Musharraf surprises everyone by showing backbone based on nuclear parity with India

Perhaps for the first time in history, a Pakistani ruler has stood his ground against India on an issue that is vital to his country’s survival. Previous Pakistani rulers often camouflaged their sell-out to India by citing external pressures or difficult circumstances. General Pervez Musharraf’s three-day talks with Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (July 14-16) in Agra may not have produced a joint declaration, but the fact that Musharraf did not budge on the core issue of Kashmir, despite pressure to return home with “something” in hand, is to his credit. It is far more important to stand up for principle than return with empty words on a worthless piece of paper.

“The collapse of summit talks between India and Pakistan has plunged the region into a dangerous vacuum,” warned Christopher Kremmer of the Sydney Morning Herald darkly on July 18 from Agra. This reflects a shallowness of understanding that is typical of western analysts and commentators. There is no vacuum in subcontinental politics, much less a dangerous one. Vajpayee and Musharraf have agreed to meet again, although no date has yet been fixed, despite not agreeing on a joint declaration. It was announced on July 20 that Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh would be visiting Islamabad soon. Musharraf and Vajpayee are also likely to meet in New York next month when they attend the opening of the UN general assembly session.

It is important to understand why the joint declaration did not materialize. Vajpayee is not in control of his cabinet; Hindu fundamentalists such as Indian home minister L K Advani and Morli Manohar Joshi, who set the government agenda, are averse to any mention of Kashmir as “disputed” territory; they did not even want it mentioned as the main issue affecting relations between the two countries. Precisely what Advani and Joshi did want is unclear; perhaps the sale of onions and potatoes, though that would hardly have reduced tensions in the subcontinent.

The secularists in Pakistan were equally dismayed. “It is a disaster,” Asma Jehangir, a leading secularist in Pakistan, said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “The Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan will be cheering … we may actually end up at some point with skirmishes leading to war.” It is clear that Jehangir cannot bear the so-called Islamic fundamentalists (ie. most Muslims in Pakistan) being happy. The non-agreement has certainly caused much anguish among Pakistani secularists, because their inability to embrace their long-lost Hindu cousins in India is giving them much heartache. Life has never been the same since the “disastrous” decision to partition India in 1947; what Jehangir and other secularists would probably like is for Pakistan to give in to India and forget about Kashmir. They do not care that Pakistan might well be reduced to a client state without any vestige of self-respect or honour: they want to be able to travel freely to India to watch Indian movies and participate in cultural programmes with their Hindu counterparts.

It is important to understand why the summit “failed” despite high pre-summit expectations. The truth is that Vajpayee only wanted to create an illusion of talks, without touching the substance of the issues that have bedevilled relations between the two neighbours for more than 50 years. Musharraf would have none of it; he stuck to his guns, insisting that without resolving Kashmir there could be no progress elsewhere. Vajpayee even had the audacity to raise the issue of the state of “disrepair” of Hindu temples in Pakistan. How many Hindus and Hindu temples are there in Pakistan? Would Vajpayee care to tell the Muslim world what he plans to do about the Babri Masjid, which was demolished by a Hindu mob on December 6, 1992? Another 3,000 mosques have also been targeted by Hindu zealots who not only belong to parties allied to Vajpayee’s but are also found within his own party. The horrible treatment of Muslims and other minorities, including the Dalits, is a shameful proof of Hindu disregard for others’ religious, social and cultural values in a supposedly democratic India.

After refusing to admit that Kashmir is the main issue affecting relations between the two countries, Jaswant Singh was left to sift through the wreckage at a news conference on July 17 (the day after the summit ended), at which he expressed disappointment but said he hoped that the “caravan of peace” would continue. India has a strange concept of peace: while Musharraf and Vajpayee were talking, Indian forces murdered 86 Kashmiris in the three-day period, according to the Associated Press. Killing Muslims is a way of life in Hindu India; Kashmir is even more a sore point because the Kashmiris dare to resist Indian occupation. One can imagine the international uproar had Muslims been involved in killing people in their midst; yet more than 80,000 Kashmiris have been murdered since 1989, and India has got away with blaming Pakistan for it.

In fact, India’s Hindu nationalist leaders insisted that the joint statement include a reference to “violence” by the Kashmir mujahideen, as well as “cross-border terrorism.” When Pakistani foreign minister Abdul Sattar was asked about cross-border terrorism, he replied: “We have an international border with India; if they have any concern or proof of infiltration, they can bring it up with us,” clearly rejecting the insinuation that the Line of Control in Kashmir is a recognised border. Earlier, Musharraf had also pointed out that India has more than 700,000 troops in Kashmir; the clear implication was that if they are concerned about “infiltration”, then let the Indians prevent it themselves: Pakistan will not do it for them.

It is interesting to note that, apart from the secularists, Musharraf has been praised by every section of Pakistani public opinion for his principled stand on Kashmir. One meeting is not likely to resolve the 54-year dispute, but what Musharraf has shown is that he is not prepared to bow to Indian designs underpinned by zionist and American plans for the region. Such confidence comes primarily from the fact that Pakistan is now a nuclear power. Some in Pakistan decry this fact, but they ignore the great psychological boost it has given to Pakistan against India. Similarly, India’s arrogance has been deflated because it can no longer bully Pakistan with its military might.

If Musharraf continues to maintain this principled position on Kashmir, his other weaknesses (the illegitimacy of his position and so on) might be forgiven by his compatriots. At the very least, Kashmir has been put firmly on the agenda as the main issue between India and Pakistan. There is no escaping this fact, regardless of the Indian rulers’ ability to excel in verbal acrobatics.