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Subcontinental Drift: Musharraf's Mind
The General has some pretty strange -- and dangerous -- notions
By APARISIM GHOSH
Web posted at 1:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 1:30 a.m. EDT
My congratulations to cartoonist Ranan R. Lurie for going where no journalist
has gone before: into the mind of Pervez Musharraf. His interview with the
Pakistani dictator, reproduced yesterday in Lahore's The Nation (daily), offers
us valuable insights into the general's thought process -- and, by extension,
the thinking behind his military regime.
Some of what we learn is reassuring. For instance, the general says he is
committed to handing over power to an elected government two years from now. He
also dismissed the suggestion, common in some quarters of the subcontinent, that
democracy doesn't suit Pakistan's character.
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But those looking for signs of a thaw in South Asia will be disappointed. If
anything, the general comes across as more determined to preserve the
subcontinental divide than his predecessors. Most disturbing of all is his
assertion that India and Pakistan have no shared history. "Our history is
totally different," said Musharraf. "Our heroes are their villains and vice
versa. Our culture is absolute the opposite. They consider cows as their gods.
We slaughter cows and eat them." Apparently the fact that Indians and Pakistanis
speak the same languages and enjoy the same literature, music, sports and
movies, counts for nothing at all with the general.
The Subcontinental Drift message board -- sound-off about the news in South Asia to TIME
As it happens, the examples Musharraf offers are deeply flawed. Consider his
contention about history's heroes and villains. Although both New Delhi and
Islamabad have injected a fair bit of propaganda into their history books, they
share admiration for many important historical figures -- the emperors Tughlaq,
Akbar and Shah Jehan, for example. Only a handful of characters (like the
Mohammeds -- Ghur, Ghaznavi and Jinnah) receive radically different treatment in
The notional culinary divide is just as spurious. For one thing, close to 20% of
Indians -- Muslims, Christians and animists -- eat beef. For another, the
dietary differences between Pakistanis and Indian Hindus pale in comparison with
The idea that India and Pakistan have totally different histories is the kind of
nonsense routinely purveyed by religious fanatics on both sides of the South
Asian divide: to hear it from the mouth of a man who claims to be a moderate is,
to say the least, disappointing. If this is what Musharraf believes, then we can
probably rule out the chances of a lasting peace in his time.
On the subject of disappointment, I wonder what Kashmiris will make of this
exchange between Lurie and the general:
Lurie: A plebiscite was offered in Kashmir by the United Nations
in 1948. Do you still want it?
Musharraf: Yes. Certainly. That is our position.
Lurie: If the results are pro-India, would you still accept them?
Musharraf: Well, I am more than hundred percent sure that the
results will not be pro-India.
Lurie: What if the people of Kashmir vote for independence?
Musharraf: There's no room for that. They have to vote either
for India or for Pakistan.
When I last checked, the majority of Kashmiri separatists were fighting for
"aazadi" -- independence -- from both countries. During a trip to the disputed
region last year, I found many Kashmiris to be just as suspicious of Islamabad's
designs on their homeland as they were hostile to Delhi's rule. It's easier now
to see why.
P.S. Among Musharraf's stranger ideas is his theory that Indian journalists have
a great deal of control over the world media (apparently nobody told Rupert
Murdoch -- or my editor!) and are poisoning international opinion of Pakistan.
This is perfectly understandable: after all, paranoia is the hallmark of any
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