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Talk silently

July 23, 2001

The Pioneer

Talk silently

President Pervez Musharraf needs to make up his mind and clearly decide the objective of the dialogue process that has just been resumed between India and Pakistan. His actions since Agra suggest that he is less interested in pursuing peace and more concerned about consolidating his position domestically.

What else can explain his decision to address two elaborate press conferences within a span of just five days? Considering the negative impact of the telecast of his discussions with Indian editors last Monday on the outcome of the summit, it would have been more appropriate for him to hold fire at least for some time. At any rate, his Foreign Minister, Mr Abdul Sattar, had adequately responded to the expositions made by his Indian counterpart, Mr Jaswant Singh, earlier last week. That should have been all the more reason for the Pakistan President to allow the dust to settle before hosting yet another high-profile news conference in which he virtually repeated what he had already said at Agra. The General's eagerness to score points over India and leverage the summit to garner more applause from hardliners at home reinforces the suspicion that peace in the sub-continent is low on Mr Musharraf's agenda.

By reiterating his view regarding the centrality of the Kashmir issue in Indo-Pakistan relations and insisting that the disturbances there are the result of an "indigenous freedom struggle", the General continues to push himself into a corner. He shall find it extremely difficult to dilute his assumed stance during subsequent discussions. Although no structure has yet been put in place, it is widely expected that representatives of the two countries will shortly commence regular interactions in a bid to narrow down the areas of contention. But progress in that direction may be severely hamstrung if Islamabad continues to adopt a maximalist position. Having been outwitted by the General's brash use of the media, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will certainly be reticent about meeting the General again, at least till such time as definite movement is registered on the key areas of discord.

Pakistan's obstinate refusal to concede an inch on India's core concern, namely, cross-border terrorism, will make it difficult for the Indian leadership to justify continuation of the dialogue process. President Musharraf seems oblivious to the criticism being faced by Mr Vajpayee for having invited him to India in the first place. With Parliament's Monsoon Session commencing on Monday, the Opposition has geared up to take the Government to task for agreeing to an unstructured dialogue. That General Musharraf constantly urges India to understand his "compulsions" without sparing any thought for those of his counterpart, betrays a regrettable self-serving streak in his personality. Now that he has maximised his gains from the Agra summit, it is to be hoped that the General shall temper his rhetoric and look towards the road ahead. His contempt for politicians and bureaucrats notwithstanding, he needs to recognise that direct personal intervention from the top is not necessarily the best way to settle complex diplomatic issues. A lot of groundwork needs to be done before the two leaders meet again, probably at New York in September. A pre-requisite for the success of their next interaction is some studied silence on Mr Musharraf's part.

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