Monday, 2 December 2013

Babarnama: Interview with Naseerullah Babar

-This is a edited version of an article originally published by The NEWS on Sunday 18-2-2007 . Naseerullah Babar ( born 1928—10 January 2011)

Major General (retired) Naseerullah Babar has served on many important positions. He has been federal interior minister as well as the governor of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) during the era of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He has been at the centrestage of many important events of Pakistan's history.

Naseerullah Babar is also considered to be the architect of Taliban movement in Afghanistan during the mid 1990s, a charge he tacitly rejects. He is also also credited with the formulating of a strategy of intervention in Afghanistan from Pakistan in the early 1970s. Babar is even said to be the person who made Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) interfere in political affairs for the first time ever.

A close confidante of both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and her daughter Benazir Bhutto, Babar is a clean man who has never been charged of corruption. He also has to his credit as the federal interior minister the restoration of peace in Karachi, thus becoming bete noir for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). His personal valour is acknowledged by his arch rivals.

He belongs to Pirpai village in Nowshera district of NWFP. The News on Sunday recently got hold of him and talked to him at length on various issues of national, regional and international interest.

By Raza Khan

TNS: What do you think of President Pervez Musharraf? Is he under pressure from the West to held elections and cut deals with secular parties like your Pakistan People's Party (PPP) to counter religious extremism?

NB: You see, this has a background in the sense that Musharraf brought these people (the religious parties) to power to convey a message to the Americans that you have Taliban in Afghanistan and mullahs in Pakistan. That is why the two bordering provinces were given to the MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal). This was done on purpose. But it is possible for him to get rid of them. You can see that the Supreme Court has come up with this case on the educational qualifications of a number of MMA legislators. This is done three, four years after the case was first filed. Why were the mullahs allowed to sit in parliament for so long? All this may be happening with a design. (The came has come up) so that in future these people cannot contest elections.

Historically in Pakistan there has been an alliance between the mullahs and the military in political affairs. Even when Afghanistan question came up, Ziaul Haq needed religious extremists and the religious extremists needed him. But because both the army and the mullahs have no manifesto, no programmes, they, therefore, are dependent on unnatural forms of government.

TNS: Does it means that the West in general and the United States in particular may be asking Musharraf to bring genuine secular parties like the PPP to power through elections?

NB: There has all along being a controversy in a sense that for half of the life of Pakistan the government has been run by the mullah-military alliance for other half by political parties. The military has never allowed political parties to grow and have long tenures of governance. Only the 1971 debacle compelled the military to give power to a genuine civilian government but soon this government became an eyesore. The then political government still developed a lot of institutions that were to the benefit of the army like the National Defence College to provide militarymen with higher education. The office of the chairman joint chiefs of staff committee was developed so that the administrative control of the army could be taken over and looked after by that institution instead of the army itself.

When the coup by Sardar Daud in Afghanistan occurred, Bhutto extended his rule by one year and then in January (next year) Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) was formed within a week. How could such disparate parties (as formed the alliance) come together on a common programme so quickly? It was because the homework had already been done by the military to use them against the political government and that was the beginning.

When Russia invaded Afghanistan, Zia should have formed an exile government of seven component parties of Afghanistan in Pakistan but he did not do so because it did not suit him. Then favourites were found like Hekmatyar and others. That led to the subsequent chaos in Afghanistan that remains till today.

When a political government came to power in Pakistan again in 1988, the ISI had ganged together a shura of Afghan parties and asked our government to recognise it. When we looked at the proposal it did not meet our requirements because it did not include an international personality. The PPP government, therefore, said sorry because we had certain limitations under international law. When the PPP government was sacked and Nawaz Sharif came to power, situation in Afghanistan started unfolding like a stageplay. First Professor Mujeddadi was sent there for six months as president then Burhanuddin Rabbani was made president for a year. On the completion of his tenure, he refused to resign. A chaos was created out of which Dr Najeeb emerged as the Afghan president. With Najeeb I arranged talks in 1992 and Asad Durrani set the tone for the work of intelligence agencies. Dr Najeeb said he was ready to quit at any time provided a governing mechanism was set up in Afghanistan. Due to the unpreparedness of ISI or its insincerity the talk fell through. I must add that I went as a guarantor of Pakistan in talks with Najeeb. In fact, Dr Najeeb came to my house in 1979 to tell me me that he also wanted to join the anti-Soviet resistance. But he was not acceptable to the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. So, he went back.

TNS: Though you claim to have played a positive role role in Afghanistan, why are you also accused as the creator of Taliban there?

NB: In fact, the Taliban phenomenon cropped up during PPP's second stint in power (1993-96) but we did nor recognise them and instead stopped them when they were about to take over Kabul. Pakistani agencies' philosophy was that whoever occupied Kabul should have the right to be recognised as the government of Afghanistan. But we said unless Taliban formed a broad-based government we would not recognise them. We were able to bring together Taliban and Dostum and a draft agreement was formed. Under it a political commission was to be set up having members from all provinces in Afghanistan based on population to give a federal structure to Afghanistan. After the Afghan parties had agreed to the draft, Dostum kept sending me messages to go to Afghanistan for the signing of the agreement. On November 3, 1996, at midnight we had a meeting in the presidential palace in Islamabad with President Farooq Leghari presiding. The prime minister, ISI's director general and the chief of army staff were all present. I was instructed to go and get the document signed by all the parties. I was to go on November 5 but on the night between November 4 and November 5 Leghari dismissed our government for the reasons best known to him. When the new government came in it did not know anything about Afghanistan or Taliban. It immediately give recognition to Taliban. After that whatever leverage or stick we had with Taliban had been lost. I or PPP is not responsible for that.

Even earlier, in 1970s we were in negotiations with Sardar Daud (creator of Pakhtunistan movement) and also with Zahir Shah. We sent two men from Hizb-e-Islami with Pakistani colonel Ibrahim to Rome with the offer that the Hizb would be supportive of Zahir Shah if he returned as a constitutional monarch. The constitution had been prepared by one Mr Shafiq, who had been to the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. This constitution was acceptable to the Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan.

In 1994, the PPP government was to launch a programme for opening of routes through Afghanistan to Central Asia for the benefit of the whole region. Our thinking was that the market lay in Central Asia while India had industry. So, if oil and gas was brought to Multan from Central Asia, it could be supplied to India and onwards. We could have also used this as a lever to push India to solve the Kashmir problem. But this was not liked by the powers that be. Regarding Taliban, when in our second government I sent a convoy of goods and some gifts to Afghanistan, it was stopped at Kandahar by the Indo-Iran lobby. Then the Taliban came in and cleared the road for the convoy as well as the area where it was difficulties of travel.

TNS: How come Taliban emerged so instantaneously out of nowhere?

NB: Because they were the same people who had been waging jehad against the Soviets. The only thing that changed was that some groups had become fed up with infighting and warlordism. From then onwards, we kept advising the Americans and the United Nations that Afghanistan needed a major socio-economic uplift programme.

We had a long term and multifaceted programme for Afghanistan. But unfortunately at the instance of the US or whoever our government was dismissed. Then I advised (Taliban leader) Mullah Zaeef to hold a Lockerbie-like trial of Osama bin Laden but the Americans asked me how I could guarantee that a court comprising of a Saudi and Afghan judge (to which the Taliban had agreed) could punish Osama. I said no court could say in advance as to whether the accused would be punished. Then the 9/11 happened. All this could have been averted.

TNS: You are also accused of being the architect of Pakistan's intervention in Afghanistan?

NB: It was in 1972 when I was in Peshawar, then Bhutto came to Peshawar and I advised him to open the border of tribal areas with Afghanistan. So, in 1973 we opened Kakar-Khursan in Balochistan. Then other areas followed.

In 1973 when Sardar Daud staged a coup against King Zahir Shah in Afghanistan and we thought we had an interest there. So I wrote a paper analysing what would happen, for instance, to Shah of Iran etc. Then Bhutto decided that we had to protect our interests. At the same time, the Hizb man Habibur Rahman came to us. The Hizb was against the socialist and communist parties in Afghanistan. In 1950s when Daud became premier he had opened Afghanistan to Russians. If you can recollect all the routes from Torghundi to Kandahar and the other from Bandar Sher Khan to Kabul were opened up while the main airbases of Bagram and Sheen Dandh were built by the Russians. We thought this was a plan by the Russians to move on to the hot waters. You know that Peter the Great (Russian emperor) had left a will to his nation to keep pressing until it got to the hot waters. Last of the communist ideologues like Brizhnev etc liked to complete the agenda of Peter the Great.

TNS: The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan has always been the topic of heated discussions. What's your views?

NB: Sardar Daud by 1970s was well aware of the designs of the Russians. He said to us that if (the invasion) was from the North today it might come from us tomorrow. Daud therefore came to Pakistan and was about to sign on an agreement with us on the Durand Line. It was not that we needed it. The treaties of Gandamak and Rawalpindi had already sanctified the Durand Line as a permanent border. Now to look at it differently, the northern border of Afghanistan on the Amu Darya was also demarcated by Sir Mortimer Durand. If the Durand Line agreement loses meaning then all the other agreements including the China-India border (will also become irrelevant) because all of them were drawn by the British. It is a very erroneous argument that the agreement on the Durand Line was valid for hundred years. It is the firm and final border between the states.

TNS: What do you think about Pakistan's proposals to mine and fence the border?

NB: If today the government thinks of putting a barbed wire on the border or mine it, then it is against tradition and even against the Durand Line agreement because the agreement says the tribes will be allowed to travel across the borders. So these limitations will be unnatural.

TNS: How do you think extremism and Talibanisation can be countered?

NB: For this all you have to have is the writ of the government which for all intents and purposes and in every instance is not there. Moreover, if you have the support of the people then there is nothing these elements can do. During PNA agitation, when I was the NWFP governor, was there any incident of violence? It was because I followed every procession and they knew that I was behind them.

TNS: Who are the supporters of Talibanisation in the Frontier and the tribal areas?

NB: There is no one. It is just the lack of governance. Benazir, during our second government, told me to take Maulana Fazl to Afghanistan for negotiations because he had a lot of influence and contacts in Afghanistan. I took him to Kandahar to Mulla Omar. Fazl did not know Mullah Omar nor did Mulla Omar know him. When the stage for talks came Fazl was refused permission. I sent him back straight to Quetta. Then Maulana Hassan Jan, who was the governor of Kandahar, requested me not to bring Fazl to Afghanistan. They told me they have studied along with Fazl and knew he would divide them.

TNS: MMA has emerged as a key power player in NWFP. How do you see the future of the alliance?

NB: You have seen their performance as the NWFP government. Because of a lack of education and administrative experience, they have failed completely. Secondly, these people cannot see beyond their nose. Maulana Fazlur Rahman is promoting his brothers while Qazi Hussain Ahmed has brought in his son, daughter and nephew into politics. They say they would resign and then they backtrack. In fact, Fazlur Rahman has been so corrupt then when the federal government sent National Accountability Bureau officials to Dera Ismail Khan, Maulana immediately budged. This was when on resignations issue Qazi was saying one thing and Fazl another. Now he has prevailed upon Qazi to give up. Why Fazl was named Maulana Diesel earlier? He himself admitted it in front of the press that the charge had been correct. In fact, during our government, Fazl made so much demands that in front of him I asked Benazir Bhutto as to why he is not given the keys of the State Bank to get rid of him.

TNS: So, he is a very worldly mullah?

NB: Yes, all mullahs are worldly because all of them came through the madrasas and they haven't seen the better side of the life. When Fazl was the head of the Parliamentary Committee in our government he went to Frankfurt and stayed at a hotel and left a huge bill of shopping outstanding which our ambassador had to pay.

TNS: But Maulana has on occasions said that the key to peace in tribal areas and Afghanistan lies with him...

NB: Tell me who does he know among the Northern Alliance. Secondly, Fazl has benefited a lot because he has been sending rations there.

TNS: So you think secular, liberal parties will prevail if the establishment stops supporting religious elements...

NB: But Army has no interest in that. Their economic condition has never been so good. Look at the defence housing schemes and lands allotments. If you are a lieutenant general you must have several plots. That will not happen under a political government.

Secondly, it is the supine judiciary that is not letting things happen that way. Every time a case comes up, it is decided under the doctrine of necessity. Then there are characters like Sharifuddin Pirzada and A K Brohi who work against the political governments. If one of them was out, the second would be in.

The governments have been sacked on the charges of corruption. The point is if the army is less corrupt. Corruption occurs in every democratic society and elections are the answer to that.

TNS: What's your views on provincial autonomy?

NB: Had political government been given enough time, the concurrent list of the constitution would have been devolved to the provinces as a matter of course. I agree there should be more autonomy and decentralisation. When the present government could not do so they bypassed the provincial government and came up with the idea of decentralisation at the district level. But army can only change the state into a unitary form of government. Ayub Khan made One-Unit and lost half of the country. Now the other half may break up.

What business the army has to distribute money among parties. Today Hameed Gul (former ISI boss) proudly says he made Islami Jamhoori Ittehad. In 1990, the the ISI chief Asad Durrani also distributed money among political parties. We went to the Supreme Court with all the evidence but the case could not be taken up due to various reasons. I also provided a report to the then chief justice on how intelligence agencies could be brought under the law and constitution so that they play their formal role. Even then the court did not deemed it fit to take up the case.

TNS: But you were the one to have assigned a political role to ISI...

NB: In fact, those who accuse me of doing that use one incident of Hyderabad Tribunal. I had framed the case against the National Awami Party and ISI had brought all the evidence against it (also see our blog 'Pakistan Ideology on trial) . The ISI had to be given a fictional cover in the case because it had no locus standi to produce evidence in the court. So an administrative order was issued creating a political cell within the ISI. It was for a limited purpose. Now they are using that precedent to create an ISI empire. I told them that an administrative order could be cancelled any time. It has no legal sanctity. But why allow the ISI and other intelligence agencies to become even bigger than the state.

TNS: Pakhtun nationalist forces say that they never launched any movement for Pakhunistan but the bugbear was created by Bhutto and you to strengthen almost a totalitarian rule by PPP?

NB: The record is available. For instance, the speeches Ajmal Khattak made from Kabul (clearly point out who was behind the bugbear). Then see who supported the Pakhtunistan movement. It was (former Afghan President) Sardar Daud early in 1950s who did so. He opposed Pakistan's entry to the United Nations. After that the problems in Pak-Afghan relations continued, though during the wars of 1965 and 1971 the Afghan government told us that we can remove all the army from the Western front. In fact, the Pakhtunistan movement was launched for a limited purpose to gain certain advantages.

TNS: You worked on high posts both in the army and the political governments. What distinguishes a military rule from a civilian government?

NB: The military has limited education. They have no experience of political life and governance so they can only use force or at best they can link up with the mullah.

TNS: Some American think tanks have been talking of geographical and political changes in our region...

NB: Changing maps will be difficult in our region but easier in the Middle East. If the US attacks Iran then all the artificial boundaries drawn by the foreign ministers of British and France will go.

TNS: Recently MQM chief Altaf Hussain has said that the man who unleashed a reign of terror on Karachi and MQM is living in a house in Peshawar...

NB: See, firstly, I have a clear conscience. Secondly, (the operation in Karachi) happened in 1995. Till today, has any one has gone to the court to complain that excesses were committed. If there was anything against me, it should have come up by now. Yes, I acted against the MQM men for being involved in militancy because they did not have any right to kill Pakhtuns or Punjabis or someone else. It is a misfortune that every night we have to hear on our TV screens the diatribe of a criminal hiding in London and the criminal in the Governor's House in Sindh. Why is Altaf sitting in London? Is he a British citizen?
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