November 2004 News

The Rebuff

29 November 2004
The Nation
Asghar Butt

Lahore: India's normally mild-manned Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh's tough speech in Srinagar about Kashmir being an integral part of India and his rejection of what he termed as 'any exchanges in India's international boundaries', is being widely seen in Pakistan as a direct rebuff to President Musharraf's so called options on Kashmir. This is a far cry to what his own Foreign Minister, Natwar Singh, had said only a few days earlier about India's willingness to look at 'all the options'. Whether Dr. Singh was trying to kill two birds with one stone, telling President Musharraf not to harbour any hopes for peace and telling Natwar Singh to remember how successive Congress-led governments had stonewalled Pakistan, is hard to say. Times have changed, the world's view on international disputes has changed, the balance of power in the subcontinent too is not the same as in 1970, but what has not changed is India's megalomania and the commitment of the Kashmiri youth to the cause of their freedom. Our Foreign Office has diplomatically termed it India's 'U turn'. I was going to call it something else when I met by chance a friend from a group which has come to be called as Track Two diplomats. This is what he said, and I quote: 'We, the members of Track Two diplomacy, were also taken aback by this sudden turn for the worse in our bilateral relations with India. We were moving along fine. We had, in our gentle way, successfully been trying to convince our counterparts in India that India's internationally recognized boundary with Pakistan was along the Eastern boundary of the Jammu part of Kashmir and not through the Kashmir state. The presence of India and Pakistan in the state was neither legal nor recognized by the international community. All the maps throughout the world show the state as disputed territory. So when Dr. Manmohan Singh stood up in Kashmir to announce that 'no change in India's international boundaries' would be accepted, we got confused. What international boundary of India was being sought to be changed by anyone, we asked ourselves? Surely, we said, Kashmir has not so far been recognized internationally as a part of India. So why term one's presence there as being within an international boundary? So I sought an interview with Dr. Manmohan Singh a few days back and he very graciously agreed to see me. I told him about my anxiety about the future of the peace process that had just been started between the two countries. This insistence on the fiction of an international boundary would put the clock back, I said. He assured me that he was all for peace and supported all the initiatives being taken in this direction. About the line he had taken in his Srinagar speech he explained that it was not the speech he had written for the occasion. In his speech he wanted to say that he was willing to look at all the options, as he had an open mind on Kashmir. But his PA somehow lost the papers on which it was typed. And while hastily looking through the files, he found an earlier speech, which was actually dictated by Mr L.K. Advani, the former BJP Home Minister, whose PA he was before he was transferred to the PM's office. When I asked Dr. Singh why he read Mr. Advani's speech, he replied that he had nothing else to read. He was standing before a large crowd and could hardly remain silent. When I argued that while reading Mr Advani's speech he could have omitted reading the provocative words that had been put in there by Mr. Advani, he replied that it was twelve o' clock, the sun was shining on his head, he was feeling hot and had little patience to pause and check such sentences. It would be misunderstood in Pakistan, he realized later. When I saw that it was all a mistake, I felt reassured. I wanted to say that he should disown that speech now but I knew that for a Prime Minister it is impossible to eat his words'. Soon after hearing this story, I happened to come across a senior officer of the intelligence set-up. I asked him whether he knew why Dr. Singh changed his line on Kashmir? He said that he knew but he was not going to tell me about it. I said that I knew the reason and then told him what my friend from Track Two had told me. He smiled knowingly and said, 'No, that was not the reason'. 'Then what was the reason', I asked. 'I can tell you that only if you give me your solemn promise not to breathe a word of it to anyone'. I promised. He said, 'You know, we have a highly sophisticated source of information in Srinagar. When we contacted that source, we were told that the BJP government, during its recent rule in New Delhi, had planted some highly dedicated and trained soldiers in Kashmir's police department. The night before Dr. Singh was to address the public meeting in Srinagar, one of those hit men in the police told him on telephone that he would be a dead duck if he deviated even slightly from India's traditional stand on Kashmir. He took that threat seriously and hastily changed his speech. Had his PA given him the wrong speech, he would have been sacked immediately'.


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