Posted by: John Elliott | March 8, 2009

Musharraf walks a Delhi tightrope – in a time warp

030809123617_mg_1174_editedIt was like being in a time warp when Pakistan’s former president, General Pervez Musharraf, spoke at an India Today conference in Delhi last night (March 7).

His focus was on past peace efforts between India and Pakistan, and why they had failed – and what he had done as president to try to make them work. His theme was that a peace deal on the two countries’ disputed Jammu & Kashmir border was essential, and that India needed to change more than Pakistan to make that possible.

But he said virtually nothing on major events of the past year or so – from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, to the terrorist attack on Mumbai  that killed 170 people last November and last Tuesday’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore – nor the worrying Sharia law agreement reached by Pakistan with Taliban extremists in Swat, just 100 miles north of Islamabad.

It was almost as if these events hadn’t happened, and the Taliban crisis hadn’t escalated in Pakistan, which Palaniappan Chidambaram, India’s home minister, described last week as “not a failed state but……threatening to become one”.

Surprisingly, Musharraf also made scarcely any mention of semi-formal “back channel” negotiations between India and Pakistan during his time in power. Good progress on ways to soften the disputed Jammu & Kashmir border, and solve some specific border issues such as the disputed Siachen Glacier, were being made but the initiative died when Musharraf’s power declined and he lost the presidency.

Musharraf salutes as he arrives in Delhi from Pakistan

Musharraf salutes as he arrives in Delhi from Pakistan

As he arrived last night and walked through the crowd outside the banqueting hall, Musharraf looked less substantial and confident than when he was Pakistan’s military ruler. But he soon smartened up on stage, saluted the audience several times, and then settled down to the mixture of battle readiness and ardent peacenik that we grew used to during his presidency.

He was on the stage for well over two hours, till around 11pm, making his speech and answering questions – some far from friendly – from the audience as well as from Arun Poorie, founder and head of the India Today media group.

His biggest admission was that India and Pakistan had done “a lot of meddling” in each other’s internal affairs. “Your RAW does exactly what the ISI does, and the ISI does exactly what RAW does,” he said, referring to both countries’ secret services, which encourage unrest – and, allegedly, terrorist attacks – on each other’s territory.

“Let us tell RAW and ISI to stop their confrontations,” he said teasingly, adding later: “The past has been dirty….the past has been bad, but don’t put the blame on Pakistan…You correct your house so that terrorism in Pakistan decreases”.

In people’s minds as he made these remarks was India’s belief, shared by the US, UK and other countries, that the terrorists who carried out the Mumbai  attack came from Pakistan. There have also been amazing allegations from Pakistan that India’s RAW was behind the Lahore cricket attack. But Musharraf steered clear of specific cases.

His biggest departure from the truth was that “the ISI and [Pakistan] Army is totally on board with bringing peace with India….totally on board with my talks with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh”. That drew sighs of disbelief verging on jeers from the audience.

His biggest accusation against India was: “Terrorists in Afghanistan visit here [Delhi] and I’ve seen pictures of them…..I know of [name unclear] terrorist sitting in Kabul who comes here and is welcomed by your organisations……I will give you a list of people who come here [from Kabul]”.

Though occasionally rattled, he showed throughout that he has lost none of his skills as a public performer on a political and diplomatic tightrope. He said nothing that would upset the government in Pakistan, which he depends on for his freedom, and made enough constructive remarks to satisfy his hosts.

At the end, he got a standing ovation – for effort if not for content.


  1. Very interesting article, i have bookmarked your blog for future referrence. Best regards

  2. Irrespective of the content of his speech, Musharraf confirmed that he is the best, most dramatic, most gripping performer on the state of south Asian politics. As to the content, it is elaboration of the same one-line message of Pakistanis: give us Kashmir, and we will be your brothers forever. Indians ignore this line either because they don’t believe the Pakistanis or because they do not set much store by having Pakistani brothers.

  3. In response to neel123’s post. South Asians in general tend to cut their noses of to spite their faces, and the view you profess is probably 50 years old now.

    It is now quite apparent, that India is no longer Pakistan’s biggest problem, and as the attacks in their country gain in frequency and become bolder, without doubt they must change their attitude and India must respond in kind, simply for survival.

    This is no longer some Hindu Muslim disagreement over Kashmir, an issue which is paralysed, where the status quo can be maintained.

    There is a new far more dangerous and fluid terrorist threat in Pakistan which could result in revolution as it did in Iran, with the vast majority of the population suffering from economic stagnation.

    Only a fool would look at events unfolding around them and suggest that India is Pakistan most dangerous threat.

    That would be ridiculous, moreover it underestimates the true extent of the Islamic extremist threat present in that country.

    War rhetoric between the two South Asian neighbours continues as it has for decades. They may sabre rattle and fence with one another, unfortunately if Pakistan continues with war rhetoric aimed at India, then they ignore their own internal threat which will result in a democratic government being felled and army expressing support for a religious leader.

  4. Kanwal Sibal, former India foreign secretary, writes in today’s Mail Today:

    Musharraf “made some astonishingly ill-informed, self-serving, and blinkered statements……thinking that holds little hope of developing any real understanding between the two countries…… made it clear that Pakistan would not accept any one-sided responsibility for curbing ISI-promoted terrorism against India……hollow agenda of this self-proclaimed man of peace”.

    See “Musharraf’s Peace Currency is Counterfeit” – – and click on page 10

  5. India has no easy options with Pakistan. Musharraf, in his book, mentioned India as the “enemy” atleast a few dozen times.
    Is there a muslim tradition of making peace with the enemy, if so, what are the terms of that peace ?
    History teaches us that muslims have not learnt to eat humble pie. Their meaning of peace is, either annihilating the enemy, or extracting a substantial concession, Kashmir in the context of India !
    It would be another monumental mistake for India to think that taking a softer position would help it to buy a peace seeking Pakistan. It would only embolden the enemy, open a pandora’s box, and add to India’s predicament
    A number of Pakistani intellectuals, including Nasim Zehra, have threatened that Pakistan will not sink alone and will take India down with it !
    This offers a clear insight into the minds of the Pakistanis, that are bent on a blackmail, and India has no soft options but to give a crushing reply to Pakistan’s evil designs.
    It has become a habit of the Pakistani writers to use threatening language of using Nukes. It must be made clear by India that in the event of any nuke attack, Indian retaliation will not be limited to Pakistan alone.

  6. Not just prosperity, it is a matter of national security now. There is a common threat of Islamic extremism, which has no chance of being overcome unless there is institutional cooperation at every level.

    India cannot afford to have a failed state on its border, nor would an Islamic theocracy be palatable, with a religious leader whose finger is on the nuclear trigger.

    Whatever has happened in the past must now be confined to the dustbin of history and both countries must look to the future and cooperate in the fight, not just because it sounds good and it would be sensible, but it is the only way to combat what I really see now as being an existential threat to both countries.

  7. Was not Musharraf the military commander during Kargill?

  8. Eforts are necessary to ease tension. Our prosperity depnds on good reations

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