Efforts at resolving Kashmir have often involved people who never exist in public imagination, and they are used to achieve informally what is impossible or difficult to defend publically for the governments. Iftikhar Gilani profiles the role Mansoor Ijaz, who is at the center of a controversy in Pakistan, may have played during the NDA regime inNew Delhi.
The Lobby of Bristal Hotel in Gurgaon, in the outskirts of New Delhi was bristling with activity in November 2000. Many non-resident Kashmiris, who for years had claimed representing Kashmiri sentiments in the world capitals — be that Dr Shabir Chaudhry of JKLF or Dr Nazir Gilani, a familiar face at the annual UN conferences and others had perhaps for the first time landed in Delhi on a peace mission. But the cynosure of both the media and the politicians was aspecious looking person Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani American businessman, now at the center of ‘Memogate’ controversy that is taking a toll of the government of Pakistan President Zardari in Islamabad.
Ijaz had appeared from nowhere since the summer of 2000, claiming to have an American mandate to mediate and settle the issue of Kashmir for India and Pakistan.
Soon after US President Bill Clinton left South Asia, after aweek long tour in March 2000, wheels of peace had appeared turning, like the short-lived ceasefire by Kashmir’s only formidable militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and later cessation of hostilities and a Ramadan ceasefire, by the Indian Army. Fresh from Kargil hostilities, the west was keen to find ways to stabilise relations between the nuclear neighbours.
Nobody till then had heard the name of Ijaz, who many believed was working for the CIA. He had successfully led Indian intelligence agencies particularly the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) sleuths andKashmir’s separatist politicians to a garden path. He claims having made first known contact between the JKLF chief Mohamamd Yasin Malik and then RAW commissioner (who later became its chief) C D Sahay, in his hotel room.
But, how did he penetrate in the Clinton Administration? He is believed to have volunteered and cajoled R James Woolsey, the director of the CIA under President Bill Clinton to get him the Kashmir assignment.
Woolsey has been an influential and unrepentant voice in championing hawkishUS foreign policies. He was an outspoken proponent of invading Iraq even before 9/11. Like other neoconservatives, Woolseyis a staunch backer of Middle East policies similar to those of Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, including the expansion of settlements in Palestinian territory.
Ijaz had reportedly helped the RAW to undertake its scoop of decades,to successfully airlift the then HM operational commander Abdul Majeed Dar toSrinagarvia,Karachi,DubaiandDelhiin May 2000, to enable him to announce a unilateral ceasefire. The operation was so secret that other intelligence agencies be that IB or MI had no wind of the plans. The Army and the para-military forces had even, begun arelentless campaign of search operations and siege of north-Kashmir’s Kupwara district in the spring of 2000, after their own contacts across the Lo Chad reported that Dar was missing from HM headquarters.
Later, Ijaz was also involved in attempting to broker a Kashmir solution betweenIndiaandPakistanin 2000 and 2001, as an unofficial interlocutor, as claimed by then US President Bill Clinton.
Though India opposes any third party mediation on Kashmir, the then NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee accorded Ijaz a status befitting high-profile emissaries and at least on two occasions he visited New Delhi on special “out-of passport” visa, with full secrecy on his identity and itinerary.
He made half a dozen trips to India and Pakistan at that time to arbitrate the Kashmir dispute and in an interaction with the media ata hotel in the outskirts of Delhi claimed he was not acting on behalf of the US government but was drawn to the Kashmir problem because”oppressed people have no capacity to speak for themselves and stop violations that occur against them in the name of religion or politics or money.”
Ijaz himself describes the Hizb ceasefire as “a momentous event in the tumultuous history of the Kashmir valley,” which opened a door tosearch for an earnest resolution of the conflict.
Recalling his visit to Delhi, he heaps praise on C D Sahay, a top RAW officer who he believes was the key man to make India’s hawks understand that peace in Kashmir meant giving the Kashmiris a stake – economic, moral,emotional – in the success of their choice to remain with India or become a semi-autonomous region.
“In my hotel suite in New Delhi in November 2000, I brought Sahay and a prominent Kashmiri activist, Yasin Malik, together after nearly a year of painstaking negotiations following the military coup in Pakistan,” he claims. Maintaining, that Yasin Malik had taken an unprecedented risk in dealing with Sahay, secretly, Ijaz claims having persuaded even the toughest Kashmiri loyalist, Syed Geelani, to at least not oppose progress toward a permanent peace.
JKLF leader Mohammad Yasin Malik while clarifying the details of his meeting with Mansoor Ijaz stated that in the last week of November 2000, he was invited for a Kashmir Conference organized by a Bombay-based think-tank Strategic Foresight at the Bristol Hotel, in the outskirts ofDelhi. Some 70-80 people from Kashmir had descended to attend the meeting, which included representatives of Jammate Islami Firdous Asmi, Mohammad Muzaffar Jan and others including some professors from KashmirUniversity. Abdul Majeed Matoo, also an activist of then united Hurriyat Conference was also present along with the CPI (M) leader Mohammad Yusuf Tarigmi.
Yasin made his presentation on the first day of the conference. In the evening, he saw media persons swarming the venue. He was told that some person claiming himself envoy of then US President Clinton was also attending the meeting. It was for the first time then he saw Mansoor Ijaz. He spoke at the meeting and virtually attacked and criticized Muslims and Kashmiris in particular. His utterances made Yasin’s blood to boil. He even went to the extent callingKashmirmovement an outcome of radicalism and being financed by the Arab Sheikhs.
The Kashmiris got incensed at his speech, and Yasin alongwith Abdul Majeed Matoo and other Kashmiris present there, stood up and protested against his speech, which was totally uncalled for. It almost led to a scuffle. The Kashmiris shouted him down. Yasin grabbed the mike and spoke again that day, refuting allegations and impressions Ijaz had created about Kashmir movement.
Next day, Yasin Malik got a message from Ijaz, saying he regretted his speech and wanted to apologize personally. He invited him to his hotel room, which he accepted out of courtesy. He was staying at Taj Palace Hotel. When he received him in his room, he saw another person (who by appearance looked a native Indian) in the room. He didn’t introduce him to the man. (Ijaz claims having arranged a meeting between C D Sahay and Yasin Malik).
Ijaz regretted the incident and his speech. He told Yasin he was mentally disturbed. He also apologized for his utterances against Muslims and Kashmir movement. Yasin got pity on him and accepted his apology. Yasin Malik had been released quite recently in June 2000 from Jodhpur prison; and Ijaz sympathized with him.
Unidentified person in the room was quite during the whole discourse. He intervened once, and without introducing himself, attempted to persuade Yasin to meet then RAW chief A S Dulat. Earlier also some persons had through some friends had been persuading Yasin to meet Dulat. Even during Yasin’s incarceration inJodhpur, he was persuaded to interact with the RAW chief. But, he had repudiated such attempts.
Yasin didn’t pay much attention to what this unidentified person was trying to say. It was also a shock for him, a person trying to persuade him to meet RAW chief. Before, R K Mishra, had even tried to persuade him to meet Dulat. Seven month after this conference, Yasin was in London and met Benazir Bhutto at her residence. Ahead of the meeting, Benazir had an appointment with Mansoor Ijaz.
She also enquired from Yasin what kind of person is this Ijaz?. She confided to Yasin, that this man (Ijaz) was offering to negotiate, Benazir’s return toPakistan, provided she seeks separation from her husband Asif Zardari. She had also rebuked this specious person.
Therefore, Yasin challenged, if anybody proves, that he ever met any RAW chief; he said he would retire from public life. Yasin said that he has met intelligence sleuths. They do come to see the Kashmiri leaders, when they are in jails. You cannot stop them, when you are yourself helpless and caged. But they had been all sleuths from Intelligence Bureau, and never from RAW.
Ijaz also reveals that Khalid Khawaja, a former ISI official who had piloted Osama bin Laden’s aircraft in Afghanistan during the Afghan resistance, had also taken unprecedented risks in bringing him incontact with the Syed Salahuddin, the chief of HM and also allowed him to hand carry his written messages back to President Clinton at the time. Khawaja was assassinated by Taliban militantsin April 2010.
He talks of a mid-January 2001 meeting of political and militant leaders in Islamabad to set a common agenda for talks with New Delhi and take Gen Musharraf into confidence about the merits and rationale for the talks. “There will also be a clear effort made to deal with the so-called mercenary problem whether or not to allow non-indigenous Pakistani-backed insurgents a seat at the peace table. Once the internal agenda is agreed upon and the various Kashmiri parties are united on a message and a delegation, Indo-Kashmiri dialogue canbegin.”
Ijaz also referred to ground ceasefire modalities and a possible Musharraf-Vajpayee summit and said in that interview that “the Kashmiris will be free to suggestPakistan’s inclusion either partially or wholly in political dialogue aimed at a permanent solution. Delhi understands this as a condition for beginning talks with the Kashmiris.”
Stressing that “Pakistan is a party to the (Kashmir) dispute, he had gone on to affirm: “But Gen Musharraf is rapidly, flexibly and correctly adapting the Pakistani position to the reality that Islamabad’s pursuit of Jihad-based resistance in Kashmir has not worked.
As head of state rather than just head of the army, his responsibility to the larger interests of the Pakistani people go far beyond the narrow pursuit of an ideological war that is decimating an innocent population while deeply scarring the image and vitality of Pakistan as a nation.
“That is why Gen Musharraf is wisely preparing the people ofPakistanfor a policy of maximum flexibility in its negotiating stance. By doing so, he accommodates growing Kashmiri will power to test India’s sincerity for peace and resolution while maintaining a firm bottom line that protectsPakistan’s security interests.”
Ijaz’s ‘Mission Kashmir’ did not take a toll of the Vajpayee government for allowing a mediator against India’s declared policy since he always maintained a low profile. This was unlike his views in an article written by him in a British paper and aimed at strengthening President Zardari, which rather boomeranged while narrating how he felt threatened from encroachments by Pakistani Army chief General Kayani.
If he is to be believed, Zardari had sought him out, after the US Navy Seal raid to extract Obama bin Laden from Abbottabad on May 2, to convey its insecurity to Admiral Mike Mullen, the then Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff and avowed “friend” of General Kayani, to fend off a possible coup. Ijaz reportedly drafted and dispatched a secret “memo” portraying the Pakistani military as being part of thep roblem rather than the solution to America’s dilemma in Afghanistan.
Once the “Memogate” became public, Ijaz tried to prove his credibility by revealing all, though he may no longer be sought by anyone any longer as a credible and confidential interlocutor. It is because of his reveal-all mess that the Pakistan military has turn edits guns onHussain Haqqani,Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, it has been gunning for over a decade.
Running afoul of Musharraf in 2002 for his critical newspaper columns in Urdu and English, Haqqani had fled to the US where he wrote his seminal book on the ‘unholy’ historical nexus between the Mosque and Military inPakistan. Since he was appointed Ambassador toWashingtonin 2008, thePakistanmilitary is embarked upon a campaign to defame him.