Vajpayee Is Hero, Salahuddin A Zero
10 January 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: Perhaps for the first time in his proterror career the Pakistan- based chief of Hizbul Mujahideen, Balahuddin, failed to sell his anti-India goods in Pakistan, particularly in the capital city of Islamabad, the venue for the just-concluded historic summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Salahuddin, widely known for his skills to make many a scribe run after him for 'juicy' news copies since the outbreak of militancy and insurgency in Kashmir, virtually drew a blank as the spotlights were on the Indian Premier, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, until the end of the summit. Desperate attempts were made by the Hizbul Mujahideen supremo to steal a march over other trouble-makers by publicly asserting that nothing would be possible without the resolution of the Kashmir issue. His assertion became an open secret as he gave a radio interview in Pakistan during Vajpayee's forward march during his stay in Islamabad. It was significant when mainstream Pakistani newspapers decided against giving any space to the likes of Salahuddin. If Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the principal source of attention for all and sundry, Salahuddin got sidelined during the 'crucial period' in Islamabad. In fact, Salahuddin's attempt was to attract SAARC member countries to his 'Kashmir, Kashmir' cry. But his mission got aborted as none-not even the Pakistan President, Gen Parvez Musharraf, and Prime Minister, Zaffarullah Khan Jamali- chose to highlight the Kashmir issue. And even as Pakistan's Information Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, harped on Kashmir issue, arguing that the way leading to the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan 'is passing through Kashmir', both Gen. Musharraf and Jamali acted with utmost caution. After the Islamabad Declaration was adopted at the end of the three-day summit , Gen. Musharraf did say that as the peace process moved forward, any solution would take into consideration the 'aspirations of the people of Kashmir', making it clear, at the same time, that he did not want to be drawn into these 'contentious' issues and that the desire expressed in the joint statement of India and Pakistan to work together was a major step forward. Apart from Vajpayee, his Principal Secretary and National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra, was also a much-sought after person during the entire 'crucial period' in Islamabad. Brajesh Mishra isn't an ordinary bureaucrat; his actions and reactions are unexpected more often than not. No wonder, his arrival in Islamabad was unexpected on January 1. And no sooner did he arrive in Islamabad than hopes of resumption of the stalled dialogue between India and Pakistan got raised. A special aircraft took Brajesh Mishra and Minister for External Affairs, Yashwant Sinha, to Islamabad, Brajesh Mishra was in Pakistan in February 1999 ahead of his Prime Minister. Vajpayee's historic bus ride to Lahore, Vajpayee's visit has resulted in the Lahore declaration between the two countries. True, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was accompanied by a team of experts and specialists on South Asia. But Pakistan's ruling politicians and officialdom, including intelligence agencies, were apparently keen on watching every step, every move of Brajesh Mishra. Most journalists, too, focussed their attention on Mishra, particularly after it was reported that he and a quiet session with the chief of the ISI (Inter - Services Intelligence), Lt. Gen Ahsan- ul-Haq. Insiders revealed that Brajesh Mishra played a significant role when intense negotiations took place, where every word in the India-Pakistan joint statement was included after hard bargaining by both sides. Mishra, widely perceived in Pakistan as the man behind the scenes, made his first appearance before the media on January 6. After the India-Pakistan joint statement became a reality, Brajesh Mishra and Gen. Musharraf held separate press conferences. All this after two important developments- first, Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf created the atmosphere, and, second, Brajesh Mishra, Yashwant Sinha, Pakistan Foreign Minister, Kasuri, Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan, Pakistan National Security Secretary, Talat Aziz, and General Hamid Javed worked on the draft (of the joint statement), quarelled over the wording and the manner of release, and finally agreed on the text and the modalities of a separate release to the satisfaction of all. And two other significant developments: Pakistan President drew three linkages from the joint statement. First, the sustenance of a forward movement of confidence building measures (CBMs) and normalcy; second, progress on a composite dialogue on all issues, including Kashmir; third, Pakistan's resolve and reiteration to fight terrorism in any manner. Then Vajpayee, according to the joint statement, let it be known that in order to take forward and sustain the dialogue process, violence, hostility and terrorism must be prevented. An encouraging signal from Gen Musharraf: He reassured Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner. And as Gen. Musharraf admitted that there were extremists in both India and Pakistan who might not want peace, he said that it was important for both countries to counter extemists strongly without compromise. The average Pakistani, currently backing peace as almost a matter of ideology, has seemingly pinned his hopes on Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Media reports from Islamabad did suggest that Vajpayee alone can deliver. On January 6, as Gen. Musharraf declared that 'history has been made' with India and Pakistan deciding to resume composite dialogue to settle their problems, he publicly admitted that this was made possible because of the 'vision and statesmanship' of Vajpayee and it was a 'victory for moderates' in the two countries. That the situation was fast changing was, prior to the commencement of SAARC summit at Islamabad, reflected by Gen. Musharraf's statement on Kashmir in the course of a media interview. He, in fact, took observers by surprise as he said that Pakistan had 'left aside' the UN resolutions on Kashmir. Never before had a Pakistani President made an explicit public admission that Pakistan could not realistically hope for a plebiscite to end the Kashmir dispute and, therefore, was willing to explore other ways. Gen Musharraf's interview drew a strong reaction from the hardliners in Pakistan. Of course, attempts were made by Pak Premier, Jamali, and Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, to dilute Gen. Musharraf's remarks. But they have been insufficient to control the expressions of outrage and accusations of treason emanating from the military, political, and jihadi establishments in Pakistan, who are convinced that Kashmir can be liberated by force. There is sufficient evidence from Pakistan, which suggests that SAARC summit took place at a time when hardliners in Pakistan appeared losing ground. It has largely gone unnoticed, particularly in India, that no political party in Pakistan has raised its voice against any of the CBMs (confidence building measures) announced by New Delhi since Vajpayee's historic trip to Srinagar in April last for the normalisation of relations between the two countries. Again, prior to the commencement of SAARC summit, Chowk, an Internal magazine dedicated to the promotion of peace between India and Pakistan, quoted Parvez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist at the Qaud-e-Azam University in Islamabad, as saying: 'Today, plebiscite is no longer the obvious way of determining the wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For example, it clearly excludes a major section of Kashmiris who would opt for independence today but which, in 1948, may not have wanted it... More frightening is the likelihood of a plebiscite igniting communal passions, leading to horrific Gujarat-style bloodbaths across the subcontinent'. Jihad is no longer fashionable in Western capitals. Unless Pakistan reversed its policy on Kashmir, it faced a serious risk of isolation. It is against this backdrop that one would have to evaluate the shift in nuance on the Kashmir issue made by Gen. Musharraf in recent days.