The prospects of any early normalization of relations between India and Pakistan have weakened considerably after the recent speeches by Pakistan’s president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, and the Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at the United Nations general assembly in New York. Mr Musharraf’s diatribe against India will be counted amongst the most intemperate and belligerent speeches by a head of government in an international forum in recent years. A case could have been made for the Indian prime minister to adopt a lofty statesman-like posture and ignore Mr Musharraf’s deeply provocative utterances, and thereby avoid being clubbed once again with Pakistan by the international community. But after the recent crisis in south Asia, it is almost impossible to avoid the global focus on India-Pakistan relations. Not responding to Mr Musharraf would also have meant that one section of the international community would have been exposed to just one biased view of the political situation in the subcontinent.
Indeed, Mr Musharraf’s speech seemed to be driven by the sole objective of convincing the world that it was India, and India alone, that was responsible for the climate of instability and tension prevailing in south Asia. The tone and the substance of the speech has, not surprisingly, caused deep offence in India, and has made the chances of reconciliation even more remote. According to Mr Musharraf, “Peace in south Asia is hostage to one accident, one act of terrorism, one strategic miscalculation by India.” Similarly, the general targeted “Hindu fanaticism” at the UN general assembly and called on the international community to hold accountable those responsible for the murder of Muslims in Gujarat . Finally, he asserted that the “conflict” in Kashmir was being waged by the Kashmiris, and stridently asserted that India’s “planned elections” in Kashmir would once again be rigged.
Mr Vajpayee’s speech sought to systematically confront each one of Mr Musharraf’s assertions. On Kashmir, Mr Vajpayee asserted that it “requires an effort of legal acrobatics to believe that the carnage of innocents is an instrument of freedom and elections are a symbol of deception and repression”. In drawing attention to Pakistan’s lack of democracy, Mr Vajpayee asserted that those who had to adjust voting and counting procedures to win a referendum and achieved constitutional authority by the simple expedient of writing their own constitution are ill-placed to lecture others on democracy. Mr Vajpayee also held that Pakistan was guilty of “nuclear blackmail” following India’s efforts to stamp out cross-border terrorism, and to succumb to such “blatant nuclear terrorism” would mean forgetting the lessons of September 11, 2001. The international community, especially the United States of America, will be even more worried about the region after these two speeches, and will be even more determined to ensure the resumption of a dialogue. But while it could be argued that Mr Musharraf’s speech was driven primarily by domestic compulsions and tactical considerations, it is unlikely that public opinion in India will now take kindly to a dialogue with Pakistan’s military regime in the near future.