Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 49, Dated Dec 13, 2008
'The LeT does
social work in Pakistan'
is our common problem, former Pakistani foreign minister Sartaj
Aziz tells SHOMA CHAUDHURY
What is the
mood in Pakistan? Can you outline the key strands and counter strands?
There is a uniform sense of disappointment at the derailment of the peace
process by this sudden, brutal, devastating attack. There is also widespread
apprehension of hostilities resuming between the two countries. Nobody
in mainstream Pakistan wants this. Along with this there is a disappointment
about the automatic accusation against Pakistan, before any concrete evidence
can be found. We have seen this before with the massacre of Sikhs in Jammu
before President Clinton’s visit to India, the Samjhauta Express
blast, and the Indian Parliament attack on 13 December. Each time Pakistan
was accused and later investigations showed this to be false. After the
Parliament attack almost a million troops were positioned on the border
on the most flimsy evidence. On the other hand, when the Marriott Hotel
in Islamabad was attacked, the Pakistan government was quick to say there
were no links with India. Overall, there has been a lot of concern. All
the political parties here met on Tuesday, December 2, 2008, and the tension
has only diminished after India announced it does not believe Pakistan
government agencies were involved. They say we are unable to control our
extreme radicals, but then who can control such forces?
If this attack
has emanated from extremists on Pakistan soil, what is it you think can
or should be done now?
Our government has said we are ready to co-operate. We have offered to
create a mechanism of joint investigation and sharing of information.
This should be revived. It
would go a long way
in restoring the damage to the atmosphere of trust that had been built
up, starting with Nawaz Sharif and Musharraff from the Pakistan side,
and taken much further by President Zardari who has been talking of no
visas and opening trade between the two countries. Indians must understand
Pakistan is a worse victim of terrorism than even India. We have a common
problem. Global faultlines – triggered by the Russian invasion of
Afghanistan, the middle-eastern crisis -- have traveled to our region.
It is in our common interest to stop all this. The whole region needs
peace and prosperity. To achieve this, I hope India will be able to conduct
honest and transparent investigations, and not play things up for electoral
If you say
it is not ISI-backed, who do you think has done this?
Whoever did it wanted to spoil the peace process. The only people who
would benefit from this that I can think of are the jehadi Taliban in
Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Pakistani government action against
them has intensified, they are under a lot of pressure and they have been
retaliating by blowing up girls’ schools, video shops and police
stations. If they can create strong tension between India and Pakistan,
there would be a cessation of military action against them, troops would
have to be diverted to the eastern border and pressure on them would let
up. We strongly hope India will not push us into that position.
been asking for a list of 20 criminals. This seems pretty reasonable.
What stops Pakistan from giving them up?
We have repeatedly asked India for some evidence against them; repeatedly
offered a mechanism for joint investigations. Given the relationship between
India and Pakistan, sending a list is not good enough. If we extradited
these people without strong evidence, it would not go down well with people
in Pakistan. After the Bombay blasts, there was a strong push from India
but the evidence provided finally was very poor.
Are you saying
there is popular support for the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad and men like Dawood
Ibrahim in Pakistan?
Not wide popular support,
but they do have support among some religious parties. They have no record
of illegal activity within Pakistan, they merely propagate their own religion
and, in fact, after the LeT and Jaish was banned under US pressure, the
LeT has reincarnated itself as the Jammat-ul-Dawa. They do a lot of social
work, they run schools and hospitals. We cannot touch them without strong
evidence. You have the RSS and its extended wings in your country. Can
you eliminate the RSS? We all have extreme fringes in our societies, but
you can’t just brand them without evidence. You cannot compare the
LeT leadership with the Taliban of the tribal areas.
Why did Pakistan
agree to ban them under US pressure then?
Their volunteers were
involved in the Kashmir jehad, we didn’t think of this activity
in Kashmir as terrorism but as support for the freedom fighters there.
But after 9/11, there were a lot of demands from the West to ban them
so we had to concede. Because of the nature of the history between India
and Pakistan, we cannot make similar concessions to Indian demands without
The ISI chief
was set to come to India. Why did he back off?
He backed off because
of the way the Indian television media began to play the story. They said
the ISI chief had been “summoned” to India. Naturally this
made things very awkward for us.
What do you
make of India’s growing proximity to America, and Pakistan’s
own relationship with the US? Has it been beneficial?
No one can deny that the US’ actions has created hostilities around
the world and their action in Afghanistan and elsewhere will need a fresh
look and evaluation. At the same time I think America does want improved
relations between India and Pakistan so that Pakistan can focus squarely
on the trouble on its Afghan border. To that extent, there is a convergence
of interest. But I don’t think military action alone can solve the
problem. We need to get a diplomatic and political dialogue going with
the locals. There are very few outsiders there, it is local support that
has grown and we have to wean that away.