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'Musharraf planned Kargil when I was PM' : Bhutto

'Musharraf planned Kargil when I was PM' : Bhutto

Author: Vir Sanghvi
Publication: Hindustan Times
Date: November 30, 2001

In an exclusive interview, Benazir Bhutto demolished General Pervez Musharraf's claim that Kargil was a mujahideen operation. Ms Bhutto confirmed that when she was Prime Minister, General Musharraf had presented the same blueprint for an invasion of Kargil in the shape of a 'war-game'. "I put my foot down," Ms Bhutto recalled. "I said that if anything like this happens, it will be a big setback for Pakistan. We will be forced to withdraw."

Though she said that she wanted to be "careful" not to damage Pakistan's strategic interests, Ms Bhutto said that the army regularly presented such scenarios to her but that she always turned them down.

In the event, General Musharraf went ahead with the Kargil invasion after she was ousted from office and he became Army Chief. The result, she said, was that "we were humiliated. We were forced to withdraw by the world community. We were shamed."

Worse still, said Ms Bhutto, "so many young men lost their lives. And their bodies were not taken back by us. There should be an investigation as to who was responsible".

Ms Bhutto's remarks are certain to anger President Musharraf because they destroy Pakistan's claim that its army was not involved in Kargil. Ms Bhutto suggests that the General refused to accept the bodies of dead Pakistani soldiers for fear of having to admit that it was an official army operation that went disastrously wrong.

The interview, recorded for the Star TV programme Star Talk, (due to be telecast next month) marks Ms Bhutto's strongest-ever attack on General Musharraf and the Pakistan army. In addition to the Kargil revelation, she also accused Pakistani interests of sponsoring Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and of introducing foreign militants into Kashmir.

According to Ms Bhutto, "In 1989, after the Afghan jehad was over, Osama bin Laden had gone back to Saudi Arabia to pick up the pieces of his life. But he was called back to Pakistan to funnel money to overthrow my government."

She did not deny that her government had looked favourably towards the Taliban in 1996 but claimed that the present situation arose out of the desire of Pakistani generals to meddle in Afghanistan. As far back as 1989, she claimed, the Pakistan army wanted to invade Afghanistan and overthrow the Najibullah government. But, she added, "I refused to give permission."

During her second term, she said, "the Taliban had signed an agreement with the Northern Alliance in November 1996." That agreement allowed for power-sharing. "Two days after the agreement was signed," she recalled, "my government was overthrown and the Taliban was hijacked by Islamabad and Al Qaeda".

She was "very distressed", she said, "by persistent reports" to the effect that there were Pakistani soldiers fighting for the Taliban in Kunduz and other parts of Afghanistan. "There should be an inquiry," she insisted. "Who are these soldiers? Are they serving members of the armed forces? Retired? Decommissioned? We need an inquiry."

In Ms Bhutto's view, power in Pakistan has passed from the ISI ("a state within a state") to a coterie of retired generals who were in power during the Afghan operation. In those days, the generals controlled the army and the ISI: "They set up madrasas all over Pakistan with ISI funds. These madrasas produced fighters who were sent to Afghanistan."

Now, she said, these generals had retired but still called the shots, influencing appointments in the ISI and the army. They believed in theocracy and ran private militias. These militias, she suggested, included "the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and theHarkat-ul-Mujahideen."

"The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba are prime suspects in sectarian killings and in the killings of minorities in Pakistan," she said. These militias were now being infiltrated into Kashmir to create violence there.

"I find it very sad," she said, "that the All Party Hurriyat Conference, which is a Kashmiri body, has been sidelined." It was the foreign groups which held press conferences and hogged the limelight.

As Prime Minister, Ms Bhutto recalled, she had little or no control over the army. Her own conversations were bugged by the ISI and then leaked to the press and the generals would not listen to her. The Pakistani army, she said, always claimed that civilian politicians were corrupt.

"But what about corruption in the army?" she asked. "All their sons are multi-millionaires. My ministers are being prosecuted for awarding contracts for which there were tenders. But the General awards contracts without even asking for tenders. "

In a scathing critique of the army brass, she said: "Every time a general is in power we lose something." But no general, she said, was ever held accountable. "No general has got up and said 'I'm sorry we committed genocide in 1971'. Even the inquiry report into the fall of Dhaka is still suppressed."

The genocide in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), she suggested, was symptomatic of the army brass. "Whether it's corruption or genocide, there is no accountability."

She knew, she said, that her remarks would anger the army in Islamabad. "They are already foaming at the mouth about what I have said in India." But she did not see why this should be so.

"General Musharraf says he wants good relations with India. He should give me a pat on the back for paving the way".

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