January 2002 News

The trouble with Musharraf

25 January 2002
The Indian Express

New Delhi: Why do we mistrust General Musharraf? Because he had a hand in Kargil? And so soon after Lahore? But the coup against Nawaz Sharif was staged by other army officers. Musharraf was at that precise moment airborne. In any case the hype that preceded Agra appeared to have glossed over Kargil. In fact, so positive was South Block in July that it went out of its way to discourage journalists from interviewing Pakistanis who might put a negative spin on the visit. The Agra visit clearly had clearance from senior elements in the Sangh Parivar as well. For the first time in history, Panchjanya invited the Jang group of Pakistan to organise an essay competition on Indo-Pak relations. It might be added, in parenthesis, that most of the contributions received were moderate, sensible and not by a long shot shrill or “communal”, as the expectation among the political class would be, from the readers of an RSS journal. It was a total surprise. The only construction the club wag could place on this experience was fairly straightforward: how amenable Indian opinion can be towards harmony with Pakistan, even in the citadels of the Sangh Parivar. According to him the incurable hardliners on Pakistan belong to the political class who have acquired membership of the India International Centre. Agra remains a puzzle. Everything seemed promising until the midnight hour when Indian insistence on cross-border terrorism in the draft turned out to be the deal breaker. I think what rankled a bit on the Indian side was Musharraf’s persistence in scoring points in the media. We in India tend to respect our prime minister as something of an elder statesman, one with a spectacular record in Parliament over five decades. We do not like a younger general, barely two years in the political arena, to upstage him by being nimble footed in the presence of TV cameras. We would like Vajpayee’s gravitas to come across but that, alas, is not a telegenic quantity. In Kathmandu, during the Saarc summit, the Pakistani delegation’s urge for quick PR points came in the way once again. Sattar asked for a confidential meeting with Jaswant Singh. The prime minister saw no harm, provided it was not treated as a formal meeting. Jaswant Singh and Sattar met for an hour at the former’s suite at the Soaltee on conditions of total secrecy. Barely was the meeting over than Pakistan’s media managers had leaked it to their press. It was enormously embarrassing to the Indian side. The prime minister was simply being ‘‘decent’’ clearing a secret contact which could provide valuable insights into Musharraf’s mind. The premature leakage to the press is the sort of stuff that has accentuated the ‘‘distrust’’. The hawks have moved in and created an edifice on this “distrust”. But now that Musharraf has made that epoch-making speech on January 12, will the ‘‘distrust’’ fade? So extremely adversarial have bilateral relations been since December 13 in particular that there was nothing any one side could have done that would completely satisfy the other. It is in this framework that the measured but positive official response to Musharraf’s speech must be seen. Home Minister Advani describing it as a ‘‘pathbreaking’’ speech is very important. There could be a deeper, psychological factor at play. For over 50 years New Delhi has repeatedly extended its hand of friendship, which Pakistan has spurned, using the Kashmir issue as the spoiler. No government in New Delhi could have resolved ‘‘Kashmir’’ entirely to Pakistan’s satisfaction. And since 1989 Pakistan had evolved the strategy of brazen cross-border support to militancy, which, it was hoped, would cause a rethink in New Delhi. Musharraf’s speech makes a total departure from the past. He puts an end to the double and triple distilled Arabised Islam, divorced from the subcontinent ethos which General Zia-ul Haq had inaugurated as a means of severance from India. This meant perpetual conflict. ‘‘I have been jilted so often,’’ says Josh Malihabadi, ‘‘that I am scared stiff at the possibility of union.’’ So consistently has Pakistan spurned Indian overtures that a turn-around by its leader finds us a bit frozen in our tracks. This frozenness is a function of a 50-year-old national habit. While defrosting takes place at our end, Musharraf will have had time to match his words with practical steps. He will weaken himself internally if he is seen to be acting under Indian pressure, goes one argument. The other argument sees him in danger if India applauds him for what he is doing. I believe these considerations will confuse matters for him. He has outlined such an audacious, epoch-making statement of intent that he has no room for hesitation. He must move on in practical ways to be seen by his nation as someone who put India under pressure from a platform of peace. And as the Panchjanya contributors proved, the response from India over a period of time will be ample, possibly by the time J&K faces elections. The obstinate political class of the IIC variety will slowly fall into line.


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