The Waiting Game

Updated: May 25 2002, 05:30am hrs
At the end of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayees high profile visit to Jammu and Kashmir, where do we stand The visit had taken place in a surcharged atmosphere in which some kind of a punitive action against Pakistan was generally expected. Six months had passed since the dastardly attack on Parliament, followed by the massing of troops along the border and LoC. Memories of the slaughter of women and children at Kaluchak were fresh in peoples minds.

The bottom line, spelled out by Atalji himself, is that a war between India and Pakistan is not in the offing, at any rate, not in the near future. His decision to proceed to Manali for a brief holiday underscores this. Future developments would depend, of course, on whether or not Pakistans military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, lives up to his promise to no longer export terrorism to this country, an undertaking he had first given in his January 12 speech.

Musharraf had then embarked on a duplicitous, two-track policy. He gave much help to the US in its war on terrorism in Afghanistan (though even that is being eroded now), but let Pakistan-backed, ISI-sponsored jehadis continue their heinous depredations in Kashmir. The Americans and other Westerners went on counselling India to show restraint, give Musharraf more time, wind down the military mobilisation and start a dialogue with Pakistan. This was accompanied, of course, with tearful sympathy for Indian concerns.

Such double-speak became unacceptably absurd on the day US assistant secretary of state, Christina Rocca, arrived in the subcontinent and the Pakistani suicide bombers marked the event by their macabre outrage at Kaluchak. L K Advani spoke in Parliament of his deep disappointment with America. The Prime Minister sent a tough letter to President George Bush.

It is in this context that there has been some shift in Western pronouncements on South Asia. Now, there is much greater emphasis on the demand that Musharraf must take effective steps to curb infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan into Kashmir. And Western leaders, including British foreign secretary Jack Straw, European Unions Chris Patten and, most importantly, the US assistant secretary of state, Richard Armitage, are rushing to Islamabad and New Delhi even in 45 degree heat.

All the exertions of these worthies would be meaningless if they do not result in a perceptible diminution in cross-border terrorism within a relatively short time frame. This is, in fact, the key. If Pakistani or Pakistan-backed terrorist groups continue their nefarious activities best typified by the assassination of Abdul Ghani Lone, aimed clearly at disrupting the September elections in J&K let all concerned bid farewell to hopes of lowering tensions across the India-Pakistan divide.

Vajpayee has delivered this message clearly enough and this is to his credit. But if his purpose was only to put both Pakistan and the international community on notice, did he have to indulge in overblown rhetoric about a decisive battle, writing a new chapter of victory and so on that spurred speculation about an immediate strike on PoK. And if his declarations referred only to terrorism, not necessarily Pakistan, why did he not make it clear

And when the Prime Minister got, at his press conference, an opportunity to use his legendary oratorical skills, he muffed it. He did well to emphasise that there was no question of involving Pakistan in New Delhis talks with the Hurriyat. But he could have added that since the issue is the Hurriyats participation in elections, surely Indians, including Kashmiris, should not be expected to learn about democratic elections from Pakistan, of all countries.

There is striking unanimity among Pakistani commentators that Musharrafs fraudulent referendum has weakened, rather than strengthened, him. Isnt this something to hammer home to the world at large Especially to the US State department that, in Washington, remains the last bastion of support to Musharraf while the rest of the Bush administration is getting increasingly disillusioned with him