The Daily Times editorial today insists that Vajpayee must put his life at risk and come to Islamabad for the SAARC summit, in effect to rescue Musharraf from the corner he has got himself into.
But there is another, more important, dimension to this business of whether or not Mr Vajpayee should attend the SAARC summit. General Musharraf has placed himself in the line of fire. It is important to see why the terrorists want to remove him from the scene. They want to eliminate him because he has had the courage to initiate extraordinary steps to both cleanse Pakistan of ideological extremism and to make peace with India. The January 4 summit is not just another of the annual rounds of SAARC. It comes at a crucial juncture and holds the promise of unprecedented cooperation among the SAARC countries in areas that are likely to become increasingly important in the years to come.
The world has reached a point where, unless all the right-thinking people get together to fight the menace of extremism, no one will be safe. Mr Vajpayee needs to come to Islamabad for many reasons, not least because he has to show solidarity with the man who has just survived two recent attacks on his life but is standing firm and strong. If Mr Vajpayee wants to secure New Delhi, he has to brave the Islamabad round of SAARC. The summit itself has to show to the region as well as the world that SAARC leaders understand the perils of extremism in all shapes and hues and are prepared to fight it jointly, in the short as well as the long term.
It is very easy to shy away from a common danger and take the line of least resistance in the short term but that does not make a statesman. If Mr Vajpayee aspires to such an honour, we expect him to overrule his security agencies and do what he is required to do to make the next SAARC summit in Islamabad a resounding success.
As George Fernandes rightly put it, its their own chickens which have come home to roost. I’m sure Musharraf is putting out all signals to Vajpayee in order to extricate himself from a sticky situation. Probably the Daily Times has forgotten the attacks on India’s parliament – where was the Pakistan and the ‘show of solidarity’ it is asking for now? Vajpayee on no account owes the General a living.
Vajpayee’s decision to go to Islamabad seems already made. This is tremendously brave (and foolhardy) of him.
What is really the question here is how seriously must India take Musharraf’s apparent change of heart? Is it a tactical ruse to tide over the menses horribilis or a genuine conversion to rapprochement with India? Going by past experience, all bets are on the former. Why does Musharraf not unequivocally condemn jehadi terrorism in Kashmir? Why does his Information Minister have to state that to reject jehad is to reject Islam a day after the failed assassination attempt?
The institutional interests of the Pakistani military and ruling establishment are strongly entrenched against peace with India, while a vast majority of the people have been fed on an incendiary diet of India-focused hate-filled revisionist history. Musharraf is not strong enough to overcome these. Today’s Washington Post editorial puts this across so very nicely.
Afterthought: Moreover, if he really was against Islamic fundamentalism why is he allying himself with the MMA? While Musharraf tries to portray himself as a great statesman and the epitome of moderate Islam, he is still not above putting aside his petty differences with the religiously moderate PPP of Benazir Bhutto and PML of Nawaz Sharif.