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How Did Media Cover Indian-Pakistani Dialogue?

Aired May 9, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET


SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello. I'm Sheila MacVicar, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we examine how the media are covering the big stories.
Peace looks tantalizingly closer than ever for India and for Pakistan. In a dramatic move, the two warring nuclear neighbors both decide to put themselves on speaking terms this week. In what appeared to be a flurry of new overtures towards friendship and the restoration of diplomatic relations.

But while both countries acknowledge something has to change in what has been one of the most intractable international conflicts, does this really amount to peace in our time? And how do the media discern if the latest diplomatic show is simply rhetoric or for real?

Joining me now, from New Delhi, India, Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the "India Express;" here in the studio, Shahed Sadullah, editor of the Pakistan English daily, "The News;" and Ed Pilkington, foreign editor of Britain's "Guardian" newspaper.

Shekhar, let me begin with you. This has been quite a week, very unexpected. I mean, is this -- the Indian prime minister, do you think, really going for the history books, or is he just trying to make a good show of this?

SHEKHAR GUPTA, "THE INDIAN EXPRESS": Well, I think, I think both interpretations are not correct, because, yes, politicians like to have history regard them flatteringly, but this one is much shrewder than that. I think what this prime minister is trying to do is to change even the political agenda at home, domestically, because the way politics have been played in this country over the past couple of years, if that has to continue until the next general elections in India, which is in 2004 -- the end of 2004 -- then that means the same hatred for Pakistan or hatred for Muslims or insecurity has to be sustained until then.

This is a very, very painful thing. It's also a very dangerous thing. And certainly this prime minister sees himself not immediately parting into history. I think he sees himself and the party, or the coalition at least, leading India for another five years.

So he's not looking at history as of yet. Yes, he'd like history to regard him kindly, but he's not looking at history as yet. He's looking at one more term, and he's looking certainly at ending this legacy of violence and mistrust.

MACVICAR: Shahed, when you look at what is being written about in the Pakistani press, what you are writing about in the news, is there anything of what Shekhar is referring to reflected there? What's the motivation that's being attributed to for this really breakthrough?

SHAHED SADULLAH, "THE NEWS": Well, I think there's a great perception, rightly or wrongly, that there is a substantial amount of foreign pressure involved in this because keep in mind that even about three or four days before Mr. Vajpayee made his announcement -- historic announcement -- in Srinagar, there was the Indian foreign minister and the Indian defense minister trying to make out a parallel between Pakistan and Iraq and making out a case for unilateral action against Pakistan.

So there's the perception that there's a great deal of foreign pressure in this, but there is also along with that a great deal of optimism based on the fact that Mr. Vajpayee has said in parliament that this is his third and final try in his political career for peace with Pakistan, so people thing that there's going to be much greater motivation coming from there, whether for the history books or for the reason that Shekhar mentioned apart.

But there is going to be a great deal more motivation, plus there's a cross-party understanding in Pakistan, an agreement with Pakistan, that peace in India is essential and, secondly, that this can only be attained through dialogue.

And, thirdly, I think that people feel that the international situation is now very conducive to a peace movement between Indian and Pakistan.

MACVICAR: So, Ed Pilkington, in your assessment, how real is this? We've seen moves like this before. We've seen India and Pakistan almost come to war within the last year. How real is this peace?

ED PILKINGTON, "GUARDIAN": Well, at the "Guardian," from the perspective of a British newspaper, we're treating the story so far with a degree of caution. We're not getting over-excited. As you say, we've seen it before. We've seen Vajpayee go by bus to Lahore soon after the Kigali incident happened. We've seen the Agra summit, which came to nothing.

It's very much along the lines of these long-running diplomacy stories, whether it's North Korea or the Middle East crisis. I think you have to come to these stories quite coolly with the assumption that they're probably not going to lead to anything, albeit we wish it well.

I think the key is going to be, in my opinion, is America's role in this -- to what extent are they going to apply pressure? Again, very much like the Middle East. How much real pressure is America prepared to bring, particularly on the Pakistan government, to attempt to crackdown on the incursions that are going in, going on inside Kashmir.

MACVICAR: Shekhar, what are -- what are you writing? What's in your paper about the role that the United States is playing here? Is that something that's figuring largely in your coverage, informing your readers about? Are you looking at it from a different perspective?

GUPTA: Well, the United States is a very key player, but you know, quite frankly, we in India, and particularly in my paper, or certainly in my paper, do not see America's role in India as that of American pressure.

Pressure, if anything, was much greater last year when the two countries were close to war. There were all kinds of pressures and all kinds of visits.

I think (AUDIO GAP) there is a realization in India that (AUDIO GAP) and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because of many reasons. Internally, the big reason is that last year we had this big election in Kashmir, which many of us think was a great turning point in our history, one of the most significant, in fact, in our independent history, and that's when the prime minister also said in parliament on Thursday, even though his party had lost in that election.

The second thing is, after the Iraq War, we believe that America and the international community is now going to be focused on other areas of recent conflict, and the world, by and large, is getting bored, it's getting fed up with regional conflicts that are rooted in history or ethnicity or religion or blood feuds or historic wrongs.

I think there's a great deal of impatience in the whole world about this, and South Asia, along with the Middle East and maybe China, Taiwan to an extent, and the Koreas, are the four areas of these conflicts, which I think now just America but the entire world community is going to address.

MACVICAR: When you -- in terms of what you are writing about in your paper, I mean, this has been a week where there's been a lot of talk of the prospects for peace, but it has also been a week when there has been a lot of violence in Kashmir. How is that playing out? The two things, side by side, sort of these renewed contacts, renewed diplomatic relations, rail links, plane links, at the same time when there is so much renewed violence?

SADULLAH: Well, I think one of the things that we have been trying to put forth in our paper is that if peace is to have a real chance, it is essential, certainly in my view, that the peace process should be dealing from the question of violence in Kashmir.

I mean, if you see over the last 8 or 10 days, violence in Kashmir has increased compared to what it was before that, and to me that suggests the fact that there are certain vested interests involved there who probably want to keep the pot boiling, let us say for want of a better term. And it is rather unrealistic to presume that this is something which the government of Pakistan can turn on or off like a tap. It doesn't work that way, quite honestly.

MACVICAR: Ed Pilkington, this sounds pretty familiar. This sounds like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the arguments about how essentially the militants can drive or not drive the peace process one way or the other. In your view, how -- what should we be looking for as this, we hope, goes forward? What should we be looking for in terms of trying to figure out if it's real, if it's really making progress?

PILKINGTON: Well, I think there are two main things. One is a question of leadership. I think perhaps we are in a, say, different position, a more positive position now, with India and Pakistan in that Vajpayee has an interlocutor. He's got Jamali, the prime minister, who he can talk to in a way he never has managed to talk to Musharraf. They don't get on at all. So that's a positive thing.

The other thing is a question of public opinion, public will. When the time comes that both people, both the Pakistani public and the Indian public have had enough, they can't take it, they've decided it's just too much -- it's bad for the economy, their friends and family are dying, they want an end to it, then resolution will be found.

Until that moment, when I think the politicians assess that they really must do something for their own electoral good, things won't change.

MACVICAR: Shekhar, you know, one of the things we've been talking about, the prospects for peace and the will to move forward -- I mean, the big issue, of course, in the subcontinent, beyond of course the very big issue of peace, is the question of cricket. And if people are talking about peace, it seems, they're not yet willing to talk about playing games together.

If and when that happens, should we take that as a sign that things are really moving down a road to real constructive dialogue?

GUPTA: To a very small extent, I think time has now come in order to separate the process of peace-making between India and Pakistan from symbolisms like lighting candles at the border or a cricket match or a hockey match. I think this is a very serious business that is rooted in domestic policies, the international situation, the history of hatred.

You know, for example, India has now ignored the incidents of violence that's taken place over the past 8 or 10 days because there is a belief that maybe now, given this international situation, there will be sufficient pressure, there will be sufficient reason for the Pakistani government to put a stop to this.

MACVICAR: Shekhar, that's where we must leave it. Thank you so much -- Shekhar Gupta, in New Delhi, Ed Pilkington, of the "Guardian," Shahed Sadullah, from "The News," here in London. Thank you.

Coming up on the program, who killed American journalist Danny Pearl? One of France's leading philosopher traced Pearl's last steps and claims he has found the real reasons why, when we come back.



Was it his nationality and his religion that resulted in his murder, or was it that U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl just new too much?

That is the subject of a latest book by France's preeminent philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levi. In it, Levi traces Pearl's final steps and concludes that the reporters kidnapping and murder was essentially a crime of state.

But beyond Daniel Pearl, Levi claims the debate of the next century will be over militant Islam, it's aims and more significantly, it's nuclear ambitions.

Bernard-Henri Levi joins me now from Paris, and here in the studio I'm joined by Yosm Fouda, chief correspondent for Al Jazeera and co-author of the upcoming book "Masterminds of Terror."

Bernard-Henri, let me begin with you. You've deconstructed, if you will, Daniel Pearl's last reporting trip, and you've come up with some pretty startling conclusions. In essence, you conclude that the people responsible for his death ultimately were agents of the state of Pakistan. Is that correct?

BERNARD-HENRI LEVI, AUTHOR: Yes, of course, and I think that the main murderer, the mastermind of the murder, of the kidnapping and of the murder, Omar Sheikh, was since a long time an agent of ISI.

So I don't mind of course that the whole Pakistan state is involved in this crime, but I'm sure, definitely sure, I bring you proof of that, that the mastermind of the kidnapping was an agent since a long time, Omar Sheikh, yes.

MACVICAR: And just to continue on with that for a moment, in the book you also write that Daniel had been investigating, you believe, the nuclear links or the growing nuclear connection between al Qaeda and agents within Pakistan, the Pakistan state.

LEVI: It is my conclusion, yes.

I tried to put my feet in the footsteps of Daniel Pearl. I tried in this book to remake his road and to rebuild his schedule in the last weeks of his life. I tried to see again the people he saw. He tried to go in the places where he went. I tried to find the place where he was beheaded and so on.

And my conclusion is that he was working on two fields. First field, of course, is Mr. Gilani, this boss of the Ul-Fuqra group, which is based in Lahore, in Pakistan, and which has also some foot in the United States, in Washington and elsewhere.

But also I think he was on the verge of discovering some very strong links between the Pakistan secret services, al Qaeda and the nuclear scientists of Pakistan and that he was on the verge of discovering some possible transfers of technology from Pakistan to al Qaeda.

MACVICAR: Yosm Fouda, you are an investigative journalist who has spent, I think, almost all of your waking hours since before and after September 11 examining the question of al Qaeda and its links. Do you -- do you think that there is, from your own point of view, that there is evidence which would substantiate this kind of connection between elements in the Pakistan intelligence service and al Qaeda?

YOSM FOUDA, AL JAZEERA: it's very interesting, because when I was invited to go to Karachi to meet Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Ramzi Binalshibh, that was only a few weeks after Pearl was killed in such a horrific way, and of course all the thoughts were going through my mind.

What I know from that, I can add to what Mr. Levi has just said, that what we know from "The Wall Street Journal" of Pearl's mission there, he was after, ostensibly, a story about Richard Reid, better known as the shoe bomber. But we also know that a former CIA officer at least said that he was in touch with Pearl about his mission there, which was actually, according to him, was about Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the man that I finally got through.

And that probably because he got too close to Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and because Omar Sheikh at that time was on a mission of kidnapping Western journalists, and he managed in the end to lure Danny Pearl from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) down to Karachi, where he finally was killed in such a horrific way.

Whether or not -- I must say I haven't come really close -- I mean, I admire the work that Mr. Levi has done over a year or so, but there are, of course, signs that probably what he, Mr. Levi, has arrived at, is true.

Take for instance that there is a missing week between the arrest of Omar Sheikh Mohammad and the announcement of his arrest, and we don't know what exactly happened, and there are some suggestions that the Pakistanis wanted to really put it in such a scenario that they would come out of this clean.

MACVICAR: Let me broaden this out, Bernard-Henri Levi, to talk not just about the specifics of what happened to Daniel Pearl and the specifics about what we know about al Qaeda and its operations, about which it seems we know a great deal at the moment, or a fair amount more than we did before.

But this question of how we in the West are approaching this issue of extremist militant Islam, and the question of whether or not we are making it more comprehensible, making our readers and our viewers understand better what the issues are and what the issues are that will confront us as we go forward.

LEVI: There are many things to try to understand. For instance, what I think today is that the very center, the very sanctuary of al Qaeda today is Pakistan. It was Afghanistan. It is now Pakistan.

There is for instance a mosque, Madrasah, in Karachi, which is called Binori, which is really a sort of strategic and political and medical center for al Qaeda inside Pakistan, in the core of Karachi.

As for the structure of al Qaeda, I think that we are wrong to believe that it is a centralized structure. It is a very mobile, very plastique, very changing structure. It is -- you know, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's scene about the Gulag spoke of "Archipelago of Gulag."

Same for al Qaeda. There is an Archipelago of al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is a series of islands. Some of them, a number of them, in Pakistan, but not only.

Another thing which I discovered during this inquiry -- we have the idea of purity of al Qaeda. Fanaticism goes with integrism (ph) and integrism (ph) with spirituality. I discovered and realized that it was also gang. It is also sort of mafia. It is also sort of network of extortion of money.

We have to get rid of the idea of bin Laden giving his fortune, his own money, to the cause of the Islamic revolution. It is the reverse. I think that al Qaeda is gathering money from Islamic relief organizations, from poor people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the believers who give the money to al Qaeda. It is a real mafia. It is one, maybe the most important mafia, of the 21st century.

MACVICAR: Yosm, in terms of -- you sit in both worlds in a way. You work for Al Jazeera. You are an Arab. But you live in the West. And you see what we write and what we talk about in Western media, about al Qaeda, about extremist militant Islamists. Do you think that we are in any way approaching the heart of the subject in a way that helps our viewers understand it? Do you think we're missing the point?

FOUDA: No. I think generally speaking, the world, especially inside the United States, has come to understand a little bit more about Islam compared to before 9-11. If there is anything at all that could be positive that could be derived from 9-11, it's perhaps the fact that more people became a little bit more interested in Islam and Arabs and the East and the rest of it.

MACVICAR: But are they seeing it only in terms of militancy?

FOUDA: Well, I mean, you have to have a reason to be interested in something, and even if we assume that people would like to read more about Islam to be better prepared against Islam, it's still a positive -- in my opinion, a step forward. It's being interested in something, at least.

MACVICAR: Gentlemen, this is fascinating. We could go on about this for a very long time, indeed. Thank you both very much for joining us -- Yosm Fouda, here in London, Bernard-Henri Levi in Paris. Thank you.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another in-depth look at how the media are handling the big story.

I'm Sheila MacVicar in London. Thanks for joining us.



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