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What made India trust Musharraf

January 28, 2004 09:55 IST

Washington's quiet, persistent diplomacy and a clear assurance from Islamabad on ending terrorism eventually helped to change New Delhi's perception of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf as a troublemaker and the villain of Kargil and Agra.

According to officials in the external affairs ministry and intelligence agencies, the government now believes it is worth giving the general one more chance. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee even described Musharraf as Pakistan's biggest leader and a man capable of walking the path of dialogue and peace.

Despite Vajpayee's insistence on continuing the peace process restarted by him in Srinagar in April last year, there were many sceptics in the Indian establishment. "[But] last-minute assurances from Pakistan, especially from General Musharraf, that they were ready to give in writing a commitment on ending terrorism was the clincher," an external affairs ministry official, who was closely involved with the prime minister's recent visit to Pakistan, told rediff.com

Intense but quiet diplomacy by the United States in the run-up to the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation also helped turn the tide in favour of Vajpayee's historic visit to Islamabad and prepared the ground for the negotiations by National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra and others in Pakistan.

The US, despite being busy with Iraq, kept in touch with both the Indian and Pakistani sides, the external affairs official, recalling 2003's Indo-US-Pak triangular engagements, said.

US foreign policy is mostly conducted by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. While Rice and Mishra have a "rather good" rapport, according to the external affairs ministry official, Powell has been an "important influence" with Musharraf.

The two attempts to kill Musharraf -- on December 14 and December 25 -- played a "critical role" in creating a sea change in the attitudes of both India and Pakistan, the official said.

While sections of the Indian establishment doubted the authenticity of the first incident, the second one, in which 14 people were killed, convinced them that Musharraf was indeed in trouble.

The attacks "helped him [Musharraf] see our side of the argument," a diplomat said. "We have for long been arguing that terrorism against us will one day destabilise Pakistan and that there are no compartments in the terror complex. What is dangerous for India is dangerous for the US and dangerous for a moderate Pakistan state also."

"It is important that we engage General Musharraf," an intelligence officer added. "He is the best hope for moderating Pakistan and improving its economy at this point of time."

After the Christmas attack on Musharraf, there were "several rounds of phone contacts" among India, America and Pakistan. "The US managed to convince Musharraf of the need to declare his stand against terrorism in no uncertain terms," the diplomat quoted above said. Simultaneously, Pakistan promised not to raise the Jammu and Kashmir issue at the SAARC summit.

Vajpayee agreed to attend the summit once he was assured that there would be no repeat of the scenes at the previous one in Kathmandu in 2003. There, despite Musharraf's assurance that there would be no grandstanding, the general embarrassed India by dramatically walking across the dais to the prime minister and offering his 'hand of friendship.' Vajpayee retaliated to this stage show by accusing Pakistan of supporting terrorism.

India also assured the US, which conveyed Musharraf's readiness to disown terrorism in all its forms, that it would seriously consider bilateral contacts.

Meanwhile, Mishra was quietly in touch with Tariq Aziz, Musharraf's key adviser. "We had almost no knowledge of the interactions [between Mishra and Aziz]," the external affairs ministry official said, pointing out that most of the engagements with Pakistan are being conducted directly between the prime minister's office in New Delhi and the general's office in Islamabad.

But before Mishra left for Pakistan, he called on Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani and appraised him of Pakistan's readiness to denounce terrorism.

Once Mishra landed in Islamabad, he conducted a series of meetings with Tariq Aziz. On January 6, the day after Vajpayee met Musharraf, Mishra, Aziz and other close aides of the general sat down to work out a joint statement. It took several rounds of meetings between the two sides to finally produce the statement in which Musharraf promised that 'no territory under Pakistan's command will be used by terrorists against India.'

Simultaneously, India agreed to resume the dialogue with Pakistan on all subjects, including Jammu and Kashmir, from February.

Sources in New Delhi say the change in India's position is visible on two fronts. First, India believes that Musharraf is reliable and will sustain a dialogue. Second, even if terrorist groups outside the control of the Pakistani State try to create trouble, India will not blame Islamabad without confirmation.

"We now have a tolerance level twice that of December 2001," the intelligence officer remarked in lighter vein, referring to the angry Indian response after the attack on Parliament.

Both sides, the officer said, are conscious of the "alarming frequency" of crises ever since India and Pakistan went nuclear. Ever since the tit-for-tat tests in May 1998, India and Pakistan have fought a border war, mobilised their soldiers for ten long months, snapped transport links, and generally glowered at each other. Most of these tensions, the diplomat argued, 'originated in Pakistan's state support to terrorism'.

But the intelligence officer said, "When we are accommodative towards each other, it is also an assurance to the rest of the world that the next crisis in the region will be avoided by the two countries, or at least will not happen soon."

"Our understanding," the diplomat added, "is that Musharraf want to move away from Pakistan's stated policy of supporting armed militants in Kashmir. But it will take some time for him to show results on the ground and he may not succeed 100 per cent. Because there are groups such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad that are not in his full control."

But India hopes to see evidence in the days to come of Pakistan dismantling the terrorist infrastructure such as camps and launching pads in occupied Kashmir. "Our willingness for the dialogue process is a stamp of the fact that we trust Musharraf's promises," the external affairs official said. "We are confident that he will take his promises to the logical end."

The official said that ultimately it is a strong Pakistan that India would like to have as its neighbour.

"We are engaging Musharraf at a very difficult time in his career," the diplomat added. "If we succeed, Musharraf will have much more than Kashmir to showcase, most importantly a growing business relationship with one of the world's fastest growing economies. In the long slow race together, if we are able to overcome mistrust, a lot of concerns regarding the region such as Afghanistan will also be defeated."

Josy Joseph in New Delhi