A Nobel Peace Prize for the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is very much in the realm of the possible. It may not happen this year because of the Oslo-based Nobel committee’s deadline requirement that nominations for the annual awards must be completed by February 1. However, if the peace process in south Asia moves forward and one of the oldest disputes on the United Nation’s agenda has a reasonable chance of disappearing from that agenda, it is quite likely that Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf could share the award some time in the future.
If this happens, the two men will join a list of conflict-solvers or practitioners of diplomacy who have become Nobel peace laureates in recent years. John Hume and David Trimble, both British members of parliament, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize six years ago “for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland”. The UN and Kofi Annan, its self-effacing secretary-general, shared the prize three years ago “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world”. Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, the bishop of East Timor, and Jose Ramos-Horta, the main architect of the peace plan for the region, got the Nobel eight years ago.
A decade ago, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and the late Yitzhak Rabin became Nobel peace laureates and in 1993, F.W. de Klerk, a pillar of South Africa’s apartheid regime for 13 long years, and Nelson Mandela shared the prize for “laying the foundations of a new, democratic South Africa”. The list of Nobel peace laureates, whose credit equals that of Vajpayee — and in many cases ranks them significantly below the Indian prime minister — is long indeed. Yet, there are considerable “ifs” for suggestions that Vajpayee should be chosen for the honour to become a reality.
The biggest road-block to an award for the prime minister is the conventional wisdom that he would have to share it with General Pervez Musharraf. Vajpayee has spent virtually his entire adult life fighting for democracy in his country, which nearly went the way of other third world nations in the 20th century at least once. Strengthening the institutions of democracy has not been an easy task for the better part of Vajpayee’s career in politics.
Musharraf, on the other hand, became a pioneer in coup d’etat at a time when it was believed, after the Cold War, that the age of representative government had dawned on planet earth. His biggest contribution to Pakistan is the wholesale destruction of democratic institutions in a country which could only boast of nascent ones at the best of times. Vajpayee leads a country which is the biggest victim of terrorism. Musharraf, on the other hand, has been the fountainhead of global terrorism, albeit, as the proverb goes, the leopard now claims to have changed its spots.
The General has only one ideology: expediency. His entire professional life is an exercise in survival and self-preservation. To add to these, now there are the scandals about Pakistan’s thriving black market in nuclear material, in which the army over which Musharraf reigns had a pivotal, if unspoken, role. The Nobel committee is unlikely to choose someone with such a sordid record for what is arguably the highest award for men of peace who have worked for a better world. Yet, there is a precedent.
In 2000, the Nobel judges chose South Korea’s president, Kim Dae-jung, for the Peace Prize. Logically and by the Nobel panel’s precedents, he should have shared the honour with Kim Jong-il of North Korea. But Pyongyang’s “dear leader” is another edition of Musharraf: there may be disputes about which edition is paperback and which one is hard-bound. The Nobel committee gave the award solely to South Korea’s Kim. His biography, released by the Nobel Foundation, is one of the longest in the history of the prize. The Foundation’s press release went to extraordinary lengths to justify — by implication — the award to the exclusion of Pyongyang’s Kim. It said that in addition to his “sunshine policy” of reconciliation with the North, the South Korean Kim had improved relations with Japan, that “despite repeated threats on his life and long periods in exile”, Kim was his country’s “leading spokesman for democracy”. His election, the committee said, was “South Korea’s definitive entry among the world’s democracies”.
The deliberations of the Nobel committees are secret: so no one will know what went on behind the scenes before a nominee is selected for the prize. Even the names of nominees are never revealed. But it is reasonable to assume that one big “if” in this whole process of Vajpayee’s potential award is the role of those who may argue that Musharraf’s sins may be forgiven because every sinner has a past as well as a future. When the Commonwealth foreign ministers met in New York in September last year, for instance, Australia argued with gusto that Musharraf must be welcomed back into the fold of the Commonwealth because “he is with us” — to borrow a White House phrase — never mind what he did in the past. The external affairs minister, Yashwant Sinha, is repeatedly pilloried at media interactions abroad for having blocked Pakistan’s return to the Commonwealth, but the truth is that it was Nigeria — not India — which categorically said that it would not, as the host, invite Musharraf to Abuja for the Commonwealth summit, come what may.
Scenarios like this may well be repeated if and when the nomination of Vajpayee and Musharraf are debated behind closed doors in Oslo. The stage for public discussion of the idea of a Vajpayee Nobel in the United States of America and in India was set with a column in The Washington Post by Jim Hoagland last month. Unfortunately, the focus of such discussion has so far been of Hoagland’s comment that “shrewdness on the Indian side and desperation in Pakistan have come together to produce a potential Nobel Peace Prize for two uncommon leaders.” Hoagland said much more in the column, in which he broached the idea of a joint Nobel for Musharraf and Vajpayee: some of it between the lines. But those are the other “ifs”.
A crucial paragraph in the Hoagland column read: “There would be a conceptual bonus for Americans if Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf did bury the hatchet. That result would provide clues as to how terrorist wars, and wars on terrorists, finally come to an end.” Indians often fail to recognize the international ramifications of what Vajpayee is doing. The India-Pakistan peace process is no longer a bilateral or regional issue. There are lessons for the rest of the world to be learned from it: hence the idea of a Nobel for the two men who have made this peace process possible.
Another paragraph in the column is chilling. “Unsuccessful terror campaigns tend to consume themselves. Cutting off outside support and finance turns the bombers and killers against their onetime sponsors and then each other. Their movements split and suffocate — if those who have resisted them know how to seize the moment to stop the conflict when it comes.”
That is precisely what is happening in Kashmir — and in Pakistan — now. That is what made this week’s talks with Islamabad possible. But if Hoagland’s words are prophetic, this also means that Vajpayee may get his Nobel when Musharraf is no longer around — not in Islamabad, at any rate, when the announcement is made in Oslo at some stage.