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Subcontinental Drift: Musharraf's Mind
The General has some pretty strange -- and dangerous -- notions

October 25, 2000
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.

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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.

The Subcontinental Drift message board -- sound-off about the news in South Asia to TIME
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.

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 textbooks.

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 similarities.

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?
Yes. Certainly. That is our position.

Lurie: If the results are pro-India, would you still accept them?
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?
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 dictatorship.

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