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Musharraf’s Speech: A
Lurch To The Brink
Subodh Atal, Ph. D.
Every Indian as well as all concerned people in the rest of the civilized word awaited Gen. Musharraf’s May 27 speech with bated breath, much more so than his Jan. 12 speech. Even the most diehard nationalist Hindu perhaps hoped that the General would offer some compromise, something that the Indian leadership could take back to its people as a rationale for deescalating. After all, we have all been told that the results of a nuclear war would be disastrous, with deaths in the millions and destruction of an unprecedented scale, and Pakistan has made all kinds of noises about its nuclear and ballistic missile prowess. There was public pressure from around the world on the General. US President George Bush, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and France’s Jacques Chirac had pointedly asked Musharraf to see to it that terrorism export into India would end, not just with words but in deed.
There was even speculation in the international media that Musharraf would announce some visible steps, such as tightening the laws that allowed the quick release of Pakistani terrorists after their much-ballyhooed arrests, or sending some of the most wanted terrorists on India’s list to a neutral country. The untimely missile tests in the last few days had added to the tensions, and the consensus was that they had also added to the world’s distrust of Pakistan’s sense of responsibility. Musharraf was expected to allay some of those concerns.
Thus what came out of the General’s mouth was a complete shock. His statements were full of belligerence. He made no new concessions and harped back to “bold steps” he had taken and India’s non-response to them. He absolved Pakistan of all responsibility for terrorism in Kashmir, declaring that there was no infiltration. He made no references to the dozens of terrorist bases that are active in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. With this tone, he wasn’t just goading India on towards the brink; he was slapping his chief benefactor, the US, in the face. After all, Bush and Powell’s specific demand of ending terrorism export from Pakistan had been in the headlines the last few days.
Combined with the world-defying missile tests, his belligerent speech provides a chilling window into the thinking of Musharraf and his coterie of generals raised on a diet of jehad. Rather than take the tough, but not impossible, steps of dismantling the terrorist infrastructure created by the Pakistani army and the ISI, the generals would push the subcontinent into the specter of nuclear war. For them, the deaths of millions, and perhaps destruction of their own country is an acceptable cost of their duty to spread their religion unobstructed into Kashmir and beyond.
With his harping on perceived mistreatment of minorities in India, he crossed the boundaries of common sense, unless his aim was to anger the already seething Indians. Would India ask what happened to the minorities in Pakistan, why are almost no Hindus left there? Why are Christians in Pakistan falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death? Why are minority Shias regularly targeted in Pakistan? Should India start providing moral, diplomatic and political support to the Sindhi freedom movement to parallel the euphemism under which Pakistan supports a terrorist insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir?
On careful analysis, his entire speech was an open challenge to India and the rest of the world. The general and his military commanders have long concluded that they can continue the proxy war using Islamic militants against India, without any chance of punishment. This time, they are gambling that the temperature has been raised so much, and that India has dithered so long, that the rest of the world, led by the US, will intervene either before a war starts, or soon after. Perhaps they believe that if a conflict starts, the US and Russia will force the two nations to the negotiating table, and pressure India to offer part of Kashmir in order to appease the Pakistanis. International intervention in Kashmir after all has been Pakistan’s goal for decades.
It is a big gamble, and it may be based upon the months-long fawning of the Americans over Musharraf as a “courageous ally” in the “anti-terror” war. This unbecoming flattery had clearly gotten to his head and convinced him to re-energize the terrorist incursions into Kashmir. It is impossible that the Pakistani military leadership is unaware of the catastrophic risks of such a dangerous set of assumptions. But in their fundamentalist zeal, they are no less than the September 11 hijackers, who thought nothing of going down in flames and taking thousands with them. The Pakistani generals have put in place a new model of a rogue state for the 21st century: one that will use nuclear blackmail to support international terrorism and dare its opponents to join it in touching off a nuclear conflagration.