against these terrorist groups and in his lament that intolerance not only against other religions but also against other sects of Islam is giving a bad name to his country.
Which brings us to an important question once we know him as the perennially lying general who does a volte-face in the name of God almighty every time he opens his mouth and who has no control over those whom he professes to control. These qualifications are in addition to the bigger gems in his resume of being a usurper who overthrew an elected government, who stops and restarts wearing army uniform every week, and who uses pedestrian rhetoric to appease his deprived countrymen so that he can continue to wield undemocratic power.
The question that we and members of the international coalition against terrorism have to ask ourselves is whether such a ruler should be given a decisive role in this war against terrorism. The question is not merely legal. If it was, the answer would be simple. The UN resolution against countries which support terrorism would have dictated the grant of a pariah status to the general-led government of Pakistan. There was no reason to draw a distinction between the Taliban and the general’s henchmen except that the Taliban were led by these henchmen.
But politics among nations are not carried on the basis of legalities. In this arena, legitimacy is conferred more with reference to the interests of the powerful than with reference to any putative conscience of a judge or of a moral preacher. All roads of international morality emanate from power and lead the traveler back to the destination of power. Therefore, the question raised here has to be answered with reference to the realpolitik. Does trusting this man to fight against terrorism serve the interests of United States?
Let us first see what is in it for Musharraf. He is in the same situation in which the Saudi Royal family found itself in August this year. Having agreed to let American troops use their soil, the Royals gave handle to bin Laden to the extent that there was a move to excommunicate the Royals from Islam. The only way they could survive the attack by the wily Laden was to see that the US troops continued in Saudi Arabia. These troops had precipitated the problems for the Royals, these troops now became their biggest insurance against attempts to overthrow them.
This scenario repeated itself in Pakistan. Musharraf, in spite of his initial public denials to the contrary, agreed to the use of Pakistan’s soil by American troops thinking it would give him leverage against India. Once the Americans were let in, efforts of the jehadi groups intensified to get rid of Musharraf. The men in fatigues from across the Atlantic became Musharraf’s biggest insurance against a coup. He is not going to let them go in a hurry. His very survival depends on their reassuring presence.
So we know what is in it for the general. Yet, should the coalition trust him? The answer seems to be yes, in the short term. As long as the Americans are there, the jehadis would be baying for the blood of the General. He would depend on the presence of the Americans for keeping them at bay. He would be expected to subserve American interests in return. In the present context, subduing the terrorist groups is the single most important American interest waiting to be served. The general can ignore this reality only at his own peril. His survival instinct shall force him to visibly and convincingly adopt an anti-terrorist stance in so far as that terrorism adversely affects US interests.
The presence of American troops in Pakistan has an interesting and unintended beneficial side-effect for Musharraf in the post 13th December scene. But for the presence of these troops, in all probability, large-scale hostilities would have broken out between India and Pakistan by now. These two neighbors have deployed their guns and scrambled their fighters and bombers for lesser reasons in the past. The fact that in spite of enormity of what was attempted by Pakistani terrorists at Parliament, the two countries have limited themselves to minor skirmishes and the display of hot air has more to do with the presence of American troops than with recently acquired restraint or pacifism.
It has been recognized that in the event of full-scale hostilities between India and Pakistan, President Bush will have to make a hard choice. He will have to either withdraw, immediately and in the utmost hurry, all these troops from Pakistan. In the alternative, he will have to accept the possibility of casualties among his troops. The wars between India and Pakistan have been brutal and based on mutual hatred between the two armies collateral damage is an inescapable outcome in such a situation. Such collateral damage can involve harm to US troops particularly when the Americans are located at air bases and other defense-related installations. There is no way President Bush can let these two countries fight a full-scale war while ensuring that the camps of his troops in Pakistan are declared out-of-bounds for Indian planes, missiles and artillery. And there is no way he can make an exit from Pakistani scene without causing the downfall of Musharraf which will, in all probability, bring a more virulently pro-jehad personality to power.
Thus it is that Musharraf will keep lying and then back-tracking, that US will keep working with him and will keep its troops in Pakistan for a long time to come, that India and Pakistan will keep shouting at each other and will shell each other’s border areas which mercifully are far-off from the places where Americans are based. Thus it is that divided Kashmir shall, like divided Berlin, lead to a protracted tension between India and Pakistan, the termination of which will depend on whether Pakistan is ever ruled by a person who does not need an external force to protect himself from his people. For the people of the sub-continent and for the US troops in Pakistan, it is going to be a long wait.