A Musharraf offensive

Published : Oct 11, 2002 00:00 IST

THERE is never a dull moment for the media when it comes to India and Pakistan, especially when the leaders of the two countries are in a foreign country, do not meet each other and send messages through formal addresses and press conferences. So why should the 57th United Nations General Assembly session and the sidelines of the U.N. meetings this year be any different?

Although Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf says that there is a foreign policy for his country that goes beyond India, the fact is that he raises only India-related issues and that too Kashmir at every venue and opportunity he gets. In fact, even before reaching New York, Musharraf made it clear that he was going to raise Kashmir in a way that he had not done before.

Surprisingly, this time around Musharraf went a step ahead. In his address to the General Assembly, which was laced with old arguments and statistics, he questioned India's democratic and secular credentials. Musharraf once again sought to differentiate between ``terrorists'' and ``freedom fighters'', a discredited distinction, especially in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. He said: ``Acts of terrorism by individuals or groups cannot be justification to outlaw the just struggle of a people for self-determination and liberation from colonial or foreign occupation.''

The General said: ``Misusing the rationale of war against terrorism, India has sought to delegitimise the Kashmiri freedom struggle, tarnish Pakistan with the brush of terrorism and drive a wedge between it and its coalition partners.'' He added that the crisis management in a ``dangerous situation'' could not be a substitute for conflict resolution.

However, Musharraf touched a raw nerve among Indian officials and leaders when he raked up the issue of the violence in Gujarat. He said: ``There must be accountability for this massacre. The international community must act to oppose Hindu extremism with the same determination it displayed in combating terrorism, religious bigotry, ethnic cleansing and fascist tendencies elsewhere.'' For his part, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee dismissed the accusation, calling it ``yet another patently false and self-serving claim''.

The attack against India in the General Assembly was subsequently explained by Musharraf as ``language of desperation''. When asked at a media conference why he used such strong language, Musharraf said that he was a military man and was hence a ``bit too blunt and straight''. The General said: ``The other is, I think, a language of desperation. I have taken so many steps; taken so many initiatives... and all the time in the hope that there'll be response and reciprocation from the Indian side. When that is not forthcoming, what do you do? You become desperate, and that is the language of desperation that I used.''

In fact, at the media conference, Musharraf did not even spare the presidency of India. A mediaperson asked Musharraf why he left India _ that if he had stayed on, he could have become the President of India, for the country has had three Muslim Presidents. Musharraf replied: ``My becoming the President of India, well, thank you very much for the offer. At the same time, let me add that I don't believe in being a rubber-stamp President.''

Not to be left out, India responded and even hurriedly distributed to mediapersons a ``revised'' text of the Prime Minister's address to the U.N. with a small paragraph that singled out Musharraf by name. Surprisingly it had nothing to do with cross-border terrorism, but dealt with Musharraf and democracy.

In his address, Vajpayee said: ``General Musharraf has himself admitted that rigging was responsible for his winning the referendum by a dubious margin of 90 per cent in April this year. As for the `true' democracy he intends to establish in Pakistan, he has rendered it impotent even before the elections are held next month.''

Vajpayee said: ``Those who had to `adjust' voting and counting procedures to win a referendum and achieved constitutional authority by the simplest expedient of writing their own Constitution are ill-placed to lecture others on freedom and democracy.''

In fact, Vajpayee also answered United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan who, in his address to the General Assembly, referred to South Asia as one of the four current threats to the international system where the ``underlying'' cause would have to be addressed. In his address, Vajpayee said: ``We heard the extraordinary claim... that the brutal murder of innocent civilians in Jammu and Kashmir is actually a `freedom struggle'. And that the forthcoming elections in that State are a `farce'... It requires an effort of logical acrobatics to believe that carnage of innocents is an instrument of freedom and elections are a symbol of deception and repression.''

Vajpayee said: ``How can the international coalition condone Pakistan-directed killings of thousands of innocent civilians... to promote a bizzare version of `self-determination'? Those who speak of `underlying' or `root' causes of terrorism, offer alibis to the terrorists and absolve them of responsibility for their heinous actions such as the September 11 attacks on the United States or the December 13 attack on our Parliament.''

Even Musharraf's rationale of ``language of desperation'' was not left unanswered. While Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Nirupama Rao dismissed it as ``totally off the mark'' and called on Islamabad to do a ``little more soul searching'', Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, called on Musharraf to get out of the desperate situation. Brajesh Mishra said: ``Then he [Musharraf] should do something to get out of the desperate situation rather than bringing in subjects at the General Assembly.'' He added that normally heads of state and government did not use the kind of language used by the Pakistani leader. ``But we will leave it to his better judgment,'' Mishra said.

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