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PM sits pretty while the General fumes

PM sits pretty while the General fumes

Author: Vir Sanghvi
Publication: Hindustan Times
Date: November 15, 2001

Two days after he returned from his three-nation tour, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has reason to feel satisfied at the way things have turned out.

Vajpayee was originally only scheduled to visit Moscow. Then Colin Powell delivered an invitation on behalf of President George W Bush and Washington was added to the list. Given that he was going to be in America, Vajpayee reckoned he might as well address the rescheduled General Assembly session in New York. At the last moment, Tony Blair insisted that Vajpayee stop over in London on the way back.

Vajpayee accepted all the invitations - though he did turn down a last minute invite from the Prime Minister of Canada - because he was concerned that India might be isolated during the reconstruction of post-Taliban Afghanistan.

He did not dispute that Pakistan would have a geographical and tactical importance during the Afghan operation. But he sensed one concern and one opportunity.

His concern was that Gen Pervez Musharraf might bargain for some advantage over Kashmir in return for his support over Afghanistan. But he also sensed an opportunity: to remove Afghanistan from Pakistan's sphere of influence in the post-Taliban era.

Today, with Kabul in the hands of the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in retreat, Vajpayee has reason to believe that India has adequately addressed that concern and also seized the opportunity.

The Indian government's assessment is that Pakistan has gained nothing on Kashmir. The US and Britain have merely restated well-known positions. But both governments have put pressure on General Musharraf to stop supporting terrorism in the valley. During Vajpayee's meeting with Tony Blair on Monday, Blair kept asking, "Has violence decreased in Kashmir?" The Indian side treated this as a positive sign.

Vajpayee was even more delighted by President Putin's obvious hostility to Pakistan. Putin said that the problem in Afghanistan was not the Taliban; it was Pakistan, the creator of the Taliban. He was also concerned about the spread of Islamic fundamentalist violence in the States that neighbour Russia and blamed Pakistan for supporting those who fomented the violence. Putin said he understood exactly how India felt about Pakistan's role in Kashmir.

Better still, from Vajpayee's perspective, was the Russian President's insistence that Pakistan should be kept out of any post-Taliban scenario in Afghanistan and that India should be included. As India and Russia have long supported the advancing Northern Alliance, recent developments in the Afghan conflict pleased both men.

General Musharraf, on the other hand, now faces anger and humiliation at home. He backed the American operation arguing that Pakistan would gain from its support. He suggested to his people that Pakistan would have a major say on the composition of a new Afghan regime. And last week, he got President Bush to declare, at a joint press conference in New York, that the Northern Alliance would not be allowed to take Kabul.

A few days later, the Alliance marched into Kabul and took over.

General Musharraf now has to dispel the widespread impression in Pakistan that he has been used by the Americans. Not only has Pakistan gained nothing on Kashmir, it has also lost the use of Afghanistan as its strategic backyard, and it may even face the terrifying option of having the Pakistan-hating Northern Alliance calling the shots in Afghanistan.

India's view is that eventually the Americans will push for an Afghan regime that includes Pashtun representation and is not dominated by the Northern Alliance. But, in Afghanistan, possession is nine-tenths of governance and with the Alliance in place in Kabul, it will be harder to dislodge it and push for a more representative government.

All this makes Vajpayee a satisfied man. When he started his tour, there were genuine fears that India had been out-maneuvered by Pakistan.

Today, it is Vajpayee who is sitting pretty while General Musharraf is fretting and fuming.

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