Maulana Fazlur Rehman sent a message to the U.S. Embassy offering to mediate with the Taliban.
Prominent Muslim leaders in New Delhi stayed away from a high-profile Pakistani politician when he visited the city in May 2006.
However, that did not discourage the politician, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islami (F) and Leader of the Opposition, from making a visit again next year. And this time he made an indirect overture to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, offering his services as a mediator between the Bush Administration and the Taliban.
In keeping with the perception that the U.S. holds the keys to power in Islamabad, he also indirectly canvassed the Americans to help him play his “rightful” role in the Government of Pakistan.
As well as shedding some new light on the Maulana's agenda during these private visits, the cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks provide an interesting, if somewhat over-the-top and alarmist U.S. view of this wily Pakistani politician who is known back home more as a pragmatic leader with a clear idea of the buttered side of bread, rather than as a dogmatic Islamist.
It is also illustrative of the kind of sources U.S. diplomats cultivate, and their ability — or otherwise — to grade the information from these different sources.
One of the cables has references to former Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and his alleged connections with a Delhi businessman.
Cabling on May 19, 2006 about Mr. Rahman's May 15-19 visit (64728: confidential), the Embassy's Political Counselor, Geoffrey Pyatt, noted that his hosts, the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind, “failed to convince most prominent Muslims to attend” a reception in his honour. The Embassy was also invited but “steered well clear” of it on the advice of the Embassy in Islamabad.
In the fact that Mr. Rahman met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr. Pyatt saw “another facet of [the Prime Minister's] relentless outreach to the people of Pakistan, whatever their political coloration.”
He also wrote that “Indian Muslims entertain no sympathy for the Taliban or Rahman and those at the reception were a virtual rogues' gallery of discredited hard-liners and fundamentalists.”
Unlike the Pakistani Deobandis, the Deobandis in India, of which the JuH is a political arm, Mr. Pyatt explained in the cable, “have (at least in public) kept their distance” from the Taliban.
The reception for him at a Delhi five-star hotel was attended by 200 clerics, mainly from the Deobandi sect, 15 Members of Parliament and some journalists from the Urdu press. The only government representative there was Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz.
Mr. Natwar Singh, former J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and Ram Gopal Yadav, brother of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, were other prominent guests.
The U.S. official wrote that the reception was hosted by JuH leader Mahmood Madani, who had just then been elected to the Rajya Sabha with the support of the Samajwadi Party, the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh.
Two contacts fed Mr. Pyatt more masala on the visit, which the U.S. diplomat was cautious enough to put down as their claims. Mr. Pyatt commented that Mr. Natwar Singh's presence at “such a disreputable event” could “only hurt his political future and further alienate him from the Congress leadership, which is not amused by his antics.”
Mr. Pyatt's sweeping conclusion of the visit was that it was “further evidence that a witches' brew of anti-US and pro-Iran Muslims and the Samajwadi Party (SP) of Uttar Pradesh is working together to oppose the UPA government and the US.”
A year later, Mr. Rahman was back, providing more grist to the American cable mill.
On May 3, 2007, Assistant Political Counselor Atul Keshap reported (cable 106645: secret) his meeting with JuH leader Mahmood Madani and Pandit N.K. Sharma, an astrologer-adviser to P.V. Narasimha Rao, “who claims close ties” to the Gandhi family. Mr. Madani told the U.S. official that the Pakistani leader had a “pressing issue he wanted to discuss with US officials, but he was only interested in holding these talks outside of Pakistan.”
He explained that Mr. Rahman “could not speak freely in Pakistan, that he would say one thing in Pakistan and something else in India if asked.”
Mr. Sharma gave his own reasons for the Maulana's diffidence about approaching the Americans in Pakistan: the former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan was “very close” to Pervez Musharraf, and Mr. Rahman would jeopardise his position in the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) [an alliance of six Islamic political parties] if it came out that he was speaking to the Americans; extremists in Pakistan would threaten him. Another reason given by Mr. Sharma was that India wanted to play a role in the negotiations, which it could not do inside Pakistan.
“Madani explained that Rahman was interested in acting as a go between for the United States, to negotiate with the Taliban in order to bring them into the mainstream and peacefully into politics in Afghanistan. Madani said many of the Taliban were just caught up in the conflict and did not have a way out of it. Which Taliban members were willing to be involved and under what circumstances would have to be worked out in the negotiations.”
Mr. Madani was also carrying another message on behalf of Mr. Rehman — that he be allowed to play a bigger role in Pakistani politics. Mr. Madani told the U.S. official that because of his known ties to Taliban members, Mr. Rahman had a “bad reputation” in Pakistani politics, but “in reality was more moderate than Musharraf.”
The U.S. official was dismissive of Mr. Sharma, dryly commenting that he “appears to exaggerate his role in the talks as well as his influence over world affairs.” Mr. Madani he took more seriously.
“While we remain skeptical that India — which has long supported members of the Afghan Northern Alliance — would support such a discussion with Taliban leaders, we think Maulana Madani's efforts, although overly ambitious, reflect his seriousness,” he commented.
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)