There are two significant aspects of National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf’s recent TV interview to prominent Indian journalist Karan Thapar. First: that it took place at all and second, the disclosure that India has sent Pakistan feelers for talks. Significantly, the disclosure about India sending feelers to talk peace has not been contradicted by the other side.
This is the first time since India annexed Kashmir and repealed Article 370 of its Constitution on August 5 last year that a Pakistani state official has appeared on an Indian TV channel. Such things do not happen all of a sudden, or without planning, brainstorming and preparation.
It is unlikely that a seasoned journalist like Karan Thapar would not have tried earlier for such an interview with a senior Pakistani official. It is most likely that he would have tried it before but did not succeed until the other day. It is even more unlikely that Moeed Yusuf just got up one morning and thought of saying ‘hello’ to Karan Thapar, particularly when he had to make a rather explosive disclosure. Anyone knowing the intricacies of public information would instantly know that the interview could not have taken place without the knowledge, indeed active prodding of the Indian foreign office and, sadly not the Foreign Office in Islamabad, but the GHQ in Rawalpindi.
In the interview, Yusuf laid down some preconditions for the talks, the feelers for which he claimed to have been sent by India. It is here that Moeed Yusuf appears in dim light as the national security advisor. And it is in this part of discourse it becomes abundantly clear that the NSA is not talking like a scholar and researcher or as a diplomat or even as a credible link in the national security chain with a breath of fresh air. In the interview he comes out as an appendage of the GHQ and the intelligence agencies. And this holds no promise for any departure from the myopic security policies devised in the semi-lit corridors of the military establishment.
Moeed explained the pre-conditions for talks: there has to be an enabling environment for them, he said. According to him, the enabling environment meant “reverse military siege in Kashmir” and “pull back from the domicile law.” Kashmiris must be included in the talks if and when they were held, he insisted.
The NSA said Pakistan was ready to talk about terrorism. Saying this, he lost no time in adding that the offer had implicitly been endorsed by the GHQ as General Musharraf had agreed to it with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpaee during the latter’s visit to Pakistan in 2004.
Mooed was careful not to mention Atal Bihari’s visit to Lahore when Nawaz Sharif was the prime minster and some right noises were made. He was also careful not to mention the offer of no first use of nuclear weapons to India by President Zardari in an interview to the same Karan Thapar in November 2008. That in Sharmal Shaikh in July 2009, Prime Ministers Yousuf Raza Gillani and Manmohan Singh had also agreed to cooperate on fighting terrorism also did not occur to him. The NSA seemed to have well-rehearsed the brief prepared by the security establishment.
A ‘scholar,’ diplomat and an effective civilian policy maker would neither lay down publicly pre-conditions for talks nor would he accept hook line and sinker a brief prepared for him somewhere else. Pre-conditions, if necessary, must have been taken up as discreetly as the feelers for talks instead of brandishing them in public. It served no one and was not sensible to say the least.
Moeed gravely undermined his own credibility when talking about the Mumbai 2008 terror attack and Pakistan’s failure to bring the accused to justice. He squarely blamed India. He said that India was “deliberately delaying sending evidence and witnesses” because it wanted to keep the issue alive and use it to run down Pakistan before the world.
In taking this position, he was simply parroting the intelligence and military command’s position on the issue. Moeed is a scholarly person and is holding an important position. He could not be oblivious of candid admissions by former FIA DG who probed the Mumbai attack and confirmed that it was planned in Pakistan, was financed by Lashkar-e-Taiba and that Ajmal Kasab was Pakistani.
In his own words in a newspaper article, the former DG FIA said the following:
“Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists were imparted training near Thatta, Sindh and launched by sea from there. The casings of explosive devices used in Mumbai were recovered from this training camp and duly matched.”
“The fishing trawler used by the terrorists for hijacking an Indian trawler in which they sailed to Mumbai, was brought back to harbour, then painted and concealed. It was recovered by the investigators and connected to the accused.”
“The ops room in Karachi, from where the operation was directed, was also identified and secured by the investigators. The communications through Voice over Internet Protocol were unearthed. The alleged commander and his deputies were identified and arrested. A couple of foreign-based financiers and facilitators were arrested and brought to face trial.”
Moeed should have chosen his words appropriately while talking about the Mumbai attacks. But by saying what he said, he did not help the discourse.
There are two significant lessons of the NSA’s interview. One, that the security establishment is unwilling to give up its stranglehold over the country’s foreign and security policy, the appointment of a civilian NSA notwithstanding. Two, the security establishment is still unwilling to come to terms with the Mumbai mayhem, despite passage of more than a decade and overwhelming evidence.
The writer is a former senator