ISLAMABAD: It has been revealed now that India had planned to carry out an air attack on Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) headquarters in Muridke near Lahore immediate after 2008 Mumbai attacks and Indians had also taken the United States into confidence for its plan.
A delegation led by US presidential candidate Senator John McCain, including Senator Lindsey Graham, a senior and influential Republican Senator, then a Member of the Select Committee on Intelligence and Richard Holbrooke, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan visited Lahore.
They met Pakistan’s former foreign minister Mian Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri at a quiet lunch and sought his opinion as a politician and someone who had headed the Foreign Office for five years on what would be the likely reaction of the Pakistan Army and the people at large if there was a limited Indian air-raid on Muridke, LeT headquarters, and its political wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawaah (JUD).
Khurshid Kasuri was stunned by the suggestion. They were coming from India where they said there was a feeling of complete outrage and they feared that things could escalate dramatically unless something was done to release the pressure.
The Indians strongly believed that the JUD on orders of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed was responsible for the Mumbai assaults. Khurshid Kasuri had no doubt that such a suggestion could not have come without their sounding out people at the highest level in India before their visit to Pakistan and that the Indians might have been mulling such an action.
The delegation members also believed that unless some dramatic action was taken, all the good work that had been done on Pakistan-India peace process during the time when Kasuri was the Foreign Minister would be wasted. Horrified at the mere suggestion, the former foreign minister warned the delegation of public outrage if that happened.
Certain beyond doubt that the response of the Pakistan Army would be immediate, though measured, and commensurate to the raid at Muridke, he gave the example of how the public pressure had forced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to go ahead with nuclear tests after India carried out the tests in 1998. He further told them that they needed to be sensitive to the history of South Asia, and in many instances it is the gut reaction which determines how people act in a given situation.
The details of the meeting and its backdrop are highlighted in the book ‘Neither A Hawk Nor A Dove’ authored by Mian Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri. The book is being published worldwide by Oxford University Press and by Penguin in India and carries important information available exclusively with the author.
The author recalls 26 November as a sad day when the tragic attack on Mumbai took place, delivering a heavy blow to the peace process between Pakistan and India, which the two countries had so diligently pursued. Khurshid Kasuri successor, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, foreign minister in the new PPP government, was present in India in connection with the Composite Dialogue when the attacks took place, in what seemed like a calculated attempt to sabotage the visit and the process itself.
Kasuri writes he was reminded of a similar situation on the eve of his own visit to India when the Samjhauta Express blast occurred in which there were many casualties, most of whom were Pakistanis visiting their relatives in India. The accused in that instance ultimately turned out to be Hindu extremists in India. The author shares it in the book that he was advised to cancel his visit after the Samjhauta Express blasts but he refused, since that would encourage terrorists by raising their morale and into believing that they had succeeded in sabotaging his visit. As a result of the four-day siege in Mumbai, at least 160 people died and 293 were injured, many of them severely.
There was outrage in India. There was immediate and strong condemnation of the attacks by the leadership in Pakistan. Khurshid Kasruri narrates that they instantly understood that the perpetrators wished to wreck the peace process as, “many incidents in Kashmir, India, and Pakistan had taken place before important diplomatic visits to the subcontinent, either by important foreign visitors, including the ‘Chattisinghpura Massacre’ which took place on the eve of President Bill Clinton’s visit to India, and other incidents during the visits of Pakistani leaders to India or by Indian leaders to Pakistan. The author gives credit to both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the then Opposition leader LK Advani, who he states displayed restraint, despite the pressure they were under, and did not directly implicate the Government of Pakistan.
“This was obviously due to the great progress that had been made in the peace process during our tenure which ended in November 2007. In a televised address, he adds, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India would “go after” individuals and organisations behind the terrorist attacks, which were “well-planned with external linkages….”
Regarding the luncheon meeting with the US delegation, the author writes that his experience told him that this was as high-powered a delegation as it could be. He was informed that it would be a small and quiet lunch and he was asked to come before lunch so that they could talk alone. He instinctively understood that there must be something important that they wished to discuss with him. “To my consternation, Senator McCain wanted to know from me, in view of my experience, both as former Foreign Minister and as a politician, what the reaction of the Pakistan Army and the public at large would be, if there was a limited air-raid on Muridke,” he writes.
The author writes that he was horrified at the mere suggestion and told them that this would result in public outrage. He was certain beyond doubt that the response of the Pakistan Army would be immediate, though measured, and commensurate to the raid at Muridke. The author says he gave them the example of India’s nuclear tests in May 1998 and told them that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was under great pressure from the international community, particularly the Americans, not to respond to India’s nuclear tests. In fact, Nawaz Sharif was given many incentives, including by President Clinton, to desist from going through with the nuclear tests.
The author states that he informed them that the common wisdom on the street was ‘ya Nawaz bum pharayga—ya bum usko pharayga’! (Either Nawaz will detonate the bomb—if he doesn’t, he will be detonated by the bomb!). “I did, however, tell the Senators that since I was out of office, they needed to discuss this matter with somebody currently in power in Islamabad and even better, sound out the Pakistan Army, either directly or through their contacts. I do not know whether they broached the subject or not with anyone in Islamabad,” the author narrates.
He goes on to share that “I have not spoken about this publicly before, because I felt it could have been misinterpreted and have had a negative impact on Pak-US relations” because he felt that for properly understanding the situation, it was necessary to give the entire context since the US may well have feared an outbreak of hostilities between the two countries and may have thought, though naively in the authors view, that an Indian attack on Muridke would help prevent such an eventuality.
He says, “I am mentioning it now to underline how quickly things can go horribly wrong and out of control for both the governments if the activities of non-state actors are not strictly curbed.” The author writes that he did realize that Senator McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham were Republicans and did not represent the elected Democratic Obama Administration. They could very well have been speaking for themselves because it was Senator McCain who broached the subject while Richard Holbrooke, who did represent the Obama Administration as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, kept quiet for the duration that this idea was being discussed but this could also be for the purpose of providing him with ‘plausible deniability’ which diplomats often employ. He could always say that he had nothing to do with this idea and that he was merely accompanying senior Congressional leaders, the author adds. Immediately after this subject had been discussed Holbrooke broached an entirely new subject (referred to in the book) during which, interestingly, the two senators kept completely mum.
After the lunch was over, the author says he thought it necessary to immediately ring General Hamid Javed, Chief of Staff to the President, who had been his liaison with the army while he was Foreign Minister, knowing that he would pass on this information not just to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the then Chief of Army Staff, but to other relevant people also. The author told him about what he was asked. “If my memory serves me well, I also rang General Kayani directly,” he states.
Kasuri expresses his feelings in the book as he writes that he was genuinely afraid that once an attack, however limited, took place, and once a response, however measured, was given, nobody could predict how the situation would evolve. There was no guarantee that a tit-for-tat response would soothe feelings on either side. Once the media and politicians got into the act, he writes, the situation could easily spiral out of control.
Elsewhere in the book, the author has also discussed the ‘Cold Start’ doctrine advocated by some in India as a way to neutralize nuclear parity in South Asia, and the thinking among some strategists in Pakistan to develop battlefield tactical nuclear weapons in response.
Kasuri writes that although, bomb blasts have unfortunately continued in Pakistan and India, nothing as catastrophic as the Mumbai blasts have taken place. He points out in another place in the book that non-state actors have caused huge damage to Pakistan itself and that such groups cannot be controlled and have transnational linkages, as is evident from the happenings in the Middle East. Luckily, he adds, the Pakistan Army, under General Raheel Sharif, has taken massive action in North Waziristan where terrorists have been chased out of their safe havens and their infrastructure destroyed. The book has been in the market for a few days now. It is an impressive and voluminous account of his dealings with world leaders and Pakistan’s relations with India, the United States, China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the GCC countries, Turkey, Iran, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Bangladesh. Many stories of contemporary interest are present in the book.