January 14, 2002


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Sajid Bhombal

Next, Musharraf must prepare to face reality

The General finally made the speech the world was waiting for. From an Indian point of view, to expect anything more than what he said would have been foolish. Whether what he said is enough is a different question. But it is certainly a positive development.

Musharraf nearly admitted that Pakistan was breeding religious extremism and, by extension, terrorism and said he was determined to stop it. Assuming that he is serious, the unholy alliance between the Pakistani establishment and religious fanatics will come to an end. That is good news.

Just as I was writing this came an e-mail newsletter from CNN with this Breaking News: "Welcoming Pakistan's new commitment to crack down on religious extremists, India says it will judge its neighbor's actions before entering into any dialog."

That is more good news. It is a measured response, just the kind we would expect from our government.

Musharraf's speech was remarkable in the sense that we could not have expected anything like it just a few months ago. The world has changed since 9/11, and the good thing is that Musharraf knows it well. It is also to our government's credit that we have remained firm this time and let the world know that we have run out of patience. And Musharraf knows this as well.

No one was expecting Musharraf to give up the 'Kashmir cause'. He would have lost his job that very moment. It is not only the extremists and fundamentalists in Pakistan, even average Pakistanis are made to believe that Kashmir belongs to them. Which is incorrect, irrespective of whether Kashmiris want to stay with India.

Pakistan's case on Kashmir is full of contradictions. I had highlighted some of them in a column last year, just after the Agra summit ( Musharraf's speech only underlined the contradictions.

"Kashmir," he said, "runs in our blood. No Pakistani can afford to sever links with Kashmir. The entire Pakistan and the world know this."

What runs in one's blood? At least it should be a part of one's body. Was Kashmir ever part of Pakistan?

And what does the General want to do for Kashmir? "We will," he added, "continue to extend our moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris."

Someone should tell the General that either he is wrong when he says 'Kashmir runs in our blood' or he is wrong in his approach towards Kashmir. One gives 'support' to external elements; one fights for something that 'runs in one's blood'.

Musharraf can only 'extend support' to (and NOT fight for) Kashmiris because Kashmir is an external entity. And an external entity cannot run in anyone's blood.

This is the story of Pakistan's case on Kashmir, a story of contradictions. Anyone, including the British prime minister, who thinks Pakistan has a 'strong' case on Kashmir is ignorant of these contradictions. For Pakistani leaders, however, it is convenient to be ignorant.

It is not my case here that we do not have a problem in Kashmir. Of course we do. We have to address that problem and it is possible that we may even have to involve Pakistan in the process. But this does not mean Kashmir 'belongs' to Pakistan. It never did.

If Musharraf is serious on his 'Pakistan First' policy, his next step should be to get Pakistan out of this manufactured myth, which he is selling as the 'Kashmir cause'. Empty rhetoric based on manufactured myths can hardly go well with the 'Pakistan First' policy.

Anyone who believes that Kashmir, as a Muslim-majority state, should be in Pakistan should immediately put on their thinking caps and study Musharraf's speech. It will be enough to understand why Muslim scholars like Dr Rafiq Zakaria question the very validity of the 'two-nation theory'.

Here is a military dictator who became president of Pakistan by dislodging a democratically elected government, who has put the country's constitution in an abyss and taken away the people's political rights (all in the national interest, of course!) reminding Pakistanis about the vision of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was a democrat and a constitutionalist and created Pakistan to protect the political rights of the subcontinent's Muslims.

Here is a president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, who is bold enough (and we must appreciate this) to inform us that 'people [of Pakistan] are scared of entering these sacred places [masjids]. It is a matter of shame that police have to be posted outside for their protection.'

Yet, he calls Pakistan 'a fortress of Islam'. What kind of fortress is this where people are scared to enter masjids and police need to protect the shrines?

Now think about the Muslims left behind in India, left out of the 'land of opportunities for the Muslims of the subcontinent'. They have enjoyed equal political rights on a sustained basis since Independence. They are not scared to enter their sacred places. No police protection is needed to safeguard these places.

Do you need anything more to question the validity of the two-nation theory?

I also have a personal note of thanks to the General. I have been accused by my Pakistani friends of being biased and bearing resentment towards their country, for saying the same things their own president said in his televised address. Hopefully, I will be spared those accusations in future. Thank you, General.

Musharraf wants Pakistan to be 'an example for the rest of the Islamic world'. He wants Pakistan to be a modern, progressive country. "If we want to serve Islam well, we must make Pakistan strong and powerful," he said.

Yet, in the twenty-first century, he coins a term, 'fortress of Islam', to give self-importance to Pakistan. (With the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, is there any Islamic country left which considers Pakistan anything more than a struggling nation somewhere in South Asia? Don't try to answer that one; it is not good to embarrass our neighbour!)

Someone should tell the General that forts are of no use, militarily or otherwise, in this age of the information superhighway and supersonic jets. And those who are still obsessed with forts have hardly any role to play anymore. Forts have, at best, only heritage value! And there is no dearth of heritage in the Islamic world. If Pakistan wants to be 'an example for the rest of the Islamic world' it needs to show them the path to the future.

All things considered, however, Musharraf seems to be the best thing about Pakistan at this stage. Let us be fair, even before 9/11 he was taking some steps to curb religious extremism. It is religious extremism, which breeds intolerance and fanaticism.

There is also a change in perception in Pakistan on the alliance between the State and extremists, if one goes by that country's English media. Almost all columnists, bar a few, have asked the government -- directly or indirectly -- to take a re-look at its Kashmir policy.

Add the anti-extremist, anti-fundamentalist articles appearing in the Pakistani media, the reduced popularity of religious extremists, and enormous diplomatic pressure on Musharraf from the world community to curb the extremists, and a question arises: is it the right time for India to engage him in 'meaningful' dialogue?

Considering the replies I have received to this question from my friends, I am unwilling to take the risk of giving a definitive answer. Readers, however, are welcome to write in to

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