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Marking time

Published : Jan 19, 2002 00:00 IST



India welcomes Musharraf's announcements but insists that the lessening of tensions will depend on action taken on the ground, and not declared intentions.

THE war of words that erupted between New Delhi and Islamabad has finally shown some signs of subsiding. After President Pervez Musharraf delivered his landmark speech, there are indications that the Indian government has slightly mellowed towards Islamabad. Many important world leaders have already welcomed the Pakistan President's speech.

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, talking to the media in Delhi a day after Musharraf's speech, said the government "welcomed the now-declared commitment of the government of Pakistan not to support or permit any more the use of its territory for terrorism anywhere in the world, including the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir". The Minister emphasised that the "commitment" must extend to all territories under Pakistan's control today. He was referring to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Jaswant Singh also said that New Delhi took note of the Pakistan government's decision to ban the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the two terrorist organisations India accuses of being involved in the December 13 attack on Parliament. Jaswant Singh said the Indian government "understood" that the Pakistani government needs time to implement the tough measures that have been announced by Musharraf. He emphasised that the Pakistan government should start to "operationalise" the measures outlined by Musharraf. The steps should include "the stopping of infiltration from across the border" and ending the training and sheltering of terrorists. He said that the Indian government was waiting to see the steps that were being taken in this regard by Pakistan.

He repeated Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's statement that for "every step Pakistan takes, India will take two steps" for the sake of peace. He, however, said the de-escalation process would start after concrete evidence of Pakistani action was seen on the ground. "Lessening of tensions will depend on action taken on the ground, not on declared intentions. Pakistan should move from posturing to action," he said. The Indian government was "extremely mindful", he added, of the fact that many Al Qaeda and Taliban extremist elements had sneaked into Pakistan and would try their best to create problems between Pakistan and India and destabilise the situation within Pakistan.

Jaswant Singh dismissed the Pakistani President's suggestion for third party mediation on the Kashmir dispute. He said it was neither workable nor practicable, adding that the only basis for a lasting solution was bilateral talks based on "the Simla agreement" and "the Lahore Declaration". "We reiterate our conviction that all issues between India and Pakistan can only be addressed bilaterally. There is no scope for any third party involvement," he said. The Minister also expressed his disappointment over Pakistan's refusal to hand over the 20 people accused of terrorist acts against India. The Minister said that around 15 or 16 of those wanted by New Delhi were Indian citizens.

Most of the Opposition parties have welcomed Musharraf's speech. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau, in a statement, said that the speech would have a "positive impact" and that it indicated a serious effort to deal with the problem of religious extremism. "In addressing India's concerns, a significant point is the assertion that no individual or organisation would be allowed to indulge in acts of terrorism in the name of Kashmir," the statement said. The CPI(M) Polit Bureau was of the view that Musharraf's policy statement should help in creating the atmosphere for de-escalating tensions. "The first step should be to demobilise troops on both sides of the border. The Vajpayee government must respond by exploring the basis for resumption for dialogue," the statement said.

However, the day before Musharraf's speech, the Chief of the Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan, issued a tough message to Islamabad. He was addressing a press conference ahead of Army Day, routinely held at this time of the year. The message he conveyed raised temperatures. Padmanabhan stressed that the Indian Army was fully prepared for a conventional war and that the massive Indian troop mobilisation was an expression of readiness for conflict.

The Army chief, in response to a question, said that a nuclear war seemed improbable, but warned that if any country "was mad enough" to initiate a nuclear strike against India, then "the perpetrator of that particular outrage shall be punished severely". Defence Minister George Fernandes, too, had expressed similar views in December, but was careful to phrase things more diplomatically. After the Army chief's observations, Fernandes was quick to emphasise that India was committed to the doctrine of "no first use" of nuclear weapons. "I wish everyone gives up this talk of nuclear weapons being brought into play. The use of nuclear weapons is far too serious a matter to be bandied about in a cavalier manner," he said.

"Pushing Pakistan to the wall could have dangerous consequences," a retired Pakistani military officer told this correspondent in Kathmandu. He recalled that a similar situation prevailed in 1965, with both countries massing troops on the border. He said that it was a minor Pakistani military action that led to an all-out war. The Indian demands on Pakistan were "maximalist" and hence would be difficult for any Pakistani leader to accede to, he remarked.

Meanwhile, despite the handshakes and the informal get-together in Kathmandu, New Delhi had seemingly hardened its resolve to get the maximum concessions from Islamabad before the dialogue process was renewed. After a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) Jaswant Singh said the question of dialogue did not arise "when there is no change in the attitude of Pakistan".

Jaswant Singh expressed this view at a time when British Prime Minister Tony Blair, while on a tour of the subcontinent, was advocating a resumption of the dialogue. Jaswant Singh said Pakistan still adopted double standards while dealing with terrorism. "They continue to maintain one approach when it is a matter of Western interests or Afghanistan and a different approach when it comes to the question of India or Jammu and Kashmir."

New Delhi wanted a "comprehensive" declaration against terrorism by Islamabad before the de-escalation process could start. It wanted Musharraf to take action on the list of terrorists that had been handed over to Islamabad and to cooperate with it in stopping cross-border infiltration by terrorists. The red-carpet welcome being extended to the Home Minister L.K. Advani in Washington was another strong signal from the West to Islamabad.

Many analysts are of the opinion that Washington is preparing for a long stay in the region, having identified India as a long-term ally. They feel that the U.S. interests in the region will run counter to those of Iran, Russia and China. President George W. Bush has issued a warning to Iran, saying that it is not cooperating with the West in the war against terrorism.

Some observers of Indian politics are of the view that the Bush administration is helping the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government prolong the present crisis as it is not averse to the right-wing government in New Delhi getting another five-year term in office. After December 13, the U.S. Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, had stated that he was not opposed to New Delhi taking "carefully calibrated" measures against Pakistan. The BJP hopes that the "terrorism" plank will help it get electoral dividends in the Assembly elections next month in Uttar Pradesh. There has also been talk in diplomatic circles that Washington is not averse to Advani becoming Prime Minister and the present incumbent shifting to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

According to diplomatic sources, the U.S. is also trying to involve the Kashmiri people as the third party to the India-Pakistan dispute. This, in practical terms, could mean an internationally supervised election after which the Muslim-dominated areas of Kashmir would be allowed greater autonomy. They expect a U.S. envoy to the region to arrive sooner rather than later. Pakistan, they feel, does not have much of a choice. It is now playing the role it played back in the 1950s and the 1960s - that of a loyal U.S. ally, providing permanent basing facilities. For the first time the U.S. is being welcomed in the region with open arms by both India and Pakistan.

In Kathmandu India had come prepared to pile on political and psychological pressure on Islamabad. Before the heads of state and government assembled in Kathmandu, senior Indian officials made it clear that there was no question of bilateral talks with Pakistan being held at any level on the sidelines of the SAARC summit. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told the international media that the Pakistani side had not yet realised the gravity of the "attack against Parliament, which symbolises the sovereignty of the nation". He said "a certain threshold has been crossed with the attack". He insisted that Pakistan was still continuing with its "moral and diplomatic support of terrorism". Jaswant Singh said that if Pakistan was serious about the resumption of a high-level dialogue, the government in Islamabad should take action against those involved in terrorist activities. Jaswant Singh, while conceding that the banning of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) was a step in the right direction, said much more needed to be done.

"We will give time to Pakistan to dismantle the edifices of terrorism that they have permitted to be constructed in the last two decades," Jaswant Singh said. At the start of his interaction with the media, he dramatically produced a two-page document containing the names of 20 individuals, whom India accuses of terrorist acts and are currently said to be residing in Pakistan, under the protection of the government in Islamabad. Among those named were those accused of masterminding the Mumbai serial blasts and the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar. "This (evidence) has been shared with Pakistan. If, thereafter, they continue to say the same thing, it is misleading," he told the media.

Pakistan government spokesman Lt-Gen Rashid Qureishi, on the other hand, said "no proof has been given till today to Pakistan" by the Indian government. In response to a question relating to the alleged involvement of the Pakistani state in terrorism-related activities, Qureishi said his government was ready for a joint inquiry with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the recent terrorist attacks in India and pointed out that the Pakistani President had denounced the December 13 incident as "an act of terror". He said that while the Indian External Affairs Minister was making demands on Pakistan, he had "conveniently forgotten about the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir". He reiterated that the freezing of the assets of the JeM and the LeT were done under the recent U.N. resolution on terrorism, passed in the third week of September.

In response to a question about Sino-Pakistan relations, Qureishi said Beijing was very supportive of the steps President Musharraf had taken and quoted senior Chinese officials as saying that ties between the two countries are "deeper than the sea and higher than the mountains". Qureishi asserted that China would support Pakistan in case of any eventuality arising out of the present crisis.

Musharraf told a crowded media conference in Kathmandu, prior to his departure for home, that after the conclusion of the SAARC Summit the tensions between tn the two countries, while "not easing, has not worsened either". He said the Pakistani and Indian sides were not looking in different directions during the "informal interaction" among the leaders at the summit. He expressed the hope that these informal interactions would be "formalised" in the near future. In the meantime, he said "rhetoric should be curtailed" to keep tensions down.

He emphasised the "connectivity" between terrorism and the Kashmir problem. The problem of terrorism could be resolved sooner if the "cause and effect" are both identified and dealt with. "We will address India's concerns and they should address our concerns," the General said. He went on to add that he had started the process of "control and eradication of militancy from Pakistani society". He said he had started taking action against "sectarian extremist" groupings from August 14 last year. "We are doing this in our national interests," Musharraf said.

The Pakistan President welcomed the statement by the Bush administration that it was thinking about sending a U.S. envoy to the region to defuse the tension. He made it clear that he was not against "facilitation" by the U.S. to expedite bilateral talks with India and admitted that there was pressure from Washington on his country to de-escalate the military and political tension. He was not too impressed by the initiatives taken by Prime Minister Vajpayee in recent years to improve bilateral relations. "I believe in looking at the future, not back, into history. I do not believe in cosmetic gestures like bus journeys," Musharraf said. He said that after the Indian Prime Minister's Lahore visit, New Delhi was more interested in putting the Kashmir issue on the back burner.

On the issue of taking action against the 20 "terrorists" named by India, Musharraf claimed that India had not "forwarded any proof". He emphasised that if there was proof about any Pakistani's involvement in terrorist activity, he would take prompt action. He, however, reiterated that they would not be handed over to a third country. "We will try them according to our laws."

Pakistan had virtually handed over to the U.S. the former Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan after denying him refugee status. Those terrorists holding Indian passports, such as Dawood Ibrahim and the Memon brothers, charge-sheeted in the Mumbai blasts case, could meet the same fate. At the same time, Musharraf made it clear that Kashmir should be taken as a "separate issue" and should not be coupled with the issue of terrorism. He said he was for resolving all disputes in the long run.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar conceded that contacts and conversations between Pakistani and Indian officials in Kathmandu were of an "exploratory" nature. He refused to divulge more details about the nature of the preliminary dialogue.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga reportedly took a keen personal interest to ensure that some preliminary informal discussions took place between Indian and Pakistani officials in Kathmandu. Leaders of the SAARC have made it clear that they do not want the South Asian region to be converted into a theatre of war.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jan 19, 2002.)



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