Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani military ruler accused of sheltering and supporting the Taliban after 2001, has called for an end to the backing of militant “proxies” in Afghanistan.
In an interview with the Guardian, Musharraf admitted that when he was in power, Pakistan sought to undermine the government of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai because Karzai had “helped India stab Pakistan in the back”. But now the time had come to “totally cooperate” with Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president since September, who Musharraf believes is “the last hope for peace in the region”.
“In President Karzai’s times, yes, indeed, he was damaging Pakistan and therefore we were working against his interest. Obviously we had to protect our own interest,” Musharraf said. “But now President Ashraf Ghani has come and he is trying to restore balance in Afghanistan. We must totally cooperate with him.”
In his first months in office, Ghani has sought to woo Pakistan in a way Musharraf could only have dreamed of in the critical years between the US-led intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, and 2008, when Musharraf was finally forced from power. Ghani has not only suspended a planned weapons deal with India, but also diverted troops to fight against anti-Pakistan militant groups in eastern Afghanistan.
For Musharraf, the most welcome development was Ghani’s decision this month to send six army cadets for training at Pakistan’s officer academy in the town of Abbottabad. Karzai infuriated both Musharraf and Ashfaq Kayani, his successor as army chief, by spurning offers to help train Afghanistan’s embryonic army. Instead, Karzai sent cadets to India, where Musharraf believes they were “indoctrinated” against Pakistan.
Speaking in his luxurious Karachi home, the former army chief repeatedly hinted at what is now widely accepted among diplomats and analysts: that the nominal western ally assisted both Nato forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban they were fighting against in a bid to counter the perceived influence of arch-rival India. “Pakistan had its own proxies, India had its proxies, which is unhealthy. I do admit this, it is most unhealthy. It is not in favour of Afghanistan, or Pakistan or India. It must stop,” he said.
Musharraf said Pakistani spies in the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) cultivated the Taliban after 2001 because Karzai’s government was dominated by non-Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group, and officials who were thought to favour India. “Obviously we were looking for some groups to counter this Indian action against Pakistan,” he said. “That is where the intelligence work comes in. Intelligence being in contact with Taliban groups. Definitely they were in contact, and they should be.”
The army remains deeply suspicious of India, a country that has beaten Pakistan in three conflicts since independence and played a critical role in the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. Musharraf insists he is not an “India hater”, but bristles at what he says is western bias towards Pakistan’s giant neighbour. “‘India is the greatest democracy, promoter of human rights and democratic culture’? All bullshit,” he said. “There is no human rights. The religion itself is anti-human rights. In the rural areas, if even the shadow of an untouchable goes on a pandit, that man can be killed.”
Like many soldiers, he is convinced that India, through its Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), backs regional separatists in an effort to break up Pakistan. “The RAW of India, the ISI of Pakistan have always been fighting against each other since our independence. That is how it continued, it continues now also.
“It must stop, but it can only stop when leaderships on both sides show the will to resolve disputes and stop confrontation in favour of compromise and accommodation.”
Musharraf has become increasingly vocal in recent months as his position in the country steadily improves after he suffered a series of setbacks in the wake of his disastrous return from self-exile in 2013. A ban on standing in elections quashed his hopes of entering parliament. He was ensnared by a series of legal cases, including one murder charge. Most seriously of all, Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf ousted in a coup in 1999, won a landslide victory and initiated a treason trial for which the former dictator could be hanged if found guilty.
But Sharif’s power has been curbed by a series of bruising fights with Pakistan’s powerful military establishment and the treason case now appears tied up in legal wrangling. Musharraf is still banned from leaving the country, which he says deprives him not just of the lucrative international lecture circuit, but also access to his homes in London and Dubai. He says he misses his old life in his two favourite cities, where he could go to restaurants alone without the vast security required to protect him in Pakistan.
But he says his problems are nearly behind him, and that he has the army to thank. “I’m very proud of my institution. Whatever they are doing to help me, to protect the honour and dignity of their ex-chief, I’m proud of that,” he said.
Musharraf calls for end to Pakistan and India ‘proxies’ in Afghanistan | World news | The Guardian.