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The tinpot looks for a kettle

The tinpot looks for a kettle

Author: Shekhar Gupta
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 14, 2002
URL: http://www.indian-express.com/full_story.php?content_id=9436

It's said in New York that the September session of the UN General Assembly is when leaders from the Third World arrive to deliver long addresses not so much to the international community as to their own people back home. This applies even more to despots and dictators. What better way to flaunt legitimacy before your own tyrannised population than the image of yourself holding forth in the assembly of the world?

Musharraf's performance at the UNGA this week belongs firmly in that category. That's why he doesn't care if parts of his speech may have gone right over the heads of the other delegates. What, for example, they would have wondered, was he ranting about when he talked of persecution and ethnic cleansing in India not merely against Muslims but also Christians, Sikhs and ''Scheduled Castes.'' Several times more Christians have been killed in his own country by fundamentalist thugs in one year than in the entire history of Hindu- Christian discord over conversions in India.

The ''Sikh problem'' was over nearly a decade ago and the leading Sikh party is an ally in the ruling coalition. So is the dominant Dalit (or ''Scheduled Caste'') party. His speechwriters are not even aware that it was a long time back that even in India the expression Scheduled Caste went out of use, to be replaced with Dalit. If he had at least used the more uncivil expression, ''untouchable,'' somebody in that august hall may even have understood him. But the general is not to be bothered about such nuances. Nor is he to be confused overly with facts. A closed, cantonment mindset, disturbed by forebodings of defeat makes an incendiary cocktail.

You don't have to be a Kautilya or Kissinger to figure out the reasons behind this frustration. If on the first anniversary of 9/11, the strongman of Pakistan, hailed as a key ally in the West's war against terror has to talk, instead, about Gujarat and the fate of Dalits in India, something must have gone very wrong with his script. But put yourself in his jackboots. Just a little over a year ago, he had walked out of the summit in Agra in a huff, refusing to accept even the reference to cross- border terrorism in the declaration.

Now, he has been making the promise to not allow the use of Pakistani soil for terrorism of any kind, against anybody, almost once every week. He had to say so even in this speech. What cross-border terrorism, his spokesmen had asked in Agra, Kashmir has an LoC. Now he has to go on and on saying he is allowing no incursions across the LoC. His Taliban card has been smashed by daisy- cutters and buried under Afghan soil. Now he has to tell the United Nations that his government fully supports Hamid Karzai and his Northern Alliance-backed interim administration in Kabul. The same Pakistan that treated the Northern Alliance and its leader Ahmed Shah Masoud as its Enemy No. 2, after India.

If, in the process, in an entire year of backtracking, he had received even one word of encouragement on Kashmir from the US, he would not have been so angry. He has so far been promised just the prospect of a dialogue with India once elections in Jammu and Kashmir are over and the international community are convinced that infiltration has ended conclusively. This, and more, he already had at Agra before he blew it in a one- hour flourish before the camera at his breakfast show.

Today, he says elections in Kashmir are a farce, that they will be rigged and that they will not solve any problem. The American big brother then responds by saying the opposite: that the election is a significant first step towards peace, that it is an encouraging development and that they are leaning on Pakistan to not allow terrorist interference in the process.

What must anger him even more are the images of people turning up for election rallies in deep, terror-stricken northern Kashmir, even proxy candidates of the Peoples Conference drawing crowds and the indications that whatever the level of popular bitterness, that despite the slogans of Azadi, the mood this time is different than in 1996. What else could be a bigger setback to his Kashmir ambitions?

The general's life is further complicated by his own sliding moral authority. Just when the fourth and final phase of the Kashmir election is over, he will be holding his own national and provincial elections. Now, howsoever imperfect the J&K elections may turn out to be, they will be more than a bit more legitimate than the farce he will be staging.

Several Pakistani dictators in the past have disturbed John Locke in his grave by producing original ideas of democracy. Ayub had ''guided'' democracy and Zia had a partyless election. Now Musharraf will produce an entirely new concept: a pre-rigged election resulting in a pre-rigged power structure.

He has disqualified almost all the key political figures and is now working hard to instal his own, ''King's Party'' in power. Of all his television performances, one of the more significant was one that most of us missed because CNN and BBC did not telecast it. But on live PTV, he held forth at a press conference in Islamabad, explaining his so-called constitutional amendments.

It will be a truly democratic set-up, he said so many times. The elected government will make the foreign, economic, educational, all kinds of policies. ''I will not intrude,'' he said, ''but they know that if they don't behave, I will sort them out.''

Welcome, therefore, to an entirely new idea of democracy. Here is somebody who is so outraged we have a ''rubber stamp'' president when everybody knows that that office is merely titular in India. He is, meanwhile working so determinedly to instal a rubber-stamp Prime Minister and wants you to call it real democracy.

But democracy is a cute monster. Once you unleash it, you can never tell what shape it will take, how it will grow, where it will bite you. At the same televised tutorial on his constitutional amendments, a pesky Pakistani reporter asked him a cruel question: ''The three major parties (PPP, PML and MQM) are working on an alliance. The leaders of all three (Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain) are in exile. If the alliance comes to power, won't they be remote- controlling the government from overseas?''

And what was the general's reply? ''You have painted the worst possible scenario. But it is possible...''

It is more possible that the good general would manage to avert the ''worst.'' It would then be inevitable that the international community as well as his own people, and those of Kashmir, would compare elections in India with those in his pre-rigged ''democracy.'' Who knows, not long after that, the people of Gujarat may even have defeated Narendra Modi in their elections. What would the general complain about next? India's inability to prevent booth-capturing in Bihar?

Earlier this month, The New York Times noted in a scathing editorial that ''Dick Cheney's recent calls for bringing democracy to Iraq ring hollow as long as Washington is silent about General Musharraf's arbitrary rule in Pakistan.'' It is difficult to say yet what elections in Kashmir would achieve for India. But his own election is beginning to look more and more like one more sorry joke to prolong that same arbitrary rule.

Who knows, once the US opens a new front in Iraq and its attention moves away from South Asia, it may suddenly discover it doesn't need even this dictator so desperately after all. The general is far too smart not to see that writing on the wall. Hence the anger and frustration. Hence the touching concern for India's ''Scheduled Castes.''

(Write to sg@expressindia.com)

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