November 28, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/ Mansoor Ijaz

'Pakistan simply has too much
blood invested in Kashmir to ever walk away quietly' 'Pakistan simply has too much
blood invested in Kashmir to ever walk away quietly'

Involved in matters of conflict resolution in regions like Azerbaijan, Jammu & Kashmir and Sudan, Mansoor Ijaz calls himself a reclusive thinker. The nuclear physicist and neural sciences engineer educated at MIT and Harvard runs an investment agency with business interests in Europe, the Middle East and Far East.

Having been involved in Pakistan's foreign policy, Ijaz was invited to broker a dialogue in Kashmir. He has been able to persuade the Indian government on the merits that it is imperative to open the doors of dialogue and constructive engagement with both the Kashmiri political leadership as well as militant leaders.

In an exclusive interview -- his first full length interview, ever -- to Senior Associate Editor Ramananda Sengupta, he says the situation in J&K is in a phase where peace could either go forward in a significant and meaningful way, or the situation will disintegrate into a higher degree of chaos and bloodshed.

How does Mansoor Ijaz describe himself?

I'm a reclusive thinker with a cause who seeks to help disenfranchised people wherever they may be. Vis-a-vis your readers' interest in my activities, I'm trying to do nothing more than to enable men of goodwill on all sides of the Kashmir conflict to talk to each other free of the political and militaristic static that often prevents them from mustering the courage to make peace. In the world of conflict resolution, hawks and doves exist on every side of a problem.

The question in Kashmir has become one of getting doves who were once hawks (Yasin Malik, for example) and hawks who want to become doves (Syed Salahuddin, for example) to come together at one table at the invitation of India's doves and with the consent of Pakistani and Indian hawks. In this context, you could define me as a dove willing to use hawkish force and tactics to achieve a lasting peace.

Could we have a little bit about your childhood… what made you a physicist turned hedge fund manager and investment banker?

Well, I'm a born American… born in Tallahassee, Florida. I grew up on a farm in rural Virginia at a time in the US when prejudice was still a problem. The cumulative effect of these biases and racial attitudes helped to shape my thinking process about the world because it made me realise that wherever there are disenfranchised or disaffected people, you have to help raise them up so they do not develop the desperation to tear you down. I've employed this overarching principle of life in the southern Sudan, in Azerbaijan, and now we are attempting the same in Kashmir.

My education as a nuclear physicist and neural sciences engineer out of MIT and Harvard was also critical in developing my sense of pragmatic realism ensconced in a vision. Physics is one science where learning the overarching principle allows you to apply it to every practical problem encountered. I applied my expertise in modeling the brain at MIT to the financial markets in the mid-1980s and started my own investment firm on the strength of these models in 1990.

Our business, built around my proprietary CARAT, TRACK and CALOP Systems, today invests across a broad cross-section of industries including oil and gas projects, high technology, infrastructure development and commercial real estate. Crescent Investment Management and its affiliates, Crescent Equity Partners and The Crescent Investment Group, have partners in Europe, the Middle East and Far East.

How did your involvement in Pakistan's political and strategic affairs start?

As I developed a political voice in the US starting in 1993, Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto's second term was making a concerted effort to reconstruct its relationship with the Clinton administration. Initially we, the entire Pakistan American community, tried to help her achieve what were important objectives, including freeing Pakistan of US sanctions.

There was a unique opportunity to build on a new US administration's desire to help Pakistan as well as a new Pakistani administration elected on its commitment to change the old ways of doing business. Unfortunately, the unity of the Pakistani-American community quickly disintegrated into factionalism, hidden agendas and bruised egos and Benazir's people in Washington seized upon the fractures to pursue their own corrupt political and financial agendas.

I began to realise the leaders of Pakistan had no real interest in raising up their poor, desolate and disfortunate people. That realisation was crystalised when I went to Pakistan in December 1995 and found out for myself the exact mechanisms Benazir and her cronies were using to loot Pakistan's poor. They did so by manipulating IMF loans that were granted on the assumption that higher utility and telephone rates would bring in the money to service the loans and then moved the money into unofficial accounts for unauthorized use.

That is when I started writing publicly in the US about the evidence we had of corruption and mismanagement in her government. We hoped the exposure would either persuade her to change her ways or create a mechanism of external accountability from afar to protect those who had no capacity to speak up within Pakistani society. The first of my editorial series in The Wall Street Journal on Benazir's corrupt practices was responsible for sewing the seeds that led to her exit from the scene in Pakistan.

How did you get involved in Kashmir?

My interest in Kashmir has always been there, but I chose not to involve myself because I was so deeply involved in trying to change the internal political decision-making process in Pakistan that I didn't feel it was appropriate for me to be involved in structural national security decision-making as well. Also, Kashmir is such a sensitive and emotional issue that rationalising it like I have done with problems in the Sudan and Azerbaijan simply would not work. Pragmatism, however, plays an important role in even the most emotional conflicts.


The overarching principle in citizen diplomacy is to do something the other side does not expect of you. If it happens, then a cornerstone is in place to create domestic consensus or, where it is relevant, international pressure for acceptance of creative solutions. This is the principle I have applied to my involvement in developing a peace framework for Kashmir. I have been able to persuade the Government of India on the merits that it is imperative to open the doors of dialogue and constructive engagement with both the Kashmiri political leadership as well as militant leaders.

The Government of India, in return, has looked to me as an honest broker of the process to help persuade Pakistan's military regime to reciprocate in a manner that would facilitate Pakistan's inclusion in the process as well. Without Islamabad's involvement, there is little hope for a lasting and permanent solution. Pakistan simply has too much blood invested in Kashmir to ever walk away quietly.

Once the peace framework is functional, economic empowerment becomes the overarching and uniting principle of bettering the predicament of disenfranchised people.

So did you volunteer, or were you asked to come into the Kashmiri fray?

No, I was asked. I would not volunteer for such a thankless task. But once I agreed to evaluate how I could help, my key concern was a strong desire to avoid the appearance of doing the bidding of the American government in Kashmir. At no time during the past year since I began this intervention has the US government asked me to do anything specific on its behalf in Kashmir.

As an American citizen with proximity to the President of the United States and senior national security council officials, I have enjoyed their support of my efforts and I did feel a responsibility to keep them informed of my activities to avoid conflicts of interest. But there was no driving force emanating from Washington.

If anything, the driving force for finding a plausible peace framework has been in New Delhi. My role was to clear a channel for Prime Minister Vajpayee and a man he considered responsible for the Kargil fiasco, General Pervez Musharraf, to talk to each other on a wavelength free of extremist rhetoric on both sides.

So what is the position on the ground now?

We are in a phase now where the peace will either go forward in a significant and meaningful way, or it the situation will disintegrate into a higher degree of chaos and bloodshed than we have ever seen in the Valley.

There are four distinct parties to this conflict: the Pakistanis, the indigenous militants in Kashmir, the political Kashmiris, and the Indians. There are also the mercenaries who are paid to wreak havoc there, but they are in the process, in my judgment, of being marginalised as a part of the solution to Kashmir because the indigenous militants have had enough of their chaotic and overly violent behavior that is alienating the indigenous population from the freedom movement.

We have already tried a unilateral ceasefire offer by the militants, and that failed because the militants believed they had political support from Pakistan's military and intelligence apparatus only to find out they did not. Musharraf was hamstrung by his religious zealots to be able to publicly embrace the very ceasefire he helped initiate. On the Indian side, the hawks also got the upper hand very quickly by raising issues of the constitutionality of Vajpayee's acceptance of the July ceasefire and not recognizing that Kashmir is a disputed territory.

The second effort we made was in mid-August to try and resurrect the framework with a wider ceasefire net that would address some of the structural problems exposed by the abrupt breakdown of the first effort. The key problem was finding a way to get the ISI on board for a wide-net ceasefire by reigning in its insurgents operating in the Valley. But I am now convinced that the ISI does not have an interest in ending the militancy in Kashmir. War is big business for ISI intermediaries and the money trail that funds their illicit activities leads well beyond the borders of Pakistan.

Today, we are changing the strategic focus to develop India's unilateral ability to offer peaceful frameworks and solutions. If Delhi can succeed in persuading the Kashmiris of its sincerity to hold a dialogue and find a permanent solution, it would be more appropriate for the Kashmiris to bring Pakistan on board by holding Islamabad true to its principle that it only wants what is best for the Kashmiris' right to self-determination. In this way, both sides are empowering the Kashmiris as the central partners for peace.

The nuance in Delhi's latest proposal is that it seeks to engage both militant and political Kashmiri leaders. The political vision of the Kashmiris will ultimately be the negotiating position and that is very very critical at the moment because it allows the political leadership advocating an independent Kashmir to supersede the importance of the militant operation as the rationale for making peace. That is, political leaders ultimately govern, militants cannot and Delhi is giving the political leaders in Kashmir as much of a chance to be peacemakers as the militants have had.

Please help us understand why Pakistan does not support a change of the status quo in Kashmir's militancy movements.

Unless you are a religious person, you cannot understand. The radical sheikhs with enormous pools of wealth at their ready disposal who are financing the "Jihad" in Kashmir (the violent militants as opposed to the indigenous uprising) think they are the guardians of Allah. And they want to take us back to a time and a place that is so different from anything the imagination can tolerate, so debasing of the human life and emotion, that they are willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to achieve their vision of an Islamic utopia.

Kashmir, East Timor, Bosnia, the Middle East, and even Afghanistan, these are all proxy wars of wealthy men who think that they are the guardians of Allah. They are not real Muslims. They are not even human beings. And the rest of world shouldn't let them get away with their dirty wars. That's why it is so compelling for India to keep making the offers for peace in Kashmir. Because to not do so is enabling the building of a column of radicalism which could spread all over the world.

Would a first step towards this be India finally accepting that Kashmir is a disputed territory? That is what Pakistan has been lobbying for so long...

Well, they've already agreed to a version of that which everyone can live with. During our effort to resurrect the August ceasefire, Delhi agreed to accept a statement from Syed Salahuddin calling for a Valley-wide ceasefire in which the issue of disputed territory would have been dealt with by calling "... on all those who recognize the disputed NATURE of Jammu and Kashmir state to come forward and cease hostilities..."

Such a statement is not the extreme of admitting "disputed territory", and it's not saying there is "no dispute"…. it's somewhere in between…That is diplomacy at its best. You give a little, the opponent gives a little, and before you know it everyone's sitting at the same table talking rather than shooting. The problem we have here is that one party has become calcified with its own inability to control events inside its borders.

A slightly unrelated topic... if asked, would you be interested in involving yourself in the dispute between India and China?

Yes. If asked, I would do anything I could to help. I know the Chinese leadership and they know me. I would be prepared to help if my pragmatic realism could be of assistance. And I think that being of Pakistani origin will also help because of the goodwill that Pakistan enjoys with the Chinese.

A last question: Your reactions to the recent American election...

Astute political observers call it "The great train wreck." America is about to enter a phase in its democratic life that is going to either demonstrate once and for all that American democracy is the best, or show that democracy in the end really doesn't work. Because either we're going to be able to govern ourselves by rising above the partisanship, or we are going to descend into the abyss of political infighting and bicker biting the likes of which we've never seen anywhere before.

I think a Bush administration would be better for the world than a Gore administration, simply because Bush has the capacity to put together a much more intelligent team of strategic foreign policy planners. The Clinton administration never had any strategic planners. Their strategic planner was the president himself… and he only planned what he wanted to plan. They didn't have anyone else in the framework who could look long-range and say let's develop a long-term policy and we'll deal with the potholes as we go along.

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