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Pay to get abused: Indian elite’s bizarre love of Musharraf

In India to address a keynote session of the HT Leadership Summit, Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf was all sweetness and sunshine. Peace between their two countries, said the man who had waged war in Kargil in 1999 as part of a ‘salami slice’ tactic, stood a fair chance, but for it to be consummated, India should be “big-hearted” towards Pakistan. Being the bigger of the two countries, it is India that should be more “accommodating”, he added.

But the carefully cultivated veneer of a peacemaker General slipped soon enough. At the summit, and in media interviews on the sidelines, Musharraf was rather less considerate towards Indian sensibilities, arguing that he had no regrets about launching the Kargil war, and that if anything India shared the blame for the strained relations with Pakistan.

Pervez Musharraf. Reuters.

There is something supremely perverse about a former President of Pakistan, who cannot even step foot in his own country without facing prosecution, being given a visa to enter India, against which he waged war, in order for chatterati in Delhi to get an earful of his slander of India and applaud his propagandist and untruthful narrative of history.

This is the same Musharraf who had said two years ago, when he was denied a visa to enter India, that he would never come to India again. Then, as now, he had peddled the same old lies: that Indian intelligence agencies were fomenting the secessionist movement in Balochistan. Denied the visa, he had said huffily that it was a matter of his “honour and dignity”. Evidently, the allure of the big-money lecture circuit, and the chance to visit his old Delhi haveli – the nearest thing to home soil, now that he has been barred by Pakistan – was enough for him to put a price on his honour and dignity this time around.

Liberal India’s action in rolling out the red carpet to someone who waged war on India (although subsequently, after taking power in a military coup, President Mushrarraf did visit India claiming to be keen to talk peace) stands in stark contrast to the examples of countries around the world that are uncompromising in the defence of their security interests.

In its current operations against the Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israel may arguably have deployed excessive force, but its action convey the uncompromising message that armed cross-border rocket attacks will not go unpunished. In India, on the other hand, we pay good money to have erstwhile ‘enemy Generals’ come over and abuse our hospitality.

The liberal elite have been peddling the theory for a while now that Musharraf isn’t really such a bad egg, and that in fact he was instrumental in turning off the jihadi tap that had been directed at India. As evidence of this, they cite the fact that soon after the 9/11 attacks on the US, Musharraf pragmatically hitched his country’s security interests with America’s and became a willing ally in the “war on terror”. They additionally claim that Musharraf in fact reined in the jihadi elements that were operating in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and directing their madness at India.

But the truth is a lot more nuanced than that. Musharraf did of course fall in line after George W Bush served his ‘with-us-or-against-us’ ultimatum. But as was established so glaringly on 1 May 2011, when Osama bin Laden was hunted down by a crack US Navy team, Pakistan was all along playing a ‘double game’ by patronising and providing shelter for jihadists while claiming to be working to hunt them down.

The bitter truth, even vis-à-vis India, is that for all the rhetoric, the Army (over which Musharraf had control) and the ISI never really abandoned their deployment of jihadi elements as instruments of the state policy of causing turmoil in Kashmir and the rest of India. The jihadi groups operating in Kashmir continued to have a free rein in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. And as the November 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai revealed, they were lying low in preparation for a big-enough strike.

So, it’s something of a myth that Musharraf turned off the jihadi tap. In his defence, though, he did counsel separatist leaders in Kashmir, starting with Syed Ali Shah Geelani, that the days of Pakistan’s open support for Kashmiri separatism, backed by patronage of terrorists spawned by Pakistan’s ISI, were over. At a meeting in New Delhi during a visit to India as President, Musharraf told Geelani: “The situation has changed, Geelani sahib. We want you to be a part of the peace-building measures.” (More on that here.)

But, as the events of November 2008 would establish, the clandestine ISI-military support for the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the attempts to wage jihadi war on India continued long after that.

Today, the selfsame warrior Musharraf has traded in his Army fatigues for a $300 suit, and talks the language of peace at a leadership summit in Delhi. A man without a country sure has to do what he has to do, but why on earth are our media elite paying good money to hear his venomous lies about India’s military history and his propagandist pablum about peacenik hearts?