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Jihadis targeting India are seen as ‘the good guys’: Haqqani

Pakistani scholar and author Husain Haqqani talks about his recent book 'India vs Pakistan: Why Can't We Just be Friends?'

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Former Pakistani Ambassador to the US, scholar and author Husain Haqqani who is an integral part of the powerful elite in Islamabad, talks about his recent book ‘India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just be Friends?’, discussing jihad, relations with India, terrorism and the connection between Pakistan’s military intelligence service – the ISI and Islamic jihadi forces.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Can you explain ex-ISI chief Shuja Pasha’s statement on 26/11 terror attack, “Log hamare the, operation hamara nahi tha” (our people but it was not our operation)?
A. Pasha said, “our people” were involved, he didn’t say it was Pakistan army officers or ISI men. Pasha could have meant Pakistanis or he could be referring to LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) as “our people.” However, Pasha had told ex-CIA Director, General Michael Hayden, that “retired Pakistani army officers and retired intelligence officers” were involved in the planning. General Hayden says so in his book. Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of State, has also written the same.
Since 26/11, Pakistan never went into the depth of the case even though proof was presented. We did arrest some, but we have not successfully prosecuted those responsible and until that is done, questions will remain.

Q. Rice had warned Pakistan to shut down terror operations. However, nothing has changed.
A. Prosecution is difficult in a system where jihadis targeting India are seen as ‘the good guys’. Yes, Secretary Rice had told Islamabad to shut down all terrorist operations. But that wasn’t the first time and certainly not the last. Pakistan has persisted with the same policy since the 1990s. When pushed by US on terror: first deny, then list Pakistani grievances, bring up Kashmir and blame India, provide commitments and assurances and end again with denial. This is not working.

Q. Though US had named Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi of LeT as the 26/11 mastermind, he is roaming around freely in Pakistan. What is stopping Islamabad from taking action?
A. Pakistan sees jihad as a low cost option to bleed India. The security apparatus views terrorism as irregular warfare. Islamabad feels this is the only way to ensure some form of military parity.

Q. Is there a concerted attempt by the Pakistan army to thwart peace talks?
A. As an analyst, I have seen that over the last 69 years, Indian and Pakistani leaders have met 53 times and yet been unable to change the course of their ties. Whenever the two try to move forward, the military has reacted. Civilian and army leaders have lost power after attempting to make peace.

Q. What should be Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir?
A. Having a normal relationship, people-to-people ties and trade doesn’t mean giving up on legal or political claim. The question I ask is: Is Kashmir really Pakistan’s ‘jugular vein’ if it has survived for 69 years without it? Should the two risk nuclear mass destruction over a quarrel they have not been able to resolve for so long?
However, Pakistan’s military has insisted on resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio before opening trade or travel.

Disputed Areas of Kashmir, Wikimedia Commons
Disputed Areas of Kashmir, Wikimedia Commons

Q. Pakistan’s Kashmir policy remains by and large in the hands of the military even when a civilian prime minister holds office. How can we expect a solution?
A. Under civilian prime ministers, Pakistan has moved forward with India. But Pakistan’s security establishment insists on controlling foreign and security policy, including the Kashmir policy. They have not been able to reach any long-lasting solution. Pakistanis realise that it is only civilian leaders who can actually reach a solution.

Related article: The Fight for Kashmir

Q. In your opinion, Indira Gandhi had been magnanimous with the Shimla Pact, but Pakistanis saw the absence of pressure for a full settlement of Kashmir as an opportunity to keep the conflict alive. Should she have been more assertive on Kashmir?
A. Mrs Gandhi did not trust (prime minister) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but she saw him as preferable to a military regime. For India, domestic unrest or balkanisation of Pakistan, is not a favorable development.
The compromise was to declare in Shimla that “the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations.” This was meant to preclude any future war.

Q. The book mentions how Pakistan intelligence had passed on the information of 10 terrorists who sneaked into Gujarat in March. Do you feel that its a sincere move to preempt a crisis after Pathankot?
A. It’s very positive that Pakistan has shared intelligence with India. But it was more because pressure from India and US. India cancelled scheduled talks and (Prime Minister Nawaz) Sharif was eager to resume dialogue. It was less likely that this move reflected concern for possible Indian casualties and was more to do with the need to deflect international pressure.

Q. Are you hopeful of a breakthrough in Indo-Pak relationship after Pathankot?
A. The two foreign secretaries met in New Delhi for the Heart of Asia conference and Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi is scheduled to travel to Islamabad for the SAARC summit in November this year. So, talks will continue as before but for a breakthrough, the two sides need to move beyond simply cancelling or rescheduling talks and create an environment for change.

Q. You also talk about the shrinking space for friendship and increasing ‘saffronisation’ of India. How harmful is this for ties?
A. Indo-Pak ties have become a victim of two parallel and contending nationalisms. In recent years, we are increasingly resembling each other in rage, resentment and public displays of religion.

Q. How do you see US policy towards Pakistan in the wake of US elections?
A. Neither of the current Presidential candidates have expressed a positive view of Pakistan. What should worry my countrymen is that entire US think tank and the average American share the same view.
Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State in 2011 said, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors.” US policy towards Pakistan has been built on what I call ‘Magnificent Delusions’. Pakistan saw the US as its superpower ally who would build its resources to stand up to India, but Washington never saw India as a threat. US and Pakistan have very different goals but still assume they can get the other to work to their advantage.

Source: IANS
(Preetha Nair can be reached at preetha.n@ians.in)

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Thousands Displaced as SDF Targeting Civilians Advances on Last IS Territory in Syria

Bali said the second obstacle for the SDF forces is that IS has a number of hostages who had been arrested and detained by the militants.

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Syria
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter stands atop a hill in the desert outside the village of Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

Islamic State (IS) fighters are targeting civilians who are trying to flee the last territory held by the terror group in eastern Syria, U.S.-backed forces told VOA on Thursday.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led alliance, said that IS militants hit a road used by civilians to escape violence as the battle to free the town of Baghuz in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province enters its sixth day.

“IS has blocked that road to prevent civilians from coming to the SDF,” SDF fighter Ali Ahmed said. “They have targeted civilians there, but we have responded to their attacks against civilians.”

Ahmed said that some families of IS fighters are among the fleeing civilians.

Located near the Iraqi border, Baghuz is the last stronghold held by IS extremists in Syria. With the help of the U.S.-led coalition, SDF fighters have pushed out IS from all territories it once held since 2014.

Fierce fighting between IS militants and the U.S.-backed fighters continues as the latter try to gain ground on Baghuz on several fronts.

“We have two main obstacles as we advance on Baghuz,” Mustafa Bali, an SDF spokesperson, told VOA. “The first one is that [IS] terrorists are holding on to a number of civilians to use them as a bargain chip for their exit.”

Bali said the second obstacle for the SDF forces is that IS has a number of hostages who had been arrested and detained by the militants.

IS controls about 5 square kilometers of territory inside the Syrian town, local military officials said.

“It seems that even the Americans are trying to rescue those civilians and hostages from IS,” Hasib said in a phone interview. VOA

Ivan Hasib, a Syrian reporter covering the battle, told VOA that he witnessed an unusual movement by U.S. military vehicles in the area.

“It seems that even the Americans are trying to rescue those civilians and hostages from IS,” Hasib said in a phone interview.

He said the remaining IS fighters in Baghuz are hoping to exchange hostages for a safe exit into the Iraqi desert.

Also Read: Islamic State Using Women, Children as Human Shields to Postpone Defeat

“There must be some sort of negotiations between IS and SDF about the hostages, because even [U.S.-led] coalition airstrikes have stopped since Tuesday night,” Hasib said, adding that SDF fighters were forced to pause their military operations on the northeastern front in Baghuz.

“We can’t start marching toward it from this side because of civilians. Many civilians are using this road to this side. So we’re here to protect them,” Mezlum Kobani, an SDF commander, told VOA.

According to SDF officials, more than 5,000 civilians have been rescued from IS in Baghuz. (VOA)