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South Asia: Pressure Grows On Musharraf To Announce Antiterror Measures

  • Ron Synovitz

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is preparing a major policy speech that he says will define his government's "final decisions" on combating terrorism from within his country. Musharraf's aides say he may give the speech in the next few days. But they are downplaying expectations that Musharraf will agree to a list of antiterrorism demands from India in order to defuse a military standoff sparked by a bloody attack on the Indian parliament in mid-December. India blames the assault on militant groups based in Pakistan. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz takes a closer look.

Prague, 10 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, is expected by 14 January to announce new measures against terrorism and extremist militancy originating in Pakistan.

The policies are to be outlined in a nationally televised speech. There have been high expectations about the speech since Musharraf announced his intentions during British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to Islamabad in early January.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Blair on 7 January, Musharraf said: "We are taking steps within Pakistan to bring some degree of normalcy, balance, tolerance -- introducing a tolerant society, checking any form of militancy from within our society. And we know we've been a victim of sectarian extremism, sectarian militancy here. All that is being addressed, and its final decisions will be given when I come and address the nation in a few days' time."

In fact, Blair's visit already has brought about a significant change in Musharraf's rhetoric in the row with India. Before Blair's arrival in Islamabad, Musharraf had refused to condemn violence by Islamic extremists in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. Instead, Musharraf suggested that attacks by militants within Kashmir were part of a legitimate struggle for self-determination by the Muslim majority in the province.

That position has infuriated officials in India, who accuse Islamabad of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. More specifically, senior officials in New Delhi allege that Pakistan's intelligence service supported suicide attacks by Pakistani-based militant groups on Kashmir's provincial legislature in Srinagar in October and on India's parliament in New Delhi in December.

Pakistan denies those allegations. But Musharraf's initial refusal to condemn the violence resulted in pressure from the United States and Britain. Standing beside Musharraf on 7 January, Blair said: "Terrorism is terrorism wherever it occurs -- whoever are its victims. For whatever the political cause, there can never be justification for acts of terrorism -- whether those of 11 September or those of 1 October or those most recently of 13 December on the Indian parliament."

Musharraf responded immediately to Blair's remarks by saying he condemns all forms of terrorism. But India says it wants more than just words from Musharraf.

Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, who today is concluding a two-day visit to Washington, told reporters yesterday that Pakistan has not shown any sincerity in wanting to end what he called "cross-border terrorist attacks against India."

Speaking after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Advani said Musharraf has refused to take what he called "adequate, demonstrable, and effective steps" to prevent attacks in India by Pakistani-based terrorist groups.

Advani says infiltrators continue to cross illegally into India from Pakistan in order to commit sabotage and terrorist attacks. He says Pakistan could easily shut off the flow of infiltrators if it was willing.

Powell said after his talks with Advani that he expects Musharraf's speech to include a powerful antiterrorist message for the people of Pakistan, as well as for India and the rest of the world.

"I indicated to the home minister [Advani] that the United States was very hopeful that this situation could be dealt with through political and diplomatic means, and we were lending all of our efforts to that end," Powell said. "But it has to include a condemnation of terrorism of any kind because it is no longer acceptable in the 21st century for nations to live under this kind of threat."

Powell went on to say that Musharraf's speech alone will not be enough to defuse the tensions between the two nuclear-capable South Asian countries. He said Washington will be watching Pakistan closely to see what action Musharraf takes: "Both sides [India and Pakistan] understand the seriousness of this confrontation, and they are working with us to try to find a peaceful solution through political and diplomatic channels and to avoid war."

Powell also announced yesterday that he plans to visit both Islamabad and New Delhi next week before heading to Tokyo for a conference on 21-22 January focusing on the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Powell is due to leave Washington on 15 January. He said he also may visit Afghanistan while he is in South Asia.

Advani yesterday welcomed Powell's planned visit: "I regard cooperation between our two countries to stamp out international terrorism as very important."

India has mobilized thousands of troops along its common border with Pakistan -- including the tense demarcation line in Kashmir, where skirmishes with mortars and small arms have become a daily occurrence in recent weeks. The Indian government also has issued several demands for Musharraf.

New Delhi wants to see the complete dismantling of all terrorist organizations in Pakistan, including two groups that India blames for the 13 December attack on its parliament -- Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan already has arrested the leaders and other members of those groups -- steps that have been praised by the United States.

India also is demanding the extradition of 20 individuals from Pakistan that authorities in New Delhi say have helped plan, finance, or conduct terrorist attacks within Indian territory.

Powell confirmed yesterday that both he and Musharraf have reviewed the list of 20 names. But Powell stopped short of insisting that Pakistan hand over those individuals, saying instead that the decision is up to Musharraf.

Musharraf's aides say privately that he is unlikely to announce in his speech any major concessions to appease India. One aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Musharraf would face a strong political backlash at home if he is seen as acting under pressure from India, Britain, and the United States.

But there is one development that Musharraf is likely to mention in his speech. Yesterday, the Pakistani leader formed a National Committee on Kashmir with the declared mission of mustering international support for the demands of Kashmiri separatists through political dialogue.

Moulvi Abbas Ansari, one of the main separatist alliance leaders in Kashmir, said that his All Party Hurriyat Conference welcomes Musharraf's decision to form the committee.

Ansari said there is a need for such a committee in Islamabad because, in his words, "we are not being allowed by India to highlight our cause" to the rest of the world.

Musharraf's idea is to include politicians and intellectuals from the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir in the committee. He also wants Kashmiris and Pakistanis who live overseas to be included.

Disputes between Pakistan and India over control of Kashmir have resulted in two wars between the countries since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.