A change in perception

Print edition : August 03, 2002

The July 13 killings in Jammu have brought to the fore the changed perceptions of the U.S. and its allies on the tensions in South Asia. They now seem to give the impression that it is time for New Delhi to act.

PAKISTAN President Pervez Musharraf has reasons to be mighty pleased with the cover story in the June 22 issue of Time magazine's Asian edition. It featured his trials and tribulations since the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf-MIAN KHURSHEED/ REUTERS

And the cover legend said it all: "The world's toughest job. Kashmir, seething fundamentalists, political enemies - is Pakistan's President Musharraf fighting on too many fronts?" The reporters of the weekly, who flew to Islamabad for the story, and the article based on 'field reports', answered the question in categorical terms.

Gen. Musharraf indeed has the most challenging assignment in the world. The report suggested that he deserved the sympathy and support of the rest of the world. Interestingly, an article in the magazine three issues earlier, on the 'failing' health of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and its implications for the security scenario in South Asia, created a stir in the Indian establishment. The magazine's bureau chief in New Delhi was summoned by the authorities concerned and asked to explain why he possessed two passports.

The vibes from the Bush Administration vis-a-vis Pakistan in the aftermath of the latest Jammu massacre are along the lines suggested in the magazine's report. The contrast between the July and May-June visits of senior functionaries of the U.S and the U.K. to the region was too stark to be missed. While the focus in May and June was on the Indian charges of cross-border terrorism, in July the emphasis was on the need for resolution of the Kashmir issue and early resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan.

In fact, some of the statements made by the Anglo-American facilitators in July in India must have been music to the ears of the military establishment in Islamabad. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell not only openly differed with the Indian assessment on the degree of infiltration from the Pakistani side but also spoke bluntly on Kashmir.

In Islamabad, Powell chose to remain neutral on the claims and counter-claims by India and Pakistan on cross LoC infiltration. "We are in no position to judge the actual situation," he maintained. His endorsement of the Indian government's commitment to hold 'free and fair elections' in Jammu and Kashmir was qualified by several conditionalities. "We believe an all inclusive and free election in Kashmir is only the first step towards peace. What is required is a serious and sustained dialogue between India and Pakistan for resolution of all differences including Kashmir," he said in the presence of Pakistan Foreign Minister Inam ul Haq.

It was not just Powell and Straw who said what Pakistan wanted to hear. The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, after an interactive session with Musharraf declared that the E.U. viewed elections in Kashmir not as the final solution but as a 'contributory step' in finding a solution to the problem.

THE change in the perception of the international community (the U.S.) about the tension in South Asia came to the fore after the massacre of 28 innocent people in a Jammu slum on July 13.

When Deputy Prime Minister L. K. Advani restated in the Lok Sabha an old demand of New Delhi to declare Pakistan a 'terrorist' state, the U.S. State Department not only rebuffed New Delhi but also made it a point to advertise how much it valued the relationship with the Musharraf regime in the post-September 11 world. "Stalwart ally" and "one of the foremost and indispensable allies" in the war against terrorism were the adjectival phrases the State Department used in praise of the Musharraf regime and the "bold decisions" it has taken.

It is not clear what prompted Advani to revive the old demand, particularly when he did not establish a direct link between the powers in Pakistan and the perpetrators of the massacre in Jammu. Incidentally, it was for the first time since September 11 that India had urged the international community to consider declaring Pakistan a terrorist state. It prompted some foreign diplomats in Pakistan to think aloud, in private, as to why New Delhi does not take the lead in declaring Pakistan a terrorist state. There was little doubt in the minds of diplomatic and political observers in Islamabad that India was being "insensitive" to the situation in the region and the problems faced by the General.

With Washington spelling out its view on India-Pakistan tensions in general and the July 13 massacre in particular, nothing different could have been expected from the United Kingdom. In the event, the so-called peace mission of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw proved to be a failure, if not a disaster. He was not welcome in New Delhi or Islamabad and ended up as the 'bad guy' in both capitals. Delhi went public about its annoyance with his 'prescription' on what India should do in Jammu and Kashmir. In Islamabad, Musharraf simply refused to meet him on the plea that he had no time to spare.

It appears that Pakistan was sore over his perceived 'pro-India leaning' when he was in the region in May. On his latest trip Straw could not gain the Musharraf government's confidence despite the noises he made in New Delhi about the need for India to address the issue of the human rights record in Jammu and Kashmir. He actually went a step further than Washington in belittling Advani's demand to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

He told a questioner that there was no law to categorise a country terrorist. (Here he was presumably speaking about the situation in the U.K.) Straw maintained that such laws applied only to individuals and organisations. In Islamabad, he almost endorsed Pakistan's demand that the stalled dialogue must be resumed to resolve the Kashmir issue. It was in the interest of India and Pakistan in general and the people on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), he said, to resolve the dispute that has eluded a solution for 53 years. Was it an implicit acknowledgment that the people on both sides of the LoC constituted the third party? No wonder that the Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson, Nirupama Rao, went on record to tell Jack Straw that New Delhi did not need any outside prescription on human rights.

However, unlike in May and June when the American and British interlocutors handed over a list of dos and don'ts to the military establishment, they seem to give the impression that it was time for New Delhi to act. Both the U.S. and the U.K. have openly differed with the Vajpayee government's assessment on the vital issue of cross-LoC infiltration. Even after two long meetings with External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, Jack Straw stuck to his assessment that infiltration was on the decline. It is clear that the National Security Adviser and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Brajesh Mishra did not succeed in convincing Jack Straw about the trends on the LoC.

What accounts for the change? In the perception of Islamabad, while the senior functionaries from the U.S. and U.K. have extracted major commitments from Pakistan, they have failed to move India. Musharraf did not counter the statements from the U.S. that he had indeed given a commitment to rein in the militants. But there were clear signals from Islamabad that the assurances were not unconditional.

"The assurances were on a quid pro quo basis. In the light of the commitments, Gen. Musharraf made a strong case for major steps by India to de-escalate the tension in the region. But we are disappointed to note that New Delhi has not reciprocated," a senior official in the Pakistan Foreign Office told Frontline.

Managers of the Musharraf regime maintain that the conflicting statements by senior Ministers in the Vajpayee government on cross-LoC infiltration and the attempt to implicate the Pakistan government in the Jammu massacre have only strengthened the impression that New Delhi is not serious about defusing tensions. They pointed out that Pakistan was not enthused by the steps announced by India on June 9 for de-escalation of tension and that Musharraf had termed them "cosmetic".

The Musharraf government expected more substantive steps such as the commencement of a process of phased withdrawal of troops on the border and movement towards resumption of dialogue. "We conveyed our expectations to the interlocutors. Far from any reciprocity, what we are witnessing from New Delhi is the same old rhetoric," said one official.

The diplomatic community in Islamabad, particularly diplomats from the countries of the western bloc, are veering round to the view that New Delhi is not sensitive to the serious nature of challenges from within and without faced by the military government. They are convinced that unless India takes a pragmatic view of the ground realities, the situation cannot improve.

AN analysis about Pakistan in the London-based defence journal Jane's in the second week of July makes a chilling point on Musharraf's dilemma. It stated: "Pakistan's self-appointed President General Pervez Musharraf should be a deeply worried man. Internal opposition to his rule is mounting, militants are threatening to assassinate political leaders in Kashmir and even his Western allies are beginning to lose patience with his apparent inability to track down fugitive supporters of the former Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda network."

The journal said recent revelations concerning the infiltration of local militant groups by Al Qaeda have focussed unwelcome attention on the level of commitment of Pakistan's authorities in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and members of his group. It said that in recent weeks there was mounting evidence of support for the Kashmiri militants at a senior level of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It said: "Some Western journalists are now daring to print what JID (Jane's Intelligence Digest) has been warning for many months: Pakistan is not part of the solution to the threat posed to the West by Al Qaeda; it is a central part of the problem. Pretending otherwise for reasons of realpolitik - as U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was forced to do in June - is not merely dishonest, it will ultimately undermine coalition efforts to combat Bin Laden and his network'' (Jane's Intelligence Digest, June 21, 2002).

The journal quoted intelligence reports as saying that Musharraf had surrounded himself with tight security and rarely appeared in public. It said this was an indication of his fear of the rising discontent spreading throughout the more militant sections of Pakistani society.

"In part, this is the consequence of the general's own policy. He tells Western politicians and diplomats what he knows they want to hear - particularly his repeated promises to crack down on militant groups - yet then fails to implement appropriate measures to target groups such as Harakat al-Mujahideen that are known to have close links with Al Qaeda and which are reported to be operating quite openly in northern Kashmir.

"Musharraf is well aware that actually taking steps to detain these militants would be deeply unpopular with a majority of his citizens. So Islamabad bans the groups in order to appease Washington, while the Pakistani armed forces and the ISI, which both contain a significant number of anti-Western officers and agents, do nothing to combat the activities of Al Qaeda-backed militants. However, this policy is planting the potential seeds of Musharraf's own destruction. Recent incidents, such as the deaths of 10 Pakistani soldiers during a gun-battle on the Afghan border with Al Qaeda supporters, merely serve to confirm the mounting conviction amongst the militants that Musharraf's administration is a U.S. puppet. It is the members of these groups who pose the major threat to his personal security."

The U.S and the U.K. are fully conscious of the delicate situation in Pakistan and their endorsement of Musharraf's complaints against New Delhi is to some extent tactical. There is a major gap between the perception of New Delhi and the U.S. and the U.K. on the situation in Pakistan. While the U.S. is convinced that in the circumstances Musharraf is the best bet to take care of its interests, New Delhi seem to think exactly the opposite.

With elections in Jammu and Kashmir less than three months away, the stakes for India and Pakistan are high. India would like to demonstrate that foreign militants sustain the so-called 'struggle' in the Valley with aid from Islamabad. Pakistan is worried about the prospect of India edging it out of the Kashmir dispute by holding elections at 'gunpoint'. There appears to be little chance of a truce between the two sides at least until the elections are over.

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