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July 19, 1999
The politics behind Sharief's Saudi sojourn
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Indian diplomats are watching with interest whether Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief 's plea to Saudi Arabia to help influence the militant Islamic outfits in Pakistan endorse his government's stand on Kargil succeeds or not.
According to senior officials at the ministry of external affairs, Sharief's sojourn to Saudi Arabia is an acid test for his leadership. For, hardline Islamic fundamentalists could make the difference between his government's survival and its ignominious relegation to the dustbin of history.
It was emphasised that the Sharief government is under intense pressure in Pakistan as well by US President Bill Clinton to go to the negotiating table with India on the Kashmir issue. But New Delhi, significantly, has recently underscored that the resumption of the Indo-Pak dialogue would depend on the tangible steps taken by Islamabad to end cross-border terrorism and maintain the sanctity of the line of control.
External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh had categorically asserted that after being deceived by Pakistan in Kargil, New Delhi was fully justified in demanding Islamabad's reaffirmation of the LoC's sanctity.
The officials felt that with international pressure to sort out the dispute amicably on the one hand and aggressively badgering from the militant outfits in Pakistan to continue the jihad in Kashmir on the other, the Pakistan prime minister is caught between the proverbial devil and the deep sea. Although army chief General Parvez Musharraf supported Sharief over the troop withdrawal, growing dissatisfaction among the militants on the issue still spelt danger to him. And that was why Sharief was visiting Saudi Arabia along with his senior cabinet minister and army chief.
The officials underscored that Sharief's primary objective was to appeal for additional funds, ostensibly for keeping the militants in business in Kashmir. They said the Pakistani prime minister's ploy was to keep the militants silent by giving them huge sums of money, which would also please the hawks in the country.
Thus, Sharief hopes that his Saudi Arabian visit would help kill two birds with one stone -- keeping the militants happy, and project to the international community that Islamabad was anxious to normalise ties by going to the negotiating table.
The officials asserted that India would not be lulled into any sort of complacency or empty words of reassurance. "New Delhi can neither be faulted for demanding that Islamabad would have to categorically reaffirm the inviolability and sanctity of the LoC and also give an undertaking that it would put a stop to the cross-border terrorism for which training camps had been set up in PoK," the officials said.
It was indicated that New Delhi's demands for the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan were fully justified as they discouraged any third party mediation which Sharief and his country so desperately wanted.
Asked to comment on the US president's stated objective of actively encouraging the Indo-Pak dialogue, the officials reiterated that all matters pertaining to Kashmir were bilateral, and there was no question of any third party mediation.
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