Monday, January 14, 2002, Chandigarh, India


S P E C I A L    E D I T O R I A L

Half a step forward
Hari Jaisingh

In his well-targeted televised speech, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has put a seal of legitimacy on his post-September 11 anti-terrorism posture. His Saturday's 60-minute exercise in projecting a new image of himself was meant to please the Americans, provide fresh food for thought to the domestic audience, especially the educated urban Pakistani, and confront Indian leaders with a new peace offensive. The fact that he took US Secretary of State Colin Powell into confidence about certain aspects of his address shows that he did not want to take chances with the Americans. It is also clear that his new line of thinking has a tacit approval of the US State Department. Small wonder that the western world has welcomed General Musharraf's new-look policy. The Pakistan ruler knows that President George W. Bush's obsession continues to be the elimination of terrorism, and rightly so. To that extent General Musharraf has played his cards well.

A shrewd strategist and operator, President Musharraf knows the art of survival. He is well aware of the fact that the American support for him will depend on the steps he takes to curb terrorism flowing out of Pakistan. He has, therefore, openly challenged Islamic extremists by putting curbs on madarsas and banning the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Lashkar-e-Toiba as well as the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammedi and the Shia Tehrik-e-Jafaria that sent thousands of volunteers to fight for the Taliban. This is a calculated risk which signals an open confrontation with the terrorist groups that once enjoyed the support of the military establishment in Pakistan. This also signifies a total break from General Zia's doctrine of using religious militancy as an instrument of state policy.

We must give the Pakistani President full marks for having shown guts on fighting terrorism in today's highly explosive situation. Having taken Islamic extremists head-on, General Musharraf has taken care to widen his domestic base by his multi-dimensional wooing of moderate Pakistanis with the promise of a new deal and without diluting Islamabad's basic stand on Kashmir. He has reaffirmed Pakistan's "moral, political and diplomatic support" to the Kashmir "cause" but said that the issue has to be resolved in a peaceful manner through dialogue. Well, this is the line India has been advocating. However, every move by New Delhi in this direction has left this country cheated, thanks to the diplomacy of betrayal pursued by Pakistani leaders.

India has had a bitter experience in dealing with Pakistan for the past five decades. So, there will always be reluctance on the part of the Indian leadership to take the utterances of General Musharraf at face value. Pakistani intentions have to be tested on the ground. It remains to be seen how General Musharraf translates his new bold words into reality. The western world may not be able to correctly appreciate the Indian position in this regard. All the same, the USA cannot afford to overlook the problem of the Pakistani mindset which has been a major roadblock in the normalisation of relations with India. It is this mindset which allowed the Osama bin Laden phenomenon to grow to monstrous proportions.

To say this is not to deliberately question General Musharraf's intentions. Still, it is necessary to see whether he means what he says. New Delhi cannot be sure about the real meaning of Pakistan's "moral, political and diplomatic support" to the Kashmir "cause". Only time will tell where the real General Musharraf stands. The task ahead of him is not easy. We are not sure where the hawks in the Pakistani establishment stand. Also, we cannot be certain whether in the new anti-terrorism image projection General Musharraf will be able to put a cap on the dubious operations of the ISI which has been patronising various terrorist outfits across the border as well as globally.

General Musharraf is once again on probation so far as this country is concerned. He has definitely taken half a step forward. But the crucial factor is the other half a step which can put him on the road to peace or bring him back to square one, to a new form of confrontation. In either case, the USA holds the key amidst the existing complexities.Back

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