July 2001 News

Islamabad Ups The Ante

9 July 2001
The Indian Express

New Delhi: There must be a limit to Pakistan’s pre-summit acrimony THE sudden outburst by Pakistan’s foreign office has cast an ominous shadow on this weekend’s Vajpayee-Musharraf summit. Coming as it does a fortnight after the two leaders concurred that sulphurous rhetoric should be avoided before the Agra rendezvous — and just days after the good general reiterated the point in a television interview — it is also mystifying. On Friday, Islamabad issued a statement brimming with its usual litany of allegations about ‘‘acts of repression and oppression’’ in Jammu and Kashmir. This is unfortunate. If the bilateral meet is to evolve into anything beyond a wonderful photo-op, it is important that every effort be made to prevent the exchange of charges and counter-charges from acquiring a destructive momentum. A tete-a-tete between the leaders of India and Pakistan is too rare an occurrence for it to be hijacked by irresponsible efforts at provoking confrontationist, albeit traditional, attitudes. Ever since he assumed power in Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf has repeatedly expressed readiness to meet the Indian prime minister any time, any place; now that the time has come for him to fulfill that pledge, it would amount to unacceptable extravagance if he were to waste this opportunity to arrive at a minimum level of bilateral empathy. A strange asymmetry seems to be developing in India and Pakistan’s preparatory build-up to the bilateral summit. After a cursory round of assertions about its rightful claim to Kashmir — all of it, the portion under Indian control and that now with Pakistan — New Delhi has shifted to confidence-building mode. Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails are to be set free, students from across the border have been invited to avail of scholarships to this country’s finest educational institutions, grandiose plans are being hazarded for unfettered interaction among the subcontinent’s writers and artists, and the director-general of military operations is being despatched to Pakistan to chart out a durable peace along the LOC. Islamabad, on the other hand, has chosen the opposite trajectory. After roundly rebuking jehadis for making wild anti-India statements and seeking to plant the Pakistani flag in Delhi’s Red Fort, the Musharraf administration has gone back and drummed up its favourite anti-India lyrics. After coolly asserting that the Kashmir dispute cannot be resolved overnight and hinting that he would not alienate New Delhi on account of his desire to shake hands with Hurriyat leaders, Musharraf has now shot off a letter to the Kashmiri organisation expressing eagerness to make contact. The pattern is clear. In each confidence-building measure that India forwards, Pakistan sees a machination to widen the agenda at Agra, to move it beyond Kashmir. By upping the ante and emphasising the centrality of the Kashmir issue, Musharraf and his colleagues may also in part be pacifying their domestic constituency. But there is a limit beyond which this excuse about domestic compulsions fails to pass muster. It is a limit Islamabad must heed.


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