September 2000 News

Pakistan Hypes, India Downplays The K Word

9 September 2000
The Pioneer
Chandan Mitra

Washington DC: Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf is on a desperate mission here to woo the West. In the past few days, the General has given at least half-a-dozen interviews and addressed several Press conferences. Although the US media has, by and large, ignored his entreaties, the General''s concerted wooing of western opinion-influencers could have an impact in the months to come. The new analogy Pakistan has invented with regard to Kashmir is East Timor. Given the obscurity of the example, not too many people have quite understood the attempt to link Kashmir to the troubled island in the Indonesian archipelago. There is a great deal of irony about the General s frenetic activities. It was in New York exactly two years ago, that too on a similar UN-related occasion, that India and Pakistan initiated the Lahore process. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee broke bread with his then Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, and the ''bus diplomacy'' began. Today, while the Lahore Process lies in tatters, it is the Kargil mindset which dominates the approach of both the nations. Gen Musharraf has made a fervent attempt to put forward a likeable face for himself. He has been repeating that he is prepared to meet Mr Vajpayee anywhere, any time, without any conditions. He has also emphasised that Pakistan is ready for a no-war treaty with India, provided the Kashmir issue is resolved. He has received some significant outlets for his campaign in the form of a TV interview with Peter Jennings, a New York Times report, an interview on CNN and one with the Wall Street Journal. The NYT item by its former New Delhi bureau chief Barbara Crossette was, predictably, dripping with sympathy for the beleaguered General. The report also highlighted the East Timor example and Musharraf''s plea for UN intervention in Kashmir on similar lines. India, on the other hand, has been somewhat low-key on the Kashmir issue this time. The Prime Minister has, of course, been hammering away at Pakistan and its promotion of cross-border terrorism, but an effort is being made by the Indian establishment to rise above the Kashmir obsession. At a briefing on Friday evening, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh pooh-poohed the East Timor analogy and simply refused to be drawn even into refuting the alleged parallels. In his combative speech at the Asia Society dinner on Wednesday, Prime Minister Vajpayee lashed out at the idea of jehad as an instrument of foreign policy. On Thursday, at his Millennium Summit address at the UN General Assembly, Mr Vajpayee resorted to heavy sarcasm to demolish Pakistan s hypocritical plea for peace in South Asia. However, there has been a studied refusal to mention Kashmir by name. Indian officials are buoyed by the Clinton Administration''s cold response to the Pakistani General''s peace offensive. And although Mr Vajpayee has not had too many bilateral meetings with other visiting heads of states, the Indian policy establishment is happy that except for the Pakistani and Saudi Arabian leaders, no other speaker at the UNGA referred to Kashmir in their addresses. Interestingly, however, Gen Musharraf managed a bilateral with Russian President Vladimir Putin who is scheduled to visit India later this year. Kashmir is certain to come up during Mr Vajpayee s forthcoming summit with President Clinton in Washington later this week. It is probably with a view to influencing policy makers in the State Department that Gen Musharraf has undertaken his media blitz. Further, some Kashmiris settled in the US and owing allegiance to the Hurriyat Conference, are known to interface regularly with senior members of the Clinton Administration. Asked if Indian officials have been in touch with the American branch of the Hurriyat, Mr Jaswant Singh said there had been no need to do so as the Government was already communicating with the Hurriyat in India itself. Media from the sub-continent had been speculating heavily on a ''chance meeting'' between some top Indian and Pakistani functionaries. A section of opinion here also believes that the General''s frenzied peace-mongering might be going down better with public opinion here than India''s consistent refusal to talk till Pakistan lowers the ante. Meanwhile, only bruised memories of the Lahore Process remain: The same hotels, the same climes, mostly the same people, but a hope belied.


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