Rhetoric and reality

Published : May 25, 2002 00:00 IST

The India-Pakistan blame game reaches a new high after the Jammu incident, but the United States gives the Musharraf regime the benefit of the doubt. A view from Islamabad.

ARE the two nuclear powers of South Asia yet again on the brink of war? The shrill rhetoric that has marked India-Pakistan relations since the December 13 attack on India's Parliament House has reached a new high. Concerned citizens in the subcontinent and the rest of the world are worried that with the unprecedented and extraordinary action of the A.B. Vajpayee government to "expel" the Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the two neighbours are just another step away from a military conflict.

Proof, if any, needed of the dangerous implications of the latest developments was available in the charges and counter-charges of "indiscriminate and unprovoked" firing from across the Line of Control (LoC) since the terrorist attack on an Army camp near Jammu on May 14. Thanks to the mobilisation of troops along the border by both sides, any misunderstanding is enough to trigger the fourth war between the two countries in five and a half decades.

India is justifiably aggrieved over the cold-blooded massacre of 34 innocent persons, including the family members of Army jawans, by terrorists. It is convinced that the attack was engineered by the military establishment in Islamabad and sees it as yet more proof of the 'jehadi mindset' of the General Pervez Musharraf regime. Islamabad has denied its involvement but India is not prepared to buy the line. And therein lies the rub.

As things stand, the rest of the world (who else but the sole superpower, the United States) is prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to Pakistan. Washington is not ready to endorse the view that the Jammu attack had the blessings of the military establishment. As for the possibility of the involvement of "rogue elements" within the establishment, it is a different issue.

It would indeed be hazardous to stick one's neck out in the blame game. However, it should be said that the immediate reaction of Pakistan to the Jammu incident raised some interesting points to ponder. Its condemnation of the attack can at best be described as "qualified". While sympathising with the kith and kin of the victims, Islamabad called for an "impartial and comprehensive inquiry to unmask the motives of their perpetrators". On the face of it, it sounds very logical. But this has been the stand adopted by Pakistan on every such major incident in the past. The line of "impartial and comprehensive" inquiry fits into its desire to internationalise the Kashmir issue. It seems to believe that such a probe would leave a number of red faces in the Indian establishment on the subject of "excesses" committed by its military and paramilitary forces against innocent Kashmiris. Most important, Islamabad knows too well that New Delhi will never agree to third-party intervention in its internal affairs.

Interestingly, the Pakistan Foreign Office did not endorse the Indian contention that it was the handiwork of a militant group. It sought to describe the incident as "an armed attack reportedly carried out by three persons wearing army uniforms". However, one point made by Pakistan deserves greater attention in the context of the unending saga of violence in Jammu and Kashmir. It mentioned that the acts of violence "resulting in civilian causalities" in Kashmir continue to coincide with high-level visits to the region. The reference was to the visit that very day of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Asian Affairs, Christina Rocca, to New Delhi to find ways to reduce the tensions between India and Pakistan. The Chattisinghpora massacre of Sikhs coincided with the visit of President Bill Clinton to India in February 2000. The cold-blooded killing of Amarnath pilgrims and several other innocent citizens in the Kashmir Valley took place during the aborted two-week unilateral ceasefire declared by the Hizbul Mujahideen in July-August 2000. Each time Islamabad and New Delhi traded charges.

Large sections of Pakistani civil society, political parties and the media do endorse the government viewpoint that only the "enemies" of Pakistan stood to gain by the Jammu attack. The interpretation of who constituted the "enemies" of Pakistan in general and of the Musharraf government in particular is not an easy job.

What is the argument of those who believe that the Jammu incident is the handiwork of the enemies of Pakistan? There is a consensus in Pakistani society that the current crisis is the worst since the 1971 war (that resulted in the division of the country and the birth of Bangladesh). The edifice of Pakistan's foreign and defence policies, crafted on the thesis of strategic depth in Afghanistan, crumbled with the collapse of the Taliban and the rise to power of the Northern Alliance in that country.

Given the animosities between the leaders of the Northern Alliance and the Pakistani establishment, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Islamabad cannot decide whether the danger from the western borders is more serious than that from the eastern side. A senior journalist had remarked days after the Taliban fled Kabul that the time had come for Pakistan to look towards India for strategic depth.

The Musharraf government is confronted with "double trouble" on account of the developments in Afghanistan. As the U.S.-led coalition forces ferret Al Qaeda and the Taliban cadre out of the caves and their other hideouts, the porous Pakistan border provides them the escape route. Recent reports suggest heightened infiltration to Pakistan from the Afghanistan side.

In other words, the U.S.' war against terrorism is slowly but steadily shifting to Pakistan. As suspicion of such infiltration grows, the Musharraf government is coming under tremendous pressure from the U.S. not only to step up the vigil along the Afghan border but also to provide access to the coalition forces to extend their operations to cover the hyper-sensitive tribal areas on the Pakistani side.

The presence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Pakistan is now an established fact. Pakistani and FBI agents have conducted joint raids in search of the fleeing Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The jehadi comrades of yesterday are today enemies of the Musharraf government. They are perhaps more angry with Musharraf than with U.S. President George Bush, for what they consider his "betrayal of faith". The implications of the possible penetration of Al Qaeda and Taliban activists into the extremist militant and religious organisations have been demonstrated by some of the dramatic terror strikes. The March 17 grenade attack on the church in the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad, in which five persons including two Americans were killed, and the May 8 suicide bombing in Karachi, in which 12 French engineers and technicians died, illustrate the gravity of the situation.

Let us assume that the Jammu attack was the handiwork of forces that are out to get Musharraf. In such an eventuality, they have reasons to be pleased with India's reaction and action. This is the backdrop against which the U.S. seems to give Musharraf the benefit of the doubt.

Consider what the National Security Adviser to the U.S. President, Dr. Condoleeza Rice, had to say in her interview to The Hindu in the first week of May: "There is a sense in which Pakistan has tried to be responsive. We do believe that they are doing some things - that it would be good for India too to take some steps." In another interview, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage pleaded with New Delhi to give more time to the international campaign against terrorism. The context was once again the efforts made by President Musharraf in this regard.

That the U.S. has not changed its assessment of the Musharraf regime (even after the latest incident in Jammu) was evident from the observations made by Christina Rocca at the end of her two-day visit to Islamabad. Much to India's annoyance, she made a forceful appeal to New Delhi and Islamabad to return to the negotiating table.The contrast between her comments in the two capital cities could not be missed. In Islamabad, she made no mention of the Jammu incident and did not repeat her observation that violence targeting India was not acceptable. She characterised India and Pakistan as friends and said that the U.S. respected their concerns. All that she was prepared to say was that the U.S. was in a position to "assist and find ways to end the dangerous conflict".

To a specific question whether she raised the issue of "cross-border terrorism" with the Musharraf government, Rocca said she would not like to go into the details of her talks. "I would say all issues of confrontation on both sides of the border were discussed."

Rocca read out a brief, carefully worded statement before answering questions. It said that the purpose of her visit to the region was to explore ways in which India and Pakistan could move away from the dangerous confrontation that had persisted for several months now. "The U.S. enjoys a friendly and cooperative relationship with both the countries. We respect their concerns. We are in a position to assist and find ways to end the dangerous confrontation. We have great respect for General Musharraf for his commitment to Operation Enduring Freedom and the international fight against terrorism... We have to demonstrate that we are all together in this fight. Together we will triumph," Rocca said.

In other words, she said Pakistan, India and the U.S. were all victims of international terrorism and must confront it together.

In response to a question about the reluctance of the Indian government to talk to Pakistan, Rocca said that the U.S. would continue to work to urge both sides to resume a dialogue.

It is not difficult to understand the dilemma of the U.S. Not only does it consider Pakistan a frontline state in its fight against "international terrorism" but it badly needs the state apparatus to deal with the fallout of the Afghan war and to take on the remnants of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Of course, all is not hunky-dory between Pakistan and the U.S. The Americans want Musharraf to move faster in translating into deeds his promise made on January 12 to tackle extremism. On this front Musharraf appears to have convinced the Bush administration of the constraints faced by his regime in dealing with the problem and the dangers involved in hasty actions.

Not only the U.S. and its allies but the concerned and conscious sections of Pakistani civil society are dissatisfied with the slow pace of action of Pakistan. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its annual report released in April, minced no words in stating that the government resorted to a half-hearted approach in dealing with religious and sectarian extremism.

The case of the former chief of the Lashkar-e-Toiba best illustrates the point. For the second time in five months he was detained on charges of making inflammatory speeches. As his detention coincided with the visit of Christina Rocca and the Indian charges of the involvement of a group considered to be affiliated to the Lashkar in the Jammu incident, the arrest evoked interest in the diplomatic and political circles in Islamabad. But it is not in any way connected with the allegations made by the Indian authorities on the Jammu incident, although it can be interpreted as an outcome of Rocca's fire-fighting mission. As in the case of his first detention, Prof. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed has been picked up under the Maintenance of Public Order. The Order enables the federal and provincial governments to detain for a period of 90 days any person who is considered to be a threat to public order.

The detention in January was initially seen as a sequel to Musharraf's January 12 address to the nation in which he promised action against religious and sectarian extremism. He had declared that no one would be allowed to wage a jehad from Pakistani soil in the name of Kashmir. However, the Pakistan government was forced to release Saeed along with several other members of religious and sectarian outfits on the expiry of the 90-day period. It found it difficult to extend the period of detention in the case of the majority of the arrested persons in the absence of specific charges.

Even before his detention, Saeed had resigned as the Lashkar chief and announced that the organisation would confine its activities to Kashmir. Kashmiris from both sides of the divide were nominated to the executive council of the Lashkar, which operates with its headquarters in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. He had said that since it did not make a distinction between the POK and Kashmir, its operations would be aimed at the "liberation" of Kashmir from "Indian occupation".

Musharraf is under tremendous pressure from the international community to prove his credentials as one committed to dealing with international terrorism by taking on the extremist elements and organisations in his country. This is evident in the latest statement by Europe's External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten, who is expected to impress upon Musharraf the need for urgent steps to translate his January 12 speech into action.

"I shall have great difficulty persuading the European Parliament to continue to support Pakistan as we would like, if it looks as though the government is moving away from what it said about democracy or the promises it made on dealing with terrorism," Patten told the Pakistani English daily Dawn in an interview. Musharraf on his part has been trying to persuade the U.S. and its allies to appreciate his difficulties and give him more time. Hours after the suicide bombing in Karachi, Musharraf issued a statement urging the international community to understand the environment in Pakistan while reiterating the commitment of his regime to fight terrorism. There is even speculation that Islamabad will approach the United Nations. As New Delhi upped the ante after the Jammu incident, Pakistan's Defence Ministry arranged a special briefing for the representatives and Ambassadors of the European Union on the security perspective of Pakistan, given the situation on its borders. The crux of the briefing was that if the international community expected Islamabad to play a meaningful role in dealing with international terrorism, it should pressure India to withdraw its forces and come to the negotiating table to resolve all differences.

It came as no surprise when Pakistan chose to strike a non-combatant, conciliatory posture to the decision of the Indian government to ask its High Commissioner in New Delhi to leave his post "for the sake of parity". While registering its disappointment over the announcement made by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, a spokesman of the Pakistan Foreign Office said that Islamabad would continue to "work for the de-escalation of tensions" between India and Pakistan. The reaction of the Pakistan Foreign Office was clearly aimed at impressing the international community on its "reasonable approach" as compared to the "rigid attitude" of the Vajpayee government.

Observers in Islamabad are of the view that the departure of Qazi from New Delhi marks a new low in India-Pakistan relations. The former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, Tanvir Ahmed Khan, told Frontline: "I feel greatly saddened by the latest development. The action of the Indian government is unprecedented. Such a thing did not happen even during the 1971 conflict. I hope both sides limit the damage. The response of Pakistan to the development in my view is sensible. Restraint is the need of the hour. Overriding exigencies should not be allowed to further undermine the strained relations."

An interesting element that has gone unnoticed in the current crisis is the response of China. Pakistan and China refer to their relationship as "all-weather friendship". Even as Christina Rocca was on her high-profile visit to explore ways to defuse the tension between the two countries, Chinese Foreign Minister Tan Jiaxuan appreciated Musharraf's "policy of restraint and constructive engagement in the face of India's refusal to de-escalate and resume dialogue" with Pakistan. The visit of Jiaxuan and the nature of his discussions with the Musharraf regime were being watched keenly in diplomatic circles, particularly in view of reports of a rift between the U.S. and Pakistan on the approach towards tackling the problem of infiltration of Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives.

A sidelight of the India-Pakistan developments is that the leaderships in both the countries have got a reprieve from domestic problems. In India, Gujarat was threatening to destabilise the Vajpayee government; in Pakistan the farcical referendum had robbed Musharraf of his credibility.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment