Advani's Musharraf Reading Plausible
16 April 2004
The Daily Excelsior
B L Kak
Jammu: The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and other functionaries of his Government have taken Islamabad by surprise. And the surprise, pleasant as it is, can easily be found in New Delhi's unwillingness to get provoked or chagrined by Gen. Parvez Musharraf's 'hot' comments on Jammu and Kashmir. No hue and cry from India this time over the ultimatum from Gen. Musharraf. The ultimatum was issued, once again, on April 10. Gen. Musharraf, in fact, reiterated Pakistan 'sincerely' tried to initiate a meaningful dialogue with India to settle all issues but it would not compromise on its 'vital national interests' on Kashmir and nuclear assets. The situation has undergone much change in recent months, with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his dispensation eager and anxious for cooperative relationship between India and Pakistan. It is in this context that the Deputy Prime Minister, L K Advani, who is already known for his sentimental stand on the accession of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India, came forward with a different reaction to Gen. Musharraf's comments on Jammu and Kashmir. Advani sprang a surprise on the observers in the two countries when he gave the benefit of the doubt to Gen. Musharraf. In a broadcast over Pakistan Television (PTV) the other day, Gen. Musharraf placed himself on record as saying: 'We have to move forward on Kashmir. We have to resolve it. The Foreign Ministers will meet in July-August. If we don't move forward, I am not in the process.' The Pakistani media interpreted Gen Musharraf's remarks as setting a deadline for resolving the Kashmir issue. On finding the Indian media having accorded wide coverage to Gen. Musharraf's remarks on Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistani officials were left with no choice but to act quickly as part of Islamabad's plan to keep New Delhi in good humour. Riaz Khokar, Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, was assigned the task of highlighting the 'fact' that Islamabad was not setting any deadline for a solution to the Kashmir problem and that Gen. Musharraf did not use the word 'deadline'. In India, the job of dismissing the fear that the peace process might be in danger was performed by LK Advani. Advani has a reputation of being a hardliner on Pakistan. Yet, he briefly spoke on the matter and suggested that Gen. Musharraf's remarks might only be about posturing to the domestic audience. Advani's statement came at a time when sections of Pakistan's political class have accused Gen. Musharraf of softening Pakistan's stand on Jammu and Kashmir. Cornered at home, the Pakistan President, it appears, was left with no option but to step up the rhetoric on Kashmir. There is no denying that the US-guided operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan have reduced the manoeuviring space for Gen. Musharraf. Hence, all the more reason for him to look for quick-fix solutions in the forthcoming talks with India to give himself a breather. New Delhi has already understood Gen. Musharraf's compulsions. No wonder, India has joined the United States in keeping Gen. Musharraf in power. Atal Bihari Vajpayee's recent visit to Islamabad, the joint declaration, the resumption of dialogue and now the cricket series have all contributed to stengthening Gen. Musharraf's bargaining position within his own country. The altered, or altering, scenario has egged New Delhi on to adopt caution and care while dealing with Islamabad. In plain language, New Delhi has decided not to join issue with Gen. Musharraf on Kashmir. Happily for Pakistan President, the Vajpayee Government has also decided to give him space to address the fundamentalist constituency and get some of the legitimacy he has lost by allying with the Americans. And significant, indeed, is the development: Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is keeping a tight rein over Foreign Office statements and is in close touch with the Pakistan Government to ensure that the peace process is not derailed at this stage. Indian Defence Minister, George Fernandes, too, deemed it necessary to play his party. He did insist that the peace process between India and Pakistan 'is moving in the right direction' and that there was no reason for new Delhi to be perturbed by Gen. Musharraf's remarks. Whatever the assessment or calculation of L K Advani and George Fernandes and Minister for External Affairs, Yashwant Sinha, there is no doubt that having taken credit for engineering a successful peace process with Pakistan, India is in no position during an election campaign to get into an extended verbal spat with Gen Musharraf on what seems to be disconcerting signals that Pakistan might be backtracking from the Islamabad deal. In the context of Indo-Pak relations, misperception is the killer of hope, and realism the casualty. According to Dr Syed Matiur Rahman, who is the Secretary - General of the Rawalpindi based Foundation for Research on International Environment, National Development and Security, how to promote a reality based perception, is the single -most psychological imperative to foster a mentalset conducive to peace and harmony between the two belligerent nations who have not only nourished covert hostility but fought there full fledged wars. Dr Rahman is quite on the mark when he says that the need for dialogue and talks has been immensely felt not only by the peoples of the two countries but also by the other nations who wish to see the region free from nuclear holocaust. On the other hand, America's premier intelligence agency, CIA, has warned that despite a lessening of tensions between India and Pakistan, a dramatic provocation might provoke another crisis. Hailing the steady progress towards normalisation of ties between India and Pakistan, CIA has said that further breakthroughs in this direction would hinge on the extent to which each side judges that the other was sincere about improving ties. Testifying before the Senate select committee in Washington recently, CIA Director, George Tenet, said that building on Atal Bihari Vajpayee's April 2003 'hand of friendship' initiative, the leaders in New Delhi and Islamabad have begun to lay a promising foundation for resolving their differences through peaceful dialogue. Tenet said: 'Further progress will hinge largely on the extent to which each side judges that the other is sincere about improving India - Pakistan relations. For example, India is watching carefully to see whether the level of militant infiltration across the Line of Control (in Jammu and Kashmir) increases after the snows melt in the mountain passes.'