April 08, 2020
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A Mirror To Our Faces

New Delhi's grandstanding with an eye on the polls only helps Pakistan's cause

A Mirror To Our Faces
illustration by Sandeep Adhwaryu
A Mirror To Our Faces
It was a dirty fight, but in the end honours went to Pakistan. ‘PM blows chill wind over Gen Musharraf’s hot air’. ‘PM trashes Pak’s peace rhetoric’. The headlines and the text in the stories that appeared all over India after Vajpayee’s speech at the UN General Assembly on September 25 portrayed the encounter as a resounding dialectical victory for the Indian PM. They also dismissed everything that Musharraf said with utter contempt. Are we sure that the rest of the world saw it the same way as our media did? Or are we deluding ourselves and are our journalists succumbing to the government’s spin? What our newspapers did not report was Pakistan’s reply. Musharraf, the Pakistani side maintained, had proposed "an action plan for peace". He had "invited India to open a dialogue". He had "proposed a ceasefire on the LoC and offered to encourage a ceasefire between militants and Indian forces in Indian-occupied Kashmir". He had also offered "enhanced" monitoring of the LoC on both sides, and proposed the maintenance of an armed balance in both conventional and non-conventional arms. The Pakistani delegation characterised Vajpayee’s response as "sadly disappointing", and asserted that "we have lost another opportunity to build peace in South Asia".

So far it was tit for tat. Pakistan had put its proposals for a dialogue forward yet again and India had rejected the offer saying it would not be blackmailed into commencing talks by cross-border terrorism. It was in what followed that India took a decisive beating. India’s refusal, said the Pakistani delegation, reflected the stance of the ruling party, the bjp. Its purpose was not to stop cross-border terrorism, but "to yield electoral gains in the forthcoming state elections". The bjp’s political strategy was born out of its recent electoral victory in Gujarat, where it gained popularity after a "state-managed massacre of 2,000 innocent Muslims". "Is democracy being converted to the service of genocide? How great doctrines are perverted when fascists assume power."

However furiously we may react to these charges, however subtly Pakistan may have distorted facts, can anyone in India deny its fundamental validity? Were at least a thousand Muslims not killed in brutal ways after the Godhra train massacre? Did Narendra Modi not sponsor the vhp bandh? Did he not punish officers who protected the minorities? Did he not fan hatred of Muslims among Gujarati Hindus to the point where it became difficult even to hold a conversation with a Gujarati friend for fear of destroying a friendship? Did he not win his election on the basis of communal hatred? And did the Centre not stand by while he slaughtered the Indian Constitution and violated the Indian Penal Code? Despite being the deputy prime minister, did L.K. Advani not campaign for Modi in Gujarat?

Pakistan’s accusation is reinforced by this government’s insulting and gratuitously provocative behaviour towards its envoys. When Pakistan’s foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri wanted to visit India to personally hand over an invitation to Vajpayee for the SAARC meeting, New Delhi told him he would not be welcome. While addressing a visiting business ceos’ delegation from Pakistan, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha acknowledged the presence of the Pakistan high commissioner last, after recognising everyone else on the dais, when as the representative of that country’s president he should have been recognised first. In Pakistan, Indian high commissioner Shiv Shankar Menon has been granted a wide range of courtesies, such as to move around the hinterland of Islamabad without foreign office permission, and meet Opposition leaders, that have all been withheld from his counterpart, Aziz Ahmed Khan, in New Delhi. While Menon has had frequent access to the Pakistani foreign office, Khan has seen Sinha only once, and is living in total isolation from the government.

India remains in the dock despite the fact that much of what it says about Pakistan’s intervention in j&k is true and is widely conceded not only by the international community, but as I reported last week, by the Kashmiris. There has been a sharp rise in terrorism since mid-August; the perpetrators are overwhelmingly from Pakistan; and they were infiltrated into Kashmir by Pakistan during the 10 months’ interregnum after last year’s election.

But no one, either in Kashmir or in the foreign chancellories, expected Musharraf to stop the cross-border ‘jehad’ indefinitely. That would have eliminated whatever little leverage he had to make Delhi come to the negotiating able. What is more, most observers concur that internal conditions in Pakistan make it virtually impossible for Musharraf to rein in the jehadis completely without endangering the fledgling modern state that he is trying to build.

The 10-month relative peace was the most he could have managed. He might have prolonged it if India had resumed the dialogue on Kashmir, but now we will never know what he had in mind. Delhi has dismissed Musharraf’s repeated offers to resume a dialogue as mere grandstanding. But how does Delhi know this without even talking to Pakistan’s high commissioner here? How can it be so sure that nothing has changed in Pakistan post 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq? If that is really so, then how does it explain the visit and utterances of Maulana Fazlur Rehman? Has it made projections on the effect of the re-emergence of limited parliamentary government on policy-making in Islamabad?

Only prolonged and broad-based contact can give us an answer. But, instead, Delhi seems determined to use wilful ignorance, misrepresentation and fear as tools for winning the next set of elections.

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