Debating India

Advani charms Pakistan, irks parivar

Monday 6 June 2005

It is a measure of the impressive distance India and Pakistan have travelled on the peace route that Pervez Musharraf and Lal Krishna Advani are talking to, not at, each other. Pakistan rolled out the red carpet for the visiting former Deputy Prime Minister, the man General Musharraf famously said had wrecked the 2001 Agra summit. For his part the Indian `hawk’ played the perfect peacenik: the rally and thunder of the past was gone, replaced by an openness that saw Mr. Advani do the unthinkable over and again. From Kashmir through terrorism, the Babri Masjid, and, finally and unbelievably, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, no topic was taboo for this most interesting visitor from across the border. Mr. Advani agreed with the Pakistan President that the peace process must be made irreversible. He told Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz that lasting peace was contingent on the Kashmir dispute being resolved. The charm offensive extended to the press: he was not a `hardliner’; he regretted the demolition of the Babri Masjid; he approved the Hurriyat leaders’ visit to Pakistan, and yes, he would support talking to terrorists provided they gave up arms.

The surprises did not end here. In Lahore, Mr. Advani acknowledged the emergence of India and Pakistan as "an unalterable reality of history"; in once hometown Karachi, he described Jinnah as that "rare individual" who created history, who espoused the cause of secular Pakistan. Earlier, with official Pakistan applauding, Mr. Advani flagged off a project to restore seven ancient temples associated in mythology with the Mahabharata. Of course, the irony was not lost on the accompanying press corps who wondered if General Musharraf could similarly restore a mosque in India. The reference was obviously to the Babri Masjid. This interlude aside, the tour went off like a dream. The Pakistan President and his Government proved impeccable hosts. Indeed, Islamabad went out on a limb to ensure its guest was not discomfited on any count. Thus, there was no reminder of the aborted Agra summit or of the General’s subsequent fulminations against Mr. Advani. Paradoxically, the embarrassment for the BJP chief came from quarters thought to be closest to him - the Sangh Parivar. It was bad enough that the parivar’s favourite son apologised for the demolition of the Babri Masjid on "enemy" territory ; it was "treacherous" that he praised the man who had partitioned India. Mr. Advani’s one refrain on the tour was that the BJP was not against Pakistan. The backlash from the parivar shattered the myth. So why did the BJP chief act out of character? Was he carried away by nostalgia? Not likely. It was undoubtedly an emotional trip for Mr. Advani, yet he would not have gone so far, yet so near unless there was a realpolitik angle to it. Today the peace process has acquired a momentum all its own. As the General noted, peace is the reigning flavour on either side of the border. It would be a pity if Mr. Advani were to return home and say and act otherwise.

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