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BETWEEN HAWKS AND DOVES

Hardly anything remains secret or classified these days, owing to the availability of open-source information thanks to real-time reporting by the electronic media and the mass access to information technology. It is, therefore, time to recapitulate the life and times,the acts and utterances, of Hafiz Saeed, about whom some Indian celebrities appear to be intensely enamoured of. In fact, the list of Indian admirers of Saeed appears to be growing by the day, thanks to India’s benign tradition of tolerating wrong-doers, including terrorists and non-State actors operating from across the border.

Hence, the recent meeting between an Indian scribe and the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai massacre is neither surprising nor shocking. The Indian scribe appears to have tried hard to project himself as an ace, super-sleuth journalist. However, his admission to the charmed world of back-door diplomacy with Pakistan needs to be analyzed in the backdrop of a sustained and orchestrated conflict by Islamabad against India.

Some of Saeed’s utterances merit closer scrutiny. In November 1999, the founder of the Jamat-ud-Dawa is reported to have stated, “Jehad is not about Jammu & Kashmir only. About 15 years ago, people might have found it ridiculous if someone told them about the disintegration of the USSR. Today, I announce the break-up of India... we will not rest until the whole of India is dissolved into Pakistan.”

Again, in October 2008, Saeed, allegedly, stated, “India has blocked the Chenab waters and constructed the Baglihar Dam. The only reason all this has happened is because jehad-e-Kashmir has been abandoned by the rulers. India understands only the language of jehad, which cannot be suppressed. In fact, with some support, jehad can break up India like the former USSR.”

The catastrophic attack on Mumbai took place a little over a month after this speech. What happened thereafter is too wellknown to be repeated. The manner in which the Manmohan Singh government tackled the problem, readers will recall, was quite ridiculous. The erstwhile government seemed intent on kowtowing to those who are hell-bent on destroying the nation. The indirect approach, involving diplomats of all hue, was a poor imitation of Henry Kissinger’s legendary ‘Mission Beijing’. Open diplomacy had clearly given way to its clandestine avatar.

Saeed has also been accused of masterminding a terrorist operation in which Hamza Shakoor, a militant from Gujranwala, rammed an explosive-laden four-wheeler into the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008. After Saeed and his cohorts formed the Lashkar-e-Toiba to wage jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, the LeT grew into one of the biggest militias in the 1990s, says Amir Mir, a journalist in Pakistan. The LeT went on to become a formidable anti-India jihadi group. However, it did feel the heat after 9/11. It is alleged that Saeed was then asked by ‘his spy masters in the Inter-Services Intelligence’ to divide the outfit into two groups, the Jamat-ud-Dawa and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The former acted like an Islamic charity organization; the latter was fully dedicated to militancy and concentrated on Jammu and Kashmir.

According to Pakistanis themselves, “The LeT and the JuD have been calling for many years for the expansion of jehad to the rest of India to create two independent homelands for the Muslims of South and North India”. There are many more statements and utterances of Saeed and the LeT that can be quoted to establish the fact that at the level of policy, the former prime minister, Manmohan Singh, failed to meet the challenge effectively.

This is what Sanjaya Baru, the former media advisor to Singh, has to say: “Conquerors, travellers, traders and teachers set foot or set sail and moved across Asia through India... Pakistan, the land of his birth... could never be reversed but why should political boundaries now come in the way?” Understandably, the former prime minister’s emotional understanding and views of history and geopolitics of South Asia — he had wanted to make borders irrelevant — did not help matters in any way. Singh is reported to have said, “I dream of a day when... one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. That is how my forefathers lived. That is how I want our grandchildren to live.” These words were simply at odds with the ground reality. It aggravated the crisis and the situation turned from bad to worse. This deterioration can be gauged from Saeed’s meeting with the Indian journalist, who claimed that he shared close ties with anyone and everyone who mattered in Delhi.

There are brilliant journalists in India. There were brilliant scribes in the past as well. A scribe, if he or she were to meet a controversial global figure, would usually save the transcript of the interview or the conversation. There are several instances of Western journalists meeting the likes of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Osama bin Laden, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other leaders in the troubled areas of Afghanistan and Central Asia. None of these scribes has ever been reported to be on a ‘gossip mission’.

Indians must pay heed to what the vanishing tribe of erudite Pakistani journalists have opined. This, for instance, is the take by Syed Saleem Shahzad: “To ideologically cultivate new faces from strategic communities, such as the armed forces and intelligence circles; to bring in new recruits and establish cells”. According to celebrated contemporary Pakistani writer and expert on South and Central Asia, Ahmed Rashid, “When the ISI lost control over the various militant and terror groups around 2004, only LeT, by now the largest and highly trained extremist party, with some support in the army itself, remained loyal to the state and sought to fight only India.”

Today, the situation has become worse as “Haqqanis are working closely with Punjabi militant groups, including LeT”, says Rashid. Rashid’s version is more credible, authentic and respected than that of the Indian scribe who is supposed to have made a valiant individual attempt to foster peace, prosperity, and harmony between the two nations through a private meeting with an individual who is accused of being a terrorist and a religious fundamentalist whose sole mission in life is to break India into smithereens. Can such a thing be tolerated by the country? If so, for how long?