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Spring has arrived in Pakistan, and the
season has brought a thaw in the Cold War between Pakistan and
India, bitter enemies for more than 50 years. A train is now
allowed to cross the border. FRONTLINE/World correspondent
Sharmeen Obaid boards this "peace train" in India and travels
home to Pakistan to see how people are reacting to the cautious
attempts to settle differences between the two countries.
Born and raised in Pakistan, Obaid is now a graduate student
at Stanford as well as a reporter for New York Times Television
who has covered the dramatic political and social changes in
Pakistan since 9/11 and the U.S. intervention in neighboring
On the train Obaid meets a woman who is on her way to a reunion
with her children and grandchildren in Pakistan. "I've prayed
for the day the borders would open," she tells Obaid. As the
train pulls into the city of Lahore, Pakistan, Obaid witnesses
the meaning of reconciliation as long-separated families and
friends embrace each other. All this is possible because of
a historic handshake between Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf
and India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who agreed
to begin peace talks in January 2004.
That night in Lahore, Obaid sees the start of Basant, a festival
celebrating the advent of spring. Originally a Hindu holiday,
Basant has long been embraced by Pakistan's Muslim majority.
It is a time of kite flying, dancing, even drinking. As she
wanders the gaily-lit streets at night, Obaid speaks with Pakistanis
who tell her they are hopeful about the possibility of a real
peace with India. But there is also a note of caution. "Ask
me another time," an older steet vendor tells her. "If this
interview is aired, we will both be jailed. This is Pakistan!"
Observing the mix of local and Western billboards, fast
food outlets and banks in the city, Obaid describes
Pakistan as "a country of secrets and paradoxes, still
emerging from its recent past, before 9/11, when it was
the Taliban's main supporter." She knows that her
country is "determined to be part of the modern world,"
but finds itself at a "dangerous crossroads."
Obaid's first interview is with Jugnu Mohsin, the publisher
of the Friday Times newspaper and a woman who thinks
Pakistan is moving in a positive direction. "I may be being
very unconventional here, but I'll say to you that 9/11 has
been very good for Pakistan," Mohsin tells Obaid. "Suddenly,
overnight, we had to choose which way to go. The state decided
to dump the Taliban -- not a moment too soon, I can tell you
as a woman."
Mohsin notes that the economy has improved and that there
is a groundswell of popular support for peace with India. "We
don't want to fight a thousand-year war with India," she declares.
"Not least because both countries are armed with nuclear weapons."
Obaid points out the nuclear monuments that have been erected
in Pakistan -- replicas of the mountain where Pakistan first
tested its atomic bomb. And during her trip, the controversy
over Pakistan's nuclear program becomes an international scandal
when it is revealed that Pakistan had been sharing nuclear secrets
with Iran, Libya and North Korea.
In a dramatic televised speech, Dr. A.Q. Khan, the "father
of Pakistan's bomb," apologizes for proliferating nuclear technology,
then President Musharraf calls a televised press conference
to pardon Dr. Khan and assert that the esteemed scientist was
acting unilaterally, for his own financial benefit, and that
the government and the military were not involved. In effect,
this puts a lid on further investigations.
The United States and India seem appeased, but Obaid shows
that the Pakistani public generally supports Khan. He is considered
a national hero for matching India's nuclear arsenal.
Ahmed Rashid, a prominent journalist and critic of the government,
tells Obaid it is "impossible" that Dr. Khan acted alone. He
says it was the Pakistani army that needed the missiles they
got in a nuclear barter deal with the North Koreans. "I think
General Beg, as army chief, I am sure was involved."
Obaid is able to secure an interview with General Mirza Aslam
Beg, former army chief of staff, at his home in Rawalpindi,
although he is in no mood for questions. "Allegations have been
made that you knew of the nuclear proliferation," says Obaid.
"Why do you think you haven't been arrested?"
"Just to disappoint you," General Beg shoots back. "And my
American friends and their stooges here in Pakistan, they still
want me behind bars for sins which I have not committed." Beg
views the nuclear revelations as an American "conspiracy to
Obaid also manages to interview Pakistan's former spymaster,
Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, the head of the country's notorious
ISI intelligence agency before 9/11, when Pakistan openly supported
the Taliban. When the nuclear program was going strong, Gul
was one of the most powerful men in Pakistan. He, too, denies
that the military was involved in nuclear proliferation. "This
is fibbing, this is speculation," he insists. Gul blames America
and Israel for trying to undermine Pakistan and take away its
nuclear capability. "Islam is the target, Islam is the new enemy,"
Obaid discovers that Gul's strong anti-Americanism, and his
paranoia, are widespread in Pakistan. "More and more the nuclear
scandal feels like a Pandora's box," she says. "Who knows what
would happen to Pakistan if it were opened?"
Obaid then sets off for the northwest frontier to meet one
of President Musharraf's unlikely allies and sharpest critics,
Sami ul-Haq, a senator and founding member of Pakistan's powerful
fundamentalist political movement. No friend of the United States,
ul-Haq is a friend of Osama bin Laden, though he says he hasn't
seen him lately. The militant cleric asserts that Pakistan has
a duty to share its nuclear technology with other Muslims: "If
we gave it to Iran, what's the crime? If we gave it to Libya,
what's the crime?"
Ul-Haq tells Obaid that he believes President Musharraf has
cut a deal with Washington, allowing U.S. troops to cross the
Afghan-Pakistan border in a spring operation to hunt down bin
Laden and al Qaeda. "They will leave our border in shambles.
They want Muslims to be tied up like goats and sheep, so they
can slaughter us at their will."
Musharraf, says Obaid, is caught between the demands of fundamentalists
at home and his promise to the United States to fight terrorism.
"Musharraf is under enormous pressure," confirms journalist
Ahmed Rashid. "He's seen as toeing the American line, making
peace with India, blaming the scientists for this nuclear proliferation."
Rashid thinks it is impossible for Musharraf to continue to
appease both radical Islamists at home and his Western supporters.
In December 2003, President Musharraf narrowly escaped two
assassination attempts. In the first attack, explosives ripped
apart a bridge just seconds after his presidential convoy passed
over it. Then only two weeks later, on Christmas Day, someone
tried to kill him again.
Obaid vists the site of the second assassination attempt,
when two cars filled with explosives rammed into the presidential
motorcade. Seventeen people died in the blast and more than
40 were injured. Visibly shaken by the assault, Musharraf appeared
on television and vowed to crack down on domestic terrorists.
At the crime scene, Obaid interviews eyewitnesses and an argument
erupts between those denouncing religious extremists and those
In the rubble of the December 25th blast, investigators found
one suicide bomber's cell phone with the memory chip still intact.
The phone numbers on it linked the attempted assassin to a militant
Pakistani group with links to al Qaeda. The group is fighting
in Kashmir, the disputed, mostly Muslim territory between Pakistan
"Kashmir is not just the cause of extremists," says FRONTLINE/World's
Obaid. "It's a deeply felt issue, embedded in Pakistan's identity."
There's even a national holiday, Kashmir Day, and Obaid sees
angry Pakistani nationalists burning an effigy of India's prime
Now that Musharraf is trying to make peace with India and
resolve the long-standing conflict over Kashmir, he has declared
that Kashmiri jihadis are terrorists. The jihadis have been
forced underground. But Obaid manages to arrange a clandestine
meeting with a leader of one of the banned groups.
At a secret location, illuminated only by candlelight, Obaid
interviews the jihadi, who obscures his face but vehemently
denounces India for committing atrocities in Kashmir. "We are
not terrorists," he insists. "We are fighting a war for the
liberation of Kashmir." He denies that Kashmiri jihadis are
responsible for the recent attacks on President Musharraf, blaming
them instead on India and Israel.
Obaid leaves worried that the chances for peace are more fragile
than she thought. What chance do peace agreements have when
jihadis are prepared to die to make Kashmir part of Pakistan?
Obaid also fears that the spring military offensive against
al Qaeda could bring more trouble to her country and to President
Musharraf, particularly if U.S. troops cross into Pakistan.
On the other hand, she can't imagine what would happen
to Pakistan if Musharraf is ousted or killed.
Back in Lahore, Basant is still going strong -- kites fill
the air and Sufi dancers whirl in the streets. There is still
an atmosphere of hope and renewal.
Obaid's final stop is the Indian-Pakistan border at Wagah.
Every day there's an elaborate ceremony watched by eager crowds
on both sides of the frontier. Pakistani soldiers in dark green
uniforms and their Indian counterparts in khaki brown engage
in "a ritualized shadow play" -- strutting and confronting each
"But on this day," Obaid observes, "I saw something different. For the first
time, in a gesture of friendship, they shook hands. And the
crowd broke out in cheers. On both sides."
Reporter and Co-Producer
Special Thanks to
JALAL AND SATTI
Director of Program Production
Produced in association with New York
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