Kashmir strife is freedom movement: Musharraf
20 July 2001
The Times of India
Islamabad: General Pervez Musharraf on Friday became the first Pakistani President to take his message directly to the people of India. It was evident that much of what he was saying at his press conference here was meant for Indians, though he took care not to ignore his domestic constituency as well as the people of Kashmir. He appealed to Indians directly above the head of the Vajpayee government and the Indian bureaucracy. Indeed, his news conference was shifted from 5:30 to 7:30 pm to catch prime time telecasts of major Indian TV channels. The President repeatedly made the point that there was a constituency for peace in India and Pakistan and that these people should join hands and act together to defeat not just the militants but hardliners on both sides. At different points during the rambling news conference, the General tried to switch roles. One minute he was a mature statesman talking of people yearning for peace in the region, calming questioners who said India could never be trusted. India-Pakistan relations are too important to be reduced to a football match with each side scoring points, he said. he was not in the business of retaliation and revenge. Though he had come back empty handed from Agra, the peace process would continue. The President said he had already invited the Indian leaders to Pakistan and he hoped to meet Vajpayee in New York, when they both went for the UN General Assembly session. At other times, he was the General representing the interests of the Pakistan army. He spoke of Kashmir with passion and forthrightness and a rigidity which can only raise the hackles of hardliners within the NDA government and the Sangh Parivar, making it difficult for PM Vajpayee to do any deal with him. He was cool, calm and collected seeming to enjoy the good publicity he had received both in Pakistan and in India. But his mask slipped now and then. When a questioner asked him when he was now ready to talk to India, why was it that the Pakistan army was always opposed to any deal with India, made by political parties at home, whether it was the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’s Party or the Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League. The General lost his cool, and said neither Lahore nor Shimla had accepted Kashmir as central to India- Pakistan relations. He was also discomfited when a Bangladeshi journalist, referring to his description of cross-border terrorism in Kashmir as ''indigenous freedom struggle'', drew parallel with the Bangladeshi liberation movement. Musharraf told him not to dig up the past as ''we are friends now''. In response to a Pakistani journalist’s question about human rights activist Asma Jehangir’s statements and remarks while she was in India, the President spoke in a menacing tone about watan. Musharraf heaped fulsome praise on Prime Minister Vajpayee, President K R Narayanan, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, his minister-in-waiting while in India, Digvijay Singh. He even spoke of protocol chief Manbir Singh, thanked Mrs Nambiar for taking care of his wife and talked of all those who looked after him in Delhi and Agra. The only name conspicuously missing was that of home minister L K Advani. He spoke of the warmth and hospitality extended to him by not just the government but the people who he met in Delhi and Agra. Much of what the General said was a repetition of what he has been saying about Kashmir being central to India-Pakistan ties. He, however, hinted, without actually saying so, that India was not sincere. He argued, in typical soldierly fashion, that if both countries had been sincere, a declaration could have been worked out in Agra in just half an hour. For the first time, a Pakistani leader also acknowledged that India-Pakistan ties can be solved without third-party mediation. ''We are responsible countries and third party or outside intervention is not required at this stage,'' he said.