ibnlive » India

May 29, 2011 at 02:27pm IST

Majority in Pak don't support terrorists: Khan

Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil's Advocate. How should we understand what's happening in Pakistan? And how do Pakistanis respond to the proof of ISI involvement in 26/11? Those are the two issues I should explore with the country's former foreign secretary Shaharyar Khan. Shaharyar Khan, you come to India at a time when the Rana, Headley trial at Chicago has revealed details of ISI involvement in 26/11. As a former foreign secretary, how do you respond to what has emerged?

Shaharyar Khan: Well frankly, I know that in India, these days, the media is highlighting the Headley trial. I think there is no doubt that at some stage in the past the military had relations with Lashkar-e-Toiba and various others. Whether they have maintained those as directly as Headley seems to bring out. I personally have my doubts. My doubts are because it does not help Pakistan to engage in this kind of activity.

Karan Thapar: Let me tell you some of the specific details which have emerged in the court in Chicago. The United States (indictment) says that an ISI officer, a Major (Mazhar Iqbal) was Headley's handler. He gave Headley Rs 25,000. He discussed with Headley how to attack the (Shiv Sena) office in Mumbai. He asked Headley to reconnoiter the Chabad House in Mumbai. And Headley frequently met him to get instructions. And all of this is in emails, there are this man's diaries. People have checked some of the phone numbers in the diaries and they are genuine and accurate, surely that is convincing proof.

Shaharyar Khan: Well, I think there is no doubt who ever this Major Iqbal is, was in touch with this man but I think the crucial question is, was Major Iqbal acting under instructions from the ISI hierarchy or is he one of these people who are operating more or less of there own at the lower level. Now as I said, I very much doubt that institution like the ISI or the military would actually sanction something like that. But the evidence there is let me tell you that right now in Pakistan there is great deal of soul searching with regard to how reliable our military is, after bin Laden, after Karachi.

Karan Thapar: There is something very important that you have just said. You question whether the ISI officially is involved. But you do seem to accept that it is possible that a junior ISI officer, may be in some sought of personal rogue operation, was involved, that you don't seem to deny.

Shaharyar Khan: Well, I think I would certainly accept that and I think as foreign secretary I was aware sometimes of this kind of tenebrous activity by the lower staff. I mean let me be specific, who was Colonel Imam. Was he actually taking orders from head of the ISI and later on he left the ISI? He may have been fired for his commitment for his zeal. And later on he is the operator who is called by the Taliban and actually killed him.

Karan Thapar: Just for the Indian audience Colonel Imam is in fact a former army officer, connected to the ISI, who was close to the Taliban and who recently got killed by the Taliban. And you are saying that if a Colonel Imam could exist and operate that, in that same penumbra Major Iqbal or a Major Ali could be operating as well.

Shaharyar Khan: Could be operating.

Karan Thapar: Let me quote to you what Headley has also said to the court in Chicago. He said that the ISI provided the LeT with financial, military and naval support and then Charles Swift, who is Rana's American lawyer, has been even more explicit. He says it is difficult to tell the difference between the ISI and LeT, they work together and every LeT commander has an ISI handler.

Shaharyar Khan: Well, as I said earlier the evidence seems to be fairly clear cut but the evidence points to certain people, to Major Iqbal, various other people like that. I don't think and it is because I believe that no ISI head would actually want to do something as drastic as Mumbai. It would be so counter productive and it has proven to be counter productive. I don't think they would be engaged.

Karan Thapar: You are saying to me that this could be a rogue operation? You don't believe it's an official operation. Let me put this to you - whether rogue or official, how will people in Pakistan respond to the proof of some sought of ISI involvement in perpetrating terror against India because that is tantamount to official involvement and this time the proof doesn't come from Indian sources, it comes from an American court through the American media.

Shaharyar Khan: Well people in Pakistan are very wary of US at this point of time. Let me tell you that. But I think there is no doubt that this kind of evidence that is coming out of the Headley and the other man (Tahawwur) trial is going to lead to a great deal of negative reaction in Pakistan. I mean I can tell you that the media is already reacting to this. We have some elements of the media which are very right wing, if you like, but the majority of mainstream is very, very concerned. And they are concerned at what the military has been up to all these years. And I think there is a great deal of soul searching and this goes right down to the civil society, students and others.

Karan Thapar: Now the truth is that since 2001 when the Indian Parliament was attacked successive Pakistani governments have promised that jehadi or terrorist organisations based out of Pakistan will not be allowed to carry terror strike on India. And yet 10 years have passed and the terror continues and today it's not the Indians alone who are complaining but your closest ally in the world - the Americans - are disillusioned and they seem to be angry. As a foreign secretary doesn't that worry you?

Shaharyar Khan: Well, it does worry us and I think, I mean I'm teaching these days and let me just tell you Karan that I have just finished an exam in which all these questions were asked and I would say that 99 per cent of the students were against any kind of support for things like LeT etc.

Karan Thapar: Ninety nine per cent of your students against supporting LeT?

Shaharyar Khan: I have seen the answers myself. Top universities, all of them say we have to stop cross border to resolve Kashmir and all that, you see. Most of them are absolutely clear that this is wrong if it is happening and this is what the media has been saying and what has made it much more topical is that the bin Laden episode and the Karachi attack has exposed our people to this kind of attack, what have you been doing all these years.

Karan Thapar: So at the moment there is soul searching in the Pakistan, there is a sense of agony and Pakistan civil society does not support the use of terror as an official policy against India by the government.

Shaharyar Khan: Absolutely not. There is no doubt about that in my mind.

Karan Thapar: Let us then come to a second issue that is in the news. After the terrorist attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi, people are asking how safe are Pakistan's nuclear weapons? As a former foreign secretary what is your answer to that question?

Shaharyar Khan: I think there is rightfully a lot of speculation that if we can't protect the naval base, if we can't fight bin Laden when he has been living there for five years, then what about the, the question that you asked. But in my mind I have no doubt what so ever that on this particular issue the safety of ours nukes - there is no need to worry, there is no anxiety this issue. The military and others are absolutely, totally focused that we would not allow anything to happen there.

Karan Thapar: What about the possibility of jehadi sentiments or jehadi sympathisers infiltrating your security agencies, as happened in the case of the assassin who killed Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab this January and thus acquiring fissile material and going on to facilitate a dirty bomb. How high do you rate that danger?

Shaharyar Khan: Yes, that possibility is there. I think our people are conscious and cognizant of this and they will take preventive action not to allow that ilk to be anywhere near the…

Karan Thapar: But did you succeed in the case of the security agencies and the man who killed Salman Taseer. Salman Taseer was a sitting target and when he was assassinated, every other security man watched and didn't do anything. And the assassin was then hailed as a hero.

Shaharyar Khan: Yes, that is true but you have to distinguish the killing, assassination of one man like Salman Taseer, who would stick his neck out in the cause of blasphemy and various other religious causes. I'm sorry to have to say this, he was asking for it from the extremists.

Karan Thapar: Let me then give you another example only as recent as 2003-2004. An Air Vice Marshal, Khalid Chaudhry of the Pakistani Air Force, informed the Americans, as WikiLeaks has recently reported both in Pakistan and in India that in fact F-16 supplied by America were being sabotaged by the Islamist amongst the enlisted ranks. Isn't that corroboration of the very fear I'm talking about.

Shaharyar Khan: No doubt and I think all of us who have been observing this sought of trend of extremist Islamisation all of us have felt concern about this. But no one is more concerned than the present military authorities. And I think those who are in that way inclined, I think they will no longer be allowed to have effective control or influence over…

Karan Thapar: Put your hand on your heart, can you 100 per cent rule out the possibility of jehadi symphathisers infiltrating the security forces and managing to secure missile material and create a dirty bomb. Can you really 100 per cent rule it out?

Shaharyar Khan: I think on that score I would say that I would be not 100 per cent but 99 per cent sure.

Karan Thapar: So there is an element of fear?

Shaharyar Khan: People are very conscious of that and it would be a total disaster. I don't think that would be allowed to happen. There is no doubt that there is a surge of Islamisation and right-wing opinion, but I don't think it would be allowed to get close to those very, very sensitive areas.

Karan Thapar: Shaharyar Khan let's broaden our discussion. Today people all over the world are asking where is Pakistan heading? Ahmed Rashed, one of your great scholars says that Pakistan is the end of a precipice. Ayaz Amir one of your columnist says Pakistan is at the gates of madness. As a former foreign secretary where is your country today?

Shaharyar Khan: I think there is no doubts that we have plunged the depths of governance, if you like. I think the problem here is that over the time we had civilian democratic government, we haven't gotten out of the idea, the sought of background, of the civilian government not being able to deliver. And as a result you have this precipice syndrome that Ahmed Rashed has referred to. But let me say that there are two, three very important things that have happened. One that the democratic process of 2008 has actually taken root. And I think it is very difficult to change that. Two, that the Supreme Court has really played a very important role in Pakistan affairs in trying to manage the country in a proper manner. And the third one is that there is a very general feeling in the public that we have to get over these crises - economic, terrorism, tension with India - that we have to get over and the public reaction is very strong and we have a very strong media now.

Karan Thapar: I don't think that there may be few seeds that might blossom but at the moment the landscape is barren. And the problem is this is clearly not what Mohammad Ali Jinnah intended for Pakistan in 1947. Where in the last 63 years has your country gone wrong?

Shaharyar Khan: Well number one, we didn't react sufficiently strongly to military rule. We have had military rule most of our lives, number one. Number two, Mr Jinnah's ideals of a secular Islamic country were trampled over soon after his death. And one of the sad thing is that as in India, your leaders remained for sometime, Pandit Nehru, Vallab Bhai Patel others etc. Our leaders were knocked out in two years. First of all, Jinnah, after that Liaquat, I think this led to military rule and military rule has meant that the feudal mafia of Pakistan has maintained its hold even on democratic and civil affairs. I think this is where we have failed.

Karan Thapar: What about something else given the Pakistan was created consciously as a separate state for sub-continental Muslims was it inevitable that fundamentalist and extremist forces would dominate and over whelm public opinion.

Shaharyar Khan: I don't think this was inevitable. I think it could have been managed. A surge of Islamic feeling was obviously going to take pace. But don't forget Karan that every time a real election takes place in Pakistan the right wing parties lose out. They don't gain, they lose.

Karan Thapar: Until a Zia or a Musharraf comes and pops them up because he wants to use them.

Shaharyar Khan: Exactly Musharraf too, he relied on them

Karan Thapar: Many people say that perhaps one of the greatest problems is the army's refusal to recognise all extremist or jehadi forces as enemies of the Pakistan. But to treat those that are anti-Indian as useful instrument of policy vis-a-vis India. Would you expect that there is a lot of credibility to that view or would you disagree?

Shaharyar Khan: I think there is generally in Pakistan, a feeling that, that is the case and that it needs to be changed. And what I think is a hopeful sign, is that there is now a realisation in the public in the civil society and in the media that this kind of attitude has to change.

Karan Thapar: But is there any realisation in the army itself.

Shaharyar Khan: I think so.

Karan Thapar: What is the proof of it?

Shaharyar Khan: No proof, just a feeling. Just a feeling that now after bin Laden, after Karachi after all these things surely they must think that terrorism is our major concern, not India.

Karan Thapar: Are you not sure that is just hope against hope because in India the perception is that General Kayani regards his army - in fact he said that publicly as-India-centric. The perception in India is he is not as well disposed to this country as Musharraf was. Is that a wrong interpretation of the man?

Shaharyar Khan: I think it is an interpretation which will emerge in the future because General Kayani is a thinking man and surely if these were his views as you have said then surely he is thinking about them, other generals must be thinking about them, that is this the right course for us? With us being attacked everyday today in Peshawar apparently, suicide bombers, they are all terrorists who are attacking Pakistan's firmament and surely if the rest of the society is conscious of the fact that these are our prime enemies, one cannot expect that the armed forces would turn away from there.

Karan Thapar: Which are you saying that behind closed doors General Kayani and his core commanders are going through a slow agonising process of re-thinking or are you saying they will begin but haven't begun yet. Which are you saying?

Shaharyar Khan: No, I'm saying first that there is a agonising reassessment of where we are going, whether India should still be regarded as the main opponent or whether terrorism as is before us, should not be tackled in a very immediate manner.

Karan Thapar: Are you only saying this because this will be the rational, sensible thing for the Army Chief and his core commanders to do or because you genuinely have reason to believe they are doing it?

Shaharyar Khan: Well, I have genuine reason to believe that the whole country is swayed by this thought that we are now the "captives" or the terrorist trying to overwhelm us. I think there is surely a feeling which is surely going to be accepted in the army as well. There is no other way, we have to tackle this issue as a primary issue.

Karan Thapar: If you fail to tackle it as a primary issue, is there any danger as the people in West increasingly ask, as the people in India ask, that Pakistan might one day fall into the hands of the jehadists.

Shaharyar Khan: I don't think that is a very likely prospect, as I said that the terrorists and the right-wing parties make a lot of noise. They are very committed people, I don't doubt that there is huge amount of commitment from them. But the actual numbers is very small.

Karan Thapar: So the civil society and the old secular ethic of Pakistan that JInnah had in mind will ultimately, even if it takes pain, prevail?

Shaharyar Khan: I'm sure it will. Look at the example of Bangladesh. After all they went through the same. Today Bangladesh is saying no religion in politics. If Bangladesh can do it, we can do it.

Karan Thapar: The part that broke away from Pakistan is now the hope that Pakistan could change the same way too.

Shaharyar Khan: I like to hope so.

Karan Thapar: Shaharyar Khan, pleasure talking to you.

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