Subcontinental newspapers downplayed expectations for the summit between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf prior to their Saturday meeting. The Telegraph of Calcutta said, “[O]nly somebody completely innocent about the cynical and arcane world of realpolitik will hope that all the issues will be resolved and many years of hostility will evaporate after just one meeting. Past history should dictate that caution prevails over any kind of euphoria.”
As several papers pointed out, in early 1999, shortly after Vajpayee’s last meeting with a Pakistani president, then-Gen. Musharraf dashed hopes of rapprochement when he led an incursion into Indian-held territory in Kargil, Kashmir. When Musharraf seized power in October 1999, India refused to cooperate with the new regime, seeing the general as the architect of the Kargil conflict. However, as the Khaleej Times of Dubai noted, “During the two-year freeze in bilateral contacts, there has been a perceptible recognition in both capitals of the changes that have taken place in South Asia.”
The visiting Pakistani delegation repeatedly urged that the Kashmir situation should be the summit’s “core issue,” while India sought to discuss other issues such as trade to establish trust and confidence before tackling the Kashmir dispute. The Kashmir Times was encouraged that on his first day in India, Musharraf committed himself to the peace process and stated, “There cannot be a military solution to the [Kashmir] problem.” The editorial declared, “These suggest that Pakistan is willing to see the summit as the first step in the right direction. … We should look at this summit … not as something that is ‘result-oriented’ but only ‘process-oriented.’ “
Several papers analyzed the leaders’ motivations. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said: “Pakistan’s economy is in a mess, and foreign investors have taken flight. After Kargil, it is clear that any attempt to find a military solution in Kashmir can only invite world condemnation. Yet a medieval minority at home keeps issuing calls for a holy war against India.” The Times of London added: “Pakistan can no longer afford the present armed confrontation. Its defence budget is already so high that there is little money left to service its high debts, invest in the crumbling infrastructure, revive trade or to try to alleviate growing poverty.” An op-ed in Pakistan’s Dawn downplayed the notion that relations with India are central to Pakistani diplomacy, listing a series of even scarier disagreements:
In foreign affairs, apart from the dispute with India, Pakistan remains on a divergent course: (a) with the military and economic powers of the Judeo-Christian tradition over its nuclear weapon programme, support to the Taliban and issues concerning “jihadi” militants; (b) with the major Asian powers (Russia and China and Japan); and with Iran over support to the Taliban and the Sunni “jihadi” militants; (c) with all of these over the reluctance or inability of Pakistan governments to curb the training and export of Islamic militants by seminaries and jihadists groups; (d) with several countries in the matter of controlling the narcotics trade.
Concerning Vajpayee’s incentive, the Kashmir Times observed, “To India, Kashmir may not be the ‘core issue,’ but it is certainly a very ‘sore issue,’ whose solution we desperately seek.” The Times agreed, noting, “For India Kashmir is not the yardstick of all politics. But it is an irritant, an embarrassment and a constraint on India’s determination to speed up investment and tackle its vast infrastructure demands.” The South China Morning Post concurred:
India has a million-strong standing army, and enough economic muscle to be able to withstand the insurgency in Kashmir. But after the opening up of India’s economy, and especially after the May 1998 underground nuclear tests ordered by Mr Vajpayee … it became apparent that India won’t be taken seriously as an emerging and responsible world power as long as it is engaged in a backstreet brawl with Pakistan.
Moot court: The Financial Times reported Friday that most Chinese judges have no legal training or qualifications. Since the courts are considered an instrument of state control, most judges are retired army officers, though some are “selected from society” or recruited from universities. Only the academics are likely to have any legal background. The resulting legal stagnation and corruption have driven the ministry of justice to consider obliging new judges to pass the same examinations required of lawyers, though there are no plans to send sitting judges to law school.
Feature of the week: The Saturday edition of Toronto’s Globe and Mail features “The Challenge,” an always-amusing reader competition involving wordplay and wit. Last week’s task was to “take an existing medical condition, distort it while ensuring it remains recognizable, and then give the diagnosis.” Among the altered ailments: “Carpool tunnel syndrome: fear of being in a dark, confined space with screaming children,” “Streep throat: constant fluctuations in voice and accent,” and “Artrightis: a compulsion to straighten pictures on the walls of homes one visits.”
The name game: Iain Duncan Smith is one of three candidates vying to lead Britain’s Conservative Party but, according to the Times, he is handicapped by his name. These days, says the paper, “a moniker needs to be media friendly,” and Duncan Smith’s “double-barrelled handle will not fit into a conventional width of newspaper headline.” The editorial concluded:
In days of old when knights were bold and men were double-barrelled, prime ministers could perfectly well be Henry Campbell-Bannerman or David Lloyd George. But not now.