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The siege within

B. Muralidhar Reddy

AS THE United States mulls over its military response to last fortnight's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is faced with a challenge to his authority from within. The plethora of religious and militant outfits created and nurtured by successive Governments in Islamabad for over two and half decades are up in arms against what they see as a volte-face by Gen. Musharraf on Afghanistan and the ideology of jehad on which they have thrived.

As they see it, at stake is not just the future of the Taliban militia, which many of them perceive as a role model, but the very foundations of the foreign policy of Pakistan and their dreams of liberating the enslaved kaum (brotherhood) in the subcontinent.

Today if the Taliban is seen as a regime which aids international terrorism, can the outfits operating in Kashmir escape the dragnet? Few can deny the umbilical link. At least some of the militant outfits and religious groups in Pakistan draw their inspiration from the Taliban.

Just consider this. The transformation of the political struggle in Kashmir into a militant phase coincided with the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. As Afghanistan plunged into a civil war, most of the fighters from Pakistan either returned home or began to look for new areas to carry on a jehad. With the unrest in Kashmir at its peak, it was perhaps too tempting for some of the warriors who had just tasted the success of humbling a superpower.

So, however hard he may try, it is almost impossible for Gen. Musharraf to extricate himself from the fallout of the Afghan and Kashmir policies pursued by successive Governments in Pakistan for over two decades.

The President's predicament was evident in his September 19 address to the nation. What was to have been an explanation for his regime's decision to side with the U.S. in its fight against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban turned into an anti-India tirade. And for good reasons from the General's point of view.

As a seasoned soldier and a man at the helm of affairs for nearly two years now, Gen. Musharraf is aware that a battle cry against India and for the Kashmir cause alone can win him the people's sympathy. So he pulled no punches and asked India to `lay off'. Strong language for a man who had travelled just two months ago to New Delhi/Agra.

But such was the extraordinary situation in the post-September 11 world that he had little option. There were two clear messages in his speech. Pakistan would never allow India's alleged designs for its (Pakistan's) disintegration to succeed. And it would not allow the U.S. and the international community to succeed in bracketing the groups fighting the cause of Kashmir with terrorism.

It will not be an easy task for the Musharraf Government. As Janes Intelligence Digest (JID), in an analysis on the subject has said ``One of the more difficult issues which the General may have to explain is the close links between two Islamic militant groups involved in the Kashmir region and the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden''.

The two groups in question, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e- Taiba, were singled out in the U.S. State Department's Report on the Patterns of Global Terrorism for 2000. ``Although the Pakistani Government has repeatedly denied that it has any alternative involvement with these two groups, credible intelligence community sources point to close ties between senior members of Pakistan's military and security services and both organisations,'' says JID.

As noted by the JID, Gen. Musharraf came to power with the support of the military. He is extremely vulnerable if the Army, or at least a significant element of it, turns against him. If he were to be ousted during an anti-Western, pro-Taliban uprising by an alliance between Kashmiri militants and nationalist military officers, the prospect of a full-scale regional conflagration might become very real.

Gen. Musharraf was conscious of the nuisance value of the jehadi outfits from the day he took charge. He began his innings with a distinct impression of being a man with liberal leanings and determined to halt the `Talibanisation' of Pakistan. But somewhere down the line, the General, like his predecessors, developed cold feet and chose to turn a blind eye to the actions of the many jehadi groups operating from Pakistani soil.

The first sign of his trepidation was when he did not amend the procedure for registration of cases for blasphemy. Gen. Musharraf had evidently let go of the opportunity to assert his authority. And after that he could never get on top of the elements enamoured by the Taliban model. Partly under pressure from the international community, and to some extent out of consideration for the state of the economy, efforts to tame the religious zealots no doubt continued. But they were at best half- hearted.

On the occasion of the birthday of Prophet Mohammad on June 5 this year, he made a brilliant speech targeting the hardcore elements. It was considered bold and was aimed at reasoning it out with the jehadis. Once again it made little difference on the ground. In a clear reference to the growing anti-U.S. rhetoric of some religious groups, Gen. Musharraf said, ``why should you be unnecessarily railing against the great powers? Is it wisdom that you invite hurt, without any rhyme or reason? As I have told you, we are not a powerful country. When we do become powerful, you can indulge in this pastime. You might impress them''.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the well-entrenched anti- India lobby, he made a specific reference to the boast of extremist elements of hoisting the Pakistani flag atop the Red Fort in Delhi. ``What are you going to gain from it? On the contrary, this provides India with the excuse to talk about you as terrorists and to tell others to declare you as terrorists so that prospective investors shy away from your country. When you kill each other, who will consider Pakistan a safe place for investment,'' he asked. It all fell on deaf ears. He complained about how funds being collected in the name of Kashmir refugees by some outfits were going into `private pockets' and urged them to ponder on the consequences of their actions.

After his return from Agra, the Musharraf Government attempted a sort of a crackdown on the jehadi outfits' forcible collection of funds in the name of a holy war. The hue and cry was so loud, the military Government had to retract its decision.

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