Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post wrote last week that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf could both be contenders for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. I don't know if the Nobel Peace Prize committee in Norway will receive at least one nomination for Vajpayee and Musharraf before the February 1 deadline.
Many people believe if Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin could share the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize, if Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres could share the Prize for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East, then why not Vajpayee and Musharraf? They have begun a new move to create peace in South Asia.
But there is now a threat to Musharraf. And the name of this threat is General Mirza Aslam Beg, former chief of the Pakistan army. Both Musharraf and Beg are Urdu-speaking Mohajirs from India, but they hate each other these days. Beg dislikes Musharraf's pro-US policies. He was the only person in the Pakistani establishment who openly supported Saddam Hussain during the first Gulf war. He advised then prime minister Nawaz Sharif not to send troops to Saudi Arabia to assist the US, but Sharif ignored Beg's opinion. Those were the days when Robert Oakley, then the US ambassador to Pakistan, sent reports to the state department in which he claimed that Beg wanted to transfer nuclear technology to Iran.
"I know Oakley leveled many allegations against me," General Beg told me the other day at his Rawalpindi home. The general was speaking against the arrest of Pakistani scientists for allegedly selling nuclear secrets to Iran. I asked him why he had not been arrested. He laughed and said, "Musharraf can play games with politicians and scientists, but not with me. If he claims to be a commando I was a commando myself. If he is going to take action against me then he must be prepared for my reaction."
After rumors in Islamabad circulated last week that Beg was under investigation, the general decided to address a press conference at the Holiday Inn. Dozens of journalists waited for him, but he never came. Though he was under a lot of pressure he appeared on my weekly talk show on GEO TV the same evening to answer my "silly questions." This time he was in a more dangerous mode. "The Kargil war in 1999 was a conspiracy," he said. "The main objective of this conspiracy was to overthrow Nawaz Sharif because he never listened to Bill Clinton who tried his best to prevent Pakistan from conducting nuclear tests in response to the Indian tests in May 1998."
"A woman like Benazir Bhutto never listened to the US," General Beg said,"she refused to freeze the nuclear programme but the present commando president is worse then a woman. He is lying at the feet of George W Bush." I asked the general why the commando was not behaving like a commando. General Beg laughed and said, "Bush has evidence that Pakistan was ready to sell enriched uranium and a nuclear power plant when Musharraf was everything from army chief to chairman, joint chiefs of staff and from president to chief executive."
He showed me a full-page advertisement the commerce ministry issued on July 24, 2000 in Pakistan's largest-circulated English daily, The News. The ministry announced on behalf of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission, 'parties interested in purchasing enriched uranium or a nuclear reactor must submit their applications with a fee of Rs 10,000.' After showing me the advertisement, General Beg asked, "Is it not enough to prove that not some individuals but the state of Pakistan was involved in nuclear proliferation?" I was silent for 10 minutes as I read the advertisement again and again. Beg asked me repeatedly: "Who was in power when the government of Pakistan was openly asking anybody interested in buying enriched uranium to come with a written application?"
General Beg is of the view that in the first phase the Bush administration is putting pressure on Musharraf to admit that at least two or three scientists from the Kahuta Research Laboratories smuggled nuclear secrets to Iran in their personal capacity. In the second phase he feels the US will target Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission. Musharraf will be forced to say that this institution was involved in selling enriched uranium to Iran. Then the US will try to use Pakistan against Iran.
"Bush is planning to target Iran after Iraq. He is going to make an election stunt out of this nuclear issue," General Beg said, "He (Musharraf) cannot touch me. My hands are clean but his hands are not clean. How can he share a Nobel Prize with Vajpayee? He is just like tissue paper. They (the US) will use him for some time and then he will be thrown in the dustbin of history."
General Beg is providing a lot of ammunition to the Opposition Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy by his revelations. Both Benazir Bhutto and Shehbaz Sharif -- president of his brother Nawaz Sharif's faction of the Muslim League -- are planning to return to Pakistan in the next few months. They may sent a joint application to the International Court of Justice to try Musharraf for spreading nuclear weapons.
Musharraf is under pressure, that is why he allowed hundreds of protestors on January 26 to demonstrate in front of the Indian high commission in Islamabad. No ordinary person can enter the diplomatic enclave where the Indian high commission is located. US embassy officials must have noted that lots of people crossed barricades, arrived close to their building and raised anti-India slogans for more than two hours. One US diplomat, in fact, stopped his car close to the demonstration and asked a police officer: 'Who allowed these b***ers to enter a secure area?' The police officer had no answer.
Musharraf met some important Kashmiri leaders the other day and told them, 'Don't lose patience. We have to reach a solution on the Kashmir dispute peacefully. That is why we are showing flexibility because Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji showed a lot of flexibility.' It seems the general is ready to take all the risks for the peace process. That is why he allowed Kashmiris to demonstrate against India last Monday. On the other hand, Indian High Commissioner Shiv Shanker Menon visited Karachi for three days this week. He explored the possibility of re-opening the Indian consulate in Karachi; if not a consulate, then at least a camp office to issue visas. Mr Menon told me he is very serious about opening a camp office in Karachi.
Protests against India and the peace process is going on side by side in Islamabad, but US policies are creating problems for Musharraf. The US wants to use him against Iran and that would not be acceptable to the people of Pakistan and also the people of India. Vajpayee and Musharraf must move forward without any US dictation, not for the Nobel Peace Prize but for the noble cause of peace in South Asia.
It would be better for Musharraf to announce a ceasefire with Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. Vajpayee met representatives of Nawaz Shariff and Benazir Bhutto during his stay in Islamabad, but Musharraf is not ready to take them into confidence. That kind of approach may create problems not only for Musharraf but for peace in the region.
Hamid Mir, bureau chief of GEO TV in Islamabad, is a frequent contributor to rediff.com
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