It is understandable that Musharraf wants substantial talks with India and there is no reason why they should not be held. But a shotgun dialogue is like a shotgun marriage which does not last long. He will have to prepare the ground for talks. New Delhi will agree to them only when cross border terrorism stops.
IT has happened before. Pakistan has retrieved the failed parleys at the eleventh hour. The last round of conference or the words said at the goodbye meeting have raised hopes. They have been followed up by efforts to pick up the broken pieces so as to rebuild the structure of relationship. The exercise has been of use in the past.
At Tashkent in 1966, the prospect of an agreement was dashed because Lal Bahadur Shastri and Ayub Khan could not concur on the wording of the text. But suddenly everything changed drastically. Ayub wrote in his own hand, "not to resort to arms," while seeking a solution to the problems between Pakistan and India. There was such a gush of sentiments after Shastri's death that Ayub, pointing towards his body, said: Here lies the man who could have spanned the distance between the two countries. The conference between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at Shimla in 1972 was also a failure till nearly the end. The farewell call by Bhutto on Indira Gandhi saved the situation. He reportedly told her that his failure would bring back the army to power. She relented. He had to get back the official seal which he had sent along with his luggage to Kalka.
President Pervez Musharraf too tried the same thing at Agra and Kathmandu when he stretched the duration of his goodbye call on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. But the reason why Musharraf did not succeed was the failure on his part to agree to the formulation on cross border terrorism. Both Ayub and Bhutto had at least given the assurance that they would eschew violence. Musharraf did not. The laborious joint declaration remained unsigned at Agra and so did the hurriedly scribbled words at Kathmandu. Musharraf may have a point: he did not want to indulge in the "cricket diplomacy" which General Zia-ul Haq followed or the "bus ride" which Nawaz Sharif proposed. But whatever their methods, the sky remained clear from the clouds of war. They were able to stave off conflict between Pakistan and India for nearly three decades. In comparison, Musharraf indulged in the adventure at Kargil within a few months of his becoming Pakistan's chief of army staff. And now when his takeover of Pakistan is just two years old, he has the forces of both countries out on the front, standing eyeball to eyeball. His tactics may have yielded some results in Pakistan. But he has managed to alienate even those Indians who have had no strong view on Kashmir. The rulers at Islamabad probably underestimate the anger in India. The attack on parliament was the last straw. The nation seems to be oblivious even to the devastation that a nuclear war can cause. Though a preponderant majority in India wants peace yet it does not protest against the war- like steps or statements. It does show a contradiction in attitude but what it really reflects is a sense of exasperation. Therefore, the mood is not to have any truck with the Musharraf government if it does not come clean on terrorism.
It is understandable that Musharraf wants substantial talks with India and there is no reason why they should not be held. But a shotgun dialogue is like a shotgun marriage which does not last long. He will have to prepare the ground for talks. New Delhi will agree to them only when cross border terrorism stops. Musharraf has to change his outlook on Kashmir as he did on the Taliban. This is difficult because Pakistan was not so worked up about Afghanistan as it is about Kashmir. But New Delhi's undertaking on a "serious dialogue" on Kashmir may help Musharraf make up leeway. He should be able to deal with the terrorists more sternly.
For instance, he will have to stop justifying the terrorists on the ground that they are jehadis. Such a plea has, in fact, given a bad name to the once indigenously motivated movement. After being a signatory to the declaration adopted by the SAARC at Kathmandu, Pakistan's position has become still more untenable. The declaration rejects any justification of terrorism on "ideological, political, religious or any other ground." President Bush's statement that General Musharraf must do more than what he has already done makes it very clear that America and its allies are not fully satisfied with Pakistan's steps against terrorism.
Musharraf should have realised by now that the September 11 carnage in New York and Washington has changed international opinion on terrorism. What is not good for the gander cannot be good for the goose. Violence has ceased to be a solution to any problem because violence has become much too terrible and destructive. It does not differentiate between one type of people and another. Those who indulge in violence have no compunction in using the gun for their own sectarian ends. In India and Pakistan there are so many fissiparous tendencies that we cannot take risks.
True, Musharraf has taken some small steps to curb terrorism. But what is needed now is a giant leap. Imposing restrictions on Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, confiscating their assets and arresting some of their workers are certainly measures to curb terrorism. But they hardly mean anything when papers like the Sunday Telegraph from London have reported that both organisations have only changed their leadership, moved their offices and stashed away their funds. Lashkar leader Hafiz Mohammad Saeed and Jaish chief Masood Azhar are said to be living in comfortable government quarters.
Azhar is one of the people wanted by India. He was bartered for the Indian Airlines passengers hijacked to Kandahar. Islamabad's plea that India must satisfy the Pakistan courts before the 20 people demanded by New Delhi could be handed over to it does not hold water. India did not bother about the court and legal procedures when its foreign minister took Azhar from the Jammu jail to Kandahar in a special plane. Pakistan should not raise such issues because it has already handed over to the US Mir Aimal Kansi and Ramzi Yousef, the two suspects, without following any legal procedures.
From British Prime Minister Tony Blair's trip to the subcontinent and his constant contact with President Bush, it is more than clear that both Islamabad and New Delhi are under pressure. China too is playing a role behind the scenes. Musharraf's dash to Beijing on the eve of the SAARC summit, even at the expense of delaying it by one day, is significant.
The ball is now really in Musharraf's court. He has to do more to curb terrorists operating from Pakistan. Maybe, five out of the list of 20 can be surrendered immediately so that the process can at least start. The scene in India is messy. The elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have made it messier. The BJP-led government at the Centre has made it worse by heightening the hype. The situation has created widespread anti-Musharraf and anti-Pakistan feelings.
Musharraf's goodbye call on Vajpayee would have made the difference if he had told the latter that he would stop supporting the terrorists operating in Kashmir as he did in the case of Afghanistan. But would he survive after doing that? Not only the religious groups, the military itself have a vested interest in Kashmir which, they believe, cannot be solved until there is pressure on India through terrorists. It is a wrong reading. Such methods have not taken Pakistan anywhere. Why not try conciliation and cooperation for a change? It would do Pakistan no harm. EOM
Published in Bangladesh Newspaper DailyStar