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Please end this hagiography

Please end this hagiography

Author: Kaushik Kapisthalam
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 5, 2005

It was unseemly to look at the Indian media frenzy over Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf when he visited New Delhi. Our journalists were tripping over themselves trying to laud the General during his breakfast press conference on April 18th. The press build-up and the follow on coverage were no less flattering of the General, who was dubbed a "changed man" as compared to his imperious performance at the Agra fiasco in 2001.

In fact, a few of the supposedly neutral Indian journalists behaved more like Gen Musharraf's spokespersons by tilting their reporting to portray him as a master strategist while South Block was run by bumbling ignoramuses. One prominent reporter came to an incredible conclusion that world leaders believe Gen Musharraf on the issue of Pakistan's culpability in cross-border terrorism in Kashmir simply because he gets more public encomia as opposed to Indian leaders. The journalist made another observation that "time is running out" for India to "resolve" Kashmir to Gen Musharraf's satisfaction

The reality is that Western leaders lavishly praise Gen Musharraf because that is what he wants and it is a low cost way to keep him happy. But even a casual glance at analyses from Western think-tanks, often populated by people who are just retired from Government service or are on their way towards it, reveals the reality. One should read statements made by recently retired State Department officials like Marvin Weinbaum, currently with the Middle East Institute and Richard Haass, President of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, to understand how American officials really feel about Gen Musharraf.

As opposed to this, India is in the news mostly for positive reasons and there is little need felt in Western think-tanks to highlight topics like state collapse and radical coups when discussing India. In addition, Indian leaders don't seek Western flattery to maintain their legitimacy. That is why India celebrates August 15 every year. This is also why Gen Musharraf, accountable only to those outside his country, can essentially say what he wants to the media, while our leaders have to be circumspect because they have more than a billion Indian citizens to answer to.

It is also not true that the public praise of Gen Musharraf reflects the true Western views. This author spoke to numerous former and serving officials in the US State and Defence Departments and can confirm that there is a widespread feeling of unease about the current US policy towards Pakistan. One expert with contacts in top policymaking circles noted that US President George W Bush has essentially made a policy of blindly supporting Musharraf and does not want to be bothered with the details. Therefore, those who try to officially highlight unsavoury aspects of US-Pakistan ties may end up with early retirement, sans the usual benefits.

But behind the scenes, even the US Government has started making plans to deal with Pakistan. The US Quadrennial Defence Review for 2005, which is supposed to lay out American military plans for the next four years, is slated to include a report prepared by a team of top generals on "(ways to) secure, render safe, or destroy WMD in a collapsing state that is cooperative but faces internal threats to its security". One can be reasonably sure that they are not referring to Zimbabwe or Cuba.

One can understand a Western academic's need to rationalise Pakistan's actions, for being openly critical means missing out on lucrative academic grants and paid trips to Islamabad, with a chance to discuss geopolitical issues at the Aiwan-e-Sadr while white gloved waiters serve cucumber sandwiches and chicken tikka. But what compulsions do supposedly independent Indian observers have to ask the GoI to give Gen Musharraf what he wants, lest he should to reopen the jihadi tap? Do they feel that the murders of innocent Indians at Akshardham, Nadimarg, Kaluchak and other places can be swept under the carpet for the sake of having omelets and tea with the General?

After 9/11, Western nations could no longer pretend that suicide bombings and beheading of civilians were part of a legitimate "freedom struggle." However, one should have no illusions that Musharraf would hesitate to restart the "moral and diplomatic" support to the "freedom fighters" should the geopolitical circumstances change.

Neutrality is an essential part of journalism. But it is hard to believe that being neutral requires one to denigrate one's own leaders, who are trying to do their best under difficult circumstances, while singing paeans to a dictator who had no compunctions to employ throat-slitters and bus bombers as an instrument of his foreign policy.

(The writer is a freelance strategic analyst based in the US)

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