Four secrets I unearthed from Pakistan
My singular mission during an extensive trip to Pakistan was to get under the skin of the people I met, know what they thought about India and the current raft of India-Pak bonhomie.
Something happened between 9/11 and now: America, it seems, has replaced India as the country Pakistanis are most hysterical about. Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed tells me that there is no constituency in Pakistan today which wants confrontation with India, the armed forced included.
At Islamabad’s impeccable restaurants, a few notable men spilt some big beans over small talk and hearty meals.
1. Agra talks
At Signature, a restaurant think-thank folks frequent in Islamabad, I broke bread with Ashraf J Qazi, who was Pakistan’s high commissioner in New Delhi when the “Agra talks” failed. Twice, he says, India and Pakistan agreed to the text and went back.
“The talks need not have failed but they did.” To prepare the ground, Qazi would meet then home minister LK Advani at his home in the wee hours, around 5am, to avoid the media, traveling in a different car each time. Mistakes, he said, were committed on both sides. India did not ultimately agree on the language describing “terror” and the Pakistani side disagreed with India’s choice of words on Kashmir, down to the “nouns” and “verbs”. Was there a deal on Kashmir on the table, as is still rumoured? None, says Qazi.
The deal, if at all, was going to about agreeing to talk Kashmir within a mutually agreed framework.
Two men who were at the helm when the Kargil conflict erupted, Lieutenant General (retired) Abdul Qayyum and former Pakistan defence attaché SM Hali, say Kargil was a “pet project” of former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf since his early days in the military. I met both at a dinner hosted by senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed at Islamabad’s Marriot (the one that was blown up by a suicide bomber in 2008).
Qayyum said Musharraf tried selling the “Kargil idea” to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto when she was PM. When he revealed his plans to Benazir Bhutto, she is supposed to have asked, “Then what?” Musharraf replied: “Then, we can cut off supply lines to Siachen.”
Bhutto went on to ask again: “Then what?” Musharraf answered: “Then, we can hope to win Kashmir.” “Then what,” Benazir asked yet again, unexcited and frowning. The general got the message and never brought it up again until he became president.
3. Betting on China?
Pakistani analysts say China would seldom back any move to drag it into the Kashmir issue. Hali had this anecdote to share. When Nawaz Sharif visited China as prime minister, he asked the Chinese premier whether China would be interested in backing Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir.
The Chinese premier is said to have told Sharif that, according to Chinese wisdom, there was a time for all big things to happen. Citing Taiwan, he said the Kashmir stand-off would get resolved only when the time for it came.
Pakistan should instead focus on building a fair place for it in the world, the Chinese premier is supposed to have said.
4. 26/11 and Major Iqbal
India has officially cited the role of a certain “Major Iqbal” in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan has officially dismissed anybody by that name having been involved in the Mumbai attacks.
At a dinner at Lahore’s Pearl Continental, I heard my host — a top security official — say something unbelievable. On record at that. Major Iqbal, he said, was a classmate of 26/11-accused David Headley, had long retired from the Pakistani army and lived abroad.
“He is as good as a civilian now and has nothing to do with us (Pakistan army).”