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Bush & PM move fast forward as Musharraf plays old Kashmir tape

Bush & PM move fast forward as Musharraf plays old Kashmir tape

Author: Jyoti Malhotra
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 13, 2002
URL: http://www.indian-express.com/full_story.php?content_id=9400

The day after in New York, the air waves may have belonged to Iraq but India and the US seem to have pulled off quite a surprise on the margins of the UN General Assembly, with President George Bush stressing his personal commitment to begin a ''long-term strategic relationship'' with India.

During a 35-minute meeting between Bush and Prime Minister A B Vajpayee this afternoon, after Genral Musharraf of Pakistan used the rostrum at the UN to warn of the spectre of a religious war and ''ethnic cleansing'' of Muslims in India, Bush expressed his concern about the killings in Jammu & Kashmir on the eve of polls next week.

Significantly, the US side made it clear that it did not accept ''any justification'' for terrorism in any garb, including freedom struggle, Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal here said in a briefing after the event.

If there is any fight for freedom, it should be on the basis of abiding by the tenets of freedom, not by taking lives, the US president said. Significantly, he is believed to have assured the PM that Washington would continue to use its leverage against Pakistan to end cross-border infiltration against India. ''We did not even need to make a case,'' Sibal said.

Indian diplomats here expressed quiet satisfaction at the pathbreaking nature of today's meeting, which pointed to a major shift in the quality of the relationship. Sibal pointed out that both sides agreed to focus on the areas of space, energy (including nuclear energy) as well as the transfer of high technology, that has been on the banned list since India first went nuclear in 1974.

It is believed that Washington has now agreed to work on side-stepping its own drastic anti-nuclear non-proliferation laws, which are targeted as much against its own closest friends like Israel, or newer ''natural allies'' like India.

Such cooperation goes beyond the one on nuclear safety issues that have been discussed by both sides in recent months. On the space front, ISRO and NASA are said to have agreed to cooperate on remote sensing and even exchanging data on weather.

In fact, if the future is not derailed by other cataclysm, today's 35-minute conversation between Bush and Vajpayee, followed by lunch where US National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice as well as Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra were present, may have just put the stamp on transforming ties ranging from Kashmir to nuclear issues.

It is public knowledge that Atomic Energy chairman Anil Kakodkar as well as ISRO chairman Kasturirangan have been visiting the US for talks with their counterparts, a far cry from mid-1998, when then Atomic Energy chairman R. Chidambaram was insultingly refused a visa to attend a seminar.

This morning, though, at the UN, Musharraf clearly seemed desperate to catch the attention of the international community over its running battle with India on Kashmir.

Musharraf may perhaps have been encouraged by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan this morning, who in his opening remarks to the General Assembly, named the conflict in South Asia as one among four most pressing issues that needed the priority of the world community. Interestingly, Annan had been refused a visa to India last year, because New Delhi felt they did not particularly want to listen to his moralizing on Kashmir.

Still, this is the first time ever that any UN Secretary-General has even indirectly referred to Kashmir, and diplomats here admitted they were surprised by his comments. ''If fresh conflict erupted in South Asia,'' Annan warned, without naming India, Pakistan or Kashmir, ''then the international community might well have a role to play'' to alleviate the crisis.

Bush, meanwhile, during his own speech at the UN, predictably sought to stregthen his administration's case for taking strong action on Iraq, saying Saddam Hussein had ''defied'' the world order for a decade and now must be taken to task for it. ''This is a difficult and defining moment for the UN. Are Security Council resolutions to be cast aside? We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people,'' Bush said, but ended his speech warning the UN that Washington would not wait forever for UN inspectors to return to Baghdad.

Still, it was Musharraf's speech this morning that somewhat shook the normally deadpan, seen-it-all diplomats at the UN out of their multilateral complacency. While most of his comments on Kashmir, likening New Delhi to a colonialist and foreign occupier were said to be ''old hat,'' many were shocked at his no-holds- barred use of religion to divide Hindu from Muslim, Sikh and Christian communities and even from the Scheduled Caste population.

''India's belligerence,'' he said, ''also reflects the chauvinistic ideology of the Hindu extremist parties and organizations. Rising fanaticism in India has targeted Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and even the Scheduled Caste Hindus. Last February, an estimated 2000 innocent Muslims were massacred and burned alive in Gujarat, with the complicity of the BJP state leaders,'' Musharraf said.

Then, lobbying the international community to condemn the riots, just like it had condemned ethnic cleansing in other parts of the world, he added, ''There must be accountability for this massacre. The international community must act to oppose extremism in India with the same determination it displayed in combatting terrorism, religious bigotry, ethnic cleansing and fascist tendencies elsewhere in the world.''

Simultaneously, he sought to portray Pakistan as waging a ''successful struggle to restore the traditions of a tolerant Islam,'' by eradicating the sad legacy of the Afghan war.

With most of his speech devoted to a criticism of India, Musharraf sought to also link the Kashmiri ''struggle for self-determiantion'' with the Palestinian's struggle for an independent state.

''Terrorist acts must be condemned, but acts of terrorism by individuals or groups cannot be the justification to outlaw the just struggle fo a people for self- determination and liberation from colonial or foreign occupation,'' he said.

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