DAWN - Opinion; September 2, 2002

Published September 2, 2002

Truth about media’s ‘evil campaign’

By Humera Iqtidar

THE current trend of western politicians using media to brand some leaders or sovereign governments as inherently ‘evil’ is disturbing because many in the West who rely on CNN or Fox for their news seem to be buying it.

They have had a thorough socialization now in a culture where news is delivered in sound bites to avoid any building up of a perspective on it, carefully selected images flashed across screens worldwide to etch them in the people’s collective memories. News of Palestinian children killed by Israeli tanks, if mentioned at all, is sandwiched between that of George Bush’s latest vacation and of some dog in Alabama giving birth to twenty puppies to avoid any emphasis.

A pattern is clear in the Evil Campaigns. First, various, often highly distorted ‘facts’ are presented to worldwide audiences that are meant to depict a particular individual as evil incarnate. All evidence to the contrary is carefully omitted or disdainfully dismissed. Thus, we are told that Saddam Hussein is amassing weapons of mass destruction. We are also helped in forgetting that in 1998, UNSCOM reported that “the disarmament phase of the Security Council’s requirement is possibly near its end in the missile and chemical weapons areas” and on December 15, 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that it had eliminated Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme “effectively and efficiently”.

Scott Ritter, for five years a senior UNSCOM weapons inspector, agreed in an interview with John Pilger that “by 1998, the chemical weapons infrastructure had been completely dismantled or destroyed by UNSCOM or by Iraq in compliance with our mandate. The biological weapons programme was gone, all the major facilities eliminated. The nuclear weapons programme was completely eliminated. The long-range ballistic missile programme was completely eliminated. If I had to quantify Iraq’s threat, I would say (it is) zero”. Nobody remembers who Scott Ritter was and what he said. We only hear that Saddam Hussein is evil.

The second part of the Evil Campaign involves associating the focal figure with monsters from the past. Thus, Saddam is constantly compared to Hitler. Images where he is performing a Nazi-like salute appear on the cover of various magazines. Stories of him brutally eliminating his own family members given prominent space in the same magazines. Omitted are the facts which might portray Saddam in a favourable light. For example, the fact that unlike several other dictators, Saddam used the resources from US aid as well as Iraq’s oil revenue to build a modern state with state-of-the-art infrastructure, hospitals, schools and universities, is hardly ever mentioned.

As recently as 1996, The Economic Intelligence Unit’s Country Report stated that “the Iraqi welfare state was, until recently, among the most comprehensive and generous in the Arab world”. In his recent book, ‘The New Rulers of the World’, John Pilger, the famous journalist, has provided detailed information on the destruction of Iraqi society through Anglo-American bombing and punitive embargo.

While building associations with the villains of history or with other concepts that elicit disgust or repulsion, western governments are careful to completely disassociate themselves from the evil past, present and future of the campaign’s target. Thus, in discussions of Saddam’s terror campaign against the Kurds, the roles of the US and UK are shamelessly omitted. The ‘news’ of Saddam’s incursions against the Kurds is not presented as part of a narrative on the role of the British in crushing the Kurds and building animosity between them and other Iraqis. We need to go ourselves into history to find that when the Kurds rose up under the British, Winston Churchill, the then colonial secretary said, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes”.

History can be inaccessible, but that parts of the present are also equally obscure is not accidental but an integral part of the Evil Campaign. Thus, we are hard-pressed to find news of Saddam’s terror tactics which also mentions that George Bush Senior encouraged an uprising among the Kurds with the promise of help that was never delivered but was in fact countered by selling weapons to Saddam that were used against the Kurds.

The Evil Campaign is part of a larger drive of course. Once branded as ‘evil’, Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein are used as a pretext to bomb entire countries. The hunt for Osama bin Laden provided the excuse to continue bombing Afghanistan to rubble for months even after senior US military officials had admitted that they ‘had run out of targets’ and that Afghanistan was not a ‘target rich’ country. Osama’s Al Qaeda network was hyped out of proportion to bring about a regime change in Afghanistan and put Karzai in power, a man who has to be protected 24 hours from his own people by American body guards.

Similarly, since Saddam is evil, his people must be punished for it. Embargoes must be imposed, which, however inhuman, have become a necessity. All those not in favour, must either resign or be fired. Denis Halliday, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, was the first of the UN officials to resign in protest against the continued embargo that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands Iraqi children and civilians. He wrote that, “the policy of economic sanctions is totally bankrupt. We are in the process of destroying an entire society.....Five thousand children are dying every month”. He has been followed by other high-profile aid officials, including Hans Von Sponeck, his successor in the role of Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Baghdad, Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, and Scott Ritter. These voices have been marginalized and the embargo continues.

Interestingly, those who impose such embargoes are never deemed evil. When Madeleine Albright, then US ambassador to the United Nations, was asked on American TV: “We have heard that half a million children have died....is the price worth it?”, Albright replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it”. We can be sure that Albright will perhaps never be compared to any villains of history. It is highly likely, however, that she will be re- incarnated in another equally powerful role to continue to serve her masters with distinction.

Lest anyone think that the Americans are the only geniuses capable of engineering such campaigns, the British government’s tireless propaganda drive against another Third World regime serves as a reminder to the world that they are not far behind. Earlier in August, President Mugabe Zimbabwe insisted that 2,900 white farmers will have to leave their land and that he will redistribute their property to landless peasants. In the past, many of the lands he has seized are claimed to have been handed instead to army officers and party loyalists. Twelve white farmers have been killed and many others beaten. He is said to have stolen the elections in March through ballot-rigging and the intimidation of his political rivals.

There is a famine currently in Zimbabwe and we are told that it is because Mugabe uses food aid as a political tool, and that if the white farmers were allowed to continue working on their farms, they would soon meet the needs of Zimbabwe’s hungry population. What we are not told is that although the 4,500 white farmers there own two-thirds of the best land, many of them grow not food but tobacco for export. Indeed, no less than 70 per cent of the nation’s maize — its primary staple crop — is grown by black peasant farmers hacking a living from the marginal lands they were left by the whites.

In the 1990s Canada generously paid for the ploughing and planting of wheat in Tanzania — a fact that was carried to all four corners of the world by the media. What was not mentioned, however, was the fact that only the rich in the country use wheat. Thus, planting wheat instead of maize, beans or cassava that are eaten by the majority, was a strange decision. From the Canadian perspective, however, it was not surprising at all. By making Tanzania shift from maize to wheat, Canada could secure contracts for its chemicals and machinery companies.

Similarly, the United States has just succeeded in forcing Zimbabwe and Zambia, both suffering from the southern African famine, to accept genetically modified maize as food relief. Both nations resisted because they feared that the technology would allow multinational corporations control over their food chain making them more vulnerable. Malawi has been forced to take GM maize from the US because it had to sell its grain reserves under the dictates of the IMF and the European Union. The reserve was privatized in 1999 and had to borrow from commercial banks.

Predictably (because this has been the pattern in other countries as well) by 2001 it could not service the debt and the private body had to sell its strategic grain reserves to pay the loans. Crops failed and now Malawi is a country of starving peasants not allowed any subsidies or aid under IMF dictates. The dislocation of a few rich white farmers in Zimbabwe pales in comparison with such suffering. The evil deeds of Mugabe are nothing compared to the brutality of the current world order under IMF dictates.

Does America really care?

By Roedad Khan

A STRING of secret and confidential despatches to the State Department from the US embassy in Karachi in 1958 suggests that the US administration did little to deter the Ayub-Mirza junta from stabbing Pakistan’s fledgling democracy in the back. In fact, it backed the military and bureaucratic combination and gave it the green signal to topple the civilian government.

The irony is that the country was getting ready for the long-awaited elections under the 1956 constitution. I remember attending a meeting in Peshawar, called by F. M. Khan, the chief election commissioner, to finalize the election arrangements.

On the eve of the coup, politics had no doubt become quite chaotic in Pakistan but the law and order situation was well under control. The people were demanding early elections, and a foreign policy meriting their respect. Leading in eloquence was Qayyum Khan, the president of the Muslim League, demanding early elections and an independent foreign policy. In Mirza’s own words, as reported by the US embassy, “we had reached a point where public meetings were being held outside the president’s house...politicians shouted abuses and threats at me personally, while the loudspeakers directed the speech straight at my house”.

In the summer of 1958, “a group of young army officers warned him (Qayyum Khan) that the senior army officers would not allow the scheduled election to take place” and “declared themselves ready to strike first with Muslim League backing, he (Qayyum Khan) discouraged them”. Short of elections, Qayyum announced publicly, nothing could save Pakistan from a military takeover similar to the July 1958 coup by Iraqi junior officers.

Bitter attacks on foreign policy by all the opposition parties inflamed the already deeply embittered military high command. Its growing resolve to take over the state apparatus was communicated to Washington between mid-May and mid-September 1958. A military coup was initially not the US ambassador’s preferred strategy. “The best hope of keeping Pakistan’s foreign policy oriented to the West”, Ambassador Langley believed, “was to have Mirza in office, as well as Suhrawardy”. Washington had to decide whether the “United States should discreetly attempt to affect the course of elections”. He hoped the State Department would have the “principal say...even if the decisions were to be such that another agency were charged with the precarious assignment”.

But already by May 19, 1958, Ayub and Mirza, in separate conversations with the US ambassador, had conveyed their opinion that “only a dictatorship would work in Pakistan”. On October 4, 1958, Mirza confirmed to Langley that “he would take over the government of Pakistan probably within a week and simultaneously proclaim martial law”. Interestingly, he claimed that the takeover was designed to “prevent any army seizure of power in Pakistan”. US officials noted that Mirza had taken them “into confidence almost as soon as his plan of action was formulated and agreed to by the key military leaders involved”.

Amazed by the “increasingly Byzantine and sterile characteristics of political activity, Washington’s recently appointed ambassador James M. Langley, quickly concluded that the time had come to “rethink...(the US) approach to the Pakistan problem”. By early 1957, President Eisenhower was telling the National Security Council that “in some instances the neutrality of a foreign nation was to the direct advantage of the United States”.

The US had made a “terrible error”, keeping Pakistan as a military ally while “doing practically nothing” for its people. But having bet on the military and the bureaucracy in Pakistan, it was now impossible to avoid facing up to the consequences. Suggestions by American diplomats in Pakistan that Washington try and steer Mirza away from his authoritarian tendencies were countered by the argument that this would defeat US purposes by reviving the old slogan “the real prime minister (of Pakistan) is named Hildreth”.

In any event, the State Department and the Joint Chief of Staff had not been seeing eye to eye on who was their “best man” — Mirza or Ayub. The State Department thought, Mirza was “more competent than Ayub”, a view generally shared by the British, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff thought Mirza was “no match for Ayub”, so far as honesty and directness were concerned. The American foreign and defence establishments, however, were agreed on one thing: they would back the military and bureaucratic combination most capable of restoring a semblance of stability in a country in which they had invested so much for so little.

So while “seeking to extricate the US from the present worrisome situation”, there could be no question of turning back on “those elements which, for whatever motive, and however imperfect”, were America’s “closest friends and supporters”. Consequently, any attempt at balancing Pakistan’s military and economic requirements had to “be conducted by and with Mirza and General Ayub and at all costs not against them”.

Past American involvement in Pakistan’s military were in “danger of being wiped out if something (was) not done to arrest the current deterioration in many aspects of Pakistani life”.

In the American ambassador’s colourful metaphor “...in Pakistan we have an unruly horse by the tail and are confronted with the dilemma of trying to tame it before we can let go safely...I have the uneasy feeling that far from being tamed, this horse we assumed to be so friendly has actually grown wilder of late”.

By the early morning hours of October 8, 1958, Ayub with Mirza’s connivance had staged a successful coup. Before the people of Pakistan could hear of the news, the makers of the coup thought it politic to secure the blessings of Pakistan’s foreign allies. Mirza summoned the American ambassador and the British high commissioner. Pakistan, he asserted in Ayub’s presence, had been placed under martial law. But irrespective of changes at the domestic level, the new government “would be even more pro-West than before”. Armed with the legitimacy they deemed to be important, Mirza at Ayub’s behest, issued a proclamation suspending the constitution, dismissing the central and provincial governments, dissolving the three assemblies, banning all political parties, postponing election indefinitely and placing Firoz Khan noon as well as other members of the central cabinet under house arrest.

Not a single voice was raised in protest against the imposition of martial law. The only hitch, as everyone realized, was that the ‘diarchy’ of Ayub and Mirza could not last long. Neither had a solid constituency of support, but Ayub “with his direct control over the army, had a clear edge over Mirza”. The US ambassador nevertheless thought it desirable that Mirza, a civilian, “emerge as top man”. Yet Washington thought that the “wisest course” would be to “take a rather neutral position between the two potential contenders for power while being friendly and equally frank with both of them”.

The most remarkable development of the last quarter of the 20th century, according to Fukuyama, has been the collapse of dictatorships of all kinds. It is his brilliantly argued theme that, over time, the motor of history will drive societies toward establishing liberal democracies. Isn’t it ironical that while authoritarian governments are collapsing all around us and the world has gotten better in many ways, Pakistan, which started as a modern, progressive, democratic state 55 years ago, is drifting away from the democratic path and sliding into darkness. The engine of history is moving Pakistan backwards. Our fledgling democracy may, after all, turn out to be a historical accident and a parenthesis that is closing before our eyes.

Forty-four years after the first military coup in Pakistan, we are back to square one. The country is under military rule for the fourth time. The parliament stands dissolved. The constitution remains suspended. The Constitutional changes made by President Musharraf make a mockery of the promised October elections. The last 50 years or so have made all of us in Pakistan pessimists. As individuals we can, of course, be optimistic about our personal prospects for a good life. But when we come to larger questions, the verdict is decidedly different. It is becoming increasingly clear that Pakistan is moving away from what the West considers decent and humane political institutions. As time passes it may be harder to sustain even a speck of optimism.

Democracy, freedom of choice, rule of law and human rights are highly desirable American goals but their priority has obviously diminished since September 11. In an off-the-cuff comment on the series of constitutional changes announced by President Musharraf, President Bush conveyed a sense that democracy in Pakistan wasn’t all that important and was an afterthought for him. Many Pakistanis are wondering: why is America pushing for democracy only in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Why is the Bush team prescribing democracy as a recipe only for authoritarian regimes that oppose America and not for authoritarian regimes that are pro-America? Why is Washington’s response to the constitutional changes made by President Musharraf so equivocal and tepid?

Today American policy towards the Islamic world, as described by Thomas Friedman, the well-known American columnist, is “to punish enemies with the threat of democracy and reward its friends with silence on democratization”.


Political parties in new role

By Ghani Chaudhry

FROM a rather formidable array of 129 political parties that applied to the election commission for entering the election 2002 contest in the country, 77 have made it to the arena by getting poll symbols.

The number of parties in the electoral fray would have touched the figure of 90 if about one dozen components of the two alliances getting common symbols had applied separately. With some 72 million eligible voters for the election there is one political party for less than one million voters.

The Political Parties Order 2002 requiring political parties to hold their elections and submit accounts of one year to enter the electoral process has exposed the oligarchical character of their party caucus. All party heads have returned almost unscathed in this mandatory election for the next term. PML (QA) felt some tremors during its election. The cases of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are class apart. Personally hit by legal snags, one of them created a separate wing of the party and the other nominated his brother to fill the top slot to keep their political fiefdoms under firm grip.

The mechanism for awarding party tickets devised by almost all political parties for the coming election provides no space for the middle or lower middle class political debutants. In the matter of selection of candidates the system remains centralized with the central body of the party calling the shots in making final selection. Constituency or regional party organizations played no or little role in selecting electoral candidates at grass-root level.

Largely local committees do the function of selecting candidates in most democratic systems.

In some countries, however, a national caucus centralizes the selection, as, for example, by the Conservative Party in Britain and the Union of Democrats in France. In mass-based parties, selection is made by the regional and national congresses according to democratic procedures.

The governing committees play an essential role, the local constituency members generally ratifying their choice. In the United States the mechanism of primary elections has established a system for selecting candidates by means of the votes of all party members or all voters within a particular electoral district.

However there is no denying the fact that in the long run it is always the party leaders who play the essential role in selecting the candidates.

Our mainstream political parties have shown more interest in making fortune in the election rather than providing level playing fields to its members. They have focused on collecting funds through deposits from prospective candidates for party tickets. These deposits have ranged from Rs.30,000 to Rs.15,000 in case of ticket for the national assembly and from Rs.15,000 to Rs.10,000 for the provincial assemblies. One of the political parties is reported to have made as much as Rs.100 million in the form of deposits received from the electoral candidates.

An important aspect of the struggle for power between political parties is the financing of campaigns. As mass-based parties, rather than looking for large sums of money from a few people the parties need gather smaller sums from a large number of people who usually contribute on a monthly or annual basis. This method in fact separates a mass-based party from others.

In some countries the state contributes public funds to the parties. The German government provides as much as 234 million DM as assistance to parties for running party campaigns on the basis of votes polled by them in election. Limited expenses are also provided for party campaigns in Sweden, France and Finland. Our parties should also seek funds from the government on the basis of votes polled by them to finance their campaigns.

Instead of institutionalizing the parties by anchoring them in popular base through seeking paid membership, the party leaderships have taken to short-cuts for building party funds by receiving fee from prospective electoral candidates. The practice not only excludes the middle and lower middle class candidates from the election scene but is also against the established political norms. It is of interest to remind the readers that All India Muslim League had a membership fee of two anna and the Quaid-I-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah as its leader used to maintain full account of that money.

The political parties since independence had moved in the same old grooves showing no or little inclination for a change. It is like treading the old path. The PPP emerged as a breath of fresh air in 1967 in the stifling political climate but after a brief romance with the masses, it cocooned to the traditional mode of parties in the country. Party perceptions in a parliamentary system like the opposition having a shadow cabinet was never witnessed.

The result was that the parties took over governments without any experience and no wonder proved inept in office. The concept was conspicuous by its absence even during both governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in the 1990s when they worked by and large as two-party based governments.

Granted, that the political system failed to take root because of frequent army interruptions. But this is not the whole truth. The achievements by the politicians are not tail-blazers. Both the government and the opposition demonstrated lack of tolerance towards each other.

Instances are not wanting when the governments of the day threw leaders of the opposition out of the house or deposited them in jails and the opposition leaders remained hell-bent to prevent the government from completing its tenure. The leaders of the house and the leaders of the opposition operated as enemies instead of being concomitant parts of the political setup. Federal governments hardly brooked provincial government of the opposition parties.

It is hard to recall an occasion in the recent political history of the country when a prime minister replied to questions during the question hour in the house. The British prime minister faces the question hour in the Commons twice a week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Our prime ministers established their own dictatorships. Naturally no tears were shed when their dictatorial reigns came to an unhappy end. What they and their cabinet members did was to reward party faithful financially through grant of contracts or inducting them into bureaucracy through backdoor at hefty salaries. This practice on the one hand injected an element of politicization in the administration and on the other deprived common people of jobs on merit.

The party system in the country has resisted change in its political complexion. Same families, and in many cases, the same faces continued to occupy parliamentary benches for generations.

The middle and lower middle class, the major part of society, is not adequately represented in our parliament.

The new constitutional amendment making college degree as condition for parliamentary candidates and the induction of 60 women seats in the national assembly will largely change the complexion of the house in one leap.

It is regrettable that this change had to be brought about by a non-political government.

Viewed in the backdrop of the new unfolding political scenario in the country it is the political parties again that appear to hamper the change in the system. The parties are on test. The selection of party candidates for the election will reveal their real mindset. If they tread the same beaten path, the people will ensure they walk it alone.

How we can help the Kashmiris

By Zubeida Mustafa

AS the war clouds on the South Asian horizon thicken and thin out in a cyclical pattern, the peacemakers on the political front have stepped up their efforts to bring about a modicum of normalization between India and Pakistan.

True, incidents, such as the recent skirmishes in the Gultari sector on the LoC, come as a rude reminder that the armies on the two sides continue to be in an eyeball-to-eyeball state of mobilization. War cannot be ruled out. But mercifully the focus has shifted to the political/diplomatic dimension of Kashmir.

Three developments in the region could have far-reaching impact on the South Asian crisis. First, there is the intensified American move to play the honest broker between the two countries, neither of which the Bush administration can afford to alienate at the moment. India as a major political and economic power on the global stage is a much sought-after partner. Pakistan is the indispensable ally in the United States’ war against terror. Hence the American dilemma.

It is difficult to assess how effective the American good offices can prove to be because Washington is wary of playing a forceful role in the region at a time when India has been resisting what it terms outside interference.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has stuck to his country’s stand, adopted in the wake of Tashkent in 1966, that the two states must sort out their differences bilaterally. He has, of course, been pleased with America’s stance on “cross-border terrorism” and got the emissaries from Washington to exert pressure on Islamabad to withdraw its backing to the jihadi groups fighting in the disputed valley.

The second major development is taking place in Kashmir itself. While New Delhi has proceeded with its plans for elections to the state assembly from September 16 to October 8, the government backed Jethmalani committee has opened a dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party leader, Shabir Shah.

It is too early to say what direction these talks will take. While New Delhi has refused to postpone elections, the Hurriyat has refused to participate in them on the present terms. But the mere fact that the two sides are talking is in itself a significant development.

This week the APHC leader, Abdul Gani Bhat, and Shabir Shah are expected to meet the Indian government leaders in New Delhi.

Concomitantly, there has been a lowering of militancy in the occupied state since the American deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, first visited the region in June. From approximately 250 casualties a month before the visit, the killings have come down to 150 (though violence has escalated again as the elections draw near).

It is now admitted that President Musharraf has taken measures to rein in the militants. India itself has conceded that cross-border infiltration has declined by 30 per cent.

The third major development has been the preoccupation of the military regime in Islamabad with the October elections, especially its attempts to manipulate the Constitution to ensure that the military remains entrenched in power.

This may seem to have no bearing on the Kashmir issue. But it does. Governments in Pakistan, like their counterparts in India, are known for their propensity to use foreign policy issues to divert domestic attention from the immediate and more urgent issues at hand. With the region in such a volatile state, would a government in Islamabad, up to its neck in trouble, be able to resist the temptation of keeping the Kashmir pot boiling?

One only hopes that President Musharraf realizes the grave implications of his Kashmir policy for Pakistan. There is quite a substantial section of public opinion — maybe even a majority — which feels it is time the government modified its stance on Kashmir. Since we do not have scientifically-conducted public opinion polls, one cannot cite absolute figures to establish this point. But on numerous occasions it has clearly emerged that the greatest champions of peace in this country are our own people.

It is reassuring to find that most men and women, who clearly fall in the class termed the common man, are pretty level-headed about how they perceive many contentious issues, such as Kashmir. They know where their priorities lie. They strongly believe that the country should not be held hostage to the Kashmir dispute. It is now being openly said that the time has come to focus on the multitude of our economic, social and, of course, political/constitutional problems. Without a strong — not so much militarily as economically — and unified Pakistan, it is foolish for the government to try to take on India on behalf of the Kashmiris.

What is equally important for the government to make an honest attempt to determine the thinking of the Kashmiris themselves. The real Kashmiris to be addressed are those who live in the areas we refer to as the Indian-occupied territory. They are the people who have borne the brunt of the tyranny inflicted on them by the Indian security forces.

The problem is that Pakistan has pre-empted their political role in the peace process by projecting Kashmir as an India-Pakistan dispute.

The paradox in this is patent. Although we speak about the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir we do not allow them a say in how this right is to be exercised.

With the exception of the present government — which has chosen to be ambiguous — all those who have been in power in Islamabad have firmly and definitively rejected the third option — that is, independence of Kashmir. All governments before Musharraf’s have parrot-like reiterated their demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir in keeping with the UNCIP resolutions of 1948 and 1949, even though it is fully realized that the plebiscite plan as formulated 50 years ago can no longer be implemented.

That is why successive government have chosen to rely on those Kashmiri groups which have been vocal in proclaiming their allegiance to Pakistan. Being dependent on Islamabad for their survival and their armed struggle, they act as the mouthpiece of Pakistan. But do they really speak for the Kashmiris?

Take the case of the current developments in Kashmir. The APHC and Shabir Shah have been talking to Ram Jethmalani. We do not yet know what will be the outcome of this dialogue. But the Pakistan-based Muttahida Jihad Council has already denounced the whole process. This is an attempt to exert pressure on Abdul Gani Bhat and Shabir Shah. Similarly, President Musharraf fell in line to “reject” the polls in Kashmir weeks before the APHC formally refused to participate in the exercise.

All this has an air of deja vu about it. In 2000, when the APHC and the Indian government had announced a ceasefire in Kashmir and a dialogue had been attempted between the two sides, Pakistan and the militants on this side of the LoC, such as Syed Salahuddin, had pre-empted the process by demanding that Islamabad be included in the talks.

In this context, a piece by Lawrence Lifschultz in Mumbai’s Economic and Political Weekly (August 3, 2002) should be compulsory reading for every Pakistani leader and citizen who feels concerned about Kashmir. In an interview (given in June 2001), Abdul Ghani Lone, the leader of the People’s Conference who was assassinated three months ago, expressed his resentment at the “colonial” role of Pakistan vis-a-vis Kashmir.

He felt that Pakistan and the militants it supported had made out Kashmir to be basically a dispute between India and Pakistan. He said, “Our movement has been hijacked.... Pakistan has let down the Kashmiris.”

He wanted to know if Pakistan also had a hidden agenda — like the Indians who had come to the valley in 1947 to save the people from the tribesmen who raided the state and stayed on to occupy the state — and would Pakistan also like to take over and occupy Kashmir?

Lone specifically pointed out that when Vajpayee had made a proposal for a ceasefire and a dialogue in 2000, “it was our view that it was the people of Kashmir that must have come up with their own response.” But before they could do so, Pakistan had rejected them. “Who are those people to reject proposals on our behalf?” he asked.

Is history repeating itself?



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