February 29, 2020
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In Isolation Ward

Sharif faces severe domestic criticism over Islamabad's failure to muster support on Kargil

In Isolation Ward
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For Pakistan, it was finally time to take the blinkers off and take a long, hard look at the heights of Kargil. The growing international isolation perhaps necessitates such an exercise. Already, ambassadors of the G-8 countries in Islamabad, taking long puffs on their cigars at dinner parties, were saying: "Our position hasn't changed. The next response will come from the G-8 leaders meeting in Cologne on Saturday". At briefings they'd had on the fighting in Kargil by foreign office officials, a pattern of response emerged. "We'd like you to answer one question. Who is helping the mujahideen with arms and money so that they can carry on such an operation at Kargil?" they asked.

The reply came from Bill Clinton-who did not mince words when he told Nawaz Sharif on telephone to take his men and soldiers out of Kargil. A senior official of the Inter Services Public Relations (ispr), in a rare occurrence, felt the need to respond to an American president: "Before coming to any conclusions about the situation in Kashmir, the US and other western countries should examine the ground realities," said Brigadier Rashid Qureshi.

Where was the foreign office as Uncle Sam further pushed Pakistan into a state of isolation? It was clear that the American position had shifted from its pre-May statements when it did not regard the mujahideen as infiltrators. Islamabad suddenly realised that it was losing out drastically on the diplomatic front. Added to which was the danger of economic isolation-with reports that the US was threatening to reimpose a ban on aid from international organisations if Islamabad ignored Washington's call to withdraw forces from the LoC. A very worried Esfandyar Wali Khan, president of the Awami National Party, thundered in the National Assembly: "Why this sudden escalation? The government says it doesn't have international support. Who's responsible for this? Then the ispr says that Washington does not understand our point of view. So what is the government and the foreign office doing?" he asked.

There was no denying that though the mujahideen had made strategic gains in Kargil, the foreign office did not deem it fit to be fully prepared for the diplomatic onslaught from abroad. Why was it so complacent? Did it not realise that especially after going nuclear, any military escalation in Kashmir was going to make the west nervous and jumpy? "I am shocked at the failure of the government on the diplomatic front. Pakistan has been portrayed as an aggressor due to the lack of a serious effort by the government to keep the record straight. It has even failed to move the UN, the oic and other world fora," said Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali, a former ppp foreign minister.

As realisation struck Pakistan after the initial euphoria ebbed, The News wrote: "Kargil has not been matched by any vigorous diplomatic drive by Islamabad on its stand as well as of the indisputable fact that the Kargil flareup is but the latest symptom of an unaddressed issue. There surely is an urgent need to evolve a strategy that can alter the kind of perceptions that are taking hold amongst the world community." The foreign office now says it'll be sending emissaries to world capitals to apprise them of Pakistan's position, while there is still time.

No one realises this more than ppp leader Naveed Qamar, who said: "It's a diplomatic failure. The Indians are adamant...bent upon using force. There's an urgent need for a major diplomatic assault." Maleeha Lodhi, resident editor, The News, said: "When bilateral diplomacy fails, it's time for multilateral diplomacy. The US has engaged itself at the highest level, but is it enough? Kashmir has not received the international engagement you've seen in other parts of the world."

Given the hiccups, questions are being raised about the coordination between ispr and the foreign office. But perhaps the greatest embarrassment for Sharif came when former ppp defence minister Aftab Shah Mirani asked in the lower house: "Why are our president and PM shy of visiting our troops at the frontline? Both Sonia and Vajpayee have done so. We in the opposition are more than ready to do so, if given permission. The world has to be told of the worst kind of repression in history in the Valley by the Indian troops."

New Delhi, on its part, is banking on international support to force Pakistan to back off. That's why the G-8 summit assumed importance. Not for nothing did Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to Vajpayee, rush to Geneva to meet US National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and hand over a letter for President Clinton, explaining the Kargil situation, just before the latter reaches Cologne for the summit. The letter asked for action against Pakistan and stoppage of economic aid.

While pleased with the current upswing in its favour, Indians are extremely wary of the trend too, especially vis-a-vis Washington. Questions have been raised about how and why the US had come out so unequivocally against Pakistan this time. Can they demand a payback from India later? Would writing to Clinton amount to giving them a role in this conflict, like a third party, officials wonder. India recognises that the linkages made between Kargil and global terrorism favours them. From the beginning of the conflict, reports have hinted at the involvement of Saudi militant guru Osama bin Laden, one of America's most wanted men.

In the run-up to the G-8 meet, the mea had been trying to correct its earlier slackness by lobbying hard with key western embassies. The feedback from some embassies was that Indian diplomacy hadn't been doing enough. A western diplomat in New Delhi even complained they were more dependent on media reports on Kargil than on official briefings.

China, on its part, has called for restraint. India pooh-poohs it, seeing this as a typical Chinese ploy of trying to appear evenhanded without actually being so. They point out that last year, after Pokhran, when home minister L.K. Advani spoke of 'hot pursuit', Beijing had called for India and Pakistan to preserve the sanctity of the LoC. But this time, when it has actually been violated, China is essentially calling for restraint from both sides.

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