Islamabad, 11 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Pakistani people are waiting for the country's leader, President Pervez Musharraf, to make what many are calling his most important speech ever. Musharraf, who is expected to address the nation as soon as 12 January, will outline what his government intends to do about terrorism in the disputed area of Kashmir, a region claimed by both Pakistan and India.
Even India has credited Musharraf with taking a strong stand against international terrorism in backing U.S.-led efforts in the campaign against the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban militia who hosted them in Afghanistan. But for the Pakistani people, the subject of Kashmir is very different from the problems in Afghanistan, and Musharraf must choose his words carefully to calm India's fears but not give the impression that Pakistan has abandoned the cause of Kashmir and the Muslim population there.
A Pakistani newspaper, the "National," reports on 11 January that many in the country feel the possibility of war between India and Pakistan rests on Musharraf's speech. Pakistani media report that Musharraf is still working out the details of his speech, which some say will be the most important he has delivered since coming to power just over two years ago.
The 10 January edition of the Pakistani daily newspaper "Dawn" reported Musharraf's speech is expected to put "curbs on extremist groups." While the paper said Musharraf will "take the people into confidence about the growing tension in the region and the proposed measures aimed at discouraging religious extremism," the newspaper also said that Pakistan has taken enough measures and that India should now reciprocate by pulling its troops back to "peacetime positions."
Musharraf will have a difficult time if he appears to be conceding too much in his speech. There is strong sentiment favoring the Kashmiri people, the majority of whom are Muslims like the majority of people in Pakistan.
Speaking with people in Islamabad, it is not difficult to find many, like Abdur Hanif, who are sympathetic to Kashmiri desires for independence: "The Kashmiri people don't want war. They want freedom."
That is the general consensus in Islamabad, not only concerning the Kashmiris but also as regards Pakistan. There are few people who openly said they thought war was inevitable or desirable. However, nearly all agreed that should India start a war, the military planners in New Delhi would be sorry they chose to tangle with the Pakistani army. Speaking near the city's main mosque, there were many young people who defied the Indian army to start a wider conflict and were sure the Pakistani forces would defeat any attack.
It is such sentiment that Musharraf needs to keep in mind when he makes his speech. India is demanding that Pakistan arrest and hand over 20 people New Delhi says are responsible for terrorism on its territory. The idea received jeers from the crowd outside the mosque and was flatly rejected in newspaper columns and on television. In any case, the "National" argued, there is no extradition agreement between Pakistan and India and so there is no legal basis for Pakistan to consider such a request.
But there were some who felt Musharraf and his government are not entirely free to set their own policy in this case. These people were uncomfortable with improved relations between Washington and Islamabad and felt that Musharraf is increasingly under the influence of U.S. policymakers. Some, like Aziz Razzaq, were extremely cynical about the upcoming speech, saying the content had been pre-approved by the West: "Musharraf's speech was printed in the Pentagon and all America knows about this speech."
So as Pakistan waits for this crucial speech from Musharraf, many here wonder whether his words will lead to peace or war with India, and what affect it will have on stability at home.