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This General-President talks cheap

This General-President talks cheap

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: May 29, 2002

Pakistan has been particularly unfortunate in the choice of its leaders. Since they don't come to the presidential palace in Islamabad through the democratic process, one could argue, that ordinary Pakistanis are not to be blamed for their poor leadership. In the ultimate analysis, however, Pakistani people cannot escape blame for having allowed their army to play such a dominant role in the affairs of the nation. General Pervez Musharraf is not the first usurper to have grabbed civilian power in Islamabad via a regular coup against an elected Prime Minister. But he is certainly the most crude. All others before him who had come to the presidential palace wearing a general's uniform were quick to jettison the barrack room behaviour and talk.

Some of them might have been far more crafty and clever than General Musharraf but they were never lacking in minimal graces and finesse. General Musharraf talks and behaves like a municipal level politician who has an inordinately high opinion about his intelligence. He talks too much, and in public, to sound convincing, and, worse, talks like a 'mohalla' level politician. Small wonder the world community is beginning to be weary of his street-smart conduct. The General's televised address on Monday confirmed once again his image as a low-level operator who cannot be easily trusted.

Having taken the US for a merry ride following 9-11, the General now appeared to be keen to hoodwink the world community on the question of cross-border terrorism of which India had been a long-time victim. His tone was belligerent, though, for the record, he said that the soil of Pakistan was not to be used for the export of terror. These words sounded particularly hollow since the General had given much the same commitment in his much-touted January 12 speech. The General spewed venom and bile against this country, talking of atrocities against Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, etc.

Even making allowance for his lack of diplomatic skills and his ignorance about statecraft, the General's jibes were in rank bad taste. It showed that he was not amenable to sane advice from seasoned Pakistani diplomats. His was a peculiar three-in-one address, broken into jarring parts for the benefit of his people, the international community and his permanent bugbear, that is, India. And, one trusts, his focus was essentially domestic. Some of the high-fluting rhetoric that the General directed against this country was meant for the sole consumption of ordinary Pakistanis. With the war clouds on the horizon, he had to try and lift Pakistanis' spirits. Thus much of the belligerence that came through the address on Monday evening can be freely discounted.

But what the world community in general and India in particular cannot ignore is the total absence of any substantive proposal to assure this country that there would be no repetition of the horrific incidents like the attack on the Kaluchak army camp earlier this month. The General kept on harping that he had said in his January 12th speech and " I'll repeat this and assure people outside Pakistan that there is no infiltration across the Line of Control."

That the General's word cannot be relied upon was clear from the fact that after the January 12 assurance there had been many terrorist attacks perpetrated by ISI-sponsored militants on Indian targets, including on innocent and unarmed men, women and children. The Kaluchak atrocity, which claimed nearly 40 innocent lives, did not occur before January 12.

It happened good four months after the General's assurance in his famous speech. So India will be right in not taking the General on his word. It needs to have the proof on the ground that he has closed off the tap of terror exports to this country before it can begin to demobilize its troops from the border. Admittedly, keeping the army, navy and air force on high alert and in the war mode is costing this country quite a lot of money, but this is money well spent in order for us to be able to put an end to the menace of terror-exports from our hostile neighbour.

On her part, India had no faith in the General and therefore it was right in not expecting too much from his much-ballyhooed address on Monday. It is, however, the international community which will feel disappointed with the General's address. For, he has offered it nothing in spite of all those commitments which the visiting American and western officials had extracted from the General in the wake of the Kaluchak attack. It may be that the General has to do a tight rope walking in order to stave off the constant danger to his own position from the Islamic fundamentalists and the rogue groups within the Pak Army.

The ISI has been described as a 'state within a state' and when the General talks about " we ourselves are victims of terrorism" he might be seeking sympathy from the leaders in the western capital and urging them not to push him too hard. For, having taken a U-turn on the question of the Taliban and the Al Qaida following 9-11, the General does have his detractors within the Pakistan Army and certainly among the more shrill Islamic fundamentalist groups.

That would also explain why he could not be seen to be offering India any olive branch. He is desperate to cling to the President's chair. He was willing to bend before the US but he does not want to be humiliated in public. In other words, he will try and check the cross-border infiltration of ISI-trained terrorists into India in the coming days but since his writ does not run fully another Kaluchak incident cannot altogether be ruled out. When that happens, India may feel rightly indignant and without waiting for the intervention of the US, UK, Russia, et al, might feel obliged to teach Pakistan a fitting lesson. The entire country will hope the General is in a position to stop another Kaluchak, another assault on Indian civilians by his 'jihadis'. However if he fails, for whatever reason, there will be no stopping India from neutralizing those who are engaged in tormenting it for the last two decades.

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