Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Musharraf's clever lies

Gen Pervez Musharraf was in New Delhi on 6-9 March for the India Today Conclave. During the event and in many interviews he spoke on several India-Pakistan issues. This is my take on his performance and perspective.

The uneven texture of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf’s visit to India last week tells us a lot about why it is, will be in the near term, difficult to deal with Pakistan. The English language has many ways of shading truth. You can be a plain liar, economical with the truth, or tell a half-truth. In politer language, you could mis-speak something, or offer your own perception about something or the other. Since he was a guest at the India Today Conclave last week, we will say that he offered us his “perceptions” on a range of issues.

A deeper examination of four of them—Siachen/Kargil, terrorism, R&AW/ ISI and Jammu & Kashmir—tell us how sharply they vary from the truth. To begin with the first: According to Musharraf, the Pakistani covert attack on Kargil, which torpedoed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s plans to make peace with India, was nothing but a payback for what India did in Siachen. At first sight it sounds plausible. The two areas are adjacent to each other.


But there is one vital difference which he conveniently left out. The positions that India occupied in Siachen did not violate any India-Pakistan agreement. The 72-odd kilometers between the last point on the Line of Control NJ9842, and the Indira Col had not been delineated; leave alone demarcated in either the 1949 or 1972 ceasefire agreements. In short, there existed a gap in the border between India and Pakistan with no clear dividing line between the respective areas of their control.

This was not the case in Kargil. Both in 1949, and in 1972, the ceasefire line and the Line of Control had been carefully identified and demarcated by Indian and Pakistani military surveyors together and marked on maps signed by them. There was no ambiguity about where Pakistani control ended and where the Indian began. Further, under the Simla Agreement 1972, Pakistan had given a solemn commitment not to alter this line by force. India’s occupation of Siachen represented a failure of the Pakistan army and in its efforts to erase that it undertook an operation that was a strategic disaster. And, we know who the author of that operation was. Pervez Musharraf.

In another remark in an interview, Musharraf referred to New Delhi’s demand for the extradition of people involved in terrorist acts in India by countering whether India was prepared to extradite Lt Col Srikant Purhoit for engineering the Samjhauta express blast that led to the loss of 76 Pakistani lives. For the record, as of now this is a matter of speculation, no link has really been established between the Purohit group and the incident.

The hidden subtext of Musharraf’s statement is a sly attempt to equate Pakistan-backed terrorism in India which has been involved in hundreds of incidents since the mid-1980s, with the activities of a Hindutva group which have come to light last year and all of whose activities are, too, within India. An invidious attempt is being made to somehow show how “equal” Hindus and Muslims are in supporting terrorism.

The difference between the Indian position and his is glaring. India wants the return of fugitives-- Indian and Pakistani-- who carried out terrorist acts on Indian soil, and are being sheltered in Pakistan, while Musharraf wants someone suspected of a terrorist act on Indian soil that killed Pakistani nationals. Customary international law in this is fairly clear, jurisdiction rests with the authority where the crime took place, not the nationality of the perpetrator, or the victims, leave alone his or her religion.

The third Musharraf red herring was to constantly equate India’s Research & Analysis Wing with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. There is no need to labour the point that the former is under civilian control and the latter under the military to understand that the general is once again talking about apples and oranges.


The R&AW as India’s external intelligence arm is involved in a lot of covert activity, but there is very little evidence to show that it has any covert “operations” capability—assassinating people, setting of bombs to kill non-combatants—leave alone the authority to do so. The bulk of its activity and budget is spent on what the western intelligence community calls “election support”—funding political parties and individuals in countries of interest, paying agents to obtain covert information and so on.

Had R&AW any ops capability, it would have been visible in Bangladesh or Nepal which offer a far easier operational environment for any Indian secret service and where we know several people inimical to this country operate from.

The ISI is another thing altogether. Its intervention in the domestic affairs of Pakistan have been established by Pakistani leaders themselves. Its finger prints on acts of terrorism in India going back to the mid-1980s and the Bombay blasts of 1992 are well established. More recently, its involvement in blast outside the Indian embassy in Kabul was testified to by the US. Mind you, I am not going into the activities of the outfit through proxies like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other jihadi groups. A great deal of this evidence comes from the work of Pakistani journalists Khaled Ahmed, Amir Mir and Mohammed Amir Rana. Its actions in Afghanistan are well known and documented in books such as Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars. In 2007, British Special Forces killed an ISI officer in a military compound in the Helmand province. The fact was kept secret till revealed by a well-known British journalist some months ago.


Lastly we have the mother of all equivalences: Musharraf’s attempt to show that Pakistan and India have equal rights in Kashmir. Nothing could be further from the truth. What constitutes India and Pakistan was decided by the Indian Independence Act of 1947 which had no direct provision for the accession of the princely states to either dominion. Lord Mountbatten as the Crown representative told the Chamber of Princes on July 25, 1947 that although they were legally independent, they had to accede to one of the two dominions keeping in mind the geographical contiguity of their states—not, mark you, religious affiliation.

Jammu & Kashmir is contiguous to both India and Pakistan. Indeed Indian leaders were reconciled to the state going to Pakistan. But the tribal invasion engineered by the Pakistan government forced the hand of Maharaja Hari Singh and the state acceded to India, an accession that was somewhat reluctantly accepted by Pandit Nehru.

That religion was not to be the basis of affiliation was confirmed by Pakistan itself when it accepted the accession of the Hindu-majority state of Junagadh in Gujarat. Ironically, till the eve of partition Mohammed Ali Jinnah insisted that the princely states had the unfettered right to do what they wanted, a stand opposed by Nehru who backed the Mountbatten formulation.

Generations have grown up in Pakistan believing that they have somehow been “cheated out” of Kashmir. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have been cheated by their leaders into believing that Kashmir somehow belonged to them. The issue that India is seeking to resolve with Pakistan does not relate to accession, which was final.

Perceptions are important in human affairs. But when they vary sharply, as they seem to do even in a clear-cut incident like the terrorist attack on Mumbai, then we have a problem. Northern Ireland is often held up as a model for the India-Pakistan peace process. But the key to that process was the common belief in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland that the Irish Republican Army in its various forms was a terrorist organization that deserved no succor or sanctuary.

We are clearly at some distance from that point in relation to Pakistan. General Musharraf’s half-truths tell us just how far.

This article appeared first in Mail Today March 13, 2009

No comments: