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June 4, 2002

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Shafqat Mahmood

Looking beyond the rhetoric

The rhetoric of General Musharraf's recent address to the nation was largely meant for domestic consumption, but sandwiched between tough words was a conciliatory message. He said repeatedly, in both English and Urdu, that no infiltration would be allowed across the Line of Control. Apparently, this did not cut much ice in New Delhi because the speech was termed 'disappointing and dangerous'. We are exactly where we were a couple of weeks ago. No war yet, but also no peace in sight.

I am tempted not to give too much importance to words, whether of peace or war. The leaderships on both sides cannot resist playing politics. They cater to certain lobbies or create a camouflage of words to disguise their real intent. President Pervez Musharraf in his speech uses strong words against India essentially to negate an impression that he is giving in to Indian or international pressure on the issue of infiltration. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been threatening war for some time now without any serious hostile action on the ground. He needs to appear tough to an Indian public angry after terrorist attacks on Parliament and in Jammu. The real action if any is behind the scenes with diplomatic exchanges taking place under the watchful eyes of America.

There has been terrorism in parts of India and Kashmir for many years now and stories of infiltration across the Line of Control are not new. The question is, why are we so close to war now?

Apart from the enormity of the outrage on December 13, one possible answer is that the Indian leadership sees a huge window of opportunity to pacify Kashmir in the wake of September 11. The Americans are now physically in the region and see Islamic fundamentalism as an enemy. Most of the activity across the Line of Control has been blamed on groups within Pakistan who are seen as fundamentalist. For the first time American and Indian interests have converged as far as dismantling this extremist network is concerned.

This has created some difficulty for General Musharraf, but has also provided him with a huge opportunity. The difficulty lies in the lack of sympathy shown by the Americans for the armed resistance in Kashmir. They have taken a particularly harsh line against organisations considered to be active in Kashmir and branded them as terrorist.

This categorisation meant that the Pakistani government also had to do something about them and a number of steps were taken. Some of their leaders were arrested and their bank accounts were frozen. Almost 2,000 people were also detained.

It may surprise some Indians, but the steps taken by General Musharraf and his declared intent in a landmark speech on January 12 to do more were hugely popular in Pakistan. His assertion that no one would be allowed to use Pakistan to wage international terror -- which could be interpreted to mean attacks on India -- was exceedingly well received. This public approval for strong action against the radicals provided General Musharraf the space and the opportunity to diminish their strength and eventually to wipe them out altogether.

Unfortunately, the massing of Indian forces on the borders has made this task more difficult. No leader likes to be seen buckling under outside pressure. Particularly in the case of Pakistan and India, any sign of weakness by any of the leaders can be politically dangerous. The current impasse, instead of solving anything, is creating more problems.

The choices facing Vajpayee are not easy either. It is difficult to wage war with a country possessing weapons of mass destruction. Nobody can predict the course of such a conflict and things can easily get out of control. The scale of devastation that modern warfare unleashes on the ordinary people is without easy comprehension. We in the subcontinent have been spared such carnage, but should learn from others' experience.

Europe has been through two destructive wars in the same century and by one estimate, 55 million were killed just in the second war. It is no wonder that nations in Europe that have been enemies for centuries have worked out their differences and come together in economic alliances. They have learnt through hardship the horror of war and don't want any more of it. We in the subcontinent are a bit na´ve in this respect and talk of war too freely.

This does not mean problems should be brushed under the carpet just because war is too dangerous a proposition. India has every right to seek an end to terrorism on its soil and Pakistan has every right to speak of the right to self-determination of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan must do everything in its power to ensure that there is no infiltration across the Line of Control and terrorism is not exported from Pakistan. And India must assure Pakistan that it is ready to talk meaningfully on Kashmir.

It is important to remember that there can be no peace if one side wants its agenda to be implemented fully by the other. There will have to be give and take and there should be. If Germany and France who fought many wars with each other can solve their problems, if Russia and the US, implacable Cold War enemies, can become partners, if the United States can be the largest trading partner of China despite Taiwan, why can't India and Pakistan live together in peace? What is so special about our disputes that we cannot put them aside and develop a working relationship?

I have no doubt that people on both sides of the border want peace. They want to sell goods to each other, play games together, watch each other's plays and movies, and listen to each other's music together. Will the leaders on both sides give peace a chance?

Shafqat Mahmood is a former Pakistani senator and a former federal and provincial minister.

Terrorism strikes in J&K

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