August 29, 2001


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Pakistani generals are
     adventuristic, not
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G Parthasarathy

Musharraf's Pakistan

Many people saw the Agra Summit as a great triumph both domestically and internationally for General Pervez Musharraf. After Prime Minister Vajpayee invited him to visit India and even strangely congratulated him while he was in the process of getting rid of the democratically elected president of Pakistan, Rafiq Tarar, the United States government did him the honour of referring to him as 'President' Musharraf for the first time, when he arrived at Agra.

Musharraf chose to behave in Delhi and Agra somewhat like a Mughal conqueror rather than an honoured guest. He brushed aside the wishes of his hosts and welcomed the leaders of the separatist Hurriyat Conference at his high commissioner's residence in Tilak Marg, even as he kept two former prime ministers of India waiting before he said hello to them. Former prime ministers may be routinely exiled or hanged by military dictators in Pakistan. They are held in respect in India.

While in Agra, Musharraf chose to address his own people live on television during the course of what was purported to be a background briefing of leading luminaries of our redoubtable fourth estate. What people in India and Pakistan got to see was some of the icons of India's media engaged in a display of servility that would have warmed the hearts of those who adore the likes of Emperor Aurangzeb. This was where things began to go wrong for Musharraf.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee is known to be man of great forbearance, patience and understanding. He was even prepared to pander to some of Musharraf's prejudices against agreements with India signed by democratically elected leaders of Pakistan like Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. But even he could not ignore Musharraf's brazen justification of his intrusion in Kargil as a Pakistani response to the liberation of Bangladesh and his characterisation of his jehad in Jammu and Kashmir as an 'indigenous freedom struggle.' Musharraf's commando instincts became evident in New Delhi and Agra. But like his misadventure in Kargil, his commando instincts compelled him to aim to capture one range of hills too many.

While Musharraf was basking in the glory of his media coverage in Agra some days ago, things have now become somewhat more complex for him both domestically and internationally. Eminent jurists in Pakistan like former chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah have started raising pointed questions about the constitutional validity of Musharraf continuing as president, or materially altering the constitution now that the time is approaching for him to hand over power to democratically elected leaders.

It is known that Musharraf intends to drastically alter the constitution, so that effective power lies not with the democratically elected prime minister and parliament, but in a military-dominated national security council that he proposes to head. Commonwealth Secretary General Don Mckinnon was recently in Islamabad to assess the prospects for return to democratic rule in Pakistan. While New Delhi may have its own compulsions to deal with the Musharraf dispensation, it should not hesitate to bring Musharraf's plans to amend the constitution and curtail the powers of democratic institutions and democratically elected rulers to the notice of the leaders of Commonwealth countries and indeed to the notice of the international community as a whole.

While Musharraf has succeeded in splitting the Muslim League, his protégés have not done too well in the recently held 'non-party' elections to local councils. It is well known that Musharraf's corps commanders (also known in Pakistan as 'crore commanders') spared no effort to compel legislators to elect only those considered 'suitable' to hold important offices wielding government patronage. But, despite the best of the efforts of the 'khakis' as the army officers are known in Pakistan, candidates supporting Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party fared remarkably well in the election.

It is clear that an increasing number of people in Pakistan now feel there has been no change for the better that the Musharraf dispensation has been able to bring to their lives. More importantly, the military in Pakistan has not been able to do anything meaningful in dealing with sectarian killings and violence in the country. Sectarian organizations like the Sipah-e-Sahiba not only routinely kill Shias, but also have links with the Taleban and with those involved in jehadi activities in J&K, Central Asia, Chechnya and elsewhere. Thus, while Musharraf can try to placate world opinion by acting against relatively minor sectarian organizations like the Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Shia Sipah-e-Mohammad, he has neither the will nor the ability to act against strong sectarian outfits especially in Punjab.

It would be a serious mistake to read recent moves by Musharraf to act against some jehadi organisations in the Sind province alone for collecting funds as any manifestation of the cooling of his ardour for supporting his favourite jehadis in Jammu and Kashmir. It is significant no action has been taken against jehadi outfits in Punjab and the North West Frontier Province, from where the bulk of the ISI-supported jehadis are drawn for action in J&K. Under severe pressure from the Indian security forces the jehadis are now hitting soft targets. The recent massacres of Hindus and particularly of shepherds are part of a concerted policy to follow up on the earlier targeting of Kashmiri Pundits.

The aim of Musharraf's jehadis is to ethnically cleanse the Kashmir Valley and force the exodus off the entire Hindu population to the Jammu and Kathua districts. This is not a development that New Delhi can be sanguine about. If such killings and actions like those being undertaken by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba across India continue, it may be necessary to consider striking across the Line of Control and even the international border in a swift, proportionate, measured and internationally justifiable manner. No one should be allowed to presume that our patience and forbearance is unlimited.

Musharraf's woes and dilemmas are not confined to his domestic constituency only. Pakistan now finds itself internationally isolated because of its material and military support to the Taleban in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Following unimpeachable evidence gathered by a UN team of experts about Pakistan's continuing support for the Taleban, the UN Security Council has now demanded the posting of international monitors in Pakistan to keep a watch on developments along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The screws are tightening around the necks of those engaged in promoting jehad worldwide. But, in an ultimate analysis, we in India should realise that while the international community may at best pay lip service to cross border terrorism directed against us, it is for us to set our house in order in J&K and deal firmly with those across the border who believe we can be forced out of J&K by 'bleeding' us.

Many of our bleeding heart liberals have for a long time felt it is politically incorrect to describe the Hurriyat's role in accurate and precise terms. The Hurriyat is nothing but an organisation that incites and supports violence, gets funds from abroad and nauseatingly and persistently echoes the ISI line.

It is heartening that the young Minister of State for External Affairs, Omar Abdullah, has referred to the Hurriyat in precisely these terms. There are now clear indications that the Hurriyat leadership's ardour to kowtow before the visiting Musharraf at his high commissioner's residence has disgusted a wide cross-section of public opinion in the Kashmir Valley.

It remains to be seen how long this motley crowd largely made up of political non-entities or people scared of the guns of foreign terrorists holds together coherently. Musharraf may, in an ultimate analysis, have done us many a favour by his actions and words in New Delhi and Agra. But, at the same time New Delhi must ensure it does not say or do anything that is construed as a manifestation of weakness, or lack of resolve by the generals in Rawalpindi.

G Parthasarathy

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