Mahmud Ali Durrani hit the headlines recently by saying Pakistanis were involved in the Mumbai attacks of 2008. He had lost his job as Pakistan's National Security Advisor after first making this claim in 2009. Then, he had cleared the ISI of any involvement in the attacks, carried out by operatives of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the Indian authorities allege, with the aid of sections of the ISI.
Catch caught up with Durrani on the sidelines of a counter-terror conference in Delhi. He explains that Islamabad does not have the capacity to go after all terror outfits operating in the country, hence the focus to counter the ones causing mayhem within its borders. “Do not expect anything against Jaish. It's not their first priority,” he says.
But no matter how Pakistan deals with the terrorist outfits, Durrani maintains, India and Pakistan must restart talks. Edited excerpts from the conversation.
The Indian government has provided Pakistan evidence of terrorist groups that are operating from its soil launching attacks in India – Uri, Pathankot, Mumbai. What is stopping the Pakistani government from acting against these groups?
Let’s start from the oldest one, the Mumbai attacks. It was done by a group based in Pakistan which came here and carried out the massive carnage. For the Indian people and the government to feel upset was logical. However, the feeling in India was that such a massive operation was not possible without the support of the Pakistani establishment. This is where they are wrong.
I have very good evidence but I cannot provide it for security reasons. I have ironclad evidence that the state, the ISI, nobody was involved. In fact, a senior intelligence official then said, “It is a wrong thing, bad timing. We didn’t want it. We will get beaten up.”
So I asked them that these terror groups have carried out this operation, what were you guys doing? They said we were busy in our battle in FATA. The members of these groups had been isolated and kept in camps by the government of Pakistan. The intelligence agencies' fault is that they were not watching while these groups carried out this attack on their own.
But carrying out such an attack is not really possible without the involvement of the establishment. The kind of training and expertise needed can only come from the military?
Mostly you are right, but in this case you are wrong. As far as the Pakistani establishment was concerned, for them it was the wrong time and the wrong operation. Like I said I have strong reasons and evidence that they were not involved.
In Kashmir, the terror groups operating from Pakistani have been constantly attacking Indian army establishments, civilians. How is it possible that they don't enjoy patronage of the Pakistani establishment?
As far as my knowledge goes, the Pakistani establishment has no role in the recent events. One point you don't focus on is why did this uprising (in Kashmir) come about? Was it Pakistan? If you think so, then I am afraid you don’t know the valley. It was purely Kashmiris, and it had nothing to do with any external forces.
But after the killing of Burhan Wani, there have been many attacks on the armed forces. The investigating agencies say the Jaish and the LeT played a role in those attacks.
I am talking of the initial days after the killing of this gentlemen, after the people rose up against the establishment and pellet guns were used. This was a Kashmiri reaction. Of course, other people may have got into the action. That is possible. But it was mismanagement by the Indian establishment. You could have had the Kashmiris eating out of your hand if you had handled them well. Even in the initial days of the insurgency, Pakistan had no inkling about it, and it was the frustrated Kashmiri youth who launched it. Even now, it's the frustrated youth more than the separatist leaders who are at the forefront in Kashmir.
But didn't these terror groups try to capitalise on the unrest?
Are you talking about Uri? I am told it was Kashmiri youth and maybe some people associated with the Pakistani terrorist networks that did it. But I don’t think it was initiated by Pakistan.
Again, why is the Pakistani government reluctant to act against the terror networks? Is it because the Pakistani security establishment recognises their ‘utility’?
No, there is no utility of these idiots. If you see Pakistani newspapers, everyday there are articles on how there should be action against these groups or they will destroy Pakistan. The security agencies, the police are constantly battling them. Even in recent days, you have seen so many killings. Recently, there were five attacks in a matter of five days, including on Sehvan Sharif and on defence officials. We didn’t say the attackers were India-trained. They are our people. They are terrorists. And 70 per cent of our army is engaged in fighting them, morning to night. They are being constantly targeted. But the civilian and the military wings need to work together. There is a need for proper integration.
Do you think Zarb-e-Azb was a failure? And are military and civilian leaderships on the same page when it comes to going after these outfits?
Zarb-e-Azb was not a failure. It was a major success. It managed to clean up FATA. But that region is not entirely sealed so they manage to run away. The leaders of the majority of terror groups are now sitting in Afghanistan. We recently launched a heavy attack on Pakistani terrorists sitting in Afghanistan. Zarb-e-Azb was a major success, but the army alone cannot do anything. The military operation was successful but that is not enough. See the National Action Plan; about 80 percent of the things are to be done by the civilian government.
But what about the groups in Punjab?
There no groups who are going around killing people. There are a lot of madrassas in Punjab.
But there are groups active there that are responsible for carrying out attacks in India?
Yes, there is Jaish-e-Mohammed in Bhawalpur. South Punjab does worry me, that some day it may explode. The madrassas are promoting a narrow-minded vision. They may not be terrorists but it's a short journey between extremism and terrorism.
Pakistan's interior minister recently said there was a need to make a distinction between sectarianism and terrorism.
No, I do not agree with it. Anybody who is killing innocents is a terrorist.
Do you think Nawaz Sharif will allow military action in South Punjab? Gen Qamar Bajwa, the army chief, was recently quoted as saying that the security forces would go after terrorist groups in South Punjab.
I hope they do, or they will pay a heavy price later on. They may say now that do not disturb our government, but that would be a very short sighted policy.
But would that lead to any change in the situation in Kashmir, especially in terms of the attacks being carried out by cross-border outfits?
I firmly believe that no country should allow its soil to be used by non-state actors to attack another country. It has happened, like in the case of Mumbai attacks. But it shouldn't happen. But the army alone cannot stop it. The police needs to be strengthened to enhance its counter-terrorism capabilities. You have to go after the madrassas, no matter if they are peaceful or not because they are teaching a narrow vision of Islam. There is a need for reform in the judicial system. The courts let off the main man responsible for attacking the Army General Headquarters. The investigating skills are poor.
Do you think the recent Financial Action Task Force meeting in Paris has forced Pakistan to act against terror groups?
Pakistan has been under pressure for a long time. But the focus is on those groups that constitute an immediate threat.
You mean the groups that are active internally?
Yes. Recently, there was a spate of attacks from the south of the country to the north. Do you think instead of going after them, they will target outfits like Jaish? No, that will not happen. We do not have that kind of capacity.
Do you think talks between India and Pakistan would resume soon?
I can’t say they would begin soon. The thinkers and the media in India seem to believe that all terrorists are hiding in Pakistan and once the Pakistani establishment kills them, things would be sorted. I don’t think Pakistan can do it. It cannot contain the internal strife. There are attacks everyday. The bottom line, however, is that India and Pakistan should talk even if there are ten bomb blasts. If you react to those blasts, then you are playing in the hands of the bad guys.
It seemed after Narendra Modi’s visit to Pakistan that civilian and military leaderships there were not on the same page when it came to India.
There are different opinions within military and civilian leaderships on what should be the parameters and things like that. But today they are on the same page. You are looking at just Pakistan, look at India, too. Till Narendra Modi is there, and his people are there, they do politics with everything.
But he took the initiative of visiting Pakistan, he invited Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in.
But right now, it's his government that is saying no talks. I hope this changes. Both the governments need to grow up and talk. The visa regime should be liberalised. Don’t give each other any special status, but at least bring it on a par with the policy for other countries of the world. And finally, in these times of media hype when negotiations come under media glare even before they start there is a need to open the secret channels, the back channels. For the time being, those channel are not functional. I think they should start them again.
Coming to the other side of the neighbourhood, the Quad process on Afghanistan seems to have fizzled out?
I am not an official anymore. But my only take is why should the Taliban join them? They were fighting the Americans there, and now even the Americans are gone, why would the Taliban want to come forward for a dialogue? They will only opt for a compromise if they are given a piece of the cake.
You mean a part in the government?
Yes. They would not want a little part of the cake, but a big chunk.
But bringing the Taliban into the government is a dangerous proposition, fraught with risks?
It may be fraught with risks, but why else would the Taliban come forward for a compromise?
Do you think Pakistan failed to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table?
I think Pakistan tried, but they seemed to have over promised. Pakistan does not have the capacity to force the Taliban to talk. When they were destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas, we were in close contact with them, we pleaded with them to not do it, saying they would become a pariah, but they did not listen to us. Why would they listen to us now. In fact, they even suspect Pakistanis, saying we are close to the Americans.
Are you implying that the Pakistani agencies have no control over any faction of the Taliban?
I don’t think they have control. They may be talking to some of them, but control is out of question.
Like the Haqqani Network, for example.
No question. They let the Haqqanis off because they were not bothering us. We were fighting our own battles and had Haqqanis joined them against us it would have been a serious issue. At one time there was a lot of criticism from the Americans over Pakistan not throwing the Haqqanis out and I told them we have compulsions, issues of capacity, we are fully involved in fighting the TTP. I told them since you know where the Haqqanis are, why don’t you take them out? I told them we may scream and cry that you violated our territory but in reality we will be clapping since they may not be our immediate enemies but they are our enemies. They go from their sanctuaries in Pakistan, launch attacks in Afghanistan and come back merrily, what are you guys doing? You are the most advanced country in the world, get them, slaughter them. We will shut our eyes.
The problem in Afghanistan is as it is. This is an escape clause used by the Americans that sanctuaries in Pakistan are responsible for it. They have been bombing those sanctuaries for years, there have been more than 400 strikes. What has been the result of that? Forget Pakistan, what have they achieved in Afghanistan? You can’t blame a dozen, two dozen or three dozen Haqqanis sitting in Pakistan.
Now that Russia and China are so proactive on the Afghanistan issue, do you see a change in the situation soon?
No, I don’t think so. The point is that in terms of understanding the Pakistani and the Afghan Taliban are one. Ideologically they are one, they have linkages, they support each other. On the other hand, the government in Kabul and the government in Islamabad are not even on talking terms. Pakistanis say Indians are twisting the tail of the Afghans, I will not say that. How will the Afghans survive without Pakistan? We are the only open route for them. Recently, after the many terrorist attacks, we shut the border with Afghanistan. It resulted in a hue and cry. We have been asking them to seal the border, man it properly. But they claim it is the disputed Durand Line. They must protect it but I know they don't have the capacity to do so; even the Americans couldn’t do it.