Q. Apart from what’s going on these days, please let us know what’s the root of terrorism in the region?
A. The problem of terrorism in this region can be traced back to the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the consequent war against the Soviets and the post-Soviet struggle for power in Afghanistan between various Mujahideen groups and regional powers, which eventually brought Taliban to power. The issue of terrorism is likewise also related to the US-led War on Terror, which brought the demise of Taliban, and the resurgence of the latter in the last few years. By harbouring al-Qaeda, the Taliban regime had made Afghanistan a hub of international terrorism. Despite seven years old, US-led international security operation, the al-Qaeda forces in the region continue to pose a terrorist threat to Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in the region.
Q. Any time there is a terrorist attack in India, the Indian politicians and media accuse the Pakistani government of having a hand in the attacks; what’s the reason?
A. This may be an outcome of a deliberate policy on the part of Congress-led government, and this may be due to a wrong perception of Pakistan and Pakistanis. Even though I give more importance to the latter, as Indian media, politicians and opinion leaders at large fail to acknowledge the great qualitative shift that has taken place in the last couple of years, whereby al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism has become a common threat to all countries in the region. In fact, many time more Pakistani civilians have died this year in suicide bombings than civilians who died in India and Afghanistan together as a result of suicide bombings. Many of these attacks were targeted at ISI. India seems to be out of tune with the ground reality and is fixed in a situation that used to be relevant to perhaps the 1990s when, as part of its “bleed India” strategy, the Pakistani state may have sponsored Kashmir-specific jihadi organizations, just as it supported the Taliban as part of its “strategic depth” policy in Afghanistan. But these are old stories. Now the same Taliban are posing the most important security threat to Pakistan.
Q. The only remaining terrorist of the Mumbai attacks has said that they were connected to Lashkar-e-Taiba. The group was banned by Pakistani government in 2002 but many say that Lashkar is still supported by the ISI in Pakistan. How do you see this allegation?
A. This is only what India is saying, and no one in Pakistan will accept what India says. This is understandable because of the traditional enmity between the two countries.
Pakistan has offered India the option of joint investigation. I do not understand as to why India is refusing to share information and make Pakistan a part of the process to investigate the Mumbai attacks. The country’s civilian government has said it will accept whatever the outcome of these investigations is. If Lashkar-e-Tayyaba or any other forces in Pakistan are found to be implicated then Pakistani law should take its due course.
Since Pakistan’s peace process with India on the issue of terrorism could not proceed to the extent of having an extradition treaty, it is out of question that the government of Pakistan will ever hand over to India any 19 of the 20 wanted terrorists it alleges are in Pakistan. As for Dawood Ibrahim, the Indian national allegedly responsible for 1993 terrorism in Mumbai, India has to prove whether he is living in Karachi or nor.
Q. Zardari’s civilian government from the beginning tried to expand its relationship with India. Time will tell us what actually has happened in the attacks, but if there would be a connection between the terrorists and the ISI, should we separate the Pakistani government and the ISI from each other?
A. This is a hypothetical question. Your ‘if” is a big “if” at least in the current situation, because it is also very much possible that just as it happened in the case of Samjotha train bombings a couple of years ago, when Pakistan was blamed for the attack, but eventually the culprits turned out to be top officials of the Indian army.
Q. Do you see any participation from al-Qaeda in the attacks, for example in order to switch the focus of the government from tribal regions to the dispute with India?
A. Obviously, al-Qaeda is no friend of India. Just as al-Qaeda has interest in destabilizing Pakistan, it has an interest in destabilizing India. In fact, if ever hostilities break out between the two countries, then al Qaeda would have achieved it purpose, even though partly, as its leaders and forces sympathetic to its cause may fully rejoice if these hostilities take the two countries and the region into a nuclear disaster.
Q. How do you see the situation in the near future? Is another war between the two nations likely? What about the peace process?
A. Well, I don’t think India and Pakistan can ever fight another all-out war, because, given the nuclear factor, it will be suicidal for both and the region. Still skirmishes such as the 1999 Kargil conflict and limited fight along the Line of Control cannot be ruled out.
As for the peace process, perhaps the most tragic implication of the Mumbai attacks is that a process which had continued to make progress, however limited, may remain stalled for months now. At least it won’t be revived until some months after the May 2009 Indian elections.
Access interview at Khabar Online