WASHINGTON: Former president Pervez Musharraf called for a more gradual approach against Islamic militants such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, saying they enjoyed sympathy for fighting India.
The United States and India have urged Pakistan to rein in movements such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, or “The Army of the Pure,” which is blamed for planning the bloody siege of Mumbai that killed 166 people two years ago.
“You can’t rock the boat so much that the boat capsizes,” Musharraf, who is attempting a political comeback, said at the Atlantic Council think-tank in Washington.
“While these things have to be done, allow piecemeal, gradual action through a well thought-out strategy which does not disturb the entire law and order situation in Pakistan,” Musharraf said.
Musharraf acknowledged that Lashkar-e-Taiba and like-minded groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad were “involved in terrorism in Pakistan” but said they have been “very popular” for fighting Indian rule in divided Kashmir.
“Since they were going to Kashmir and fighting the Indian army, it went along with the psyche of the people of Pakistan — with everyone,” Musharraf said.
Musharraf said the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a wing of Lashkar-e-Taiba, “did an excellent job” in relief operations following major floods this year and “the best work” in the wake of the 2005 earthquake on the Pakistani side of Kashmir.
“It’s a difficult situation for any government in Pakistan. So the root is (to) resolve the Kashmir dispute, frankly,” Musharraf said.
Musharraf renewed criticism of President Barack Obama for not raising Kashmir during his recent visit to India and for not stopping in Pakistan, the frontline US partner in the war in Afghanistan.
Musharraf banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad in 2002 after they were accused of storming the Indian parliament. But many US experts say the ban has been half-hearted, with Pakistan believing the groups serve its strategic purpose.
An Islamic insurgency broke out in 1989 aiming to end Indian rule in Kashmir, which is majority Muslim. At least 47,000 people have died by official count.
While the armed rebellion has waned, Kashmir was rocked this year by street protests in which Indian security forces have been accused of killing 111 people, mostly teenagers and students.
Musharraf, who was born in New Delhi before the subcontinent’s partition, fought against India in 1965 and 1971 wars and led Pakistan’s army in the 1999 Kargil conflict in which militants infiltrated India’s zone of Kashmir.
But Musharraf, speaking at a separate event at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said he was determined to make peace with India.
“I may be a man of war, but I am a man for peace because I know the ravages of war,” Musharraf said.
Confirming earlier press accounts, Musharraf said India and Pakistan had managed through back-channel diplomacy to finalize agreements on territorial disputes over Sir Creek near the Arabian Sea and the Siachen glacier.
“It was ready to be signed yesterday,” Musharraf said.
Musharraf said he invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan to sign those pacts, even though Kashmir remained in dispute. But Musharraf said momentum faded as Singh did not come and Pakistan entered a political crisis that led to his downfall.
“You put me back there and we will start again,” Musharraf said.
India has recently resumed dialogue with Pakistan after cutting off talks in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.