Originally Published 2004-10-13 04:27:00 Published on Oct 13, 2004
President Pervez Musharraf wrested power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup on October 12, 1999. In the five years since then, Pakistan has found itself increasingly enmeshed in sectarian violence, economic disaster, political collapse and diplomatic isolation.
Five years of General's jihad
President Pervez Musharraf wrested power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup on October 12, 1999. In the five years since then, Pakistan has found itself increasingly enmeshed in sectarian violence, economic disaster, political collapse and diplomatic isolation. Pakistan is today a nation on the brink of being dubbed a terrorist state, one of the most dangerous places on earth. The period also witnessed rapid changes in the personality and nomenclature of President Musharraf. From Chief of Army Staff, he became the Chief Executive and then the President. From a liberal, broad-minded, public-spirited General, he lost no time in turning into a self-obsessed, neurotic and ambitious politician. All that he cares about today is to remain in saddle for life.

The key to his schizophrenic personality lies in his military past. He was ambitious as a young Army officer waiting for a chance to prove himself. The means were of no concern, only the end was. He knew early that the Pakistan Army was not like any other professional army. It was the Establishment. It controlled the destiny of Pakistan. He realised that religion was a tool in the hands of the Army. The erstwhile Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the early 1980s and the subsequent covert intervention of the United States by its raising a rebellious, religious army within Afghanistan found in Mr Musharraf a willing and enthusiastic learner. He was a Mohajir officer in a predominantly Punjabi Army and was more than keen to prove himself.

One of the strategies he learnt in Afghanistan, from his seniors like ISI chief Lt General Hamid Gul, was how to give a religious colour and fervour to a military operation. Guerilla warfare thus became jihad-a holy war. He courted religious leaders, helped them set up madarsas, routed men and material support and became part of a new, evolving strategy being crafted by the Pakistan Army to turn its single point agenda of destroying India into a Holy War. Whatever lessons he learnt as a young officer in the Army, President Musharraf began to put them into action with a feverish passion as soon as he ousted a democratically elected government and anointed himself the Chief Executive.

One of his first acts was to court the mullahs. He knew the mullahs had considerable clout over the people who were suspicious of him. There was intense opposition to his coup. Political parties were planning to reverse the coup. The bureaucracy watched his every move. He offered Kashmir to the mullahs and told them he would extend all help to their jihad. The mullahs, who were fast losing ground to democracy and liberal religious beliefs, found an able and willing ally in the General. Madarsas and mosques flourished. Mullahs became regular visitors to the President's House. President Musharraf even organised a foreign policy briefing to the senior leadership of these religious organisations at the Foreign Ministry.

General Musharraf's motive in courting the mullahs was two-fold. Besides garnering support for his forced regime, he wanted a covert base to revive terrorism in Kashmir. Madarsas and mosques became recruitment and training centres. Many of the mosque heads became rabble-rousers, motivating youngsters to join the jihad, luring them with an attractive salary and a place in the heaven. Training camps were set up with the help of the Pakistan Army and ISI. Funds earned from illicit drug trafficking were diverted to these centres of terrorism. It was this religious-military-terror nexus that masterminded the Kandahar hijacking of December 1999.

The hijacking of IC-814 Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to New Delhi was not an isolated incident. It was part of Operation Revival. There is enough evidence to pinpoint the involvement of terrorist groups which were sustained by the intelligence agencies. For instance, one of the hijackers was Amjad Farooqi, an active member of Lashkar Jhangvi, who was recently shot dead in an encounter. Farooqi, ironically, was also involved in the conspiracy to assassinate President Musharraf early this year. Three of the hostages who General Musharraf and the mullahs wanted were Maulana Azhar Masood and his acolyte Syed Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, a serial killer of Srinagar. All three were in Indian jails for indulging in subversive activities. Within days of his release, the Maulana floated a terrorist outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad and made known his agenda to the world: To free Kashmir.

Jaish was only part of the overall Kashmir Plan drawn up by General Musharraf. He promoted another terrorist outfit, Lashkar-e-toiba, with equal munificence. Both Jaish and Lashkar were established to create mayhem in Kashmir and force India to come to the discussion table with Pakistan. Two other outfits promoted and supported by the Musharraf regime were Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Saheba, both promised to rid kafirs (infidels) from the Pakistani society. They were rabidly anti-Shia and non-Muslim communities. Their agenda was, and continues to be, making Pakistan an Islamic state.

These groups had a hidden aim as well. They recruited men for Jaish and Lashkar under the pretext of running religious schools. There is mounting evidence that Lashkar Jhangvi, despite being officially banned, has now taken the responsibility of helping the fleeing Al Qaeda members regroup in Pakistan-a fact that only confirms the irrefutable link between these groups and the military-intelligence establishment headed by President Musharraf. The regularity with which Pakistan security forces have, since September 11, 2001, produced some of the top Al Qaeda leaders from Karachi and other towns, proves beyond doubt, the existence of a network of terror groups that has been able to exploit a colluding establishment and a huge support base of the religious groups that has grown quite rapidly in the past five years.

The sudden flare up of sectarian violence in the recent months should be viewed in this context. For the past five years, the military regime has been manipulating various religious and sectarian groups to undermine the growing clout of the religious political alliance, MMA, at the centre, often pitting one against one another to whittle down their strength and keep them engaged against each other. This certainly gave enough space and breathing time to the military regime to look for ways to consolidate its hold over the country, especially in times of crisis. The Musharraf regime, for instance, was under tremendous pressure after the WTC attack. The US wanted President Musharraf to join the war on terrorism by allowing the use of airfields and air space to launch attacks on the Taliban and Al Qaeda strongholds. Though President Musharraf gave in under pressure, he kept his domestic constituency happy by turning a blind eye to Al Qaeda and Taliban groups taking shelter with religious and sectarian organisations like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in cities like Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar. Today, these terror groups, morphed with local extremist organisations, are poised to unleash a new wave of terror across the world.

It is extremely difficult, therefore, to visualise President Musharraf's Pakistan emerging from this state of negatives. It is, and would remain, a State incapable of building an enduring political system, a factor which, coupled with an ever-increased threat from extremist elements in the madarsa-military complex, a rapidly decreasing economic opportunity and a booming birth rate, would continue to blight the possibility of an enduring peace and stability within a nuclearised Pakistan, with consequential fallouts in its neighbourhood.

The author is Senior Fellow, South Asia Programme, and Director, Information Services, Observer Research Foundation. 

Courtesy: Pioneer, New Delhi, October 13, 2204.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.