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June 1, 2002

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Sajid Bhombal

If 'Patiala peg' can't, what else can?

The first time I saw General Musharraf live on television, I was deeply impressed by his sheer 'honesty' and openness. The programme was called 'Face to Face' on PTV. It was refreshing to see a person in charge of a nation answering questions live [some of them were uncomfortable, if not embarrassing, something which convinced me that it was not a stage-managed drama with friendly scribes throwing in lollipop questions]. I was convinced then that he was the man Pakistan was in search of and someone with whom India could do business.

From then till now the general has almost spoken nonstop, as noted by senior Pakistani columnist Ayaz Amir. In his column on May 24, Amir writes: "Even if Musharraf was a Demosthenes or a Cicero there is such a thing as too much talking. He has been talking virtually nonstop since the time he seized power. And look what a soup the country is in. It's high time he did some listening."

There is also a qualitative change in the general's talk. Musharraf, who after Agra said (rather proudly too) that he neither understands diplomacy nor knows how to play with words, has come a long way since. So 'armed intruders' was grammatically, politically and diplomatically a correct term [from the Pakistani point of view, that is] to describe the terrorists who attacked Parliament!

Ironically, it was his live performance (or lack of it) on May 27 that convinced me that as long as he stays in power, there is no point hoping for peace with Pakistan. Not because he is any worse than the alternatives available there, but because he has burned all the bridges and left no option open for him or Atal Bihari Vajpayee to engage in a constructive dialogue. The general asks for a dialogue without telling us what new ideas or proposals he wants to discuss. How is he going to address the issues of our concern?

Nothing amuses me more than the Indo-Pakistani relationship. History might have parted us, but geography has condemned us to live together. There is no option but to end the perpetual hostility if the subcontinent has to prosper. Both sides know this, but somehow fail to rise above petty politics and normalise their relationship.

Ever since I reached a reading age, there have been phases when there were enough reasons to believe that the hostilities might end and we would live peacefully for ever. When Rajiv Gandhi led India and Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan, every pundit worth his salt told us that these two young and immature politicians would take us on a fresh path. But the problem with young politicians is that they eventually grow up and become 'mature'. It didn't take long for Benazir to realise that the 'thousand-year war' declared by her father couldn't possibly get over in just two decades.

The next ray of hope came when I K Gujral became the Indian prime minister and advocated what is now famous as the 'Gujral doctrine'. People-to-people contact would solve all our problems, is what we were told. He might have been right, but people-to-people contact can be effective only if (and this is a big if) the establishments on both sides show the necessary political will to back up such an effort. Gujral did show that he had the will; there was hardly any reciprocation from the Pakistani establishment, though, to be fair, the Pakistani people did show some interest.

Peace talks without political backup from the establishments on both sides are simply ineffective. Even those who indulge in peace missions know this. Amir, on a peace mission to Delhi, was bold enough to admit in a diary (Outlook, February 2000) that though he is all for "correct" relations between the two countries, at the end of the peace meet he had yet not decided what upsets him more: "the sight of outright chauvinists thumping the rostrum and spreading their message of hate, or peaceniks in conscious native garb holding aloft their pacifist slogans". He found both equally depressing.

He got bored in a day and spent the rest of his stay in Delhi enjoying 'Patiala pegs' in Imperial bar. He couldn't even make peace with the bartenders! Think about it, if a 'Patiala peg' does not unite us with Punjabi-dominated Pakistan, what else can?

The search for the 'correct relationship' continued in an incorrect way when Vajpayee rode a bus to Lahore. Before we knew it, the bus landed in Kandahar via Kargil, bringing things back to square one.

The hope was, however, revived, with poetic vigour, when Vajpayee invited the general to 'ride the high road to peace'. Even the venue selected had poetic appeal. This time the optimism was on both sides of the border. After all, the pundits argued, a BJP-led government in India and a military dictatorship in Pakistan made a terrific combination.

There was some validity in that argument. Both the BJP and the Pakistani military are perfectly capable of doing things they would never allow others to do.

The general probably enjoyed the sight of Taj Mahal with his wife, but the set-up was too romantic for him to do any business. You can hardly accuse Musharraf of giving it all up. He is, after all, a general and generals don't and shouldn't get carried away by poetry!

September 11 changed the entire perception vis--vis terrorism. Our concerns became the concerns of the world. Or so we thought, till we realised that General Pervez Musharraf, the sponsor of terrorism, was smart enough to become a partner in America's fight against Al Qaeda.

Can Pakistan now stop the jihadi groups it used to launch its proxy war against India? Some Pakistani intellectuals argue that the jihadis are as much a threat to Pakistan as they are to India and hence it is in India's interest to strengthen Musharraf.

There is some truth in that argument. The jihadi groups in Kashmir, though supported by the ISI, are motivated by their own ideology and now it is difficult even for Pakistan to stop them from creating problems.

If Musharraf had shown sincerity in his approach, India had every reason to be sympathetic to him and could have supported him in his 'fight against terrorism'. But he chose to play a double game. Sincerity is of the essence here, and sincerity does not come under pressure. Earlier, I referred to the general using the term 'armed intruders' for terrorists in his initial reaction to the attack on Parliament, subtly demonstrating that he had something different on his mind till he was pressurised both by India's military buildup on the border and the world community (read: the US of A) to accept it as an act of terrorism.

Is war a solution? Every war must have a political objective. Our political objective is to wipe out terrorism from Jammu & Kashmir. A war will devastate Pakistan. That throws up an important question. Would a politically unstable and economically weaker Pakistan have any reason to stop supporting terrorism in J&K? In fact, such a Pakistan will have more reason to use terrorism as a tool to 'bleed' India. A war would, in fact, defeat our very objective.

Would a politically stable and economically stronger Pakistan stop supporting terrorism in J&K? My guess is as good as yours. But at least it will not indulge in any act of desperation.

In any case, war will not achieve our political objective. The solution might lie somewhere else. Our fight against terrorism will be a long one. It will test both our patience and our strength. It will take a very well-articulated, imaginative and long-term policy.

We may be missing an important point here. Things will not normalise in Jammu & Kashmir unless we address the political problems in the state. Not all problems in the state are because of Pakistan. If the Pakistani establishment stops supporting terrorists tomorrow, will the problems in the state go away?

Recently, when I sent a note to senior Pakistani columnist Irfan Husain saying that Pakistan, which can stop terrorism in J&K, is not willing to do so, he replied: "I think it is simplistic to say Pakistan can stop the killing in Kashmir. Please remember that there is a strong indigenous element in the uprising, which began in 1989. Pakistan has certainly aided and abetted the militants, and Pakistani groups have infiltrated volunteers, but I doubt very much if the government here can turn the fighting on and off like a tap. I am not trying to evade our own responsibility in the matter, but do feel that India should accept some of the blame. Also, while it (correctly) demands that Pakistan should stop allowing militants to cross over, why don't its own forces stop them? The truth is that it is very difficult terrain."

He has a point. If we want Pakistan to take the blame for its role, we can't evade our own responsibility. Pakistan wouldn't have succeeded if we had political stability in Kashmir.

Unfortunately, we have never factored this issue in our fight against terrorism. We should, if we have to succeed in our ultimate aim.

The most important factor in our fight against terrorism is to make Pakistan and the jihadis irrelevant to Kashmiris, who are suffering indefinitely. We as a nation need to be in peace with ourselves before we can embark on fighting a difficult neighbour.

Terrorism strikes in J&K

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