May 30, 2002


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T V R Shenoy

The general and his silly fibs

Ernest Hemingway gave a famous definition of courage in a 1929 issue of the New Yorker: "grace under pressure". So, how would one characterise General Pervez Musharraf's deportment over the past couple of weeks, culminating in his televised speech this past Monday? 'Graceless', even 'boorish' and 'vulgar', were the adjectives that came to mind when listening to him.

The self-appointed chief executive of Pakistan is, as everybody agrees, under considerable pressure. The presidents of the United States and Russia, the prime minister of Britain, the secretary general of the United Nations and other dignitaries great and small have made their displeasure with the Pakistani leadership quite public.

Some of the criticism has been unusually blunt, as in Secretary of State Colin Powell condemning Pakistan's missile tests as not particularly "useful". Did he mean that they came at a bad time, or that the missiles did not need to be tested as they came courtesy China via North Korea? In fact, rather oddly, the Indian leadership has been unusually restrained on the subject, dismissing it as an internal concern of Pakistan.

Let us return, however, to General Musharraf's latest speech. Brushing aside the rudeness -- aimed, I suspect, at his domestic audience as the missile tests were -- did he have anything substantial to offer?

Frankly, I cannot say that I heard anything new. But would it have made a difference even if the general had made a dozen new promises? Irrespective of what he says, can India trust him? Can we afford to trust him?

General Musharraf did not help his case by telling some silly fibs. He claimed, for instance, that infiltration into Jammu & Kashmir has stopped. This is simply not true -- a judgment in which the United States and other foreign powers concur. Why else would so many leaders ask General Musharraf to prevent terrorists from entering Indian territory? It is proverbial that no chain can be stronger than its weakest link; if the general is caught out in one lie, how can we believe the rest of what he had to say? [I refrain from commenting on his claims about that stage-managed referendum!]

Let us be charitable, however, and assume that the general meant what he said. In that case, the next 15 days or so shall be crucial in deciding whether there shall be war or peace.

India believes there are up to 3,000 terrorists waiting for the summer heat to open the snow-bound passes that open into Jammu & Kashmir. Most of these are veterans of the war in Afghanistan. India has identified roughly 70 training camps in Pakistan-controlled territory. [There are believed to be more camps, perhaps about 100 of them, but I am talking only about those that have been located.] What is the Pakistani Army going to do with this bunch?

If infiltration continues -- as it has gone on despite General Musharraf's promises in January -- then I believe that diplomatic resources have run their course. India must then look to other solutions.

It will not really matter whether terrorists have a free run in Pakistan because General Musharraf cannot rein them in or because he will not do so. In either event, there is no point talking to him because any attempt at negotiation will be a total farce. If he is not in control of the situation in his country, any promises he makes are worthless. If he continues to back terrorism, conversations will be nothing more than a bid to win time until world attention turns away.

Personally, I believe that the second is closer to the truth, that General Musharraf is talking away in an attempt to gain time till the snows melt. And why not? After all, the tactic worked in January, when the United States gushed about the "path-breaking" speech he had made, with India coming under pressure to grant him more time. The difference today is that the general's credibility has taken a beating.

It would not be the first time the Pakistani leader miscalculated. He seems to have thought, for instance, that India would be deterred from taking any action because of the presence of American troops in his country. As one wag put it, "American territorial waters now extend to Karachi, and its airspace to Lahore!"

It is an argument that has found no takers in India. Nor has it gone down well in Washington. If anyone has put American lives at risk, it is General Musharraf with his constant threat of exercising the nuclear option.

How much time is there for General Musharraf? If you ask me, he has already had far too much time. Look at the chronology over the past nine months.

Just 20 days after the World Trade Centre attack, terrorists tried to storm the Jammu & Kashmir assembly. The world preached restraint. On December 13, there came the assault on Parliament in Delhi itself. There were more calls for restraint. And then came Kaluchak... The fruits of India's restraint are bitter indeed! [I have not even mentioned the scores of individuals who have been murdered in ones and twos -- incidents that did not receive the publicity of the aforementioned attacks.]

General Musharraf claims, as he has always done, that he wants nothing but peace. Well, the onus is entirely on him as far as India is concerned. Let him take concrete steps. Shut down the militant training camps. Prevent infiltration into India. Stop aiding terrorism with arms and money. These are promises that the general made in January; is he so far gone that he cannot live up to his own promises?

Terrorism strikes in Jammu

T V R Shenoy

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