June 22, 2001


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B Raman

Operation Whitewash

The strong criticism of the activities of Islamic extremist groups by Pervez Musharraf while addressing the annual Seerat conference in Islamabad has been interpreted by many in India as made largely with reference to India. Hence, it was welcomed as a positive indicator of his likely attitude during his visit for talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

But a careful reading of his address would indicate that it was made against a much larger background: like the decline in educational standards in Pakistan due to the influence of religious organisations; the consequent difficulties faced by the economy in modernising itself for want of the required human resources; the worsening of the Shia-Sunni violence in different parts of the country; the consequent deterioration in the law-and-order situation and its negative impact on the flow of foreign investments; the impact of the activities of the extremist organisations on Pakistan's relations with other countries and the resulting negative image of Pakistan as a failed state and a sponsor of terrorism.

His reference to the Indian context was in passing and related to the concern caused in the minds of Indian Muslims by such extremist activities of Pakistani religious organisations and their anti-India rhetoric. He has taken great care to avoid any misinterpretation that the rebuke administered by him related to the activities of the jihadi organisations in Jammu & Kashmir.

His rebuke, so far as their activities against India are concerned, relates mainly to their propaganda that J&K is the gateway to India and that the objective of their jihad is not just the merger of J&K with Pakistan, but also the 'liberation' of Muslims living in other parts of India.

What he has, in effect, deplored is their claim that their final objective is the re-establishment of Muslim rule in those parts of India which were under Mughal rule, and the hoisting of the Mughal flag on the Red Fort. While criticising the misuse of money collected ostensibly for jihad in J&K, he emphasised that he was committed to the so-called Kashmir cause and would advance it in whatever way he could.

As Ayaz Amir, the well-known columnist for the Karachi-based Dawn newspaper, has remarked: "Mr Vajpayee has already welcomed it, a circumstance which almost ensures that it will be read in the context of India-Pakistan relations, whereas to isolate it thus is to give it a wrong meaning."

The rebuke was preceded by the visit to Pakistan by some eminent Deobandi leaders from India to attend a Deobandi conference in Peshawar in April and by the imam of the Jama Masjid in New Delhi to meet leaders of the traditional Islamic parties of Pakistan such as the Jamaat-e-Islami.

While it is not known whether the Indian Deobandi leaders met Musharraf, the imam did call on him. During their discussions in Pakistan, these Indian Muslim leaders reportedly conveyed to their Pakistani interlocutors their concern over the likely negative impact of the anti-India rhetoric of the Pakistani fundamentalist organisations on the welfare of the Indian Muslim community.

During their stay in Pakistan, these leaders took care not to associate themselves with any controversial statements relating to either J&K or the condition of Muslims in India. Their stance has definitely had an impact on the mind of Musharraf and underlines the need for greater interaction between the mainstream religious leaders of the two countries. At the same time, it would be unwise to interpret Musharraf's rebuke as a precursor of a likely reigning-in of the jihadis in J&K.

Musharraf's rebuke came on the eve of four important developments, which could have an adverse impact on his relations with the mullahs. First, the budget for fiscal year 2001-02 to be released end-June: The previous budget of June 2000 covered the last months of the Nawaz Sharief administration and the first months of the military rule. The forthcoming budget, which will be the first relating exclusively to military rule, is expected to show (unless fudged by Musharraf in a big way) a deterioration in the economic situation since the army took over, with GDP growth declining below 4 per cent, an increase in the trade deficit, a failure to meet targets laid down by the IMF as a condition for its rescue package of November 2000, a decrease in spending on social and economic development of the underprivileged sections and a dramatic decline of 74 per cent in foreign investment.

If the correct figures are released, these would damage his credibility and his claim that only his continued rule could put the economy on the path to recovery.

Second, the impending expiry on June 30 of the deadline fixed by the shariat court for the Islamisation of the economy, without any progress made so far: Some banks of Pakistan, at Musharraf's instance, have already requested the court for an extension of this deadline.

Third, the impending expiry on September 30 of the duration of the IMF's standby credit and of the re-scheduling of the overdue external debts by foreign creditor banks: Unless the IMF gives fresh standby credit and the banks agree to further rescheduling, Pakistan is in danger of defaulting on its external financial obligations.

While the IMF and the banks are unlikely to let this happen, the IMF is likely to further tighten its conditions, triggering a fresh round of protests by fundamentalist organisations, which have been calling for the Islamisation of the economy and rejection of the IMF's conditions.

Four, the visit to Washington by Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar for talks with members of the Bush administration: A subject of concern to the Bush administration is the association of the Chinese with the development of Gwadar port on the Mekran coast in Baluchistan and the military regime's reported offer of naval base facilities there to the Chinese, which could pose a direct threat to US interests in the Gulf.

The Chinese have been going ahead full steam with Gwadar's development. Within a month of the agreement in principle on this subject being signed in Islamabad during the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, a high-powered delegation led by the Chinese communications minister was in Baluchistan to start the groundwork.

This project was drawn up in 1992 and was to be implemented by the Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharief regimes with the assistance of Omani and US companies. Following difficulties in implementation due to the post-Chagai economic sanctions, the military regime has awarded the contract to Beijing, which will be funding the project, reportedly in return for the grant of base facilities.

In view of Karachi's vulnerability to an Indian naval blockade in the event of a war, the military regime has already inaugurated new naval bases at Ormara and Gwadar. When completed, these will add to the naval infrastructure in Baluchistan.

Because of the location of a number of sensitive Chinese-aided projects with military implications in Baluchistan, the military regime has already started harassing members of the Hindu community there to try and force them to leave the province. There have been reports of the local authorities and clerics not allowing Hindu girls to marry unless they embrace Islam and choose a Pakistani Muslim as their husband. There have also been reports of the forcible marriage of Hindu girls to Muslim boys.

There has been an alarming increase in attacks on the Ahmediyas and Hindus of Baluchistan since Musharraf seized power. The Friday Times, the highly respected weekly, reported in its issue of March 23-29, 2001:

Persecution of the Ahmediyas seemed to be on the rise across the country last year with about 2,000 incidents. The incidents included the murder of four Ahmediyas, forcible seizure of their places of worship, bodies of Ahmediyas buried in graveyards being disinterred and fatwas issued against the Ahmediyas by Sunni mullahs. While the military regime has not been permitting the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, ARD, to hold rallies for democracy, it did not stop a public function in a Multan mosque by Sunni extremists to award the title of 'Conqueror of Ahmediyas' to Maulana Manzoor Ahmed Chinioti, a Sunni extremist, who has been in the forefront of the campaign for the extermination of the Ahmediyas.

Hundreds of Hindus have been forced to flee their homes and cross over into Sindh. Three Hindus were reported to have been killed in the town of Chaman after clashes between Hindus attempting to protect their homes and Muslim mobs in October. Temples and homes were set ablaze and property, including Hindu shops, destroyed as the growing social intolerance assumed alarming new proportions in Baluchistan. In all cases, local extremist groups played a role in triggering the attacks.

Though the precise number of families which fled was unknown, reports suggested almost half the community of 10,000 Hindus in Lasbela had been forced to leave their homes over the year. In almost all cases, the increased activism by militant religious groups imposed new strains on relations between the majority Muslim and the Hindu communities, who had lived peacefully alongside each other for many decades.

The efforts to forcibly convert the Hindus, especially female school students, had a direct role to play in violence against Hindu settlements.

At least five Hindu temples were vandalised over the year, with their structures damaged and the idols and other objects of worship broken. Amidst the uproar caused by the conversion issue in Lasbela, activists of religious parties launched an assault on two old Hindu temples and threw to the ground the idols placed in them.

While the rest of the world has condemned the destruction of the Buddha statues by the Taleban in Afghanistan and their order to the Hindus to wear a yellow piece of cloth as a mark of identification, neither the rest of the world nor the Track II personalities in India, including members of the high-profile Belusa group of Shirin Tahir-Kheli, who have been in the forefront of the 'Love Musharraf' campaign, have even taken notice of, not to talk of condemning, the persecution of the Hindus of Baluchistan since the military regime came to power.

But at least one official of the Bush administration has taken note of the shocking atrocities on the religious minorities under the military regime. In a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Elliot Abrams, chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, has urged him to press Sattar "to make serious and sustained efforts to promote and protect the religious freedom of all citizens of Pakistan". He said the Sattar visit "provides an occasion for a serious discussion on religious freedom, tolerance and sectarian violence in Pakistan".

The recent admonition of Musharraf to the mullahs should be viewed in the proper perspective, as a purely tactical move against this background, and India should not fall prey to attempts to re-package him as a man of peace and goodwill until his sincerity in wanting to control the rogue mullahs is proved through concrete actions on the ground and he reins in the hordes of irrational Pakistani jihadis let loose by the Inter-Services Intelligence.

The writer was additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is now director of the Institute for Topical Studies, Madras.

Here comes President Musharraf
High stakes and low expectations
Why the Indo-Pak summit is doomed
What validity does a Vajpayee-Musharraf deal hold?
This is not Nirvana
Supping with a rogue general
Tackle Mr Hyde, not Mush Musharraf
Internal security slips, but the red carpet is out
That treacherous road to peace

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