‘Responding to a dangerous time’



M Ziauddin

ALL MEN of honour. All well known for their professional integrity. All insiders having served both as policymakers and implementers. Three of them former foreigner secretaries — Inam ul Haque, Riaz Hussain Khokhar and Riaz Mohammad Khan — the first one had also held the portfolio of minister of state for foreign affairs and the third one is the author of two highly-cerebral books (Untying the Afghan Knot: Negotiating Soviet Withdrawal-1991 and Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism and Resistance to Modernity—2011). The fourth one, a retired Major-General of Pakistan Army had the opportunity to survey the regional diplomatic scene from the all encompassing perch of National Security Advisor.
These four gentlemen have done something extraordinary. Moved perhaps by the immediate challenges of what they called ‘a dangerous time’ had compiled a short but to-the-point newspaper article under their joint by-line.
A close reading of this piece (Responding to a dangerous time published in the September 20 edition of daily Dawn) makes one sit up and try to fathom what exactly are these former government servants saying and why at this juncture. More importantly, Uri happened on September 18 and this article was perhaps written and finalized by the four within 24 hours as it appeared in a national daily the day after the terrorist attack on an India military base located very close to the Line of Control.
More or less it is a piece straight from the shoulder but still couched in diplomatic language for obvious reasons. Short of its subtleties the article advises the government to jettison the Haqqanis as well as Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad along with its current Kashmir and Afghan policies in the making and implanting of which the authors must have been closely involved albeit, it is presumed, recording their respective objections.
In the opinion of the authors of the article it is the job of the Afghans to settle their disputes among themselves and in regard to the freedom struggle of Kashmir, they seem to believe that it is the responsibility of the Kashmiris living on the two sides of the LoC and the Diaspora to do the needful.
The authors very rightly hold that the perception of Pakistan’s erstwhile support to extremist militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s and our association with the Taliban have hurt Pakistan’s international image. They, therefore, want Pakistan to make it very clear to the whole world that Pakistan no longer answered for Afghan Taliban and neither is it physically or monetarily involved in the on-going freedom struggle of the Kashmiris.
Therefore, their clear-cut advice: We need to devise a policy response that helps reduce the threat without giving the Kashmiris a feeling of a let-down. In order to accomplish this they said we must first address our vitiated relations with Kabul and Washington which have nosedived since the collapse of the quadripartite process.
It is time to rethink our Taliban policy, they say because ‘Our well-intentioned commitment to nudge the Taliban towards reconciliation, bring them to the negotiating table and our apparent eagerness to play a role have turned us into a Taliban accomplice.’
Their well-though-out advice on this issue: We must make a clear policy declaration that Pakistan cannot take any responsibility on behalf of the Afghan Taliban leadership and we would welcome direct contacts between them and the government or any political elements in Kabul for the purpose of reconciliation. We would still be willing to play a role only if specifically requested.
Secondly, the advice continued, we must reaffirm that we will do all we can to prevent the use of our territory for militant activities inside Afghanistan and take visible measures for this purpose.
‘This is our responsibility as a state. We cannot justify differentiated emphasis for Operation Zarb-i-Azb which attracts the accusation that we distinguish between “good and bad” Taliban,’ the authors insisted.
This advice seems to be based on the time-tested premise that both Washington and Kabul believe that sanctuaries in Pakistan sustain the Afghan Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. The authors recognize that regardless of the grave policy errors made since its intervention in Afghanistan, much like those made later in Iraq, Washington has chosen to blame Pakistan for its woes in Afghanistan.
‘We must disavow pretentions of influence with the Taliban leadership. They and before them the Afghan Mujahedin leaders never acceded to our sincere advice for ending the conflict. We must be firm with the likes of the Haqqani group who cannot be allowed to abuse our hospitality.
‘Of late, the delay in prosecuting especially those implicated in the Mumbai terrorist incident has been misconstrued as weak Pakistani commitment to fighting terrorism, the nemesis of all modern societies. This undermines Pakistan’s ability to forcefully advocate the Kashmir cause.
‘Nothing will help India more than an evidence of outside militant elements blending with the indigenous Kashmiri uprising to justify its extreme violence in India-held Kashmir and its aggressive posture against Pakistan. We should be open to cooperating with any investigation into the Uri attack.
‘This is, however, no time to reflect on what happened in the past. The ongoing Kashmiri struggle against repressive Indian rule, demands clear and emphatic expression of solidarity.
‘Above all, it is the Kashmiris and the Kashmiri Diaspora, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, who must fully mobilize themselves to agitate world conscience to their suffering and the denial of their fundamental rights. They have a vital role to play.
‘Pakistan should consult Kashmiri leaders from both sides of the LoC and from Diaspora and they must reach out to each other to chart out a course that corresponds to the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
‘If offered, Pakistan cannot refuse a dialogue with India as the two nuclear-armed neighbours cannot afford a break in communications. However, Kashmiri leaders must be involved with the process for a settlement that ensures peace and enables Kashmiris to be masters of their own affairs and destiny.’
The exclusive piece had very correctly anticipated the Indian ‘response’ to Uri: ‘Following the attack on the Uri Indian army camp, India may heat up the Line of Control (LoC) to detract attention from its atrocities in the Valley. Pakistan should even be ready for worse.’
India did heat up the LoC and even claimed to have conducted a successful ‘surgical strike’ along the LoC killing as many as 32 or so intending infiltrators and returning to home base without any damage to self.
Not only this. The Indians seem to have also succeeded to an extent in making the world believe its version of the Uri attack which squarely held Pakistan responsible. An abortive signature campaign was also launched in the US to declare Pakistan as a terrorist facilitator. And in a clear attempt to isolate Pakistan at least in the region New Delhi followed up by withdrawing from the SAARC summit which was scheduled to be held in Islamabad next month. And to add to our woes Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka went along with India forcing the SAARC secretariat to cancel the Summit.