History Matters | January 2002: Pervez Musharraf and the 'War on Terror'

Musharraf knew that he could not afford to completely antagonise the radical elements in Pakistan.

5 min read

(This is part three of a four-part 'January' series that revisits significant historical events and policies, and how the lessons learned from them continue to be of relevance in present-day politics and society. Read part one here and part two here.)

As far as duplicitous statements and promises go, the one delivered by General Pervez Musharraf on 12 January 2002 must be marked as one of the top ones of this century. Virtually every single, solemn promise made by the military dictator to India, the US, and the world during his address to the nation, was broken with impunity.

Pakistan is now paying the price for “harbouring snakes in its backyard to bite neighbours” for decades. But the General has died, missing the opportunity to see his country in near military conflict with all three of its neighbours: India, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Ever since another military dictator, General Zia Ul Haq ousted the then-prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1978 and hanged him, Pakistan has become the incubator for terrorism and terrorist groups of all shapes, sizes and ideologies.

But what General Musharraf attempted and pulled off 22 years ago was truly audacious. What exactly did he do? Here is a brief background of what transpired.


A Brief Recap

The US and the rest of the world were shaken to the core by the 9/11 terror attacks when terrorists hijacked commercial jets full of passengers. Two of them were rammed into the Twin Towers in New York, one flattened the Pentagon, and one crashed before it could reach the White House, the official residence of the US president.

It didn’t take very long for the Americans to find out who the masterminds of the attack were and where they lived: Osama Bin Laden and his merry band of followers who were valued guests of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The then US president issued an ultimatum to General Musharraf to join the War on Terror in 2001 with the words: you are either with us or against us. A reluctant Pakistan was compelled to provide logistical help and “bases” for the US-led alliance to throw the Taliban out of Afghanistan, kill all the masterminds behind 9/11, and “liberate” Afghanistan.

Of course, it also “reluctantly” decided to accept tens of billions of dollars as aid in return.

Having cooperated with the US, General Musharraf decided on a proxy war against India, something that had started with the perfidy of Kargil when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on a historic peace mission to Lahore. First, terrorists attacked the Jammu and Kashmir assembly in October 2001 killing about 40 people and injuring more than 60. Before the outrage had simmered down, terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament in December 2001, killing a number of security personnel and staff before being neutralised.

That was a kind of the “last straw” for the Vajpayee regime which launched Operation Parakram and mobilised about 8,00,000 troops on the India-Pakistan border. The neighbour responded in kind and a military conflict seemed inevitable. Indians were fed up with the brazen antics of Pakistan-backed terrorists who first hijacked the IC-814 and kept hitting soft targets in India till the December 2001 Parliament attack.

Uncle Sam Could Not Afford This Distraction

A military conflict between two nuclear-armed actions with massive armies in South Asia would completely derail the War on Terror going on in Afghanistan. Inevitably, immense pressure was put on both India and Pakistan to cool down things. When it was made clear by India that it could no longer tolerate such brazen acts of terror emanating from Pakistan, General Musharraf was given yet another ultimatum. And that triggered his tortious address to the nation on 12 January 2002.

Simultaneously defiant and agreeable, General Musharraf used this speech to announce a ban on five terror groups.

Two of the groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, were focused on “liberating” Jammu & Kashmir from India by using terror as a weapon. Musharraf gave a lot of sermons about Islam preaching love and peace, and not hatred and violence. He also announced sweeping reforms for Madrasas that would focus equally on teaching science and mathematics. He added that any “foreign” fighter keen on violence would be deported. And much more.

But for a society that was steeped and brainwashed with the rhetoric of armed Jihad against a permanent enemy, this sudden lurch towards peace was hard to digest. Even though he was a military dictator, Musharraf knew that he could not afford to completely antagonise the radical elements in Pakistan. This is where the most notorious portion of the speech came when the dictator referred to another speech delivered by him on 19 September 2001, when George W Bush Jr had given him the “With us or Against us” ultimatum.

It still surprises the authors as to how and why strategic and geopolitical “experts” in India and the Western capitals did not call out the duplicity in the speech right then. The irony is, that the dictator didn’t even resist the temptation to twist and misuse the teachings of the Holy Prophet of Islam to persuade the apical Islamists to support his U-turn. Here is what he said (The quote is a little lengthy as readers would then understand what Musharraf had in mind while making all those promises):

“Islam's calendar started with migration when Prophet Mohammed himself went from Mecca to Medina to save Islam. It was his, of course, wisdom to go towards a migration. After migration, when the prophet reached Medina, then he entered a friendship treaty with his enemies, the Jews, in Medina. This was his wisdom. This treaty continued for six years, and in these six years, there were three incidents. And in this, because of the peace treaty with Jews, he was able to fight the infidels of Mecca. And then in the next six months, there was a battle between Muslims and Jews, and of course, by the grace of God, Muslims won the battle. This was possible because there had been a pact with the infidels of Mecca--a no-war (ph) pact--that Muslims won. And then, of course, Mecca was conquered.” 

The World Has to Live With a Rogue Pakistan

General Musharraf had no intention whatsoever of honouring any of his promises. He was just buying time for the “establishment” in Pakistan. Subsequent events have proven that. Even while fighting the War on Terror as an ally of the US and getting tens of billions of dollars for it, Pakistan covertly aided the Taliban right till the time the US troops were forced to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2021. The Taliban, as we saw, stormed back to power.

One can't miss the fact that Osama was eventually killed on Pakistani soil by US forces. That fact itself was the biggest underlined note in Western perception that it was the Pakistani Army all along that had been serving the Taliban.

The authors have seen, in western countries, the general population's perception swinging definitely against Pakistan right after Osama got killed. Trump said that plainly, simply because it made sense to the huge majority of Americans. I think Pakistan has become so synonymous with terrorism that every war or terror-based movie/fiction produced in Hollywood has had one or two Pakistani characters invariably appearing in the terrorist or terror-supporting plot. While India is stereotyped with computers, rockets, silicon valley innovators and investors, the brand Pakistan is stereotyped with just one thing: Terror.

The terror attacks on India never stopped. Frankly, it would be futile to blame General Musharraf alone for this duplicity. He resigned as the President of Pakistan in August 2008. Three months after that, the horrific 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai happened. And such attacks keep happening. Mercifully, there has been no successful attack on civilians in a major city in India since 2014. But the bitter reality is that India and the world have to live with a rogue Pakistan state.  

(Yashwant Deshmukh & Sutanu Guru work with the CVoter Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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