» News » Gen Musharraf has finessed us, and we are happy!

Gen Musharraf has finessed us, and we are happy!

By Kanchan Gupta
September 30, 2004 22:27 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

I am wondering if our pressure strategy, that is to make India slowly bleed in Kashmir, is starting to pay off?

What happened to all that Indian garbage of 'Kashmir is our atoot ung (sic)?'

This post, from PakDef Forum, operated by Pakistan Military Consortium, an 'independent research and analysis forum formed by special interest groups and retired military personnel,' is reflective of the popular mood that prevails in that country after last week's meeting between General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

As is our wont, Mr Manmohan Singh has exultantly described his encounter with the general -- who has now decided that he shall continue to don khaki, democracy be damned -- as 'historic.'

If all the meetings that have taken place over the last five decades and more between India's prime ministers and Pakistan's dictators or their factotums were indeed 'historic,' as our leaders have been so keen to describe them, then neither we nor our western neighbour would have been trapped in history. This simple truth appears to have no resonance with our leaders.

But that is another story that need not detain us at this point.

In this season of trans-border bonhomie, what appears to have set heart aflutter among Delhi's chattering classes is General Musharraf's apparent makeover.

Unlike in the past, the general did not use the speaker's podium at the UN General Assembly to breathe fire and brimstone, cautiously skirting around Jammu & Kashmir. Even during his public appearances, he exercised caution and circumspection. And during his 15 minute-turned-60 meeting with Mr Manmohan Singh, he seems to have been more focused on Urdu couplets.

While all this may have charmed the prime minister, for whom this was a first of its kind experience, there is little reason to be taken in by the general's make-believe makeover. If he has been trying hard to keep his half-smile in place and speak in a voice that reflects moderation, it is because he is no fool.

The American establishment is split over whether it makes good sense for the US to partner with Pakistan, the cradle of jihadi terrorism, in the war against terror. The EU is becoming increasingly doubtful of General Musharraf's ability to hold the frontline against Al Qaeda. Russia, which for a while toyed with the idea of reaching out to Pakistan, post-Beslan is nursing a scorched hand. The House of Saud, the original patrons of Wahabbi fundamentalism which lies at the heart of jihadi terror, is caught in its own war of survival.

All this is bad news for Pakistan and the present dispensation in Islamabad.

And there is more. The hawking of nuclear weapons technology by A Q Khan, which he could not have done without the knowledge of General Musharraf and his men, has firmly established Pakistan as a rogue proliferator which does not have the capacity to deal with its nuclear status as a responsible state.

This, coupled with serious EU concerns over Pakistan's role in nursing and exporting terrorism, has become a stumbling block in Pakistan's search for arms and equipment.

A case in point is Pakistan's proposed purchase of JAS-39 Gripen fighters, an Anglo-Swedish product, which Islamabad claims it needs as a counter to India's acquisition of the Phalcon airborne warning system. General Musharraf is personally keen on acquiring the JAS-39 and made out an elaborate case to the Swedes.

Intelligence reports suggest that both Sweden and the UK have decided to link the deal with General Musharraf's peace-making efforts with India and restoring full democracy in Pakistan. The UK, on its part, remains unconvinced that General Musharraf is serious about putting a firm halt to blackmarketeering of nuclear technology.

Across the Atlantic, after embracing Pakistan as a 'Major non-NATO Ally,' Washington is yet to concede Islamabad's request for F-16s and other sophisticated weaponry. The $ 3 billion aid that Pakistan has been promised by the US over the next five years can at best provide cold comfort.

While it would be incorrect to suggest that General Musharraf finds himself painted into a corner, it is a fact that Pakistan is under pressure, notwithstanding Colin Powell's mollycoddling. General Musharraf could have struck a belligerent posture and cocked a snook at the West, but he is too sharp a military strategist to lose sight of long-term dividends by adopting short-term tactics.

Therefore, only the naïve would be fooled by his eloquent denunciation of jehadi terrorism as a slur on Islam (he has escaped death by the skin of his teeth on two occasions after those very extremist elements in his army for whom he has been a role model turned against him) or his castigation of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, cunningly timed to coincide with his departure for the US.

Or, for that matter, his newly discovered faith in bilateral dialogue after rubbishing the instruments of dialogue -- the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration -- as not worth the paper they are written on.

Yet, Mr Manmohan Singh appears to have allowed himself to be finessed by General Musharraf's make-believe makeover.

On the eve of the New York dialogue, the prime minister was firm in listing out his talking points, at the top of which was cross-border terrorism that, by all accounts, has increased in recent months. After the meeting at Roosevelt Hotel, the prime minister declared that General Musharraf 'is a man we can do business with.'

Foreign policy wonks in New Delhi are stumped. In one blow, the prime minister, who has obviously done a lot of 'thinking out of the box,' has felled India's position that meaningful dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad will be possible only after Pakistan dismantles its terror factories. The News, as also other Pakistani newspapers, have gleefully reported that 'not even a passing reference' was made to cross-border terrorism during the New York meeting.

The prime minister claims that he did raise the issue of cross-border terrorism, but we will never know whether or not he mentioned the 'T'-word in between exchanging Urdu couplets with the general. What we do know is that the joint declaration issued after the meeting makes no reference to it, passing or otherwise.

Indeed, a careful reading of the joint statement, which is being touted as material evidence of the positive outcome of the dialogue in New York, will show how far the UPA government has travelled, breaking with both policy and consensus whose last milestone was the joint statement issued on January 6 after Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee's meeting with General Musharraf in Islamabad.

There is a marked divergence between the two statements on three crucial points, each one of which reflects how much has been conceded to the advantage of General Musharraf and Pakistan.

First, while the January 6 statement drew a clear distinction between confidence building measures and the proposed bilateral composite dialogue, in the September 24 statement the two issues have been mixed up.

Second, while the Islamabad statement laid equal emphasis on all the issues to be addressed in the composite dialogue, in the New York statement the issue of Jammu and Kashmir has been singled out for special emphasis.

And, third, whereas the earlier statement clearly linked the sustenance of the composite dialogue to Pakistan's export of terror to India, and to General Musharraf's assurance to Mr Vajpayee that he will 'not permit any territory under Pakistan's control to be used to support terrorism in any manner,' in the New York statement there is not even an indirect reference to cross-border terrorism.

Yes, the January 6 statement does find mention, but in the context of CBMs rather than the sustenance of the composite dialogue.

The merriment in Pakistan, therefore, is understandable. It also does not come as a surprise that India's most prominent and leading separatist, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has welcomed the New York statement.

No matter how sophisticated the spin that will now be put on the meeting at Roosevelt Hotel, no amount of official sophistry can hide the fact that General Musharraf has returned home with much more than he had hoped for, and now can look forward to further capitulation by those who 'think out of the box.'

His half-smile may have left others cold, not so Mr Manmohan Singh whose 'assay in mutual comprehension' -- as he described the meeting in New York -- is utterly incomprehensible to those who do not believe in candlelight vigils at Wagah border.

National interest, it would seem, is no longer fashionable.

Kanchan Gupta, who served in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's PMO, has recently returned from an extended assignment in Egypt. With this column, he resumes writing for

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
Kanchan Gupta