Not Only Generally Speaking


Never one to mince his words, former Pakistan president General Pervez Musharraf has once again made it to the front pages of the South Asian media by making some deeply contentious if not the controversial observations on Pakistan’s support to militants. In an interview, Musharraf said that Pakistan trained groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba in 1990s as they “fought in Kashmir at the cost of their lives”. He said Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi were Pakistani heroes at the time. It is a fact, no doubt. But it is the General’s explanation for how the same heroes turned into terrorists that is deeply pregnant with meaning.  According to him, mujahideen became terrorists because “later on, the religious militancy turned into terrorism”. He, however, elided over tellingly how and why this happened, letting the viewers draw their own conclusion. Of course, with distinct hint about what he wanted them to conclude.
General obviously meant that the mujahideen became terrorists because the geo-politics changed. That is, when militants were used to drive out Soviet Union from Afghanistan, they were called mujahideen. And when mujahideen expelled USSR by 1990 and then stayed on to assert themselves, they became terrorists.
Musharraf also drew an equivalence between Hafiz Saeed and the Bal Thackeray, saying if Thackeray was an Indian hero, Saeed was theirs. But the General’s plain talking wasn’t just plain: it was much more complicated. He seemed to play with and overturn the set and sanctioned meanings we have learnt to instinctively draw about the prevailing play of politics, more so about the political violence. Musharraf takes us to the threshold of a contentious intellectual terrain and then leaves us there to deal with it: for example, he calls into question why the personalities, events or the situations which look apparently identical and operate under an analogous ideological context be differentiated positively in case of the one and negatively in case of the other. What he means is that these labels are more about the play of the political power than a precise definition of the state of affairs.
The General, however, makes no bones about the need to act against the extremists who have turned against their own people.  Here his ambivalence with the concept of a terrorist ends and so does it with everybody: those who kill innocent people under the guise of no matter what cause are the terrorists.
At a time when India is experiencing the rising intolerance and the hate against the minorities is being dressed up as a national ideology, there is a need to sift through the duplicity of the meanings and the politically motivated manner in which we seem to make a sense of our existing world. There has to be the clarity, one yardstick – albeit nuanced – for the events taking place under largely similar political and social contexts with similar objectives.  This clarity will help resolve a lot of the ongoing conflicts: so, while we accuse others of terrorism, intolerance or the hate crimes we will ensure that we don’t emulate them under the cover of a disguised interpretation.

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