Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 24: Bad blood between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan today spilled over at the Non-Aligned Movement summit with Pervez Musharraf asking developing countries to back Kashmir’s struggle for independence and an outraged Atal Bihari Vajpayee taking him on blow for blow.
The dispute, usually confined to the sidelines of international fora, burst onto centrestage after the Pakistan President — frustrated at the Nam concentrating its focus on Iraq — audaciously clubbed Kashmir with Palestine and sought backing for the “oppressed” peoples of both countries.
“Nam must remain a symbol of hope for the peoples who, even today, struggle to realise their inalienable right to self-determination. Two supreme cases stand out — those of the oppressed people of Kashmir and Palestine,” the general declared during a short speech at the Nam’s inaugural session.
“The legitimacy of their cause is recognised by the United Nations. The Nam must press for the realisation of these just causes and shun a selective approach to UN resolutions,” he continued, sending the blood rushing into his Indian counterpart’s head.
A furious Vajpayee, taken aback by the wily general, lashed back, six speakers and 40 minutes later. “He talks of the ‘oppressed people of Kashmir’' These same people very recently cast their ballots in an election universally regarded as free and fair. They defied the bullets of terrorists, aided and abetted by Pakistan.”
Terming Musharraf’s comments a “mask” for his “territorial designs” on India, he added: “These terrorists continue to perpetrate violence against innocent civilians every day. Yet, General Musharraf talks of an international humanitarian order.”
Vajpayee stressed that Musharraf could not use “strange logic” to justify Pakistan’s export of terror into India. Earlier, the general had urged developing countries to focus on “root causes” while dealing with terror.
“Does he use the same argument to justify sectarian terrorism in Karachi' Or, does he take stern action against the perpetrators of that terrorism'” Vajpayee asked.
Apart from killing chances for any early return to the talks table, the bitter Indo-Pak clash set off a media sideshow a while later. Soon after setting the cat among the pigeons, Musharraf made a dramatic unannounced entry at the Nam media centre where Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal was addressing journalists.
The mediamen immediately scrambled for a word from the general, leaving Sibal stranded. Asked if he would shake hands with Vajpayee again, Musharraf said: “If he wants to shake hands with me, I don’t mind at all. But I will not make another attempt any more.”
Sibal later accused Musharraf of suffering from “political schizophrenia”. “He is short on vision and long on venom,” Sibal said.
“Why shake hands with a terrorist'” But he was quick to clarify that he meant the Pakistan government and not Musharraf.