The Core Issue: Musharraf

The Core Issue: Musharraf
A cautiously aggressive India wins in its bid to veer global powers toward virtually marking Pakistan
V. Sudarshan
Outlook India, 31 July 2006

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first met Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf two years ago in New York, there was hope that the two "could do business". A year later, in April 2005, Musharraf came down to Delhi. Such was the warmth between him and Manmohan that the two leaders felt confident enough to declare the peace process "irreversible". In a joint declaration, they even enshrined the intention of not allowing terrorism to impede the historic process.

Since the heady April days of 2004, a string of horrifying bomb blasts has rocked India: Ayodhya happened, Delhi’s Diwali turned bloody, then followed Varanasi. And now Mumbai. Each incident has knocked a big hole in the avowed intention of ensuring that terrorism didn’t nix the peace process. So, hasn’t the prime minister’s assessment of Musharraf changed dramatically since then? Can he still do business with the Pakistani president?

This was precisely the question Outlook asked Manmohan en route to St Petersburg for the G-8 "Outreach" event (involving the G-8 countries plus India, China, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa). He replied, "In all these matters, there is a learning process. Musharraf is the president of Pakistan and we have to deal with people who are in government. Therefore, I wouldn’t like to utter any harsh words." Constrained by his inability to be publicly forthright about his assessment of Musharraf, Manmohan went on to add, "We both have an obligation to work together, but in a democracy, there are limits to what leadership can do."

The PM’s response underlines the government’s principal dilemma: how does India solve a problem like Musharraf?

The Mumbai blasts have changed many things, including sparking fears about derailing the peace process. Thirteen of the 17 questions the prime minister fielded aboard Air India One related to the July 11 Mumbai blasts and their consequences on the peace process. Manmohan refrained from naming Pakistan; the most he was willing to say was, "The terrorist acts were on a scale that they could not be accomplished without some external involvement. That’s what I would like to say at this juncture." When prodded, he said the commitments Pakistan had made with respect to terrorism had to be backed by action on the ground.

On the way back to Delhi, after having had the opportunity to gauge the international mood, the prime minister provided a nuanced analysis: "We have to look at whatever options there are. For the time being, I think the dialogue process has suffered but I won’t say it is a setback. I think it’s inevitable that in the light of this ghastly tragedy, we need to reflect on our relations with Pakistan."

Before the Indian delegation reached St Petersburg, there was no expectation that the G-8 countries and the Outreach countries would issue a standalone statement condemning the "perpetrators, organisers, sponsors of these and other terrorist acts, and those who incited the perpetrators to commit them." It had been assumed that there would just be a paragraph in the G-8 declaration.

Contrary to what has been reported in a section of the media, a senior government source noted that the statement was "much stronger than what was initially expected". Diplomatic watchers will note that China too endorsed this statement. Also, by calling it a "threat to each of our countries as well as to international peace and security", the world leaders have emphatically acknowledged that the provenance of terrorism in India lies outside its boundaries. Diplomats say that, effectively, Pakistan has now been put on notice. It will have to take urgent and serious steps to address the concern expressed in the G-8 statement.

So, how did the statement come about? Soon after the Mumbai blasts, the government mounted a diplomatic offensive to bear international pressure on Islamabad.The mission was delicate, as there was no direct evidence linking Pakistan to the blasts. But there were enough straws in the wind to indicate that, over a period of time, Musharraf had been either unwilling or unable to control the levers of terrorism, consequently encouraging militant groups to perpetrate deplorable acts in India. The government felt that if it failed to ratchet up international pressure on Pakistan, Musharraf would not see the high-cost strategy he had embarked on.

Pervez Musharraf at a firing range in Wah near Islamabad on July 12

India consequently issued demarches to the G-8 countries as well as the Outreach countries both in New Delhi and the respective capitals that it would be appropriate if the St Petersburg summit issued a statement categorically condemning the Mumbai blasts as well as the attack in Srinagar. New Delhi specifically wanted the statement to take into consideration both the perpetrators and sponsors of the attacks. On July 17, a draft of the statement was given to the Indian delegation on its arrival in St Petersburg. It had incorporated all of New Delhi’s suggestions, and therefore no changes were suggested.

Later that day, in the Marble Hall of the Konstantinovsky Palace, at Strelna, a suburb of St Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced the theme of globalisation to the G-8 plus Outreach countries—India, China, Brazil, Mexico. Italy’s Romano Prodi initiated the discussion on global imbalances. Then Manmohan, seated between Mexican President Vincente Fox and Brazilian President Lula Da Silva, took the stage. He said while globalisation was taking place, it had also given rise to new negative phenomena which were also globalised: terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime.

"I myself am coming here after ghastly attacks have occurred in my country," he said. He described his trip to Mumbai after the blasts and the scenes he saw in hospitals. As the delegates listened, the prime minister said, "Terrorism has now acquired a global dimension and it has to be confronted wherever it occurs." He added, "A strong message must come of this meeting for zero tolerance for terrorism." When he made the statement, other leaders spontaneously thumped the table in support.

It was then Putin’s turn to speak. He said, "We have condemned the acts of terrorism in India. You have seen the strong statement the G-8 had made. But we have also agreed that we would adopt the (separate) statement and express solidarity with India. This statement has been circulated. If there is no objection, we can adopt it." He looked around to see whether there were any objections. There was none. The statement was adopted. It’s the first time in a major international gathering that an India-specific statement had been adopted. That there was support round the table was indicated by the fact that the leaders of Brazil, China, Mexico and South Africa, the chairman of the council of the heads of State of the cis, the chairman of the African Union, and the heads of international organisations were part of the statement. That was why it was issued separately.

Observed a senior government source: "It certainly represents a higher degree of pressure on Pakistan. You could say that with so many backers to the statement, Pakistan has been put on notice." Echoing the frustration the prime minister had earlier expressed about Pakistan, the source wondered whether there was a serious effort being made to control infiltration. "Is there a serious effort being made to rein in Lashkar, Jaish and Hizbul? Pakistan could take action that shows a degree of sensitivity towards our concerns.(Hizbul leader Syed) Salahuddin appears on the same stage as (minister) Sheikh Rashid. Hizbul and Jaish leaders make fiery speeches against us. We have seen newspaper reports of Dawood in Pakistan. What does all this mean?" the source asked. Government sources note it’s difficult to say what Pakistan is up to. But their prognosis includes three scenarios.

• Musharraf is not in control and that the ISI and the jehadi groups have acquired a life of their own. (It would be difficult otherwise to explain why the Mumbai blasts happened just ahead of the G-8 summit)

• With the elections in Pakistan due in 2007, and Musharraf unwilling to strike an understanding with the political parties, he believes he requires the support of fundamentalists—and can’t, therefore, check them.

• Musharraf is in perfect control, and what is happening reflects the Pakistani mindset that cross-border terrorism is the only effective leverage they have against India. Foreign minister Khursheed Kasuri’s statement, though later denied, is cited to bolster this argument.

Adds another senior source: "We don’t know what Musharraf hopes to achieve. The Lashkar-e-Toiba does about 80 per cent of the damage. It is controlled by the ISI. Is it that Musharraf cannot control the ISI? He probably calculates that we won’t emulate Pakistan and commit acts of terrorism there."

On the plane back home, the PM said, "Each country has to find its own solution." But nobody in Delhi is prepared to spell out what that solution is. On Thursday evening, Musharraf said blaming each other is the "first sign of defeat", an indication that he is now prepared to join Manmohan in looking for "new pathways for establishing friendly relations". That would be after an appropriate cooling-off period.


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