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Published in the 1-15 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Musharraf goes back, empty-handed

By Zafarul-Islam Khan

The Milli Gazette Online

New Delhi: Diplomacy, as they say, is continuation of war through other means. Pakistani President Musharraf, a full-fledged general in his own right, tried this during 15-17 April without any tangible results. The reason was simple. He leads a country which has lost all wars it fought against India. Moreover, it has now lost even the indirect war it imposed on India in the shape of the armed secessionist movement in the Indian part of Kashmir for over one and a half decades in which around 45,000 people lost their lives according to Indian figures and twice as much according to Pakistani and Kashmiri secessionist accounts. It seemed at times during this indirect confrontation that India might give in and accept the Pakistani demands to cede territory in Kashmir. But India unwaveringly faced the secessionist movement on one hand and utilised the American war on "terrorism" on the other to exert unbearable international pressure on Pakistan until Islamabad had to announce that it does not support terrorists and promised to stop what India called "cross-border" terrorism. 

Gradually Pakistan moved away from the Kashmiri secessionists though it still supports them financially and diplomatically. India also managed to erect a physical and electronic fence along the Line of Control in Kashmir (740 kms) and thereby stopped infiltration to a large extent. In the meanwhile India also managed to increase control over its part of Kashmir to a point that it could hold legislative assembly elections in October 2002 and municipal elections last February. This changed the atmosphere and the mood in Kashmir and blunted international pressures to solve the issue on lines demanded by Pakistan. India also benefited from the emerging situation in the Valley of Kashmir where the ordinary Kashmiri is fed up with war and violence and yearns to lead a normal life free from shackles of security forces.

General Musharraf was quick to read the new scenario and accordingly changed tack since the last year when he started coming out with some new proposal every now and then, saying that he is prepared to consider any proposal to solve Kashmir, that UN resolutions may be overlooked, that the Kashmiri people should be involved in any settlement (hitherto both India and Pakistan held that Kashmir is a "bilateral" issue to which the Kashmiri people were not a party).

During his early days in power, General Musharraf used to insist that Kashmir is Pakistan's only problem with India, that he would shed his last drop of blood for Kashmir, that no normalisation of relations will take place without first solving this problem. Later he changed his line and started saying that Kashmir is the "central issue." Now he has started talking of "Kashmiris" and their rights. 
India, on the other hand, always held that Kashmir is one of the issues between the two countries, that the two countries must engage in a "comprehensive dialogue" to solve all the pending issues including Kashmir and that normalisation of trade and cultural relations will help in the settlement of other issues. 

Meanwhile, Kashmir's Hurriyat Conference suffered a split in September 2003. Two groups emerged, a "moderate" one led by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and a "hardline" one led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The latter enjoyed Pakistan's support and approval.

All this served the Indian strategy in Kashmir. New Delhi helped increase the chasm between the two factions of Hurriyat by inviting the "moderate" group to talks. Two rounds of talks were held while the BJP-led government was still ruling the country early last year. However, no concessions were offered to the "moderate" faction. As a result, this faction lost its credibility.

General Musharraf, realising that India remains unimpressed by his changing positions, used the cricket matches between the Indian and Pakistani national teams, and invited himself to watch a match while his real intention was to use the occasion to hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This is how General Musharaf arrived in India last Saturday. He spent one a half hours watching cricket in Delhi early next day and thereafter held two-hours deliberations with the Indian prime minister.

Even before the general could set foot on the Indian soil, New Delhi had decided what to do with him: more CBMs (confidence-building measures) like opening new outlets for the movement of people and trade in Kashmir and elsewhere, setting free Pakistanis in Indian jails, proposing a joint trade council and discussing the proposed Iranian gas pipeline which will come to India through Pakistan. It was clear that such steps did not require a summit meeting. 

India also decided to treat the general and his wife with utmost courtesy and honour without giving him an inch of substance. So we saw the Indian newspapers and TV channels focussing on the general and his wife, their dress, food, body language, gifts they brought and received and the like, while the Pakistan state television simply continued its normal programmes as if no big deal was taking place in the neighbourhood.

Former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral had aptly described the Indian strategy to cope with the general on the eve of the visit. Talking to a TV station, he said, "we are civilised oriental people. We do not offend our guests. We will attentively listen to what the general has to repeat and we will also restate to him with all respect our oft-stated positions." Foreign minister Natwar Singh too had said it publicly two days before the visit that India is ready for anything with Pakistan except change of borders. Prime Minister Singh repeated this line during talks on Sunday.

In the maze of all the Indian courtesies and hospitality, the general was lost. India did not offer him except vague assurances of solving the Kashmir problem at some distant time in future. So the discussions, which continue to take place since decades on the issue, will continue in future too. A problem arose at the last minute about using the word "terrorism" in the context of peace and cross-border problems. The same word had earlier ruined the Agra summit in July 2001 when India insisted on its inclusion in the joint statement. The general had balked and walked away. But this time round he relented and told Indian journalists that he had come "with a new heart" and that "the circumstances have changed."

So the joint statement which should have been issued the previous evening, was finally issued at the last minute before the general's departure to the Philippines on an official visit. The statement said, "The two leaders pledged that they would not allow terrorism to impede the peace process." The general would not have accepted this kind of language only a few years back.

Musharraf's weakened position was clear when he spent four hours with three groups of Kashmiri separatists, talking separately to each group as they would not sit together. He failed to convince them to join hands again in a single outfit. SAS Geelani, leader of the hardline group, registered his opposition to the new Pakistani line and said that solving "minor" issues will harm the core issue.

The general returned empty-handed but his cricket team had a big gift to carry back home: it defeated India in these friendly matches which continued for about four weeks in different parts of India and ended in Delhi the day President Musharraf was holding talks with the Indian leaders. 

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