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The travails of General Musharraf

June 06, 2002

The Pioneer

The travails of General Musharraf
By G Parthasarathy

The United Nations University in-hosted a Conference on South Asia on May 27-28 in Tokyo. Not surprisingly, the focus of attention was almost exclusively on the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan. Delegates from South Asian countries, including Afghanistan, and South Asian specialists from around the world participated in the conference. While former Prime Minister IK Gujral, who was unable to attend, sent a tough message condemning cross-border terrorism, the Pakistani delegates present, including a former Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary, remained true to form, criticising India for its actions in Junagadh, Hyderabad and Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), and labelling it a country unable to live at peace with its neighbours.

Unfortunately for the Pakistanis, their speeches were made at a time President Pervez Musharraf was delivering a belligerent and uncompromising address to his people and to the world, claiming that "we are not allowing any infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC)". The Japanese were not amused. Their Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi asserted: "Japan strongly expects Pakistan will take all steps to stop and prevent terrorist activities including the infiltration across the LoC." Speaking of India "in the light of its position as a major player in the region", the Foreign Minister appealed to New Delhi to "exhaust all diplomatic efforts and work towards de-escalation". The Japanese joined the world community in criticising Pakistan's ill-advised and ill-timed missile tests and reacted with horror when Pakistan Ambassador Munir Akram spoke in the UN, ever so casually, about Pakistan's readiness to cross the nuclear threshold.

Within the conference, the testing of the missiles named Ghauri, Ghaznavi and Abdali evoked amusement and derision. Everybody was aware that Ghauri was none other than the North Korean 'Nodong" missile. The Ghaznavi and the Abdali were merely replicas or variants of the Chinese M11 missile. A Japanese delegate remarked that, given the origin of these missiles, it would have been more appropriate if they were christened Kim Il Sung, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin! Amin Saikal, an eminent scholar from Afghanistan remarked that Mohammad Ghauri, Mahmud Ghazni and Ahmad Shah Abdali hailed from Ghor, Ghazni and Kandahar in Afghanistan. He sarcastically asked whether Pakistan was now intending to lay territorial claims to parts of Afghanistan. I reminded the former Pakistan Foreign Secretary that Ghori, Ghazni and Abdali had first sacked Pakistani cities like Multan and Lahore before indulging in pillage at Somnath and elsewhere in India, and asked him why Pakistanis were choosing to extol those who had looted and destroyed the homes of their forefathers. There was no credible reply.

While the Pakistanis love Japanese financial doles, the voice they listen to and cannot ignore is that of the US. In an unprecedented rebuke, President Bush said on May 27 that he wanted "results, in terms of (Pakistan) stopping people from crossing the LoC." Musharraf's buddy, General Colin Powell, proclaimed on June 2: "We are pressing President Musharraf to cease all infiltration activities on the part of terrorist organisations across the LoC".

The European Union, the Russian Federation and the G-8 have expressed similar sentiments. Pakistanis have an almost naive tendency to believe that China will forgive them for all their errors of omission and commission and support them blindly against India. China's response on May 30 could not have warmed Pakistani hearts. While condemning terrorism, the Chinese Foreign Office Spokesman said that Kashmir is an issue left over by history and needs to be resolved through peaceful means. China seems to be on the horns of a dilemma. It is concerned about the increasing American influence and presence in South Asia, but is unable to do anything about it.

Apart from exaggerated expectations of Chinese diplomatic and military support, the Pakistanis also have illusions about their indispensability to the so-called Islamic Ummah. Kashmir is constantly projected as an Islamic issue and equated with Palestine. The Arabs are now realising that this is a self-serving Pakistani ploy. In the past, Pakistan infiltrated the OIC Secretariat, routinely condemned India on any issue the Pakistani staff wanted. On June 2, the OIC Secretary General for the first time condemned terrorism in all its forms and called on the world community to act decisively to prevent the escalation of India-Pakistan tensions.

Not a single Islamic country has come out openly in support of Pakistan or criticised India. Most have either chosen to remain silent or called for restraint and de-escalation, formulations that New Delhi can comfortably live with. Sudan has condemned the terrorist attack on the Kaluchak Army camp. New Delhi can thus be pleased with the results of its post-December 13 diplomatic offensive in the Islamic World.

New Delhi should realise that it is dealing with an internationally isolated and domestically discredited ruler in Pakistan. Musharraf's rhetoric of May 27, Munir Akram's threat of nuclear war, Musharraf's subsequent retraction of this threat and the missile tests were all attempts at psychological warfare by a military ruler. While the moves have boomeranged internationally, they have nevertheless engineered some domestic support for the cornered General. They have also led to a measure of panic internationally, resulting in the Americans taking the lead in evacuating their citizens. It is, therefore, imperative that India explain its strategy frankly and transparently to the international community.

Despite all their bluff and bluster, Pakistan's military rulers know that while a nuclear exchange could cause grievous damage to India, it would lead to Pakistan's annihilation. Pakistan's Generals are not suicidal. The Pakistanis are also aware of the eagle's eye the Western world maintains on their nuclear arsenal and delivery platforms. There can be no question of New Delhi pulling its armed forces back from the borders, till there are firm indications that Pakistan's use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy has irrevocably ended. While eschewing rhetoric, we should make it clear to the Americans and others that the General should be kept on a tight leash whenever economic assistance is extended to Pakistan. In other words, aid should be linked to its performance in irrevocably ending support for cross-border terrorism. This message will no doubt be firmly conveyed to American envoys like Richard Armitage and Donald Rumsfeld when they visit India.

There is little doubt that, in the short-term, General Musharraf will be compelled to reduce the·profile of cross-border terrorism. A face-saving way would be to get the ISI-sponsored United Jihad Council in Muzzafarabad to announce a short-term ceasefire. This will enable the ISI to calibrate the level of violence in J&K and also keep its cadres active in intimidating those who wish to participate in the forthcoming State Assembly Elections. Even those Hurriyat leaders who earlier showed signs of being persuaded to join the democratic process now seem to lack the courage to participate in the elections, after Abdul Ghani Lone's assassination. Pakistan's entire strategy in the coming months would be subvert democratic processes in J&K.

New Delhi appears to have substantially succeeded in its diplomatic efforts to get the international community to turn the heat on General Musharraf to end cross-border terrorism. But the more daunting task that it now has to address is the effort to mobilise public support within J&K to overcome fear of the terrorist gun, reject violence and participate in elections in October. Given the fear of terrorist violence that pervades the minds of people after Lone's assassination, it remains to be seen whether this can be achieved.


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