Straight Talk -Inside Pakistan
Murlidhar Reddy is Associate Editor of India’s national newspaper, The Hindu. Earlier from 2000 to 2006, he was the Islamabad Correspondent for The Hindu. In this interview with Lalit Shastri, Editor-in-Chief of Newsroom24x7.com, Reddy does some straight talk and speaks with conviction and through experience gained while reporting from the ground in Pakistan and especially from the Pakistan side of Kashmir. He talks of factors responsible for a lot of bitterness towards the US among not only the radicalised Muslims but also seasoned professionals, academicians and poets who believe that the US has used Pakistan, -its people, soil and the military – for its own ends but whenever they have sought Washington’s help, it has been denied to them….
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Full text of Murlidhar Reddy’s interview:
When I was posted as the Islamabad Correspondent for India’s leading newspaper The Hindu from 2000 to 2006, it was one of the most intense periods in the history of Pakistan. Domestically speaking, vis-a-vis India-Pakistan relations, vis-a-vis what wa happening in Afghanistan and what was happening between Pakistan and Iran.
It was pre-9/11, 9/11, post 9/11. If you look at it from the perspective of the world and from the perspective of India, it was post-Kargil, post attack on Parliament, post Islamabad SAARC Summit _that’s when India and Pakistan again came together and joined hands and started a lot of things which are still running, which are still in operation and are still functional – to give an example, the historic bus link between Srinagar and their side of Kashmir, reopening of the train route between Sindh on their side and Rajasthan on our side. For the first time, again in the relation between India and Pakistan, a delegation of Hurriat was permitted to travel to their side of Kashmir as well as Pakistan. For the first time in the history of the two sides, they almost came to a war. There was mobilization of almost 100,000 soldiers on the India side and as well as on their side. For the first time in history, the US had threatened to bomb Pakistan of they failed to decide “within the next 24 hours on whether they will snap all their ties with Taliban and join the US effort to wipe out militarily the Taliban. That was another historic development during my time.
Each month was very important and interesting.
Today all that remains between India and Pakistan was actually the work that was done by the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpee and former Pak President General Parvez Musharraf. Whether it is in terms of whatever little trade relations that is there , whatever travel that is happening between the two sides , whatever cultural links that are there, then there is a linkage between the two parliamentary groups – so despite 2008 Mumbai Taj attack, these links have survived. Today despite all the strains, the ties that were built or made during Vajpayee’s time have not only managed to survive but continue. That itself is a very huge thing.
I had gone to Pakistan in March this year on a 7 day trip and went to Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. This trip reinforced my thinking that people of Pakistan are not very different from the people of India. They desire friendship and are not in favour of tensions. They are very eager that people are allowed to travel and there should be trade between the two countries.
The following the Bollywood heroes and heroines have in Pakistan is amazing. In between they had lifted the ban on Bollywood films, they had again clamped it and now they have lifted it again.
Now Bollywood films are released in the cinema halls of Pakistan and they are running full house. Hindi cinema and Bollywood is very well known in Pakistan and that keep the India connection very strong.
As far as Kashmir is concerned, to be very honest , I met at the Punjab club , where I was staying, a waiter, who happened to be a Kashmiri from the other side. He told me in 3 sentences – We don’t want Hindustan. We also don’t want Pakistan. We want Azadi (Freedom).
That’s the sentiment of a Pakistani Kashmiri. This largely holds good as far as -I am one of the few Indian journalists, who has visited their part of Kashmir, not once but four times. So whatever conversations I have had with people, the waiter who told me in March this year about this sentiment, it still holds – it was the sentiment earlier, it’s still the case now.
As far as people of Pakistan are concerned, they do genuinely feel that there is repression by Indian Army in Kashmir. They genuinely feel that something should be done. Beyond that I don’t think they have enough knowledge or understanding of the actual issue or do they care about the Kashmiris themselves.
Whatever knowledge the Pakistanis, like average Indians, have about Kashmir is what appears on popular or mainstream TV channels or some of the big papers who have correspondents on the ground. So whatever narrative we get to hear, read, see and watch are narratives that are second hand or third hand. There are very few people who have travelled to Kashmir. I am talking about Pakistanis as well who have travelled to their side of Kashmir and know what the issue is and what the people of their own part of Kashmir think or what they claim to be their part of Kashmir. think. They are not aware of any of that.
Question: Coming to the demand for Azadi (by the Kashmiris and the hawks in the Pakistani Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) – The question is – are they not using the sentiment (demand for Azadi) to their advantage by promoting (cross border) terrorism.
There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that it (the azadi sentiment) has been used by Pakistani military, by the Pakistani security establishment to consolidate its own position to justify its existence. It’s very identity lies in keeping alive issue like Kashmir but that’s one aspect of it. If you ask me the same hold good for New Delhi as well. I don’t know what is the hesitation of New Delhi in reaching out to various sections of Kashmiris.
Today for right or wrong reasons, there is unrest since July. There is much that’s happening in Srinagar as well as towns surrounding Srinagar. We had a recent parliamentary by-election where the turnout was just about 7 per cent,
So we also need to introspect, think as to why this is happening, why are the people taking to stones. We also need to perhaps pause, reflect, think about the issue as to why this is happening. July onwards if the strife has not come down, if people have not calmed down, if the forces are being compelled to either resort to fire and there are incidents involving the targeting of Army vehicles. So what is making the people of Kashmir so angry, why is it that either the State Government or the government of India are not able to reach out to the community and establish some kind of rapport with either the community leaders or with other sections population in Kashmir.
We also need to perhaps reflect and think about it.
Question: Coming to the Pakistani turf, the Pak Taliban, the Afghan theatre and Baluchistan. and we have so many terrorist attacks inside Pakistan – Who is ruling Pakistan?
There has never been any doubt about the fact that it is the Pakistani Military, it is the Pakistani security arrangement which rules that country. As the popular saying goes that every country has a military but Pakistan military has a country that is Pakistan military owns Pakistan. So there is no doubt whatsoever. There is a political establishment. There is Nawaj Sharif, he is the Prime Minister but he has serious limitations. He has no option but to listen to the military which is very powerful and organised force and as far as foreign policy and defence is concerned, they don’t take orders. It’s entirely the domain of the Pakistan Military and Pakistani Intelligence establishment.
Look at the rise of Osama as a terrorist and the hatred for Americans in Saudi Arabia. In Pakistan also there is an Anti-American sentiment among the radicalized Muslims and their numbers are increasing in geometric progression….
There is a very strong anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. The reasons for that are many.
Actually it starts with just after Pakistan was born. For whatever -right or wrong reason, Pakistan chose to work with America right from the beginning. The Americans also saw a chance in having Pakistan as a strategically located country, from where they could operate and keep a check on China and also India because India had aligned with Soviet Union at that time. So there is a history to this whole thing about the America (connection).
The narrative one gets to hear in Pakistan from various friends, journalists and academicians is that repeatedly Washington has used Pakistan for its own ends and abandoned them when they needed them.
This is not just the Islamists who have hatred for America but even seasoned academicians, thinkers and poets. They all have this grouse that the US has on too many occasions used them whenever it suited the Washington interest but never came to their rescue when they needed it. The ordinary civilians also have a grouse that America – for instance in 1979 had no qualms whosoever in embracing a dictator like Zia-ul-Haq because they wanted his favour because they wanted to take on Soviet Union which had gone into Afghanistan. They have very bitter memory about America. It cuts across various sections in Pakistan. They are also very bitter about the fact that after using Pakistan, Pakistan soil, the Pakistani people , Pakistani forces, Pakistani military, Pakistani intelligence to take on Soviet Union from 1979 till the soviet collapse that happened in 1989.
They say that they did all that but they abandoned and just left then in a lurch. That’s the other grouse they have.
They also have the grouse that in 1971, when Bangladesh happened, they expected America to threaten India or tell India to back off but nothing of that sort happened.
They feel that repeatedly Washington has only used them for strategic purpose for their own economic interest and left the (Pak) society and the State in tatters.
Today small weapons in Pakistan are in massive numbers. Nobody knows how many small weapons have been left behind – thanks to the proxy war that that continued, that the US waged against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
So the “Kalashnikov culture” came, the drug culture came. Pakistanis even today are hosting about 6 million Afghan refugees. They have taken citizenship in Pakistan and don’t want to go back to Afghanistan. That’s become a serious issue.
So there are so many bitter memories related to that and that’s one of the reasons for the growing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.