Debating India

BJP

Playing peacemaker

Saturday 18 June 2005, by MURALIDHAR REDDY*B.

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Visiting the Katas Raj temple complex near Lahore.

L.K. ADVANI’S two-day halt in Islambad, during the first leg of his week-long trip to Pakistan, showed him to be a perfect pacifist. He himself described it as the political component of his trip. Advani charmed everyone he met. There was not a single discordant note in his meetings with all those who matter in the Pakistani establishment and the political spectrum. Advani was out to prove to one and all that he was not a hawk, that his visit was meant to further cement the improved relations between India and Pakistan.

Advani squeezed the maximum to reach out to every shade of opinion in the establishment and political class with a simple message: "All the people in India, the ruling as well as the Opposition parties, are one. The peace process started by [former Prime Minister A.B.] Vajpayee and carried forward by the Manmohan Singh government has now been taken over by the people of the two countries." At the same time he avoided specific subjects such as Baglihar on the plea that it was for the government of the day to decide on issues.

The high point of his mission was obviously the meeting with President Pervez Musharraf. Advani was determined to put the ghosts of the failed Agra Summit behind. Going by the tone and tenor of his interaction with Musharraf, Advani seems to have succeeded in this. Both agreed that the India-Pakistan peace process should be made "irreversible" and taken to its logical conclusion. Advani’s concurrence must have come as music to Musharraf’s ears as he and Manmohan Singh had, during the former’s visit to New Delhi in April, determined that the process was irreversible.

At the press conference where he shared details of his meeting with Musharraf, Advani was at pains to emphasise that it was the "bold and courageous" commitment of Musharraf against terrorism that led to the "real breakthrough" in India-Pakistan relations. The reference was to the joint press statement issued after the meeting between Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit on January 6, 2004.

Musharraf, on his part, told Advani that parliamentarians of both countries had played an important role in the creation of an "enabling environment". Although Musharraf mentioned that Pakistan looked forward to the visit of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders from Kashmir, Advani did not rake up the issue of Islamabad’s invitation to the Kashmiri leaders.

It did not go unnoticed here that Advani chose to land in Pakistan three days before the separatist leaders were to arrive in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and stay on for another four days after they not only travelled to Muzaffarabad but crossed into Pakistan territory on June 4. In fact Advani indirectly complimented Musharraf for initiating a dialogue with the separatists.

"All those thinking of a solution to Jammu and Kashmir must naturally think of a solution acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. When I say the people of Jammu and Kashmir we must recognise that there are diverse communities in the State, with divergent views and opinions. A solution has to be acceptable to all diverse sections and views," he told Musharraf.

It was a demonstration of statesmanship from someone who campaigned all his life for the abrogation of Article 370, which bestows special status on Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP leader deemed it necessary to inform his host that it was the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that initiated talks with all sections of popular opinion in the State, including the APHC leaders.

Reciprocating the gesture, Musharraf told the BJP leader that the people in the Northern Areas of POK were demanding the opening of a bus route between the Northern Areas and Kargil. Musharraf brought the Northern Areas on the negotiating table in November last year when he mentioned it as one of the seven regions of Jammu and Kashmir. (Incidentally, Manmohan Singh announced in Siachen on June 12 that he would hold talks with Pakistan to open a bus route between Kargil and Skardu in the Northern Areas.)

There was a bit of peace banter as well between the two leaders. Advani told Musharraf, "We can no longer say, `Let us give peace an option.’ The truth is that Peace is the only option." He quoted Musharraf as agreeing with his proposition. At one stage Musharraf quipped, "Fauziyon ko sirf jang karani hi nahin aati (it’s not true that military men only know how to wage war).

It was the same spirit and bonhomie that was at play in his meetings with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, National Assembly Speaker Chaudhary Amir Hussain, the Senate Chairman, the Leader of the Opposition and representatives of political parties. He floored Aziz by concurring with the view that all the issues between India and Pakistan should be discussed in "tandem" to ensure peace and prosperity in the region.

Kashmir, the core issue, vs the rest and correlation between the two has been a major contention in the India- Pakistan dialogue process. Pakistan has been insisting that confidence-building measures (CBMs) would run out of steam if there was no progress on Kashmir.

Shaukat Aziz on his part signalled to Advani that his country was not obsessed with Kashmir, by telling him that the establishment of an "energy corridor" through Pakistan would be beneficial for all the countries in the region. Advani referred to "cricket diplomacy" and how sports could promote relations between the two countries.

In his interactions with Opposition leaders, Advani steered clear of domestic politics and their travails with the military establishment. He stayed focussed on the peace process and how it could be strengthened. Managers of Advani chased the Leader of the Opposition and the leading light of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Fazlur Rehman, for a parley with Advani. The MMA, a conglomerate of six religious parties, has supported the peace process but with reservations on the manner in which it was being carried out by Musharraf. The MMA leaders have particularly been vocal about what they have termed as "deviation" from the traditional stance of Pakistan on Kashmir.

Rehman, the leader of his own faction of the Jamaat-e-Ulema Islamia (JUI), is considered the `father’ of the Taliban as a number of well-known Taliban cadre are products of his seminary in the frontier. He has been a vocal advocate of the India-Pakistan rapprochement and was one of the prominent Opposition leaders to visit India last year.

The Jamaat-e-Islami (J.I.), the largest component of the MMA, headed by Qazi Hussain Ahmed, has been a bitter critic of the India policy of Musharraf. Hussain who had just recovered from a heart surgery, addressed a large gathering in Islamabad days before Advani’s visit in protest against the alleged desecration of the Koran by American soldiers in Gauntanamo Bay.

Advani met a delegation of senior leaders from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and exchanged notes, once again confining himself to the peace process. The PPP has its own list of grievances against Musharraf and his "exclusivist" politics. (The PPP’s reference was to the repeated assertion of Musharraf that Benazir Bhutto had no role in the national politics.)

In his meeting with the National Assembly Speaker, Advani mooted the idea of a Friendship Association of Parliamentarians of India and Pakistan, on the lines of similar associations between parliamentarians of India and other countries.

The trip across the border was indeed a long, long journey for a leader who three years ago had said on different occasions and perhaps in a different context, "Pakistan is a fit case for a pre-emptive strike; the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] is the most dangerous outfit in the world and Pakistan should be declared a terrorist state."

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Volume 22 - Issue 13, Jun 18 - Jul 01, 2005

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