|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
Is Musharraf lucky for the BJP?
January 22, 2004
Islamabad was full of hope and joy two weeks ago. We were singing songs of peace with our Indian journalist friends who came down to cover the SAARC conference. Unfortunately, the level of hope is coming down dangerously.
There are two reasons for the growing disappointmentin Islamabad.
One: Three rounds of talks between India and Pakistan on the construction of the Baglihar power plant on the Chenab river failed in Islamabad last week. Pakistan believes the construction of a power plant in Kashmir is a violation of the 1960 Indus Water Treaty and will reduce the quantity of water flowing into Pakistan. India disagrees. Both countries were inflexible.
Second: New Delhi has not permitted Amarinder Singh, chief minister of the Indian Punjab, to visit Lahore. Singh was invited by Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, chief minister of Pakistani Punjab, to participate in an international Muslim-Sikh conference in Lahore.
Despite all these disappointments, Kuldip Nayar was very happy but he was not telling us why. He arrived in Islamabad two weeks after the SAARC summit and met Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and 'others,' quietly, much like India's National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra did before the SAARC conference. His old friend Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan broke the story of his quiet arrival to select journalists. These six journalists including myself met Mr Nayar at Chaudhrysahib's home over dinner.
Mr Nayar regaled us with stories about his encounters with Pakistan's first military dictator General Ayub Khan and later prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He tried to convince us that peace moves have been initiated many times before but this time "we are heading in the right direction." I reminded him, "You said the same thing after the Lahore declaration was signed by Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee." He ignored my comment and forced me to laugh at some interesting jokes about Nawaz Sharif.
He said -- with much joy -- that India's Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani had welcomed President Musharraf's address to the joint session of our parliament. This is a very important development, Mr Nayar said. We asked him why Musharraf had not mentioned his meeting with Vajpayee in his speech, why he had not taken parliament into confidence about his peace steps? "We are dealing with a military man," Mr Nayar said, "not with your parliament. This is your problem, not ours."
"Some people in the BJP want to deal only with Musharraf," he felt. "He started the Kargil war in 1999 and the BJP increased its tally by more than 70 seats in the Lok Sabha in the October 1999 election. This year Musharraf started a peace process and the BJP expects a further increase in its tally because of peace. No doubt, Musharraf is lucky for them."
One of us pointed towards Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan and said he was the interior minister in Benazir Bhutto's government. "When Benazir issued a joint statement of friendship with Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 some people alleged that Chaudhrysahib provided the lists of Sikh militants to India. Within a few months Benazir was ousted from government. Then Nawaz Sharif issued a joint statement of friendship with Vajpayee in 1999. Within months he too was ousted. Both of them sacrificed their governments because of India. How can you ignore them?" Mr Nayar had no answer.
Both Mr Nayar and Chaudhrysahib forced us to discuss only one question: What kind of measures should Atal Bihari Vajpayee take to further strengthen the peace process between India and Pakistan? We suggested many.
For Kuldip Nayar these were very big steps. "Move slowly and expect such steps only after the general election in India," he said, insisting that we "suggest something soft." Chaudhrysahib disagreed with his friend and said, "Okay, don't move swiftly, but this is the right time to announce something, utilize the ongoing peace wave, at least lift some visa restrictions. Talk to Vajpayee, tell him don't waste this golden opportunity otherwise opponents of peace in Pakistan may get a chance to spoil the whole move."
Mr Nayar was aware about the feeling in Pakistan that India has not done enough on confidence building measures and revealed why India is so cautious. "The level of infiltration is coming down, but this is winter. The infiltration season starts in April and May, so the real test will be in the summer. Summer will decide the warmth in our relations."
His answer proved the point that despite Musharraf's claims that history has been made, there are still apprehensions and political constraints in New Delhi and Islamabad. That is why Pakistan Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told the senate this week that the government would not lift the ban on Indian television channels.
Also take note that a statement -- that Pakistan would not accept India fencing the Line of Control -- issued by army spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan has been repeated several times in the official media in recent days. The statement came after Hizbul Mujahideen operational commander Ghulam Rasool Dar was killed by Indian security forces near Srinagar. Many observers fear the Hizb commander's death may create problems for the peace process. Some people in Pakistan have already started saying the Indians praise Musharraf on one hand and pressurise Kashmiri militants on the other. These people feel India does not want to find a solution to the Kashmir problem but to break the backbone of militancy in the name of peace talks.
Without engaging the Hizbul Mujahideen in the talks, chances of peace in Jammu and Kashmir are bleak. Ghulam Rasool Dar was one of four Hizb commanders India engaged in the July 2000 talks. All four commanders have been killed in the last couple of years. There are fears that leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (Abbas Ansari group), who begin talks with L K Advani on January 22, may be attacked and the responsibility will be thrown on the Hizb's shoulders.
Advani can use the talks to reduce threats to the peace process. What he needs to do is grant permission to the Hurriyat leaders to visit Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and also permit Kashmiri leaders from Muzaffarabad to visit Srinagar.
The announcement of a 10-point roadmap for peace from India's External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha may not create good feelings in the hearts and minds of common Pakistanis because the announcement came in Washington, DC. A majority of Indians and Pakistanis are against any role for the US in India-Pakistan relations. More important,there is nothing new in the 10-point roadmap.
The Pakistan government is preparing to celebrate February 5 as solidarity day with the Kashmiris. Lots of anti-India speeches will be delivered that day. If India does not announce some confidence building measures in coming days, speakers at the February 5 rallies will get a chance to say 'Vajpayee and Advani are praising Musharraf because he is lucky for them, not for us.' The electronic media will not ignore these speeches and the situation will become hot before the second round of India-Pakistan talks next month.
Both countries have agreed to hold talks but they have not decided who will talk. India suggested joint secretary-level talks but Pakistan is insisting that the talks take place between the two foreign secretaries. Where is the confidence? This atmosphere will not help Vajpayee and Musharraf in the future.
Chaudhrysahib very rightly suggested to Mr Nayar that the Indian government must announce something practical on its Republic Day. If he had to prolong the policy of wait and see, Musharraf will be forced to say something 'hard' on March 23, Pakistan Day, just to prove that he is not lucky for the BJP.
The Indian leadership must not forget that Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League faction does not support the peace process. The party is trying to gather public support on an anti-India basis and also forcing the religious alliance, the MMA, to come out against Musharraf.
Watch Maulana Fazlur Rehman who visited India last July and initially welcomed Musharraf and Vajpayee's statement. The Maulana has been criticizing that statement in recent days. The peace process, the Maulana said, is 'one way traffic.' Traditionally, Nawaz Sharif and Fazlur Rehman are considered people who want peace with India, but this time they are not on board.
Someone in New Delhi must realize this and do something concrete, not to facilitate Musharraf but to facilitate peace.
Hamid Mir is Bureau Chief of Pakistan's GEO Television in Islamabad and also writes for the Daily Jang