The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nothing new was said by either Pakistan or India at the UN general assembly, the two just exchanged words

They did not talk. But they exchanged words. They said nothing new. But the context ensured that the world heard. This is the best way to describe the shadow boxing between Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr Pervez Musharraf. The ring was large, the general assembly of the United Nations, and the number of viewers even larger. The speeches made by the Indian prime minister and the Pakistani president were made to the UN but their target audience was many miles away from New York. Both spoke to the people of India and Pakistan. Both won plaudits from their respective constituencies. It can be argued that these speeches to the UN general assembly by both leaders acted as a necessary safety valve, and that the rhetoric deployed by both leaders was intended for public consumption in south Asia. Such an argument loses some of its edge because Messrs Vajpayee and Musharraf only reiterated their well known and entrenched positions.

The tone was set by Mr Musharraf when he predictably raised the Kashmir issue in his speech. He described the conditions prevailing there as the “most dangerous dispute in the world”. He spoke again of a sustained dialogue between India and Pakistan. There was a distinct mark of insincerity in these homilies. India has never turned down the offer of a dialogue. It has only made the cessation of cross-border terrorism the condition for the resumption of talks. Mr Musharraf glossed over the fact that during the global war against terror in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, he had made a commitment to eradicate terrorism and to remove the training camps along the line of control. A change in emphasis in Mr Musharraf’s attitude to the problem was clearly discernible in his reference to the Kashmiri freedom struggle. This rhetoric is now passé. The global consensus against terrorism has accepted that indiscriminate killing of innocents in the cause of liberty and freedom will also count as terrorism. Pampered somewhat by the soft attitude of the United States of America towards Pakistan, Mr Musharraf has developed a pronounced propensity towards having his cake and eating it too. He wants to be part of the global consensus against terrorism and also sponsor terrorism in Kashmir. Pursuing this convoluted logic, Mr Musharraf trailed his coat somewhat.

Mr Musharraf offered to encourage the cessation of violence in Kashmir. This was rightly seized by the Indian prime minister as an admission that the Pakistan government is complicit in cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. For Mr Vajpayee, this was more than a debating point. This has been India’s stated position and it has provided evidence of this in many international fora. Mr Vajpayee’s criticism of Mr Musharraf’s speech was again a reiteration of a position that New Delhi has articulated with passion and logic a number of times.

Nothing new was said by either party. Even the hoary chestnuts were not put forward with any special flair and panache. There was a time in the early 20th century when the mention of India used to empty the house of commons. The same might happen in the UN general assembly every time Kashmir is mentioned by either India or Pakistan.

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