July 13, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Hamid Mir, editor, Ausaf

'Musharraf only has two options -- war or peace'

Hamid Mir, 36, is part of the media delegation flown in by a special flight to New Delhi, ahead of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Considered a fundamentalist even in the Pakistani media, Mir, editor of the Ausaf newspaper in Islamabad, was introduced by one Pakistani journalist thus: "Meet our RSS guy."

Known for his close contacts with Kashmiri militants and Osama bin Laden, Mir's widely read daily column is loaded with anti-India rhetoric. In a conversation with Sheela Bhatt, he gives an insight into the Pakistani psyche -- in war and peace. He also claims that Musharraf will not walk the high road to peace for long. Excerpts:

On Pervez Musharraf's image in Pakistan

Just before Kargil, when Vajpayee was about to arrive in Lahore -- we saw that Nawaz Sharief had not formed a consensus. He tried to impose on Pakistan a peace process given to him by America. In these circumstances, hardliners started meeting Musharraf. He is a simple man, but Kashmir is his obsession, his own issue. His passion.

He is one of those army officers whose wounds of the defeat of the 1971 war have not healed. He has served in East Pakistan. One should understand the psyche of a young soldier who is asked to surrender his weapons. There are many such officers in the army and there are many people in Pakistan who are not able to compromise with the feeling of defeat.

In Pakistan it has another dimension. It is related to national prestige. Musharraf saw that Sharief was skirting the Kashmir issue -- the core issue -- and trying to establish trade with India. Through the Lahore Declaration Sharief was trying to boost his trade in sugar. Musharraf thought Sharief was not interested in Kashmir.

Musharraf is a commando. He speaks less. He may share only one sentence, but that will reveal his mind. A commando always camouflages. If you try to play games with him, he hits back badly. Musharraf knew well that Sharief would sack him. When Sharief signed an agreement in Washington on July 4, 1999, to retreat from Kargil, Musharraf told us he was unaware of Sharief's move. He told his officers not to retreat.

He talks of Kashmir again and again because he wants to solve this issue -- to go beyond India's expectations.

On October 12, 1999, when he took over, he was a political hero. Today on the domestic front he is zero. His team has not delivered. No major political party is with him. His only strength is his Kashmir policy. If he compromises on Kashmir, that day Benazir [Bhutto] and Sharief will bounce back. They will bring the people on the streets.

Our first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was murdered because he agreed to a cease-fire in Kashmir. General Ayub Khan ruled for 11 years. In 1964, he defeated even Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Pakistan's founder. But when the same Ayub Khan signed the Tashkent Agreement without the inclusion of a word on Kashmir, he lost power to Bhutto. People chanted 'Ayub kutta [dog]'. He resigned. Kashmir is such a sentimental issue in Pakistan.

Sharief had the strongest mandate, but had to go because of Kashmir. The people of Pakistan will not be afraid to call Musharraf "an Indian agent" if he shows some flexibility. Pakistanis do not approve of him visiting his haveli in Daryaganj. It will show that he is here not to solve Kashmir but to indulge in nostalgia.

'Musharraf has argued that in certain circumstances he could win Kashmir in three days'
Before Kargil, Musharraf was without political compulsions. He was ready to debate that in a certain time-frame he could liberate Kashmir. Four Pakistani editors had a discussion on this. He argued that in certain circumstances he could win Kashmir in three days. He thought war is the only solution to Kashmir. When he spoke to us about this, a Kargil type of war was not on his mind. He was thinking of something different. If Indians had crossed the Line of Control during Kargil, Musharraf would have had his own way.

India showed exemplary political maturity. India's strength is patience. There is a change in the post-Kargil Musharraf. Now he has prepared himself mentally. He has come to Delhi to satisfy one school of thought in Pakistan that Kashmir should be solved through negotiations and talks. He can go back and tell those peaceniks that he tried all means.

Even Nawaz Sharief is watching. He told me that Musharraf will also trade with India. He spoke to me before the invitation to the Hurriyat was sent. He said, "Look, Musharraf has forgotten the Hurriyat."

I personally don't give much importance to the Hurriyat. Pakistanis give more credence to militants.

Pakistan's common voter never votes for the maulvis (clergy). No religion-based political party can win an election, ever. Pakistanis are ready to donate to the jihadis. Maulvis collect money and put on weight, while young boys go to Kashmir and give their life away. In my lane, a boy had a farewell because he was going to Kashmir. Three months later we came to know he was no more.

There is a conflict between the jihadis and maulvis. The chief of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba is an engineer. He was a professor in an engineering college in Lahore. The Hizbul [Mujahideen] chief is an MA in political science from Srinagar. Al-Badr's chief is an LLB from Karachi. People from madarsas can't lead a jihad. Maulvis are therefore trying to sabotage the jihadi struggle from inside.

Imam Bukhari of Delhi's Jama Masjid was also used by the authorities. He was working with one maulvi from Saudi Arabia. The Hizb chief, Syed Salahuddin, told me that Bukhari had called him on behalf of Vajpayee that if the Indian PM announced a cease-fire would he also follow? Salahuddin refused.

Even Osama bin Laden told me in an interview that he is careful about India. He is not ready to comment a word on India. He is not ready to speak on the jihad in Kashmir. He says that if he speaks it will affect the Muslims of India. He says India is not his enemy, his fight is against America.

On Kashmiri pressure on Pakistan

There is tremendous pressure on Pakistan from the Kashmiris. They are telling us: "We have kept the Indian Army engaged since the last 10 years. Can't you do something for 10 days?" They are implying war, and I think if that happens it will be too bad. If they want war, their option of independence goes.

I think a plebiscite will weaken the position of Pakistan. And you Indians should also know that for common Pakistanis, Kashmir is not just a religious or emotional issue. It is an economic issue too. Seventy per cent of our population lives in rural areas. A majority of them are farmers. We have five rivers, all of which are flowing down from Kashmir.

The farmer, in turn, shares his sentiments with the maulvis and they provoke them to start a jihad against India. But since the waters of Sindh have dried, even Sindhis are alert. They now find the Kashmir issue behind the drying up of Sindh! Initially boys from Punjab, Frontier and Azad Kashmir joined the Kashmir movement. But the attack in Srinagar on the corps headquarters was executed by a Sindhi suicider (sic).

In India and Pakistan, politicians and bureaucrats have allowed themselves to be caught in a trap of their own making.

'The winning card is with Vajpayee. Pervez is a military dictator, without experience of real diplomacy'

Kashmir is an unfinished agenda. We blame the Pakistani Army because they are using young boys. It is the army's duty to fight. Why should they push the muhajideen? In Pakistan, Kashmir is an issue of the common man, it is not an issue of the ruling elite. A survey done by The Washington Post found that the poor were ready to fight for Kashmir, but the rich said, "Give Kashmir to India."

But the Kashmiris of Pakistan are putting pressure on us. They have the strongest lobby. They dominate businesses. Except in Karachi, at a political level Kashmiri immigrants are a major factor. Our chief of air force is a Kashmiri. Our corps commanders of Lahore and Rawalpindi are Kashmiri. Our foreign secretary is also Kashmiri. In bureaucracy they are seen at all levels.

Today I met Hurriyat chairman Abdul Gani Bhat. When I asked what would happen if the Agra talks failed, he said there would be war. He said the Indian Army was suffering from indiscipline, corruption and psychological fatigue.

On Vajpayee and Musharraf meeting in a closed room alone

When Musharraf was asked by editors about his policy and his extent of flexibility, he said: "I don't believe in secret diplomacy. Indians always beat us in secret diplomacy. Indians are very good diplomats. I am a simple man. Whatever I do inside a closed room, I will immediately share with you after I come out."

Musharraf told the editors that Vajpayee was serious. And had promised that he would talk about Kashmir. I feel the real card, the winning card, is with Vajpayee. Pervez is a military dictator, without experience of real diplomacy, while a political legacy is behind Vajpayee. Who is behind Musharraf? He is like a kid who is forced by his neighbours to sit at a table to talk with India. He is here to skirt domestic issues. He is not supposed to give away anything.

Who can question Vajpayee? Sonia Gandhi can't touch him. But Musharraf will not be spared in Pakistan. Benazir and Sharief will not allow him or his family to live in Pakistan. However, Pakistanis are comfortable in dealing with the BJP. We believe the Congress is communal under a secular face.

Pakistan's strongest party is the army. Both are aware of each other's thinking and both are competent. The option of war is also certainly in Musharraf's mind. That's why Agra is a golden opportunity.

On the solution for peace

When I spoke to people here, I have a desire now. A dream. The stance of politicians in both countries is hard, but people are not. To be frank, I am a hardliner. But this visit to Delhi has given me a hope. I feel if Vajpayee and Musharraf want, they can bring peace. For Pervez Musharraf, there are only two options -- war and peace.

I feel both the countries should talk about the Chenab formula. Let the river become the border.

The Kashmiris may not accept it, but if India and Pakistan agree, they can be persuaded. Both will have to adopt a policy of give and take. Some Muslim-dominated areas will go to India and in response India might have to give some areas.

As a Pakistani I have learnt a bitter lesson from America. Pakistani hardliners are strictly against American intervention in the Indo-Pak problem. Look what they have done of the Middle-East problem. They would do the same here.

Indo-Pak summit: The complete coverage
The Bus to Pakistan: The complete coverage

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