Sense Of Mortality Gave Push To India-Pakistan Talks
7 January 2004
The New York Times
Pakistan`s decision to end state support for Islamic militants in Kashmir was reached after eight months of secret negotiations and essentially cemented with the attack on the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on Dec. 25, officials here say.
On Tuesday, India and Pakistan agreed to resume a formal discussion in February on Kashmir, the Himalayan territory they both claim, and on other issues. By pledging to allow no terrorist activity from its territory, Pakistan met a main condition of India`s. Pakistani officials said the surprise agreement to resume peace talks, stalled since July 2001, was the result of public steps to build good will between the people of the two countries, and of private steps to rebuild trust between their leaders.
Meetings between senior Indian and Pakistani officials began soon after India`s Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made a speech in April offering a `hand of friendship` to Pakistan. The speech ended a dangerous estrangement that began in December 2001 with an attack on India`s Parliament that India ascribed to Pakistan-backed militants. Over eight months, the officials ferried messages back to Mr. Vajpayee and General Musharraf, who came to see a possibly unique opening to end a half-century of enmity.
The momentum accelerated rapidly with Mr. Vajpayee`s decision in November to attend regional summit talks here last weekend, and General Musharraf`s decision to shut down infiltration of militants waging an anti-Indian insurgency from Pakistan, a senior Pakistani official said. The determination to agree on new talks was sealed with the second of two attempts on General Musharraf`s life last month, according to Pakistani officials. They said they believed that even India`s hardliners saw the pressures on General Musharraf, and understood that the general, who is both civilian leader and army chief of staff, might offer the last best chance for a deal. Indian officials have not yet commented publicly on what propelled them toward Tuesday`s agreement.
The assassination attempt also seems to have confirmed Pakistan`s decision to end its support for the jihad, or holy war, that it had sponsored in Kashmir since 1989. `They`ve done the ultimate,` a senior Pakistani official said of the militants. `They`ve turned their guns against us.` Pakistan has made pledges to end support for militancy before, but Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a commentator and pro-Musharraf senator, insisted that this time was different. `What is said is meant,` Mr. Sayed said. `What happened on Christmas Day` - when two suicide attackers rammed explosives-laden vehicles into General Musharraf`s motorcade - `was too close for comfort.`
The president and the government now feel that the main security threat to Pakistan is `home-grown extremism,` said Mr. Sayed. General Musharraf said as much in a speech several weeks ago, and a Western diplomat here said it was the first time he could recall that a Pakistani leader described a greater threat to the country than India. The two nuclear-armed nations have been enemies since Partition in 1947, and have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir. Mr. Sayed said the reduction of hostility toward India found support among the religious right as well, where, he said, `anti-Indianism has been replaced by anti-Americanism.` Investigators say one of the suicide attackers on Dec. 25 was a militant trained in Afghanistan and was linked to a Kashmiri militant group, Jaish-e-Muhammad.
The senior Pakistani official who discussed the genesis of the agreement said it was now clear that there were `very, very close links between jihadis and Al Qaeda.` In September, the official noted, Osama bin Laden`s deputy, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, distributed an audiotape urging Pakistanis to overthrow General Musharraf for `betraying` Islam. The official said the tape might have been meant to activate field operatives in Pakistan. The two Suzuki vehicles used in the attack were purchased in October, he noted. He said now that India had agreed to discuss Kashmir, it would be easier for Pakistan to persuade militants to halt activities, at least temporarily. Not all will listen, the official warned. `It`s a mindset - a legacy of 22 years,` since Pakistan began supporting jihad in the Afghans` war against Soviet occupiers. He also described `institutional problems` - lower-level members of the intelligence services who had started `owning these people, owning their causes.`
The official sketched factors used to sway Pakistan`s elite behind a radical shift in policy: ¶Public pressure, generated by the restoration of transportation links and other `people to people` contacts; ¶General Musharraf`s dual civilian and military authority; Foreign pressure, which has focused on the region since the two countries held nuclear tests in 1998, followed by their conflict in the peaks of Kargil in 1999, the Sept. 11 attacks, and their near-war in 2002. `There is pressure on both sides,` he said. `After a long, long time, the Western pressure is there on India to move forward.`
Mr. Sayed and others said American officials had been urging both sides toward a dialogue in the interest of stabilizing a restive region and cracking down on resurgent Taliban forces. An American official in Washington said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had spoken to both General Musharraf and Yashwant Sinha, India`s foreign minister, last week. China has also played a role, Mr. Sayed said, noting that it was the only country that had a message of felicitation read out at the regional talks here over the weekend. He believed that message was meant both to assert to India China`s role as a force in South Asia, and to reassure the Pakistanis that China, seen as their staunchest ally, was supportive of the normalization.
Describing the past eight months, the Pakistani official said India rejected two offers by Pakistan for a cease-fire before accepting a third in November. In early November, the official said, the two sides also agreed to tone down their public oratory. The need for speed apparently came largely from the specter of mortality for both Mr. Vajpayee and General Musharraf. Mr. Vajpayee, 79, is of sound mind but aging body, and Pakistanis have far less trust in his deputy prime minister, Lal Krishna Advani, who is seen as more of a hardliner.
And General Musharraf says he will take off his army uniform at the end of this year, thus perhaps lessening his ability to deliver the military`s support in any deal. More serious is the likelihood of more attempts on his life. Noting the general`s comment on Tuesday that he had nine lives, a friend and ally, worried that he is tempting fate and his enemies, said, `I wish he wouldn`t say things like that in public.`