Friday, 11 June 1999

Pakistan: The end of innocence (Rediff)

George Fernandes is a dear friend, and a very brave individual fully committed to the country of his birth. Whether organising taxi drivers in Mumbai during the 1960s or railway staff in the 1974, he showed a courage not shared by many politicians. However, his weakness was -- and is -- a blind reliance on friends, a trait he shares with close buddy Brajesh Mishra, the de facto prime minister of India, otherwise titled 'principal secretary to the prime minister'. Clearly, this has led him astray, as when he relied totally on (then) defence secretary Ajit Kumar and delighted the babu lobby by dismissing Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat.

George is an avid reader of history. He should have gone through the archives of the greatest naval power of the past era, Britain. He would have read of Fisher or Jellicoe, crusty salts who irritated their civilian masters beyond endurance, yet were retained by them in view of their brilliance. Bhagwat's advocacy of a blue water navy built on largely indigenous foundations did anger two lobbies: the first, which wants India to remain a weak power. And the second, which derives huge commissions on sale of what is essentially scrap to the armed forces at hugely inflated prices.

Had Vishnu Bhagwat -- a brilliant strategic mind and a patriot as true as Fernandes himself -- devoted some attention to better relations with his minister, the country may have avoided an action caused by the jealousy of Ajit Kumar magnified operationally through the (then) defence secretary's very, very, very close links to Brajesh.

For Brajesh, as his superiors in the foreign service soon found out, to think is to act. These days the poor man goes through a very punishing schedule. A quick breakfast, followed by a dozen meetings at each of which orders have to be barked out to underlings such as the Cabinet secretary or the foreign secretary (both highly capable officers who would have done much better were they left alone).

After that, a lunch with a senior editor, followed by tea with an industrialist. Then a quick recitation to the prime minister, telling him what he needs to do to remain a good boy, followed by two dinners, at two socialite homes in Delhi, with an exhausted Brajesh leaving for home in the early hours, reflecting on how exhausting it is to save this benighted country.

Truly, Prime Minister Vajpayee could not have found a better person to ensure that Sonia Gandhi takes over his job soon.

Those familiar with Pakistan, and who do not derive their input from two British nationals based in London who have close ties to the Pakistan army, know it cannot be trusted and that any strategic concession to it is immediately seen as a sign of weakness. That is why many have argued against any such concessions, even while showing generosity towards the business community and other civilians in that country.

Sadly, India is still controlled by the British, these days through the two UK citizens mentioned earlier, who make Indian prime ministers dance the tango at will. As a result, the Government of India retreated on its Kashmir formulation and moved closer to the vicious Pakistani position. It was not at Lahore that the recent incursions by the Pakistan army were planned. It was after Lahore, after the dilution of India's stand by a prime minister anxious perhaps to be the second Indian premier after Morarji Desai to win the coveted Nishan-e-Pakistan. Hopefully, Atal Bihari Vajpayee will slough off his love for the two Londoners and not make any more errors of judgement on Pakistan.

George Fernandes should not be blamed for not knowing that the ISI is part of the Pakistan army. Not many people know this. Most believe the ISI is a civilian organisation, unaware that the best brains in the Pakistan army are seconded to it, and that it works in daily liaison with the Pakistan armed forces general staff directorate.

It is unfair to blame the defence minister of India for lacking this piece of information, especially when his priority is to ensure that the Samata Party does not splinter in Bihar and leave the field clear for Laloo Prasad Yadav. However, some friend could perhaps suggest to George that he is a brilliant political organiser, and should concentrate on that, leaving the burdens of a ministry to lesser folk.

As for the clean chit to Mian Nawaz Sharief, here again few are aware that by now both Sharief and his brother Shahbaz have got co-opted into the drugs-terror industry in Pakistan. This sector of the Pakistan economy generates $ 20 billion in revenue each year, much of which goes to finance the education of the children of the Pakistan armed forces and officials and politicians. The stupid offspring are sent to Australia, while the brighter ones go to the United States. Cretins go to Switzerland, where everything has a price tag.

Were the Indian government to make a quick survey of just how many Pakistanis on government payrolls have children studying abroad (or wives and girlfriends in business), it may realise just why that country will never make peace with India. Should peace break out, then attention will get focussed away from red herrings such as "the world's most dangerous nuclear flashpoint" or "the longest-running insurgency" to the trade in the poppy and its products.

Just as rogue elements in the Chinese army use Myanmar as a base for supply and shipment of heroin that they control, the Pakistan army (including the ISI) has moved opium production facilities to Afghanistan. However, as the Taliban Pashtuns are minions of the Pakistani Punjabis, very little of the profits of this trade return to Afghanistan.

Thanks to the need of the drugs lobby to keep alive terror and tension as a diversion drawing attention away from itself, there is no hope of a reconciliation with Pakistan until an honest prime minister comes to power in Islamabad. And if he does, the chances are that he will be blown away by a bomb blamed on "indian intelligence".

Benazir Bhutto soon got co-opted into the drugs lobby thanks to Asif Ali Zardari's love for cash. Nawaz Sharief held out for a while, but has today become as much an agent of this network as Zardari was. Thus, it is wishful thinking to believe that the gang of drug-runners that controls Pakistan will ever accept a settlement based on the status quo.

However, gestures such as the Lahore bus trip should continue to be made, in order to teach the common people of Pakistan that India is their friend, even while refusing to fall into the clutches of the Pakistan army.

Squadron Leader Ahuja was, in a most cowardly fashion, shot down by the Pakistan army after touching down. Had the Government of India shown the gunshot wounds caused by that despicable act, it would have sent tremors across the world and perhaps dissuaded Islamabad from further atrocities. However, as another gesture of goodwill towards Pakistan, the gallant airman was cremated without showing to the world the desecration done to a brave human being.

Unless the Government of India breaks away from this reliance on advice from Washington, it will be untrue to its duty. Just as the Vajpayee government has not yet taken action against Gopi Arora (who knows more about Bofors than any other officer), it has thus far refused to show on television the many Pakistan army regulars captured by it. Why this compassion for the drugs-terror lobby that runs that country?

Right-thinking elements in the Peoples Liberation Army of China need to realise that the policy of those among them who are partners of the Pakistan army in the drugs trade is harmful to Beijing's interests. These rogue elements gave Pakistan a nuclear device, and now are being bribed to ensure that Islamabad is given a full-fledged weapon.should the PLA continue to transfer nuclear technology to Pakistan directly or indirectly, New Delhi will have every justification for giving such know-how to Vietnam and Taiwan. Two can play the game, not just China.

As for Washington, that capital needs to realise that the greatest emerging threat to democratic states comes from the very drugs-terror industry that is being nurtured by its Pakistani client. India needs to educate opinion in the United States on this menace, while strengthening its own laws against drugs to match the standards of Singapore.

India is on the front line of the drugs-terror war. Please recognise that, Mr Prime Minister, and act before it is too late.

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