On May 1, at 11.35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, U.S. President Barack Obama made a dramatic television appearance to announce that Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11, 2001 outrage, had been tracked down and shot to death by an elite team of U.S. forces.
For millions in the world the announcement brought enormous relief and satisfaction. At last, justice had been brought to the thousands of innocent men, women and children killed ten years back.
But the announcement that day contained yet another piece of information which must have upset many who had been following the global war against terror led by the country directly targeted by 9/11.
The news that day was that the U.S. operatives had found bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan in the cantonment town of Abbotabad, just 75 miles away from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, and in the vicinity of Pakistan Army’s training academy. As details about bin Laden’s hiding place began to come out it became evident that the world’s most wanted terrorist had been comfortably lodged in Pakistan for several years and was certainly not in hiding in some remote Afghanistan cave as was generally propagated.
In a column Asif Ali Zardari wrote for the Washington Post after the killing of Osama, the Pak President affirmed that his country did not know anything about bin Laden’s whereabouts !
If Zardari had said that he personally was unaware about Osama’s hideout, the statement may have been digestible. But that the Army Chief and the ISI did not know about this is a patent falsehood. Indeed, if what the President has said is to be accepted as true even so far as he personally is concerned, that would only underscore how much of a dummy the civilian Head of State has been rendered in the military set-up of Pakistan.
Reports are that the three-storied hideout for Osama and his family was constructed in 2005. It would thus be reasonable to believe that the decision was taken when Gen. Musharraf was in total command of the situation in that country.
It was in May 2001 that Prime Minister Vajpayee invited Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and me for lunch at his residence. The Kargil war had ended in our favour but in Pakistan, Gen. Musharraf had staged a coup, ousted Nawaz Sharif and formally assumed office as President.
At the luncheon meeting I suggested to Atalji “Why not invite the General to come to India for talks? Maybe, I said, an army man’s thinking may not be carrying any political baggage.
After some discussion of the pros and cons of the idea both Vajapyee and Jaswant Singh concurred. The venue decided was Agra. A formal invitation was to be extended to Gen. Musharraf.
Gen. Musharraf, accompanied by his wife Saheba, arrived in New Delhi on the morning of July 14, 2001. I was the first to call on him at the Rashtrapati Bhavan where he had been put up.
Our initial banter was centred around the fact that both of us had studied at St. Patrick’s High School in Karachi. After exchanging pleasantries, I said, ‘General, although you were born in Delhi, you are visiting your birthplace for the first time after fifty-three years. Similarly, although I was born in Karachi, I have visited my birthplace only once after Partition, and that too for a very brief while. And there are lakhs of families on both sides that are not even as fortunate as we are; they have never visited their native places after migrating to this or that side. Isn’t it odd that this should be the case even after the passage of more than a half-century? Shouldn’t we find an enduring solution to the issues that are keeping our two countries and two peoples apart?’
‘Of course, we must,’ Musharraf observed. ‘What are your ideas?’
The most important thing is to build trust in each other.’
He nodded in agreement, and again asked how that could be done.
‘Well, I’ll give you an example. I have just come back from a fruitful visit to Turkey. I understand that you have a special liking for Turkey, having spent your formative years in that country’.
‘Yes, my father was posted there. I can speak fluent Turkish’.
‘I had gone there to conclude an extradition treaty between India and Turkey. Now, what great need does India have for an extradition treaty with Turkey? If an extradition treaty is needed, it is between India and Pakistan, so that criminals committing a crime in one country and hiding in another can be sent back to face trial.’
Musharraf’s first response, not quite knowing where the conversation was headed, was: ‘Yes, why not? We should have an extradition treaty between our two countries.’
‘Even before we conclude a formal extradition treaty, you would be making a great contribution to the peace process if you handed over to India Dawood Ibrahim, who is the prime accused in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case and who lives in Karachi,’ I continued. Musharraf’s face suddenly turned red and unfriendly. Hardly able to conceal his discomfort, he said something that I regarded as quite offensive.
‘Now, Mr. Advani, that is small tactics,’ he remarked. I could sense a sudden change in the atmosphere in the room, in which five Indian officials were seated on one side and five from Pakistan on the other.
I said, ‘Well, General, you are a military man and you think in terms of strategy and tactics. In Agra, Prime Minister Vajpayee and you are going to discuss the strategy of creating enduring peace between India and Pakistan. The people of both countries will be watching the outcome of the Agra summit with great hope. But let me tell you, as India’s Home Minister and as one who has been in public life for over fifty years that, as far as the people of India are concerned, your one single act of handing over Dawood Ibrahim to India will generate enormous amount of trust in you and in your country, and make the common Indian citizen perceive Gen.Musharraf as different from all earlier leaders. In any case, there have been instances all over the world where criminals have been extradited by one country to the other without a formal extradition treaty between the two.’
Musharraf, his unease palpable, replied assertively: ‘Mr. Advani, let me tell you emphatically that Dawood Ibrahim is not in Pakistan.’
Later, one of the Pakistani officials who was present during the meeting, said to me, ‘What our President said about Dawood Ibrahim on that day was a white lie.’ It was the same kind of lie that the Pakistanis have been feeding to Americans all these years about Osama.
Brahma Chellaney, author of Asian Juggernaut comments: “Despite providing $ 20 billion to Pakistan in counter terrorism aid since 9/11, the U.S. has received grudging assistance, at best, and duplicitous cooperation, at worst.
“Even as American’s exult over bin Laden’s killing, the U.S government must recognise that its failed policy on Pakistan has inadvertently made the country the world’s main terrorist sanctuary”
Benazir Bhutto, like Jethmalani and me belonged to Sindh. In fact the Bhutto family as well as Jethmalani hailed from Larkana, the District where relics of the 5000 year old Indus Valley civlisation are located at Mohan jo Daro (Mound of the Dead).
I came to know Benazir when she visited Delhi in 1991 to attend the funeral of Rajiv Gandhi.
After that, whenever she visited New Delhi she used to meet me invariably and often partake of the Sindhi dishes my wife Kamla used to prepare for her.
I recall her last visit to my residence at Prithviraj Road was shortly before Gen.Musharraf came to New Delhi en route to Agra.
This day I had an interesting exchange with her as to why even though both India as well as Pakistan had experienced the same political and cultural influences under British rule, India had earned world wide respect as a vibrant democracy whereas for the greater part of time since the exit of the Britishers, Pakistan had remained an Army dictatorship.
Benazir’s response was categoric. I can identify two factors to explain this, she said One, your Army is apolitical. Second, your constitution makers ensured that your Election Commission is really independent of the Executive.
I sharply remember her pertinent comments as to what was motivating General Musharraf to respond to India’s invitation even after having failed in his Kargil plans. Your Government, she said to me, must understand that he is not coming to Agra for Peace. He is coming here for Politics. He aspires to become a civilian President of Pakistan and hopes he shall be able to accomplish that by procuring Kashmir for Pakistan with Washington’s cooperation, something that no other Pakistani leader has been able to achieve.
May 8, 2011