DAWN - Opinion; January 16, 2002

Published January 16, 2002

The rise and decline of Comrade Bob

LIKE Israel’s Ariel Sharon and India’s Atal Behari Vajpayee, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was quick to latch on to what seems to have become the most popular Bushism of the era: You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists. His information minister, Jonathan Moyo, went even further, saying the government in Harare would make no distinction between terrorists and those who harbour them or give them succour.

The trouble is that in the view of the Mugabe administration, the epithet embraces virtually all those who oppose the regime. However, whereas George W. Bush has been fairly indulgent about the Israeli and Indian appropriation of his favourite mantra, Mr Mugabe’s adoption of the term has not prevented Washington from slapping sanctions on the regime in Harare. Now the prospect of further strictures looms, with Britain spearheading calls for action by the European Union on the economic front and pressure growing for Zimbabwe’s expulsion from the Commonwealth.

What has Mr Mugabe done to incur the displeasure of the West? If truth be told, he has never been particularly popular in Whitehall or the White House. When the recalcitrant British colony of Southern Rhodesia earned its independence a little more than two decades ago, with white minority rule giving way to democracy, London’s favoured candidate for the leadership was the conservative Bishop Abel Muzorewa. But newly enfranchised Zimbabweans had other ideas and voted in the man popularly known at the time as Comrade Bob. A teacher and guerrilla leader who had spent more than 10 years in Rhodesian prisons, Mr Mugabe was reputedly more of a political ideologue than a military tactician.

Even in 1980, at the start of what is remembered as the Reagan-Thatcher era, it took a certain amount of chutzpah to openly espouse Marxism-Leninism, as Mr Mugabe did. It clearly wasn’t a strategy designed to earn western plaudits. And, perceived with some justification as a fellow traveller of the pro-Beijing variety, independent Zimbabwe’s first prime minister wasn’t exactly top of the pops in Moscow either. But it was in Pretoria that Mr Mugabe’s ascendancy excited the greatest consternation. At the time the apartheid regime had no intention of loosening its grip on power. The Ian Smith government in Salisbury had been South Africa’s only friend in the region. It was bad enough that majority rule had been ushered in as Salisbury evolved into Harare; even harder to countenance was the election of a man who had few qualms about describing himself as a socialist.

Nelson Mandela was still on Robben Island, and it was not just the Botha regime but also its well-wishers, such as Margaret Thatcher, who were inclined to dismiss the African National Congress leader as a terrorist. Just a few years previously, Mr Mugabe was being described in similar terms.

There is certainly some irony in the fact that now one of Mr Mugabe’s fiercest critics is Mr Mandela’s successor as the president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. Unlike the Zimbabwean leader, Mr Mandela was able to charm the world — including many of his erstwhile detractors — without seriously compromising the principles he had struggled for. What’s more, having served his presidential term, he betrayed no inclination to cling on to power but eased effortlessly into the role of an elder statesman who inspires affection and respect all over the world. Mr Mugabe, on the other hand, appears to be consciously aspiring for pariah status.

This may not exclusively be his own fault. As we have seen, he attracted profound western hostility at the outset because of his professed ideological inclinations. For a while, Zimbabwe even flirted with prosperity. But entrenched inequalities did not disappear, and Mr Mugabe appears to have devoted too much of his attention to maintaining and consolidating his power — first by establishing a one-party state, then by vesting in himself the authority of head of state as well as head of government. However well acquainted he may have been with the treatises of Marx and Lenin, it would appear that Comrade Bob borrowed his political lessons chiefly from Stalin’s book.

Mr Mugabe offered the West an excuse for a full-frontal assault on his regime when he encouraged so-called veterans of the liberation war to occupy white-owned farms a couple of years ago. White settlers constitute only 0.5 per cent of Zimbabwe’s population, yet they control about 70 per cent of arable farmland. The case for the redistribution of land is self-evident, but shouldn’t far-reaching agrarian reform have been pursued right after the nation gained independence? Why wait 20 years, and then attempt to redress the imbalance through a method that is bound to encourage anarchy, excite fear and resentment, and diminish — at least in the short term — the level of agricultural production?

The simple answer is that Mr Mugabe saw a need to bolster his declining popularity amid soaring unemployment and inflation. His demand that the dispossessed white farmers should be compensated for their losses by British government was not entirely indefensible, given that the former colonial power indeed bears moral responsibility for the fact that the farms were set up in the first place on land from which indigenous inhabitants had violently been driven away.

But Mr Mugabe, knowing all too well that the West invariably reacts with considerably greater speed and vehemence whenever there is a perceived threat to the rights of the people of European origin, was also being deliberately provocative. Now his argument with the British government has degenerated into language that can hardly be characterized as diplomatic. Twenty years ago, such an approach may have helped to consolidate his credibility among his constituency. But that is no longer the case.

There is a generous measure of desperation evident in current measures by the Zimbabwean government to win parliamentary approval for laws that, among other things, make it an offence to criticize the president. There has also been an attempt to virtually outlaw all foreign correspondents, six of whom were late last year accused of ‘assisting terrorism’. It is by no means unknown for the western intelligence agencies to utilize the services of journalists. It is also true that in tense political situations, reporters are sometimes inclined to drop all pretence of objectivity — cast your mind back to 1977, when Mark Tully was being hailed as the tenth ‘star’ of the anti-Bhutto Pakistan National Alliance. However, wholesale condemnation of reportage (Mr Mugabe’s curbs on free speech are not restricted to foreigners) usually suggests desperation on the part of a fading regime.

There is, of course, a certain amount of hypocrisy in growing western determination to ostracize the Zimbabwean president and facilitate his political demise. It emerged at the weekend, for example, that Britain has systematically been denying asylum to the activists of the anti-Mugabe Movement for Democratic Change and sending them back to Harare, where they face incarceration — or worse. (It is hardly likely that similar treatment would be meted out to white farmers seeking refuge.) At the same time, the orchestrated campaign against Mr Mugabe inclines one to look for merits in his regime. And there are some — such as the not altogether unsuccessful battles against poverty, disease and illiteracy in the 1980s and early 1990s. But they lie mostly in the past.

Even the president’s most prominent critic, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, concedes that had Mr Mugabe retired in 1995, “he would have gone with his reputation intact”. Now there appears to be overwhelming evidence that Comrade Bob, resorting to increasingly reprehensible measures to retain his power, has outlived his utility to Zimbabweans. He could do his compatriots one last service by bowing out of the presidential election scheduled for March. That would not solve all of Zimbabwe’s problems, but it could help to create conditions more conducive to the pursuit of peaceful solutions. And it may yet mean that Robert Gabriel Mugabe won’t go down in history as just another African tyrant who lost touch with reality.

Fewer executions in US

THE year 2001 saw the continuation of what now appears to be a dramatic decline in the use of the death penalty in America. In 1999, 98 people were put to death. That number fell to 85 in 2000. But in the year just past, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center, 66 people were executed.

Texas, which has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in state-sponsored killing, cut executions by more than half (from 40 in 2000 to 17 in 2001) and lost the lead to Oklahoma, which executed 18 convicts in 2001.

The decline is an encouraging development for death penalty opponents. But caution is warranted. The decrease is only partly the result of a changing political climate. True, a combination of declining crime rates and a continuing wave of DNA exonerations has made the public and the courts more skeptical of death sentences. And demographic quirks in the death row population have played a significant, perhaps even predominant, role.

Vajpayee’s compulsions

By Prof Khalid Mahmud

THE much-awaited UP state assembly elections (plus Punjab, Manipur and Uttaranchal) are just round the corner. Beginning February electioneering will be the order of the day for Atal Behari Vajpayee and the BJP top brass, in particular L. K. Advani, who is all set to lead the saffron cavalcade in India’s most populous state.

The BJP’s coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have a marginal presence in UP’s politics, while the incumbent UP chief minister, Jagannath Singh, is not finding it easy to cobble together an electoral alliance at the state level. Ironically the BJP has decided to fight it out on its own rather than using the NDA platform.

The small parties aligned with the BJP (mostly breakaway groups and defectors from the Congress, Bahujan Samaj party and the erstwhile Janata Dal) have therefore been told to seek participation in the polls on the BJP plank. Some observers have pointed out that the BJP has virtually given up any hope of cultivating the Muslim voters who constitute about 17 per cent of UP’s population, and thus has little interest in disguising its communal moorings.

Although it seems odd, the BJP’s prescription for fighting the UP elections is a reversal of its winning strategy in the 1999 national polls. Back to ‘Hindutva’ is the BJP’s mantra for shoring up its dwindling political fortunes in UP. In 1999, while the BJP-led coalition won a convincing victory in the general election breaking a recurring stalemate in successive hung parliaments, it suffered a serious set-back in UP from where its strength in the Lok Sabha was reduced from 57 in the 1998 polls to 30 a year later. Kalyan Singh, the then BJP’s UP chief minister, attributed his party’s poor showing to what he called ‘tactical voting’ by the UP Muslims. According to him, the Muslims did not vote en bloc for any one party but split their votes among parties which they thought were in a better position to beat the BJP.

Little wonder, the BJP has since found the task of wooing the Muslims a hopeless proposition and has been focusing on rallying the support of the Hindu voters. The Ram mandir issue, which the BJP insists has been kept in suspended animation because it is not part of the NDA’s agenda, has been conveniently raised from time to time in UP by the BJP state leadership. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), known for doing the dirty work for the BJP, including the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992, has vowed to take the Ayodhya campaign to its logical conclusion and build a temple at the site of the Babri masjid. Press reports suggest that scores of artisans have been at work to build a prefabricated mandir structure at the site which can be erected at short notice. From all accounts, the VHP will be commissioned to launch the second phase of the Ram mandir campaign to coincide with the UP elections, and it is quite possible that with the connivance of the BJP government in Lucknow, the saffron crowd may once again be mobilized, like it happened in 1992, to run amok and complete their unfinished agenda.

In any case, raising of the mandir issue is very much on the BJP cards even if it does not consider it politically expedient at the moment to go the whole hog to build the temple. Needless to say, Advani was the architect of the Ram mandir campaign, he brought the issue to the fore in 1990 by lunching his historic ‘rath yatra’ and was subsequently present in Ayodhya along with Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti to oversee the demolition drill.

The forthcoming electioneering in UP will be to Advani’s heart’s desire. He will feel very comfortable talking on the ‘Hindutva’ wavelength and projecting himself as the redeemer of the ‘Hindu Samaj’ although he would still need Vajpayee’s assistance to reinforce his party’s claim to power and glory for mother India. Exigencies of coalition politics were instrumental in keeping Advani from making a bid for top leadership, as Vajpayee was seen as a moderate more acceptable to the coalition partners. But Advani, who still controls the BJP’s organizational apparatus, has not abdicated his undisguised urge for calling the shots.

The ‘invisible hand’, which is often seen as subverting the so-called peace initiatives by Vajpayee, like it happened at the Agra summit, belongs to none other than Advani. Some critics say he still fancies himself as India’s next prime minister. Notwithstanding his high public rating, Vajpayee is a hostage to the RSS lobby in the BJP and therefore has no choice but to follow Advani’s lead when it comes to playing the ‘mandir’ card.

As many observers have noted, the forthcoming polls in UP have a direct bearing on New Delhi’s aggressive posture against Pakistan. The BJP’s communal agenda in UP calls for Pakistan bashing, apart from targeting a number of Muslim organizations as supposedly forming a network for Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Among the organizations declared ‘terrorist’ under the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance 2001 (POTO), are Deendar Anjuman, Students Islamic Front of India, Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front, besides the better known Kashmiri militant groups, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Hizbul Mujahideen and Al-Umar Mujahideen. POTO comes handy for arbitrary action against suspected ‘terrorists’ and their accomplices. Occupied Kashmir has already experienced the enforcement of POTO. The puppet state chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, has also been going around canvassing support for the draconian law.

Ironically, Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi asked Farooq Abdullah why the Vajpayee government does not declare Bajrang Dal a terrorist organization. An auxiliary outfit of the BJP, the Dal has been involved in attacks on churches and missionary schools in Gujarat state and physical assaults on priests and nuns elsewhere in India, including the ghastly incident of burning alive an Australian-born Christian missionary and his two sons in Orissa. However Rabri Devi’s logic is alien to the BJP’s political code.

In the current wave of extremism the Muslims in India are being branded as ‘unpatriotic’, ‘anti-national’, Pakistani agents, or terrorists, and condemned to suffer harassment, humiliation and torture under POTO. One is reminded of the plight of the Sikhs in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. While every Sikh became a suspect and seen as a potential terrorist, hundreds of Sikhs languished in prison thereafter for years under TADA (POTO’s predecessor), and some 4,000 were instantly killed in the horrific Delhi riots.

A climate of communal frenzy and war hysteria on the eve of UP elections suits the BJP designs for enlarging the Hindu vote bank. The party’s election strategy in UP will aim at securing two objectives. First, to raise the security threat alarm, target Pakistan as the convenient whipping boy and then sell the Vajpayee government as a dependable custodian of national interests — capable not only of deterring aggression, but also of taking the battle to the enemy’s home ground. The election campaign in UP would be a replay of the post-Kargil polls scenario of 1999 when Vajpayee was projected as the ‘generalissimo’ who had taught Pakistan a befitting lesson. Second, to renew with vigour the Ram mandir campaign, and seek a polarization of the electorate on communal lines to generate a momentum for the Hindutva agenda.

Whether or not the BJP succeeds in shoring up its sinking position in UP through a reckless pursuit of jingoism against Pakistan, it will go to the extreme extent in trying to do so. Additionally, it has the consolation that there is a three-way split in its rival political camp in UP. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Smajwadi party, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj party and the Congress, the three main contenders for power, are not prepared to enter into any kind of seats sharing arrangement to hold the BJP down. Nevertheless, the BJP’s mode of governance at the centre as well as in the state has done little credit to its image in the eyes of the common people.

In the recently-held panchayat elections in Gujarat state, another traditional BJP stronghold, the Congress has staged an impressive comeback at the expense of the BJP. The Vajpayee government can ill afford a similar outcome in the UP elections, even though the Congress Party will not be the main beneficiary of the BJP suffering reverses there.

It is a do or die battle for the BJP, more so for Atal Behari Vajpayee himself who, in the twilight of his political career, would not relish the prospect of presiding over the disintegration of the Sangh Parivar’ empire. Domestic compulsions have prompted Vajpayee to take a gamble. If it doesn’t pay off and reward the BJP with an election victory in UP it may signal the beginning of the end of the BJP’s hold on political power and influence.

Weddings, then and now: OF MICE AND MEN

By Hafizur Rahman

EVERYONE I meet deplores the customs and practices rampant nowadays in connection with weddings, and considers them an unmitigated nuisance, but nobody seems ready to do anything about it. I don’t know how things are in Karachi, but here in Islamabad and in my home town Lahore the situation can only be described as horrendous and beyond control.

The chief problem, and the most excruciating, is tardiness. One would expect marriage and its attendant activities to be invested with bonhomie and tolerance between the “contending” parties but they are not. I use the word “contending” purposely because of the spirit of rivalry that prevails. If the bridegroom’s party arrived two hours late for the nikah and the wedding feast,the bride’s family must keep his valima reception waiting for two hours in a tit-for-tat. This is not hearsay. It actually happened in the case of a nephew’s marriage in Lahore the other day. Thank God I couldn’t go owing to illness.

More about this later. First let me get off my chest what I heard from my sister in Lahore. Apparently she knows a lady who refuses to attend a wedding reception if it is the only one that day,and even if the hosts are near and dear. She says she cannot go through the hassle of getting dolled up and drawing her jewellery from the locker for just one occasion. There have to be three parties on a single day to make her move. As they say, it takes all kinds.

I hope my nephew doesn’t get to read this because he is really aggrieved at my absence since I was supposed to take the place of his father, my deceased brother. According to him, guests and relatives had been asked for six o’clock in the evening so that, after dinner at home and sehra bandi, the baraat could leave for the bride’s place by seven-thirty. But since no one turned up on time, and those who came late had to have dinner in any case, the baraat finally took off at 10.15 p.m.

As if this was not enough, when they came back three hours later after having secured the bride (to the extreme satisfaction of my nephew) another three hours were spent in going through the numerous rituals and ceremonies, both of Punjab and UP, my sister-in-law being Urdu-speaking. When I chided her on this the next day she gave me a thorough dressing-down on the telephone and deplored the present tendency on the part of “some people” of giving up the hallowed traditions of their forbears.

She was also annoyed at our niece who had gone from Islamabad for the wedding because she and her daughters were dressed in sweaters and cardigans instead of showing off their fancy clothes. This niece told me when she returned that all the women and girls there were in georgette and fine silks despite the bitter cold of Lahore. The fact that my sister-in-law caught pneumonia that evening did nothing to convince her that sensible dress could also be worn at marriage parties “It doesn’t matter if I’ve got pneumonia,” she said to me,”An only son is not wed every day.”

Her only regret was that she was not rich enough to have the kind of wedding for her son that should have been remembered by the locality all their lives. She refuses to believe that illumination and music and five feasts, and a thousand guests being entertained by professional dancing girls, constitute waste of money and ostentation. Her point of view is: “Those who have the money should spend it lavishly on such occasions. After all, for what does God give one riches if not to make one’s children happy?”

There is another facet to this business of delay. With the bridegroom’s party taking hours to come, the famished guests at the bride’s start cursing their fate. I can never understand why they don’t go away after formally congratulating their hosts. Who would miss them among the throng of hundreds, and sometimes thousands? But no, they stick on, just for the meal, with their little kids wailing with hunger and sometimes going off to sleep. Pray what kind of enjoyment is this?

Of course my sister-in-law, and many others, regard my views on the marriage ceremony as crazy. I maintain that marriage is a time for serious thought and prayer. You never know how the thing is going to turn out. I have seen too many so-called ideal matches breaking up within days to jump with joy at the thought of getting married. I was almost a nervous wreck in the days preceding my own nuptials. “O God,” I prayed day and night, “enable us to make a reasonable success of it.” And it was a marriage of entirely our own choice — my wife’s and mine.

Which reminds me of the middle-aged man in Lahore somewhere in the 1940s who, poor fellow, was said to have lost his reason because of unrequited love or an unhappy marriage and roamed the streets like a mendicant. If he came across a bridal party going for the wedding he would catch hold of the horse’s rein and ask the bridegroom to listen to him.

Then, as the young man bent down, he would whisper in his ear, “Son, there is still time. Run for your life!”

No, I am not against jollity and feasting in connection with marriage, but I advocate a different timing. I believe that the couple should watch their progress in matrimony for a year, and if all has gone well and the thing seems to have had a good and auspicious start, they can have a bash, as grand as they can conceive of, on their first wedding anniversary. This would be fitting and proper because this way they would really be celebrating a happy consummation. That sister-in-law of mine in Lahore thinks I’m mad.

My one wedding was simple, almost austere by prevailing standards. And I didn’t have a valima. Many friends and relatives thought this was not the correct thing to do. One of them went to the extent of observing that without a valima my marriage had not been duly sanctified. To which I made a rather bohemian comment. “Maybe,” I said, “but then, there’s nothing like living in sin with your own married wife!”

Now it’s American Raj

By Eric S. Margolis

PARTISANS of President Bush’s jihad against Islamic opponents have been crowing that the quick military victory in Afghanistan showed that America’s power is irresistible. War can indeed be waged with almost no US casualties. The old Afghan hands who cautioned against plunging into Afghanistan were dead wrong, gleefully chorus rightwing hawks.

Hardly any of them have ever been to Afghanistan or neighbouring regions. All past invaders, beginning with Alexander’s Macedonians, found it extremely easy to get into Afghanistan - and exceptionally painful to get out. That is the point this column has been making since early October.

It took the Soviet Army only a few days in late 1979 to occupy Afghanistan, and ten years to extricate itself. It has taken the United States - admittedly much further away - five weeks to scatter a force of medieval tribesmen and occupy southern Afghanistan. This time around, Russia occupied the north through its proxy forces in two weeks.

Though most North Americans believe the Afghan war is over, in fact we are only seeing the beginning of what augers to be a long, confused, murky struggle in this strategic but chaotic nation. The growing American military presence in Afghanistan means its garrison troops are likely to become embroiled in lethal Afghan tribal politics and face a low but persistent number of casualties from skirmish and accidents — just what happened to the Soviet garrison in the 1980’s.

Right now, the US has bought temporary loyalty from tribal chiefs, but this situation could quickly change as Afghans chafe under the growing American presence and resent being ordered about by foreigners. Canadian troops in Afghanistan will face the same threats.

One thing is clear: the United States is inexorably getting drawn deeper and deeper into South and Central Asia. Empires expand through war or trade. The American Empire - which this column has long called the American Raj - has in recent weeks has made a decisive ‘drang nach osten,’ or move to the east. Just as the US used the 1991 Gulf War to force its Arab clients to permit stationing of permanent US garrisons in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, so the US is now using the so-called war on terrorism and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to expand its military influence into South/Central Asia.

The reason is both simple and complex: oil. Washington is determined to dominate the world’s richest new source of oil, Central Asia’s Caspian Basin, over which sit the former Soviet states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. Well before September 11, the US already had Special Forces operating in Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan.

Last spring, Osama bin Laden advised the unworldly Taliban regime to turn down a low bid from the US oil firm Unocal to build a pipeline to export Central Asian oil - awarding it instead to a rival Argentine firm. The US cut off discreet financial aid to Taliban and began updating contingency plans to invade Afghanistan and instal a compliant regime. Events of Sept 11 facilitated this decision.

The US is now establishing permanent military bases near Kandahar, where units of its elite 101st Airborne Div. will replace Marines as a semi-permanent garrison. Three other permanent US bases are being prepared in southern Tajikistan; at Khanabad, Uzbekistan; and Manas, Kyrgystan; all protected by infantry of the US 10th Mountain Div from upstate New York. Four more US bases are operational in Pakistan. All these new bases will be linked to and supplied by much larger US military bases in Arabia and the Gulf. The Manas base may grow to 3,000 troops and 72 warplanes.

The US is thus plunging headlong into South/Central Asia, bringing a vast region of the globe under US military and political influence - in short, welcome to the Mideast East. Washington will use the same formula as in its Mideast oil Raj: keep friendly dictatorial regimes in power and crush their internal opponents in exchange for military bases, large arms purchases, and cheap oil.—Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2002

This game of wait-and-see?

By M.H. Askari

INDIA’S ‘wait-and-see’ reaction to the measures announced by President Pervez Musharraf in the nature of a major crackdown on extremist elements indulging in violence and lawlessness within the country and terrorism abroad in the name of religion appears to have been prompted by compulsions of its own domestic politics rather than any real reservations about the steps themselves.

President Musharraf’s television address on the was bold, forthright and unequivocal. He made it clear that his decision to clamp down on the extremist forces was prompted by Pakistan’s own national interests and not by any compulsion or pressure from any external quarters.

The general made it clear that his government wanted to cleanse society of terrorism, and if sectarian and religious violence and of politics of coercion and intimidation. It is clear that the tough and wide-ranging measures announced by him have been generally welcomed by the Pakistani people as much as by many foreign governments.

Almost simultaneously with the president’s address to the nation, a concerted plan has been put into operation to arrest militants and trouble-makers. Steps have also been taken to preempt attempts by extremist groups to frustrate the policy. Hundreds have been arrested and detained. Predictably, India’s reaction has been one of waiting to see if what have been announced and promised are actually “operationalized.”

New Delhi’s reluctance to reciprocate Gen Pervez Musharraf’s bold and positive steps could well have been aimed at prolonging the tensions on the border which have given it the pretext to adopt a war-like posture against this country, hoping to appease hardline opinion at home. There are strong indications that the political position of the BJP-led coalition at the centre has been steadily eroding in recent months. Elections are due to be held in two of India’s major states — Uttar Pradesh and Punjab — in about three months’ time and Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee would conceivably wish to be seen as continuing to head a strong coalition which deserves to be kept in power.

A setback in UP or Punjab could mean the beginning of the end of Mr Vajpayee’s political support and the coalition which he is heading. Political soothsayers in India are already forecasting a somewhat bleak future for them.

In UP, the BJP-led government has allowed the Babri Masjid issue to take a turn for the worse, with the Hindu extremists, many of them allied to Mr Vajpayee’s coalition set-up, straining at the leash to go ahead with their plans to build a Ram Janambhoomi temple at the site of the demolished mosque.

In Punjab the ruling Akali Dal is stated to be in serious difficulty, with the Congress — the main opposition party — waiting in the wings to come to power when the next state elections take place. Congress party stalwarts claim that even though the polls are still three months away, “the number of people aspiring for the Congress ticket” are increasing by the day. The Punjab Congress president, Amarinder Singh, has predicted that his party will get an absolute majority without much difficulty.

There is speculation that since the elections in UP and Punjab would be held almost simultaneously, one state or the other lost by the BJP could seriously threaten the ruling coalition’s position at the centre and dim its prospects at the next national elections.

Following massing of Indian troops along the LoC and the international border in the wake of the terrorist attack on the parliament house on December 13, hardliners in India have been calling for a forward policy on the problem of terrorism, suggesting that the Indian army should attack the so-called terrorists’ training bases in Azad Kashmir.

While the international community now appears to be in no mood to make a distinction between terrorism and a legitimate freedom struggle, it has not gone along with India’s accusation against Pakistan and has continued to counsel restraint and caution. New Delhi had assumed that under the UN Security Council’s resolution dealing with the problem of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan it too had the right to act against Pakistan like the US had done against Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

The international community had no use for this kind of self-serving logic. Particularly after President Pervez Musharraf’s policy announcement of not allowing Pakistan’s territory to be used for any acts of terrorism in any part of the world, India has no moral ground to accuse Pakistan of “cross-border terrorism.”

While banning some five militant organizations in Pakistan, President Musharraf has once again called upon India to resume dialogue to resolve all outstanding disputes, including Kashmir. He has stated unequivocally that Kashmir is “an old and serious dispute which needed to be resolved through peaceful means.” He also called upon the US to help create an environment for a peaceful resolution of the problem. His suggestion that the situation on the India-Pakistan border and the Line of Control should be monitored by neutral international institutions also deserves consideration of all those who want a peaceful and early end to the festering dispute.

Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, in an interview to a visiting Indian journalist last week, categorically stated that Pakistan is prepared “to fully cooperate in any efforts in the prevention and eradication of terrorism; there should be no doubt about that.”

But for the intransigence of some of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s hawkish comrades, relations between India and Pakistan may well have been on the mend. Even the brief informal meeting between the leaders of India and Pakistan at the recent SAARC summit in Kathmandu generated what some observers called “a thin hope for peace in the subcontinent.” This, plus the expected thawing of the heat and tensions along the two countries’ common border, one hopes, will lead to something more positive and durable.



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