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December 01,2008

Army official calls Baitullah Mehsud, Fazlullah ‘patriots’

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ISLAMABAD: All main militant groups fighting in Fata, from South Waziristan to Bajaur and from Mohmand to the Khyber Agency, have contacted the government through different sources after the Mumbai bombings and have offered a ceasefire if the Pakistan Army also stops its operations.

And as a positive sign that this ceasefire offer may be accepted, the Pakistan Army has, as a first step, declared before the media some notorious militant commanders, including Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah, as “patriotic” Pakistanis.

These two militant commanders are fighting the Army for the last four years and have invariably been accused of terrorism against Pakistan but the aftermath of the Mumbai carnage has suddenly turned terrorists into patriots.

A top security official told a group of senior journalists on Saturday: “We have no big issues with the militants in Fata. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.”

The Indian allegations against Pakistan have suddenly forced the military establishment in Pakistan to finally accept that they are not fighting an American war inside the Pakistani territory.

On another level, the parliamentary leader of the 12 Fata members in the National Assembly, Munir Orakzai, has expressed optimism in this regard, saying: “I see a bright ray of peace in the tribal areas and if we come out of the American pressure, I can guarantee that there will be peace in the tribal areas in a few days and we will be ready to fight against India on the eastern border along with the Pakistan Army.”

The change in the attitude of the Pakistani military establishment is remarkable. Thanks to India, the security officials, who used to criticise the Pakistani media, are now praising its role in the recent days, saying: “You have proven that you are patriotic Pakistanis.”

Last year, the same officials were part of a decision to impose a ban on many Pakistani TV channels because of their alleged anti-state behaviour. Meanwhile, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has made it clear to President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that if India escalates tensions, then Pakistan has to move its troops from the tribal areas to the eastern borders and it would not be possible to continue the war against terrorism.

Top military officials conveyed the same message to the media representatives on Saturday. It was learnt that Washington and London were very concerned over the rise of tension between the two nuclear powers.

The Pakistan Army officials have been describing 48 hours as very important. These sources claimed on Sunday that the situation was now stabilising. A very responsible government official in Islamabad told this scribe on Sunday that nothing would happen in the next 24 hours. Some late night telephone calls made from Washington and London helped to cool down the temperature in New Delhi and Islamabad.

Despite the assurances made by President Asif Zardari on sending a director of ISI to India for helping the Mumbai carnage investigations, it has also been decided by Islamabad that no ISI official will visit India, at least, in the next one week.

On the domestic level, thanks to the uncalled for Indian allegations, some ministers of the Yousuf Raza Gilani cabinet got an opportunity to criticise their prime minister on his face for giving an assurance to India that the ISI chief will go to New Delhi without consulting even his cabinet colleagues.

Angry ministers told Gilani clearly in Saturday’s cabinet meeting that his decision was not good and he should concentrate on “institutionalised decision-making” rather than going for solo flights in the future. Gilani was forced to change his decision. The cabinet, after discussing the Mumbai carnage and the Indian allegations in detail, also advised the prime minister that no ISI official should be sent to India in the near future.

It was discussed in the meeting as to why the militants made a ridiculous demand of liberating the Hyderabad Deccan (Andhra Pradesh). This issue was never raised by any hardline Muslim militant in India or Pakistan in the past. Why did they not demand the liberation of Kashmir, which was the prime objective of banned Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan?

The Indian government claimed that these militants reached Gujarat from Karachi by boat through a 500-km sea route. Why did the Indian Navy fail to stop this boat? The cabinet unanimously agreed that Pakistan will not come under any Indian pressure but efforts will also be made to decrease tensions without annoying the public opinion.

One minister was of the view that the Indian media war against Pakistan had helped Islamabad indirectly as the local media ignored all the domestic political issues and got involved in the tension created by India.

National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza was the most disturbed soul in Islamabad because of the media war between India and Pakistan. She talked to some journalists and advised them not to instigate the public opinion against India because this tension could hurt economies of both countries.

She fears a big conspiracy behind the Mumbai tragedy. She thinks that another attack like Mumbai will definitely create a war-like situation between the two neighbours. She is planning to call the Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and Indian President Pratibha Patel to remove doubts and misgivings between the two nations. She told me: “As a mother, I am thinking to make a mothers’ alliance between India and Pakistan. Let the mothers come out and stop their sons from fighting each other.”

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