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Beware the General across the border

Beware the General across the border

Author: Wilson John
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: December 26, 2001

Let us not underestimate Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. After finding himself cornered within his country by jihadi Generals and militant mullahs and from outside by the rampaging forces of the Northern Alliance and the United States, Musharraf ran to Beijing for shelter. That's what he did when he engineered the Kargil War. He was sitting pretty when his troops intruded into the Indian territory. This time around too, the Chinese welcomed him, shook hands with him, heard him out, put arms around his shoulders and told him not to worry. The Chinese are his good friends; they have so much at stake in Pakistan. So when India and the United States began making loud noises about terror groups and involvement of his country, Musharraf, with the Chinese at his side, decided to act tough and ordered freezing of bank accounts and assets of Lashkar-e-Toiba, told Lashkar chief Prof Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed to shut shop on his own. He made similar requests to Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Azhar Masood. Maybe the Americans would be willing to accept his actions as bona fide; we should not make that mistake. Musharraf is too clever a General to go on his knees and even if he feigns to do so, it is just another strategic retreat.

It is important to understand Musharraf the man to make sense of his quicksilver swings. He is a Mohajir from Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh but had settled down in Gujranwala in Punjab. He got commissioned in the Pakistan Army in 1964 and was just one of the officers who waited for their promotion boards till General Zia-ul Haq spotted him. General Zia never hid his liking for devout officers and in Musharraf he found a pious Deobandi. Leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, a fundamentalist political party, made it known to the General that they too preferred Musharraf. Musharraf proved to be a right choice for both of them. The first task he was assigned by General Zia was to train mujahideens recruited by various religious organisations to fight the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. It was during those days that Musharraf first met a Saudi civil engineer who was keen to help the cause of jihad with money and muscle. The Central Intelligence Agency had brought this contractor to construct bunkers for the mujahideens. The contractor, with whom Musharraf had close working relationship, is today known as the most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden. It was at this juncture that Musharraf developed two other key links that would stand him in good stead-the CIA and the narcotics syndicate operating in the North West Frontier Province.

The only reason why I am re-visiting the history of Musharraf is to understand the factors that shaped his psyche. For instance, his close ties with General Zia ul Haq. It was General Zia who planned Operation Topac, a long-term plan to dismember India through both covert and overt operations. Musharraf was part of this plan. One of the elements of Operation Topac was to annex the Siachen area that somehow remained unmarked when the Line of Control was being re-drawn after the 1971 war. For his Siachen plan, General Zia raised a Special Services Group headquartered at Khapalu in the Siachen area in 1987. Musharraf was then a Brigadier and was asked to command the unit. The same year, an acolyte eager to please his master, Brigadier Musharraf attacked an Indian post in Siachen that was promptly repulsed. Within a year, Brigadier Musharraf got another critical assignment from General Zia. This time, his mission was to suppress a revolt in Gilgit. The Shias, a majority community in the area, had risen in revolt against their continued neglect at the hands of the rulers in Islamabad. Musharraf sought out bin Laden for his mission. Laden was by then known to be an effective leader of mujahideens. It is said several hundred Shias were massacred in the operation. After the revolt was brutally suppressed, Musharraf, on the orders of Zia, began settling Punjabis and Pakhtoons in Gilgit and Baltistan to reduce the Kashmiri Shias to a minority. The Kashmiris who swear by Musharraf today would do well to read about his exploits in Gilgit and Baltistan.

One stellar quality in Musharraf, as the world by now must have realised, is rank opportunism. He is not the typical officer and a gentleman as the Britons trained their officers to be. He is an officer and a politician, always looking for the first opportunity to network with those who can propel him further. While in Gilgit and Baltistan, Musharraf became close to Lt.General Javed Nasir, who was then the Director General of the Inter Services Intelligence and Justice Mohmmad Rafique Tarar, both of whom played a key role in his becoming the Chief of Army Staff. Nasir was an adviser on intelligence matters to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief and Tarar was the President. Another factor that linked the three together was their religious belief-they were Deobandis and had a good standing with fundamentalist parties and terrorist groups like Harkat ul Mujahideen, earlier known as Harkat ul Ansar. One of the splinter groups of Harkat is today known as Jaish-e-Mohmmad. Another reason for Sharief to choose Musharraf superceding two of his seniors, Lt.Gen. Ali Kuli Khan, the Chief of General Staff, and Lt. Gen. Khalid Nawaz, the Quarter Master General, was his hatred for Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Mohajir rebel group. Musharraf, acting on the orders of Sharief, set up special courts to try MQM activists, Shias by caste, as terrorists. This anti-Shia operation helped Musharraf in more ways than one, the most crucial being the wide appreciation and support he got from the rabidly anti-Shia terrorist groups that were funded by the ISI via Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious fundamentalist party that has immense clout across the country.

It was therefore no surprise that first thing Musharraf did on throwing Sharief out (incidentally he was once again out of the country, this time he was teeing in Colombo) was to let the fundamentalists have a free run of the country, drawing support from them to stabilise his hold over Islamabad. He openly courted them, allowing them to open offices in respectable commercial and residential complexes; letting them recruit men for terrorist training, arming them with modern weapons to kill civilians and security men in Kashmir. Within two years, Musharraf is turning once again, this time against the very forces that created him and made him the Emperor. It is not exactly easy to trust him when he makes a sound and fury about banning terror groups operating in his country. He is a man with a thousand faces. A few months down the line, after he has lulled the Americans and the Western world into believing in his anti-terrorism charade, he is quite capable of bringing together the vanquished Al Qaida, the Taliban and the terror groups that pull his strings and create another invisible network of terror. Till then, I am sure he has already told Jaish and Lashkar leaders to lie low, change nomenclature, shift office and cooperate with him for achieving their common interest-inflict a thousand cuts on India. Beware. India needs to keep a close watch on this General who has a history of switching sides and using religion for military goals.

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