Chosen by Colonel David Stirling as the motto of the British Special Air Services (SAS), “Who dares, wins!” as well as the winged dagger are universally taken as symbolic of “super commandos” everywhere. With humble beginnings in Egypt during the Second World War, the SAS became a feared and respected name. Pakistan’s Special Services Group (SSG) was trained by US Special Forces (the famous Green Berets) in the middle 50s, the men a cut above paratroopers and regular commandos, not only physically super-fit and daring but capable of thinking on their feet both as individuals and in small groups, their actions almost an instant reflex honed by long hours of sweat and years of training. Their actions are legendary, Major Paddy Mayne (of British SAS) claimed in 1942 that the RAF should give him the “Distinguished Flying Cross” (DFC) for destroying 236 German and Italian aircraft on the ground in raids in the desert in North Africa. On the German side, “Commando Extraordinary” Col Otto Von Skorzeny (among many other exploits) rescued Mussolini from an Alpine Redoubt against impossible odds, kept Hungary “loyal” to Germany till the end of the war and during the “Battle of the Bulge”, infiltrated his men dressed in American Military Police (MP) uniform so that they created an enormous logistics mess with entire allied armies getting hopelessly entangled by their wrong traffic directions. In the early 1970’s Israel’s raid of Entebbe airport, thousands of miles from homebase, was a masterpiece of planning and daring. Former SSG person Col (Retd) Nusrat Ullah is the Chairman of the private services Company where I work, Col (Retd) Salman Ahmed, one of my best friends is a colleague, to mention only two among the dozen or so still together 30-35 years later.
Pervez Musharraf belongs to that particular breed of men and when he took us into Kargil, we were aghast. Condemned by friend and foe alike as a strategic blunder and a very bloody misadventure, Kargil is turning out to be much more, a role model example for Liddell Hart’s “Indirect Strategy and Deep Penetration”. I must confess frankly that I was one of those who felt Kargil was a disaster, in fact I have been made to eat my words. Kargil revived the Kashmir dispute internationally and gave a strong signal to the Mujahideen that their effort within Indian Occupied Kashmir was not in vain. Their aim being more military than political, the military hierarchy took a calculated risk in the substantial damage to our credibility in the comity of nations, very luckily the brinkmanship succeeded. Kargil served to wake the world to the reality of a possible nuclear flashpoint that nobody wanted, triggering off a chain reaction that has eventually led to the Indians inviting “the Kargil man” to New Delhi for talks on Kashmir.
Many skeptics believe that the Indians are not serious about negotiations, their invitation simply a sop to the Americans, more interested in building a US-Indo nexus against China, they want to put this possible nuclear flashpoint out of the way. In an amazing turnaround of geo-political equations, China supported the US in Afghanistan against Russia, in the 80s and India supported the Russians. Now the US is seeking Indian (and possibly Russian) help against the Chinese whom they see as the emerging power to be contained. The Indians are hurting, militarily, economically and politically because of the “low intensity war” that is claiming Indian lives and material continuously, moreover the Mujahideen have taken the war into the Indian heartland to stir the Indian mass psychosis into reaction against the Indian Government. India does want a gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan for its impoverished western states Rajasthan, Gujrat and to an extent, Maharashtra. Also it needs road access for its products to the vast markets of Central Asia. Whatever media-hype that the Indian had built up about Kargil, to convince the world of Pakistani involvement and to project their “great victory” they managed an “overkill”, the TV and movie war has backfired. The backlash was in the form of unwanted attention on a wide-range of internal issues which India has been able to paper over as for half a century as the “world’s largest democracy”. With increasing US interest in India media attention will intensify, the downside of being in bed with a Superpower. History will record that Musharraf turned the Indian propaganda on its head.
In evoking opinion from politicians and the print media directly, Musharraf has sought to coalesce their views so as to be clear about the parameters of his flexibility on Kashmir, which everyone recognises is core to solving all the problems between India and Pakistan. In assuming the Presidency, he was lucky that it was “Tarar the nonentity” he sent home, even a moderately popular person would have caused problems. The media came over wholly on his side, the summing up by the Presidents of APNS and CPNE had to be heard in person to be believed, the same love-fest pattern was followed in the dialogue with the politicians the next day. Except for PPP which was one of the components of the “Alliance for Restoration of Democracy” (ARD) which stayed out, alongwith the pro-Mian Nawaz Sharif faction of PML (N), even though two of their stalwarts Wasim Sajjad, former President former Senate, and Elahi Bakhsh Soomro, former Speaker former National Assembly attended, as did two very large regionally strong parties of the ARD, the ANP and the MQM. Frankly they represent a majority section of the voting populace. All in all, Pervez Musharraf managed what seemed to be an impossibility a few days ago, unite the country to give him a mandate that would be denied to him as an un-elected leader. Military rule has legitimacy if the people, the ultimate arbiters of a nation’s destiny, are behind you. The people of Pakistan are united in their belief in willing Musharraf to the negotiating table. A national party like PPP should not have stayed away, on prime national issues like Kashmir one cannot play politics.
One must counsel caution here. We must collectively work to lower the threshold of the people’s expectations. While Vajpayee is on record about talking about Kashmir, the Indian leaders public statements are to the contrary. Kashmir is sensitive only for the population of a swath of northern states, UP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana, etc the objective of the “poverty States” are to acquire potable water, shelter, food and end discrimination on basis of religion and sect, etc. But the BJP holds power in these States, unlike in Bengal, Behar, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, etc where Kashmir is a non-issue. Would the BJP leadership be ready to buck the BJP rank and file? One doesn’t think so, but for Pakistan and Musharraf to refuse dialogue, even knowing it is a dead-end street, would have been catastrophic for Pakistan. Pakistan’s seeming “obduracy” would have been held out for world cynosure.
There has to be an element of destiny in the man and the moment coming together. Easily Musharraf is a cut above the military leaders who preceded him in ruling Pakistan, he has a ring of obvious sincerity that evokes one’s patriotism and support, indeed one becomes enthusiastic about supporting him to the hilt in this great hour of destiny. There is something in the air, an electric feeling of forward movement. Even though a vast many of us know that the Indians may not give any concession on Kashmir, the very act of dialogue is a great success as “the Kargil man” goes to Delhi, the city of his birth from July 14 to July 16 (For me personally July 16 has emotional connotations, thirty years ago on July 16, 1971, I became the first Pakistani to escape an Indian PW Camp). For a very long time Pervez Musharraf has been saying the same thing, Kashmir is the core issue, we must not be deaf to this refrain. Reaching the negotiating table is like having broken through a logjam on the river, once free the current of history cannot be dam-med. That the talks are being held at all is a great success, anything more will be a bonus. Even if he calls the Indian bluff, if that is what it is, about Kashmir, he walks away with something substantial, he shows up India’s obduracy for the world to see. Many of us strongly believe that luck favours the brave, and that is why Musharraf is where he is. Musharraf repeatedly requested the participants in the consultations about the strategy he should adopt in the talks even though he seemed to be quite clear in his mind about his options. Mr President, let me quote from your own motto, “who dares, wins”! Go to India and do us proud!
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.