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June 8, 2001
We believe Vajpayee can deliver
In India, some professionals like Brahma Chellaney have criticized Atal Bihari Vajpayee for inviting General Pervez Musharraf for talks to India. I want to ask Chellaney what Vajpayee should have logically done on the Kashmir issue?
Although we have the button, there is no possibility of a war between India and Pakistan. At the same time, we should not forget that being a nuclear power is also an expression of war. Those powers can be used. Therefore, we must do everything possible to defuse the tension. India should know that a medium-sized country always fights back with more aggression.
Chellaney says Vajpayee has changed the nation's fundamental position on Kashmir. I think that's untrue. As a person who knows more about Track-II diplomacy, I would say India and Pakistan have travelled too far. Both their age-old positions changed when Vajpayee came to Lahore. That was the time of the major shift. The turning point.
Pakistani diplomats are no longer quoting the UN resolutions; they are now talking about the aspirations of the Kashmiri people. Pakistan believes Vajpayee is serious. That there is substance in his initiative.
The Indian prime minister is behaving like a statesman. He is not a dove. He is talking to Pakistan from a position of strength. Unlike Deve Gowda, Vajpayee is not a compromised prime minister of a coalition government. Sending an invitation to General Pervez Musharraf was a sensible thing to do.
Just as the BJP in India is in a better position to talk to Pakistan compared to the Congress, the military leadership in Pakistan is better placed to hold talks than any democratically elected leader. Real power rests with the Pakistan army.
The Lashkar-e-Tayiba cannot do much if Musharraf wants to agree. He has control over such forces. I don't buy the argument that by extending the invitation Vajpayee has given legitimacy to Musharraf's military rule. Who is not unaware of history -- that even Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to talk to Ayub Khan on Kashmir?
Unfortunately, J&K should not have become a territory of dispute between India and Pakistan. Kashmir is an issue of the Kashmiri people. It's their concern for fundamental rights. But nations need enemies to build up nationalism, hence they try and subjugate their own people in the process.
Kargil was a mistake. It was Pakistan's blunder. Though Musharraf thinks otherwise. After Kargil, India successfully isolated Pakistan and Musharraf on the international stage. But things reached a point where India could push no further. Kargil should be forgotten along with Nawaz Sharief.
The Government of India is aware that Pakistan is slowly getting support from many countries to prop up its economy. The European Union is sponsoring a programme in Pakistan's favour. The Americans are talking to us. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has set a deadline for the election. The freedom of the press has not been curbed.
In the last few months, the way visiting foreign dignitaries have been impressed with Musharraf is rather worrying. We have fought a far more difficult battle for democracy in Pakistan compared to India. India has not fought for democracy except during the brief period of the Emergency.
Being a leftist, liberal and pro-democracy, I have been in prison for eight years in Pakistan. President Zia imprisoned me for five years.
I still support the Vajpayee-Musharraf talks. I want Pakistan's army to talk to India. Liberals in Pakistan want the army to settle the Kashmir issue because Musharraf has the required clout over them.
At the same time, the RSS has supported Vajpayee on these talks. In India, people in the south or west don't care much for the Kashmir issue. But these Dilliwalas and Lahorewalas talk too much. What is difficult to understand is that India, a country that has always been a victim of aggression, has of late started talking like an aggressor. This is surprising.
India wanted to isolate Musharraf. It did. But after a point India's shrewd diplomacy backfired and India began to get isolated from all fora, while Musharraf kept repeating that he was keen to talk. But India was not responding. The world thought this was unreasonable.
There has to be a mechanism for a productive dialogue to continue. Vajpayee was wise enough to understand this. Can there be an alternative to Vajpayee? Can India throw up a more independent, powerful and liberal man who can hold talks with Pakistan? If Vajpayee goes, a nuclear winter will set in.
On the other side, learned people believe Musharraf will prove to be a good ambassador. He will be an acceptable face. He will wipe off his Kargil image and be frank with India.
We believe Vajpayee can deliver. This meeting will be the first and it might be followed by a meeting at the SAARC summit and then, maybe, at the United Nations.
History demands that we should not follow the beaten track.
Politician turned journalist Imtiyaz Alam writes a widely read bilingual column in The News and Jung. He was also closely associated with Track-II diplomacy between India and Pakistan. Alam spoke to Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi.
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