October 20, 2001


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Claude Arpi

How many Ladens?

During the last presidential campaign in the United States, George W Bush, Jr, is reported to have been asked by an interviewer the names of three prime ministers of Asian nations. The would-be-president knew none, but he told the journalist that as president of the United States he did not need to know these things personally; his advisers would know. Two of these countries were India and Pakistan.

One can presume that after the tragic events of September 11, the President's advisers would have briefed him on the names of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf. But one detail has been left out from his aides' briefing: they have restricted 'terrorism' to one man [Osama bin Laden] and one nation [Afghanistan].

India has been suffering from terrorism for too many years to remain quiet. Nobody should forget that the number of innocent people killed in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in the last 12 years is greater than the number of people who died during the fateful crash of the twin towers. One cannot minimise this inhuman act, but it would be criminal to brush aside the deaths of all these innocent Kashmiris, particularly Kashmiri Pandits.

Of course, President Musharraf will say that in Kashmir, we only witness the struggle of a people for freedom, while the strike on America was pure terrorism. On October 8, a communiqué issued from Islamabad stated: "The Pakistan President today once again described the situation in Kashmir as a 'freedom struggle' and said it was not related to what had been happening in Afghanistan."

One can understand that the American president has inherited from his predecessors the habit of seeing events in black or white. In all good American Western movies, there is a good guy and a bad one. In more sophisticated scripts, you can have the good, the bad and the ugly. During the Gulf War, the good one was the American and the bad one was Saddam Hussein. In today's scenario, the good one is the same, but we now have an ugly one named Osama bin Laden.

The problem is that real life is sometimes more complicated than a Hollywood script. There are countless subtleties, intricacies, knots within knots, especially in an area, which, in the 19th century, was the playground for the 'Great Game'. Even if the US president's advisers seem sometimes unaware that the new Afghan scenario is not a movie script, the American press is becoming more and more conscious of the complexity of the situation.

This perhaps explains the delayed action against the bad guys. We can even assume that within the US administration, there are discordant voices. The mere fact that it took four weeks for America and its allies to decide to bomb the strategic Taleban positions shows that, for the first time, the administration has taken time to try to analyse the situation and learn from experience.

Nevertheless, it appears that for some time, they will stick to the script of 'one enemy only' and agree with Musharraf that on the right, there is 'terrorism' and on the left, a 'freedom struggle'.

But how long can the US and its allies close their eyes and act like ostriches? On October 3, the Pakistani press reported that a massive rally was organised by one of the factions of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-i-Islam in Quetta the previous day. "There was no mistake about the 'anti-American sentiment' among those who turned up," wrote an Indian daily.

That day, the leaders of the Council for the Defence of Afghanistan, representing major religious parties in Pakistan, decided to cancel their proposed trip to Kandahar to meet the Taleban chief, Mullah Mohammed Omar. One of these leaders was Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who refused to be part of the delegation of the ulema to persuade the Taleban leadership to hand over Laden.

The fact that more 'moderate' religious leaders finally went to Kandahar, accompanied by the director general of the ISI, and eventually pledged their support to the Taleban shows the extent of resentment, even amongst so-called moderate clerics in Pakistan, against the US putting a brake on Islamic jihads.

In this context, it is interesting to look at an interview of the same Jamaat chief, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who once was adviser to General Zia-ul-Haq. It was published in February 1999 in a monthly Baluchi magazine Jamhooria Islamia.

The interview begins with the rights of women. The qazi makes it clear that once in power, the JI will abolish the voting rights of women and minorities who will be forced to become Muslims "either by monetary or psychological factors". Wanting to establish a khalifa with mullahs (plus three or four generals) at its head, the qazi states: "We are keenly watching the progress of the Taleban and learning from it. We are impressed with the Taleban on the women issue, minorities issue and law-and-order issue."

The interviewer comments that Mullah Omar is a great friend of the qazi. "Omar had visited his house many times. In the tentative talks, they had decided to form a union of Pakistan and Afghanistan once the right conditions are set in Pakistan."

The qazi's interview continues: "Our motto is constant jihad. The idea is to keep Pakistan in a constant state of jihad all the time." His vision is that "Pakistan will be the centre of the new Islamic empire that stretches from Burma to Afghanistan and from Sri Lanka to Tajikistan, including Kashmir. Towards that end, the Jamaat will use all tactics from terrorism in the kafir-controlled areas to negotiations in the Muslim-controlled areas."

The discussion/interview goes on in a similar tone. We will quote one last answer from the qazi. When the interviewer tells him that "it looks like the entire India policy of Jamaat revolves around Kashmir", he answers: "Yes that is true. But that is for a very good reason. See, Kashmir is like a keystone that sits on top of the arch. It is true that the arch holds the entire weight of the keystone. But if you remove the keystone, the whole arch falls down. Kashmir is the keystone for India. Once you remove that, India can no longer be secular and it will not be a united country, all the bricks will fall down."

Ahmed admits that it was on his advice that General Zia had started 'Operation Topac'. But he makes it clear that "Operation Topac's idea is not to get Kashmir for Pakistan as thought of by Indian analysts. Operation Topac is much more. The ultimate aim of Operation Topac is to break India into a million pieces so that it is easy for Pakistan to swallow India one piece at a time."

One general departed and ten years later another entered. The same obsession of Kashmir being the 'cornerstone' remained. A new plan was drawn up by the new 'commando' general to conquer Kashmir. The first step was to take over the Srinagar-Leh link and cut Ladakh off from the rest of the state. The plan did not work as planned, but the general did not forget his objectives and 'diplomatically' tried his chance in Agra. Again it did not work, but the general continued to believe in his good star.

Since the day he managed to land safely in Karachi and snatch power from Nawaz Sharief, Musharraf believes his god is protecting him; that is perhaps why he decided to continue to stretch his luck and play on two tables at the same time. Therefore, on one side, he has become the best ally of the US [which has lifted all sanctions against him] and on the other, he continues to be the chief protector of the Qazi Hussain Ahmeds, the Masood Azhars (who master-minded the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane in December 1999) and so many other so-called freedom fighters. In a Western movie scenario, he could have been the poker player. But does he know that the life of a poker-player, even with an American Colt, is dangerous?

It appears that American intelligence agencies have now found that there were at least four Laden lookalikes moving around in fake convoys from Kandahar to Jalalabad or Kabul to fool their satellites. But are the same agencies aware that there are plenty of other Ladens in the madrassas of Pakistan? That they are as powerful and resourceful as their Kandahar clone? Qazi Hussain Ahmed is one of them, but there are so many others. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-i-Islam, declared at a recent meeting in Quetta that more than 44 outfits in the US alone have been involved in terrorist activities. He bragged that no action had ever been taken against them.

In the meantime, one can hope that Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser 'Condo' Rice, who themselves are from a minority community, will have more sensitivity and will be able to advise the president that 'enough is enough', as the emotional chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir told the assembly after the cruel bomb attack on the Srinagar legislature building. He added, "If the US could not wait for a day after Black Tuesday, are not 12 years too much for testing our patience?" Later, he requested the Indian government to wage a war on Pakistan to dismantle the training camps there and root out all 'terrorism'.

If the US president's advisers can explain to George Bush the situation as it is in this region, there is no reason why, with determined political and economic pressure, a war cannot be avoided. It is true that the problem perhaps lies in the West having too many economic interests interlinked with certain Arab countries, which are today defending Pakistan in the fear of becoming US targets themselves.

What is needed from the US president is courage and some sacrifice, at least economic. If he really decides to eradicate 'terrorism' [and not only 'selected terrorism'], it should not be too difficult to cut off the huge financial and other resources [particularly arm supplies] to all terrorist groups, starting with the ones based in Pakistan.

Some sacrifice will be required; economic sacrifice, with perhaps a risk of further recession. But it can certainly be done and without human loss. Today, it is in the long-term interests of the US and its allies to go deep into the issue, find out the sources of financing and arming of these terrorist outfits and cut off the flow of their resources.

And perhaps, as Colonel (retd) Anil Athale titled one of his books, there will be a chance to 'let the Jhelum smile again'.

While reading the qazi's interview, something else came to mind: "Why is this happening to Kashmir?" I could not find an answer, but I suddenly remembered that when I had been looking for a cover for my book on Tibet where I had wanted to show the close cultural links between India and the Roof of the World, I came across some of the most exquisite paintings discovered by the great scholar Tucci in western Tibet. These frescoes of bodhisattvas, very similar in style to the cave paintings of Ajanta, had been painted by Kashmiri artistes who had fled to Tibet after the invasion of their state in the 11th and 12th centuries.

For centuries and centuries, Kashmir has been a land of culture, of beauty, for many a paradise upon earth. Is it impossible to hope that one day this multifaceted culture will flourish again?

PS: There was an interesting remark by the young Minister for Civil Aviation Shahnawaz Hussain when he replied to a journalist asking what he thought of the Congress asking for his resignation after the flop of the mock hijack of an Alliance Air flight. He said the Congress is only a resignation-seeking party, and had they been in politics in the United States, they would have asked for Bush's resignation after September 11. We can only comment that in Pakistan, mentalities are different from our side of the border. Musharraf not only triggered the Kargil war, he lost it. Not only did he lose it, he asked for the resignation of his prime minister. Of course, nobody dared to tell him anything. The Congress should perhaps open a branch in Islamabad.

Claude Arpi is author of The Fate of Tibet (Har Anand), which has also been translated into French.

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