Active interventions

Print edition : June 08, 2002

An alarmed international community advocates restraint and offers advice and help to defuse the escalating tensions.

THE looming threat of war in the Indian subcontinent has been a major preoccupation for the international community since the beginning of May. Bellicose statements made by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf in the last few weeks have raised the ante. That the international community considers the threat of war here to be serious is evident from the hectic diplomatic activity of the last few weeks.

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh with European Union's Commissioner on External Affairs Chris Patten.-ANU PUSHKARNA

The issue was one of the main subjects discussed at the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and United States President George W. Bush in Moscow in the last week of May (articles on pages 50 and 52). The two leaders offered to help settle the conflict. Putin also proposed that the leaders of India and Pakistan meet on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures, to begin in Almaty, Khazakstan, on June 4. Both Vajpayee and Musharraf are scheduled to attend the conference.

The Russians are keen that such a meeting should take place. After all it was a meeting arranged under the auspices of the Soviet Union between Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and President Ayub Khan that led to the end of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral has also come out in favour of a meeting between the two leaders at Almaty.

While the Pakistani side was quick to accept the offer, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), however, quickly ruled out contact at such a high level. "There is no question of Vajpayee meeting General Musharraf. There is no possibility of a Tashkent II," said a senior MEA official. The official said that the Prime Minister will have separate meetings with the Russian President and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who will also attend the conference. Putin is expected to hold separate meetings with Vajpayee and Musharraf.

At a joint press conference in St. Petersburg, Putin and Bush said that their countries would take steps together to prevent the escalation of the India-Pakistan conflict. Russian commentators have said that Moscow is once again trying to find a serious diplomatic role for itself in the region. After the Cold War, Washington had become the main mediator between India and Pakistan. Russia and the West European countries are not oblivious to the fact that the Bush administration has not been successful in defusing the crisis in both the regions despite having tremendous diplomatic clout with the major players in both the regions.

The tough speech delivered by President Musharraf followed by the round of missile tests conducted by Pakistan in the last week of May seem to have hardened further New Delhi's stance. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told mediapersons in New Delhi that Musharraf's May 27 address to the nation was a "disappointing" one as it merely repeated earlier assurances "which remain unfulfilled till this day".

Jaswant Singh added that owing to the belligerent tone of the President's speech, "tension has been added to, not reduced". Jaswant Singh stressed that in his speech Musharraf completely evaded the "central issue of Pakistan's promotion of terrorism". The Minister's statement also reflected the government's ire against the Pakistani President's comments in his televised address on matters of India's internal politics. Jaswant Singh described them as an "offensive and tasteless revilement" of India. He charged that "the epicentre of international terrorism had shifted to Pakistan" after the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He added that the terrorists operating from Pakistan receiving "support from state structures" were not only targeting India but other countries too. "The current war against terrorism will not be won decisively until their base camps inside Pakistan are closed permanently," the Foreign Minister said. Replying to a question, Jaswant Singh said that in his speech Musharraf talked very casually about the "nuclearisation" of the conflict.

According to Jaswant Singh, new terrorist camps had sprung up in Pakistan since Musharraf's promise in January to crack down on terrorism. At the same time, the Pakistan government had not bothered to act on the list of 20 terrorists wanted by India. Jaswant Singh alleged that Islamabad had released most of the 2,000 terrorists it had arrested earlier in the year.

Jaswant Singh revealed that the government had shared with the international community evidence about terrorism sponsored from across the border. All those involved in the recent terrorist acts, including the incident at Kalu Chak, hailed from Pakistan. He said that India was not against the resumption of a dialogue with Pakistan, but not "when the pistol of terrorism was pointed at us". He said that India wanted a "conducive climate" for talks to be created first. Most countries in the world appreciated India's position. Without spelling out the government's immediate plans, the Minister said that India had many options. He went to the extent of saying that the presence of U.S. troops in the eastern part of Pakistan had been factored into India's policy calculations. "India has a variety of options," said Jaswant Singh.

MEANWHILE, senior Pakistani officials, including Pakistan's Perma- nent Representative in the United Nations, said that nuclear weapons could come into play if their country's existence itself was at stake. Such statements, coupled with the belligerent postures adopted by the leaders of India and Pakistan, alarmed the international community. A spate of high-level visits to Islamabad and Delhi followed. Among those who came calling to advise restraint were British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, the European Union's Commissioner on External Affairs Chris Patten and Japanese Senior Foreign Minister Seiken Suguira.

Defence Minister George Fernandes with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.-

Indian officials are claiming, with some justification, that their "coercive diplomacy" has borne fruit. Almost all the visiting dignitaries tacitly endorsed India's views with regard to the "cross-border" terrorism that has been at play.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is coordinating his country's approach closely with the Bush administration, told mediapersons in New Delhi that the international community looks to Musharraf for implementation of the promises he had made. He said that the test for Musharraf was "in action, not words". He stressed that terrorists could not be disguised as "freedom fighters". Straw suggested to New Delhi that it take reciprocal measures if and when Pakistan started taking phased action to curb cross-border terrorism.

At this juncture, New Delhi is adopting a tough posture and is indicating that a positive response from its side will only be possible when there is proof of Pakistan having "permanently and irreversibly" ended terrorism. However, there is no change in the stand of the British and U.S. governments on Kashmir's status as "disputed territory". Before heading for the subcontinent, Straw said that the question of "who should run Kashmir was never fully solved". However, both Washington and London are for the time being playing down the idea of third party mediation to solve the dispute. Both governments are stressing that it is for India and Pakistan to resolve their disputes.

Chris Patten too had cautionary words for Pakistan during his visit to New Delhi in the last week of May. He said that "Pakistan's half-baked approach against terrorism was not acceptable". He called on both countries to take steps to reduce tensions so that the dialogue process could be resumed. The E.U. is coordinating closely with the Bush administration in order to defuse tension in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has requested New Delhi to "opt for self-restraint to defuse tensions". At the same time, he has warned Islamabad that Japanese economic aid will be up for review if action is not taken to arrest cross-border terrorism.

Seiken Suguira reiterated these points during his visit to New Delhi. He said that Japan was against war and a potential nuclear conflagration. Suguira said that during his visit to Islamabad he got the impression that the Musharraf government "will take concrete and visible steps to stop cross-border terrorism". The Japanese Minister said that there were no plans on the anvil to impose economic sanctions on Pakistan. However, Indian officials claim that key Western governments have given a commitment that sanctions will be imposed on Pakistan if it fails to live up to its commitments on cross-border terrorism.

There seems to have been a distinct change of perception in the White House too. According to an article in The New York Times (May 31), President Bush was veering to the view that the insurgency in Kashmir was not home-grown but encouraged from across the border by Pakistan. Bush is said to be of the opinion that all that needs for the insurgency to stop is a simple order from Musharraf to his subordinates to seal the border.

Bush had earlier said that Musharraf "should show results in stopping people crossing the LoC (Line of Control) and ending terrorism rather than testing missiles". Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "The only thing that counts is that Musharraf stops infiltration across the LoC." U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a little more circumspect. He evidently still holds the view that a war between India and Pakistan, limited or otherwise, is an unnecessary diversion from the U.S.-led war against terrorism being waged on the eastern borders of Pakistan. There are reports that Pakistan has shifted most of its troops engaged in counter-terrorist operations with U.S. Special Forces along the border with Afghanistan, to the western border with India.

Rumsfeld is being dispatched to the subcontinent by the President in the second week of June. His visit will be preceded by that of U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Apparently, henceforth Musharraf, like Yasser Arafat, will be held guilty for all acts of terror on Indian territory, at least until he cracks down on cross-border terrorism.

At the same time, the Bush administration is asking India to exercise restraint. Recent events have only reconfirmed the State Department's belief that the subcontinent is nearing a nuclear flash point. Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington that India and Pakistan should realise that it was in their national interest to recognise how many millions of people would be affected by a war. "Wars can escalate in unpredictable ways," he said. The advice by many Western countries including the U.S. to their citizens to leave India and Pakistan in the last week of May is an illustration of these fears. In a statement on May 30, Bush said that he was making it clear to both Pakistan and India that war will not serve their interests. "We're part of an international coalition applying pressure to both parties, particularly to Musharraf," he said.

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