After the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore had blown a huge hole in the Pakistan'scontrived smugness over the Mumbai event, when the other day in New Delhi the former military ruler from that country General (retd) Pervez Musharraf used his earlier planned India visit to defend the Pakistan Army and the ISI and even give qualified support to Taliban, his audience here wondered whether he was doing an excellent public relations job for his comrades in arms. But with the Pakistan chief of staff General Kayani addressing an ultimatum to the tottering civilian government there and Musharraf hinting he was prepared to take over again, these events seem to be no accident of history. The question may well be very relevant whether the next coup in Pakistan is in the making?
To add to the suspense there is utter failure on the part of the civilian government of President Zardari and PM Gilani to get at the perpetrators of the attack on the cricket team. The way the TV shots have shown to the world how these perpetrators walked in and walked out coolly in performing their assigned task and the nature of the attack and its consequences seem to fall into a pattern. Why the civilian government got into a confrontation with the main opposition party ending in dismissing the Punjab Government headed by Nawaz Sharief'sbrother when his PML-N had combined with Zardari'sPPP to bring back civilian rule, was a mystery. As if to rub it in, the Interior Minister Malik has threatened to try Nawab Sharief for sedition if he marches on Islamabad as he has planned instead of merely holding a demonstration against President Zardari'saction.
The question mark on the civilian government and fears of a second coup so close to the end of the military rule, is underlined by the pace of events that seem to be a replay of what happened over a few years before Musharraf booted out Sharief. First it was Sharief as the PM who with army'shelp got Bhutto dismissed and put Zardari on trial. Then the Army twisted Sharief'sarms when it upstaged him and sponsored the Kargil conflict after he broke bread with Atal Behari Vajpayee and India and Pakistan seem to be opening a new chapter in their strained relations at the initiative of the NDA Government in New Delhi in 1998. Finally when the Kargil adventure boomeranged on the Army and Nawab Sharief had to take the rap for something he did not authorise, Musharraf ticked him off and sent him into exile just as earlier Sharief had ensured Benazir Bhutto'sself-exile.
What is to be seen is how the same civil society that had created a public opinion to end the military regime and bring back the civilian rule would now reassert itself and stop the slide to dictatorship. But General Musharraf praising the Army and the ISI at this juncture when both of them are getting exposed internationally for their duplicity, deception(of ally Americans) and dalliance with the very Taliban and extremists they are supposed to be fighting, gives the entire Pakistan scene a new dimension.. The question is not whether the Army would be back in political saddle but whether there is a growing understanding between the Army, Taliban and the extremists to take over the country and get the Americans out or conned once again?
The attempt of Musharraf in New Delhi to haul the Kashmir issue back into the centre of India-Pakistan-regional dialogue has to be seen in the light of these developments. In addition he sought to tag on the Muslim community in India into the dialogue while giving a clean chit to his colleagues in the Army and the ISI. No doubt the General is a good communicator and PR man. But facts of history cannot be pushed under the carpet to hammer an argument or defend what is indefensible.
The gist of his thesis in his speeches in New Delhi was that it is the non-resolution of the Kashmir issue and the ?alienation? of Muslims in India that was responsible for extremism growth in his country. The young were getting attracted to the militant Islam due to these factors. While in power he had sought to solve Kashmir issue but progress was delayed over the last four years of his rule (he hinted this was due to Indian side). He warned that if the tide was not seized while it was still on, another opportunity might not arise. Projecting his thesis he cut a role for himself as a ?man for peace, not a man of peace?.
Later, the General even went to the extent of claiming that Indo-Pak peace would be a key factor in sub-continental prosperity and create even a pan-central Asian perspective for development and trade. His final plea to all those who questioned him from his audience was to give up Pakistan bashing in India ( that was more than Indian bashing in Pakistan and had become a part of the Indian politics unlike in his country, he claimed) and both countries should ?overcome the burden of history? and develop a futuristic perspective.
In the context of general elections in our country and the gathering cloud over the region mainly because of the widely and internationally perceived weakness of civil government in Pakistan against militant Islam, General Musharraf cannot be allowed to get away with such PR exercise he has undertaken to load the blame on unnamed Indian forces and distort the truth. The civilian government in Islamabad under severe pressure from several governments to eradicate its terrorist organizations should be pleased with the former President'sperformance in India as he has sought to shift the blame for the growth of the extremism on this country and on the ?West?. The latter, he said, had burdened Pakistan with over a million refugees and the thousands of ?mujahideens? whom they had allowed to flood Afghanistan to drive out the Soviets in the 80s. Lastly getting emotional he challenged the American journalist David Sanger to prove his allegation that the present Army chief General Kayani had described Taliban as a ?strategic asset? to his forces, terming it once again as a lie.
If some analysts suspected in the General'sthesis an attempt to build more bridged with his own country'scivilian government and the civil society there that he had angered and suffered his own eclipse from power, that suspicion melds with the prevailing situation in Pakistan. Days after the Lahore incident to kill the Sri Lankan team, there is not a clue in the hands of the Pakistani authorities about the perpetrators of the attack. And the world saw through Pakistani media itself the CCTV footage of the same terrorists calmly walking and as calmly walking out of the well planned attack with the local police not even pursuing the attackers.
This scene has clearly posed a question about the culpability of many top level people in Pakistan in planning and execution of the attack. Every part of that attack now looks very similar to the one that was staged in Mumbai hotels on November 26. If the lone surviving culprit of the Mumbai attack Kasab is to be believed, the LeT had trained 32 people for the Mumbai scene but only 10 were really sent. That means there was a reserve of 22 trained terrorists available for the Lahore attack also. The linkage therefore is obvious to anybody. The vehemence with which Islamabad is seeking to deny its involvement in Mumbai and is groping in the dark over the Lahore event is self-revealing. As informed people have alleged, the high level collusion between the militant Jihadis and people in critical positions of the administration is daily becoming more and more evident. Musharraf was perhaps trying to cover it up and help the civilian government back in Lahore to get out of the hot waters it is in.
(The writer is Rajya Sabha member and senior BJP leader and a widely read columnist and can be contacted at [email protected])
(To be concluded)