“The best chances of peace are provided by a far-sighted BJP leader.” -Hindustan Times
So the meeting of the seven-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation has ended on a happy-even exuberant-note, but the editorials in the English language media do not reflect the euphoria generated mostly by press reports. On the contrary the advice tended by the media is to tread carefully and for India not to be carried away by sentiment. The Islamabad meet was significant “but not historic” warned The Times of India (January 9). It recalled what happened in the past, especially at Lahore, when Prime Minister Vajpayee last visited it. “Lahore was so fantastically and flamboyantly historic that scribes and politicians alike-on both sides-shed tears of joy while many in the Indian entourage were moved to write verses.” The Times of India reminded its readers only to add: “Kargil, unfortunately turned that gushing love into a torrent of fury”. Ergo, said the paper, “it is best that both sides understand the difference between hope and hype.” “Cautious optimism”, said the paper, “rather than excessive anticipation is the key to building mutual confidence”. And to stress the obvious it added: “To agree to a dialogue is the easy part. The difficult part will come later when the talks start to meander in the direction of Kashmir.” The Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle was equally sceptical. It said: “It will only be realistic to admit at this stage that it is too early to expect the conversion of this confidence into reality. Normalisation… can be a long haul. Given the history of India-Pakistan interaction over the decades, it would be imprudent to expect smooth sailing all the way. “And so, while advising both the countries to “proceed ahead with tact and patience to give peace a chance” it gave credit to Confidence Building Measures (CIMs) for “truly transforming both the bilateral atmosphere and rhetoric”. The Indian Express (January 7) saw “Hope in the Winter Wind”. It saw “political success” in the Summit for which it said that states and their leaders were responsible. “The SAARC Summit brings new hope and promise of significant change”, noted the paper, but warned that “this may well be the last opportunity, not just for Vajpayee but for cooperative peace between Pakistan and India. “The paper gave credit to Bhutan for providing “the model for the region to implement the promises made in Islamabad”. “Hope at last”, said The Free Press Journal (January 8). While noting that both Vajpayee and Musharraf have almost rewritten long chapters of animosity, etc, “into expectations of good neighbourliness, friendship and peaceful settlement of all issues”, the paper advocated “a step-by-step” apparoach. “It is not our case that 55 years of ice has melted at a one-hour meeting”, the paper warned though it still felt that the meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf was “historic”. The Chandigarh-based The Tribune agreed with the Free Press Journal advice to go slow. “Going by bitter experience of India during the Indo-Pak Agra Summit, a step-by-step approach appears preferable”, the paper said, and faintly added that “one can only hope that terrorists will not be allowed to spoil the show”. Its argument was simple. It said: “The implementation of the pledges made at Islamabad is easier said than done… Jamali has said that his country will extend the necessary cooperation in fighting terrorism. But such assurances in the past were never fulfilled. In fact cross-border militancy increased in the sub-continent after the signing of the 1987 Convention on Terrorism”. Warned the paper: “The 12th SAARC session that ended in Islamabad was perhaps the most-hyped in its 20-year history.” The Asian Age (January 8) thought that “from the tone of the deliberations in Islamabad it is clear that both Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf have realised the value of re-invigorating the process for mutual consultations on bilaterial issues.” But like most newspapers, the paper warned: “Contentious issues will not disappear overnight. Further, with general elections in India expected around April-May, the Indian leadership will perhaps await democratic re-legitimisation before actually taking very concrete stands on the thornier issues.” The paper wondered whether Gen Musharraf reflected Pakistani sentiment in full. It said: “Prime Minister Vajpayee is backed by complete national consensus. Pakistan also needs to evolve something identical.” The Bangalore-based Deccan Herald saw in Musharraf’s assurance that Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used to support terrorism in any manner and India’s willingness to discuss Kashmir “a win-win situation for both countries”. “If the present trend of good sense and sensitivity to each other’s concerns continues”, said the paper, “self-serving interpretations of intent and meanings will not, hopefully, mar the spirit of the initiative.” The Goa-based Gomantak Times thought that the reason why Musharraf is in a “confession-making mood” is because “the poison of terrorism sown by him to spite India’s face has begun devouring him”. “The global leadership perceives an era of worst turmoil in Pakistan if the General falters”, said the paper. If Musharraf seems to have changed, it is, the paper pointed, “a strategy of self-revival”. The usually acerbic Delhi-based Hindustan Times was more positive. It said Prime Minister Vajpayee’s third and final attempt to achieve peace with Pakistan “appears to be succeeding”. “Perhaps”, the paper said, “the Pakistan President and army chief has learnt a lesson both from his Kargil misadventure and the recent attacks on his life in his own country.” It went on: “Kargil taught him that Kashmir could not be acquired either by a proxy war or a real war or a combination of the two, while the targeting of his motorcade showed him that terrorism can boomerang on his own self and country”. The paper said that there were two reasons for chances of success being much better now. “One is Gen Musharraf’srealisation that the fire of terrorism can singe oneself and the other is the groundswell of public opinion in both countries in favour of peace.” While giving Vajpayee “a major credit” for the “remarkable turnaround” the paper said that it merely confirmed “an old belief that the best chances of peace are provided by a far-sighted BJP leader in India and a responsive military man in Pakistan”. The Hindu (January 7) warned that “with Lok Sabha elections possible by the middle of the year the Indian leadership might not be able to deal with the contentious issues in a substantive manner” and warned that “both sides will need to exercise patience to ensure that the process of engagement does not stall since the frustration generated by failure will further erode the prospects of full normalisation”. India, said the paper, “will continue to be cautious about dealing with a Pakistani establishment that is ultimately controlled by Gen Musharraf” which is probably a sound reading of the current official Indian mind, given Musharraf’s dubious past. As the paper put it: “(India) will not be in a hurry to conclude that the military-dominated Pakistani establishment has made an irreversible strategic decision in favour of friendship, cooperation and amity.” And who can disagree with that?
Kargil taught Musharraf that Kashmir could not be acquired either by a proxy war or a real war or a combination of the two, while the targeting of his motorcade showed him that terrorism can boomerang on his own self and country.