An exercise in doublespeak

Published : Jan 19, 2002 00:00 IST

AMERICA's "war against terrorism" is now running into serious and unanticipated diplomatic and military problems and dilemmas. Foremost among these is the issue of seeking the cooperation of the Pakistani military establishment in what President George Bush called his "crusade" in Afghanistan. Even as forces of the Northern Alliance were preparing to overrun the Taliban and its allies in Kunduz, a desperate Pervez Musharraf sought American help to evacuate over a thousand Pakistani "volunteers" - all linked to or serving officers and men of his Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), from the besieged city. These Pakistan Army personnel had continued to fight alongside the Taliban even after Musharraf loudly proclaimed his loyalty and commitment to the war against terrorism. A reluctant White House was compelled to call a nightly pause in its relentless air attacks and allow the Pakistan Air Force to evacuate its "volunteers" from Kunduz. President Bush is going to regret this decision.

When the Afghan allies of the United States drove the Taliban out of Kandahar, it was widely expected that Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar and others in the leadership of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda would be captured or killed in a matter of days. What has happened instead is that virtually the entire leadership of the Taliban has crossed the border into Pakistan and is now safely ensconced in the tribal areas of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. There is little doubt that they have been joined and assisted by their ISI allies who fought with them in Kunduz and were let free by an over-generous Bush Administration. President Bush is slowly realising that Secretary of State General Colin Powell's good friend General Musharraf either cannot or will not help decisively in tracking down America's most wanted terrorists. The U.S. is now preparing for a long stay in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan as it struggles to conclude the very first part of its anti-terrorism campaign. There are even now voices in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon expressing anxiety over Pakistan's "double-dealing".

What has caused Washington equal concern is the fact that it can no longer ignore the nexus between ISI-sponsored Jehadi groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, on the one hand and the Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the other. The Bush Administration has been forced to act against these groups after the outrageous attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13 - an outrage that has led to New Delhi clamping diplomatic sanctions and applying military pressure against Pakistan, with a massive troop and Army, Navy and Air Force build-up on its borders. Any conflict between India and Pakistan would only further weaken the already none-too-successful American war effort, which depends on base facilities provided by Pakistan in four of its air bases on which several thousand American military and CIA personnel as well as aircraft and helicopters operate. For a change New Delhi has stood firm and made it clear that it will not relent unless General Musharraf finally and irrevocably ends support for cross-border terrorism.

GENERAL MUSHARRAF'S televised address of January 12 should be seen in the context of these developments. He is under immense international and Indian pressure to close down organisations and institutions in Pakistan that preach and spread religious and sectarian hatred within Pakistan and across its borders. But old habits die hard. The author of the Kargil intrusion is still loath to give up categorically terrorism as an instrument of state policy when it comes to relations with India. What he has cleverly sought to do in his speech is to please the international community, while simultaneously remaining ambivalent on India's demands that he should end cross-border terrorism and extradite or deport 20 persons accused of serious acts of terrorism not just in Jammu and Kashmir, but across India. While averring that he will not extradite a single Pakistani national to India, he has hedged on the entire issue of extraditing or deporting others such as Dawood Ibrahim and "Tiger" Memon who were responsible for the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993, or Wassan Singh Babbar accused of involvement in the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. In all probability, Musharraf will claim that these individuals are untraceable, even though he knows that Dawood has lived in Karachi for years at a residence that is within a stone's throw of his own residence there.

In these circumstances, New Delhi has little option but to maintain relentless military and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan till such time when Musharraf is persuaded that half measures and deceptions will not work. Colin Powell will spare no effort to plead Musharraf's good intentions. But the U.S. knows that Musharraf has taken steps to disengage from his past policies, out of compulsion and not conviction. The Bush Administration also cannot overlook the hard fact that the leadership of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban could not have escaped into Pakistan without the connivance and support of elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment. While Musharraf may pledge his commitment to the eradication of religious extremism, sectarianism and terrorism from the body politic of his country, the Army establishment he heads is not going to give up its old habits and linkages with extremists and terrorists easily. But despite this, New Delhi would do well to say that while it appreciates and welcomes Musharraf's references to act against those sponsoring terrorism within or outside Pakistan, it will judge him by what he does and not by what he says.

General Musharraf knows that he is walking through a minefield in which it is very difficult to manoeuvre. He has no easy options, especially as New Delhi is not going to relent until it is persuaded by means of his actions against the terrorist groups that he has irrevocably renounced terrorism as an instrument of state policy. In case he finds it difficult to hand over the wanted terrorists to India he could hand over at least 14 of them to Interpol as Interpol has issued warning circulars about their activities. The Chief of the Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan, has given a pretty clear idea of the functioning of terrorist training camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and in Pakistan. New Delhi will be looking for clear signs that these camps are being closed and their occupants disarmed and disbanded. While Musharraf could claim that he will find it difficult politically to call for these groups to be disarmed, he could get this demand to be raised by the head of his newly appointed Kashmir Committee, Sardar Qayyum Khan, and remedial action taken thereafter.

There is no dearth of apologists for General Musharraf in India - people of goodwill who will extol the professed virtues of the General and call for an immediate dialogue with him. They would do well to remember the words of Atal Behari Vajpayee at the SSARC summit in Kathmandu: "I am glad that President Musharraf extended hand of friendship to me. I have shaken his hand in your presence. Now President Musharraf must follow this gesture by not permitting any activity in Pakistan or any territory it controls which enables terrorists to perpetrate mindless violence in India. I say this because of our past experiences. I went to Lahore with a hand of friendship. We were rewarded by aggression in Kargil and the hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft from Kathmandu. I invited President Musharraf to Agra. We were rewarded with a terrorist attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and, last month, on the Parliament of India."

G. Parthasarathy, India's former High Commissioner in Pakistan and Visiting Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, is a noted commentator on international affairs.

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