By Mohammed Wajihuddin
Jul 4, 2010
Pakistani peace activist Iqbal Haider gives his take on the West’s war on terror
We don’t know if it’s on the agenda of the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, S M Krishna and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, when they meet on July 15 in Islamabad. But if they were to heed Pakistani peace activist Iqbal Haider, their talk should begin not with a demand or rejection of the extradition of 26/11 mastermind Hafez Sayeed. It should begin many miles away, at the dusty Wagah border with a plea for abandoning the “ridiculous” retreat ceremony called lowering of the flags.
“Every evening the aggressive, energetic parade by men from BSF and Pakistan Rangers tanks the idea of peaceful neighbours,” says 65-year-old Haider, who is in India to help strengthen peopleto-people dialogue between the two countries. As a member of the Pakistan-India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy, a former minister of law and ex-attorney general, Haider knows why establishing peace between the two countries is not easy.
Haider is among the few Pakistani nationals who hold Indian visas with multiple entries. He is exempted from the strenuous formalities every Pakistani who visits India, or Indian who visits Pakistan, has to submit himself to. “I visit Delhi almost every three months, but have visited in
Mumbai after a gap of 25 years. The immigration officers at Mumbai Airport didn’t know what to do with me who, unlike ordinary Pakistanis, wasn’t required to fill a bunch of papers,” says Haider. “I was calm while the officers were frantically making inquiries from their superiors, perhaps even in Delhi.”
And this is what pains Haider no end. Neighbours, he maintains, must crush mistrust and build trust. “Why can’t Indians and Pakistanis walk into each other’s countries without being subjected to humiliating searches, frisking and enquiries?” he asks.
Despite the horrors of 26/11—and he doesn't absolve the culpability of Pak-trained terrorists in it—Haider says India should look at Pakistan, not as an enemy country but as a country fighting for its survival. And when Indians take a sympathetic look at their estranged neighbour, they will understand the magnitude of the mess in Pakistan.
A globe-trotting peacenik, Haider explodes many a myth about the West’s much-vaunted war on terror. Everyone accepts that the West created the Taliban but the two are at loggerheads today. However, Haider doesn’t accept they are at war with each other. “America and the Taliban are not adversaries. They are allies,” he says. “America will never allow the Taliban to die because that will end their game in the subcontinent,” adds Haider, who has often joined issues with the establishment and the military-mullah nexus.
Haider claims he had pressed the alarm bell in the 1980s when the CIA, in connivance with the ISI, recruited and radicalised bands of boys for “jihad” in Afghanistan. He says he had warned the Pak establishment that once the task of pushing out the Russians was over, the jihadis would turn to Pakistan. That's exactly what is happening today. “Over 47,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed since the US-led war in Afghanistan began post 9/11. We have lost 4,000 army officers, including brigadiers and major-generals. The casualties in the Pakistani army during the war against terror has been 10 times higher than all the casualties put together in the four wars Pakistan has fought with India,” he says.
So is Pakistan losing the battle, which many say is more a battle of minds than bullets? “Ideology is about reason and logic. What logic do you apply with lunatics who are armed and trigger-happy? What logic was there when they butchered nearly 100 innocent Ahmadiyas at two mosques in Lahore on May 28? You first need to disarm the fanatics and then talk.”
Bur the Benazir-led Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government, of which he was a part, hadn’t quite taken this approach, you point out. What was Benazir’s attitude to the problem? Benazir, claims Haider, was very clear in her mind – she knew the dangers of supping with the fanatics. “And eventually the enemies destabilised her governments on the two occasions that she became prime minister The same forces killed her,” says Haider who would spend hours with Benazir at the latter’s residence. “After the day’s work, we would talk till the wee hours. She was a great conversationalist, a secular leader.” After Benazir’s assassination in December 2007, Haider quit PPP and became a full-time peacenik.
Unlike Benazir, Pervez Musharraf, says Haider, wore a facade of being anti-jihadi. He became America’s trusted partner in the war against terrorism, yet he allowed the Lal Masjid in Islambad to become a bastion of armed fanatics. Lal Masjid and the adjoining Hafsa Madrassa were stormed in July 2007 after the jihadis using the mosque as a sanctuary, threatened to overthrow Pervez Musharraf's government. Musharraf may be marginalised in contemporary Pak politics. But the ISI and the ISI-patronised jihadis are not.
Which is why when Krishna meets his counterpart in Islamabad next week, activists like Haider are very excited. Governments, hemmed in as they are by-professional warmongers, must allow the people-to-people contact. And the road begins, reiterates Haider, at Bab-e-Azadi at Wagah minus its daily spectacle of jingoistic tamasha.
Source: The Times of India, Mumbai