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Musharraf has learnt nothing, forgotten nothing

By Swapan Dasgupta
March 29, 2004 13:31 IST
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The great thing about winning is that you can afford to be magnanimous. This is as true for war as it is of cricket. Now that the Indian cricket team has won the one-day series against Pakistan, it has become the norm to shower gratuitous praise on the Pakistan team.

India's tour of Pakistan

This time, we have been reliably informed by all those who matter, Pakistan did indeed play with a straight bat. Consequently, as the purveyors of inanity have repeated, India won the cricket and Pakistanis won the hearts. So many shopkeepers in Lahore have refused to charge so many Indians for goods and services that I begin to wonder or not anyone makes money in Pakistan.

When Lahore becomes the centre of focus, we can always expect an overdose of mushy sentimentalism from those who are naturally at ease with the Punjabi language. Lahore, after all, always exercised a macabre cultural fascination for the average middle class Punjabi. The problem begins when this mood of cross-border linguistic bonhomie is sought to be extended to the realms of foreign policy.

Hospitality has always played an important role in Pakistani diplomacy. Like General Zia-ul Haq who actually managed to persuade many Stephanians that he was one of them, General Musharraf's satraps have done a fantastic job convincing important people that Pakistan does not correspond to the stereotype created by Narendra Modi.

The BJP lot are the most gullible. Last week, I met an important BJP functionary, fresh from a bout of official hospitality in Lahore, who was insistent that India take a more nuanced view of Pakistan. I don't think anyone would disagree with that assertion. You must be an absolute clown to equate the well-heeled from Clifton, Karachi with the bearded mullah who has motivated many thousands to join the jihad in Kashmir. Yes, Pakistani society operates at various levels. Some of these are quite normal and wholesome while others are stark, raving lunatic. I guess that is true of any society.

In its dealings with India, it is the lunatic fringe of Pakistan that has hitherto prevailed. If saner voices are now being heard it is not because the hatred of India has been subsumed by a love for civilised values, it is because Pakistan has become acutely aware of its international pariah status thanks to its flirtations with international terrorists and its encouragement of nuclear mercenaries. It needs a good character certificate from countries like India to resume its place in respectable circles.

This is a point that is insufficiently grasped by Indians who imagine that Pakistani society has suddenly woken up to the delights of business and brotherhood. In our desperation to garner a peace dividend, we seem to committing two very familiar mistakes. First, our perception of Pakistan is being moulded by an extra dose of self-censorship. We are digesting what is expedient and shutting out whatever is awkward. Almost everyone who sat through General Musharraf's long tirade at the India Today Conclave came away with the conclusion that it was both provocative and offensive.

Musharraf's preoccupation was Kashmir, Kashmir and Kashmir. He had learnt nothing, forgotten nothing. Yet, India chose to look the other way although I am reliably informed that Brajesh Mishra did use the pretext of the cricket match to tell the other side privately that such outbursts were unhelpful.

We are pretending that Pakistan has had a change of heart and overlooking all evidence to the contrary. This is precisely what we did between the bus journey to Lahore and the grim realisation that Pakistan had launched an audacious bid to redraw the Line of Control in Kargil. Are we repeating history?

Second, our political leadership is proceeding on the assumption that it must do nothing to compromise General Musharraf's fragile hold on Pakistan. Indeed, there are well-meaning suggestions that India should run that extra mile to ensure that Pakistan does not face any domestic backlash for engaging with India. We can presume that the same advice is being heaped on Washington: reward Islamabad for its cooperation in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. After all, it is being said that Musharraf is risking everything to satisfy the Americans.

Pakistan is mounting an elaborate but highly successful blackmail exercise. It wants cash and weapons from Uncle Sam to facilitate the hunt for a celebrated Islamist criminal. It even wants the US to lean on India on Kashmir. From India, it wants an unending trickle of concessions as the price of holding back the flow of its jihadis to Kashmir. These concessions, Pakistan insists, will help sustain and sell the dialogue process within the country.

For a start, we are being told that a healthy first step would be abandoning our forward positions in Siachen. That would be a very major step and one that is almost irreversible. It can be done only when we have cast iron guarantees that Pakistan will not unilaterally try to redraw the LoC as it attempted during the Kargil war. Can we honestly say that we have reached that comfort level with Musharraf? And what if Musharraf is toppled tomorrow? Will we be in a position to regain those difficult heights without incurring a tremendous cost both in terms of men and material? Sometimes, circumspection is preferable to euphoria.

At the beginning of the year, Pakistan was in the international doghouse. In just four months, it has clawed its way back to being flaunted as a non-NATO ally of the US. Just six months after the two countries exchanged abuses at the UNGA in New York, Pakistan has bowled over India's social butterflies. The world has lowered its guard against Pakistan.

Judging from history, this is the time to start worrying. Let us enjoy the cricket and the kababs but let us imagine that we have secured peace with honour and peace in our lifetime.

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Swapan Dasgupta