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Musharraf & the foot-in-mouth disease

June 18, 2003

Finally, General Pervez Musharraf has succumbed to the foot in mouth disease so prevalent among politicians worldwide.

The irony of it is, he was just stating facts.

In a interview to an Indian television channel, said to be the first since Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced his peace initiative in April, Musharraf's response to a question on the Kargil episode was: '...Let me tell you that before Kargil, Kashmir was a dead issue. To avoid Kargils, we need to resolve disputes and much depends on how we proceed on the peace track.'

In other words, he was not ruling out future Kargils.

But the point is, if he had, he would have been lying.

All this time, India has been accusing Musharraf of being less than truthful in his claims that he was taking steps to stem cross-border terror, or that he had no control over the terrorists who were sneaking into India.

So when Musharraf refuses to rule out future Kargils, India should have reacted by politely pointing out all future Kargils would meet the same fate the first one did... humiliating defeat for Pakistan.

Instead, New Delhi described Musharraf's comment as a 'signal of non-peaceful intent' which would impede Vajpayee's peace initiative. Since when have we started believing that Pakistan had peaceful intentions anyway?

Vajpayee's peace moves came despite Pakistan's refusal or inability to stem terrorist acts against India. And the offer came from a position of strength, as proved by the alacrity with which Pakistan jumped at the offer. Of course, many in Pakistan believe that it indicated India's inability to cope with the sustained Pakistani terrorist campaign in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.

In the interview, Musharraf was just articulating Pakistan's well-worn position that nothing was possible without addressing the Kashmir problem. 'I am 100 per cent sure of one thing, Kashmiris do not want to be part of India,' he asserted.

If anything new at all was articulated in that interview, it was the admission that the Pakistan army was indeed involved in Kargil. As if the world was waiting for Musharraf to certify that.

As the ministry of external affairs spokesman put it, Musharraf's dismissal of the importance of the Kashmir elections 'only shows the vicious circle in which India-Pakistan relations have got trapped.' Urging 'maturity and restraint,' the spokesman went on to say that important first steps had been taken towards peace which needed to be 'carefully nurtured.'

Yet Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani told journalists in London that Musharraf's remarks on Kargil '...means no fruitful talks will take place.'

India should have made allowances for the fact that Musharraf's belligerent stand on Kashmir was probably aimed at the powerful mullahs at home, who have been accusing him of betraying the cause. This, of course, does not mean he should have been allowed to get away with provocative statements, but perhaps India should have shown the same 'restraint and maturity' it was seeking from Pakistan.

Instead, here's what BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had to say: 'If we want to talk honestly, Pakistan will have to forget Kashmir. Get it out of their minds. Kashmir will always remain an integral part of India.'

Absolutely. But how many times must we keep reiterating that?

The sanest voice came from an unexpected source: Defence Minister George Fernandes. 'There are some contradictions in the statements that he has made. We are ignoring the negative aspects of his statement and are only concentrating on the positive aspects of his statement,' he told newly inducted officers after the passing out parade at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun.

Vajpayee's peace offer came at a time when there was no sign that Pakistan was either willing or able to stop terrorism in India. It came at a time when the US had made it crystal clear that it could twist Musharraf's arm only to certain extent, and that it would continue to aid and arm Pakistan for its support to Bush's war against terror.

It also came at a time, as Advani put it, when 'we succeeded in holding free and fair polls in Kashmir with a 45 per cent turnout and the PM was addressing a major public rally in Kashmir after several years. He thought it was an opportune moment to make a third effort towards peace.'

So what precisely was the peace offer? Apart from a series of confidence building measures (not to be mistaken as possible solutions) like restoring diplomatic relations, rail, air, and people to people links, and the offer to step up trade and cultural exchanges, the basic foundation remained the same as it was earlier: Stop terrorism and we will agree to a summit.

Having said that, India should have sat back, relaxed, and refused to be provoked by noises across the border. The message going out should have been: show us results on the ground. And in case of any major terrorist strike, we are willing and able to strike at terrorist camps in occupied Kashmir. At the same time, continue to rachet up the efforts to cleanse the valley of terrorists and their sympathizers.

Thankfully, both sides have since clarified that the peace initiative has not been derailed due this war of words, conducted through the media. In fact, perhaps a case can be made for conducting all future peace negotiations away from the media glare. After all, NDTV's broadcast of Musharraf's breakfast meeting with Indian editors at Agra was the final nail in that summit's coffin.


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