Anti-jehad voices

Print edition : January 05, 2002

BARRING the 1971 war, which led to the birth of Bangladesh, and the September 11 attacks in the United States, which forced Pakistan to abandon the Taliban militia, no other event has triggered such a passionate debate in Pakistan as the December 13 attack on Parliament House in New Delhi.

The debate, involving some of the leading lights of Pakistani society, has posed some fundamental questions about the foreign and defence policies pursued by successive governments in Islamabad. The Indian government's verbal demarche to Pakistan High Commissioner Ashraf Jehangir Qazi pales into insignificance when compared to some of the issues raised by Pakistani opinion-makers and columnists. While they have not endorsed India's allegations about the involvement of the two Pakistan-based militant outfits, backed by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in the attacks, they have exhaustively documented and commented on the follies of the establishment in aiding and abetting the jehadi outfits in the pursuit of foreign policy.

Such is the intensity of the criticism of the government in encouraging the jehadi culture, particularly in the last two decades, that New Delhi may not need any proof to substantiate its point. The depth of feelings expressed by some of the columnists should be a matter of great satisfaction to the civil society in India that there is no dearth of sane voices across the border.

How influential are these voices in a society dominated by the military establishment? The debate on the futility of jehad as an instrument of foreign policy existed even before September 11 and December 13, and those who mattered hardly paid any attention. However, things have changed since September 11 and Islamabad has little option but to take a hard look at its old ways.

Some of the comments by columnists in the English media, though read by a minuscule minority, are worth noting. They perhaps assure people in India that the rhetoric on Pakistan Television (PTV) does not necessarily represent the only view that is prevalent in Pakistani society.

In a brilliantly argued write-up in Dawn, Ayaz Amir, a former member of the National Assembly and a distinguished columnist, seeks to challenge the notion that the threats from the Indian side have put the "national honour of Pakistan on the line". He says it is this attitude that took Pakistan into the wars of 1965 and 1971.

"Patriotism is fine but any false notion of it should be no excuse for pulling down the shutters and refusing to think. What is the nature of the present heightened state of tension with India? We are faced with no Indian diktat regarding any aspect of national sovereignty. India, considering the circumstances propitious, is putting pressure on us to close down the jehadi outfits which have been waging war (or whatever) in Occupied Kashmir," he writes.

Amir says that for seven years, when the Kashmir insurgency has been dominated by outsiders, Pakistan could sustain this policy and get away with it. He argues that after September 11, and after the turnaround on the Taliban, it was for Pakistan to have realised that the era of jehad by outsiders was over. "What we failed to do on our own, we are being forced to do by the pressure of circumstances. National honour is not on the line. Only an aspect of national adventurism is being called into question. What sensible nations cannot sustain, they discard."

He writes that if the argument of 'Pakistan first' was valid in Afghanistan, why not in Kashmir. "We have been involved in Occupied Kashmir for too long. The world has come to know this in part because we blew our own disguise. Organisations like Lashkar and Jaish had a free run of the entire country, holding rallies and easily collecting funds and recruits. India has not invented the substance of charges against Lashkar or Jaish. It has merely used and exploited the evidence we ourselves have accumulated."

In another forceful opinion piece, in The Nation, M.A. Naizi, a senior journalist, says Pakistan's diplomatic support for the Kashmir cause is as acceptable to the West as the Spanish claim on Gibraltar. What is unacceptable is the provision of material support, as is openly claimed by organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, training facilities, weapons, ammunition and volunteers, he writes. "However, almost all of this would be impossible without government support. The training facilities can be wound up. The crossing of Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri fighters (the word mujahideen is now unfashionable, except when used for anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan) into and out of held Valley can be prevented by joint Pakistan-India Army patrolling of the LoC (Line of Control)."

He says Pakistan has acted as a base camp for the Kashmir 'freedom struggle' for over five decades, particularly since 1989.

"This writer has already heard military personnel asking what the Kashmiris have done for us, and giving careful explanations as to how the Kashmiris are not pro-accession but seek independence, which is apparently treacherous of them. This sounds like the post-September 11 whispering campaign against the Afghans, in which the basic question was: what do we owe the Afghans?

"Now, the question is to be what do we owe the Kashmiris? The implicit question then becomes: we encased the Afghans for about $4 billion, so how much do we encash the Kashmiris for?"

In another article, a former Chief Secretary of Sind and an authority on the religious and extremist organisations in Pakistan, Kunwar Idris, says whether Pakistan-based groups were involved in the Parliament House attack or not, relying on their known armed character and activities at home and in Afghanistan and Kashmir, India has succeeded in getting two of them (Jaish and Lashkar) declared terrorist organisations by the United States.

"Now, under the rules of the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism, any aggrieved country could strike at them at any time, anywhere. Pakistan has thus been made dangerously vulnerable... The test for him (Gen. Pervez Musharraf) is not to beat the enemy on the battlefield but to rescue Kashmir from the grip of the zealots that the world believes are terrorists," the article says.

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