A handshake seems to be the best thing to have come out of the diplomatic meeting that included India’s and Pakistan’s leaders this weekend. During a speech at the South Asian summit in Nepal Saturday, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf departed from his prepared speech and walked across the dais to offer “a hand of sincere, genuine friendship” to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Vajpayee accepted his opposite number’s hand but later adjusted his own speech to demand that Musharraf back his gesture by ending “any activity” in Pakistan or the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that “enables terrorists to perpetrate mindless violence in India.”
The Times of India said: “Missing from the televised spectacle was the most crucial element that makes the handshake a gesture of peace and friendship. Trust.” Noting that historically the handshake originated as a gesture by warriors to prove they were unarmed, the paper observed: “Given Musharraf’s soldierly past, the handshake—rather than the sub-continental salaam or namaste—was the ideal greeting. But then, he is also a former commando, with the hand itself capable of being used as a weapon.” The piece went on to define five different types of grips, from the Knuckle Cruncher to the Dead Fish, and concluded, “The Kathmandu Klasp was a Musharraf special—a grandstanding handshake strictly for the rest of the world.”
The Times of India claimed that the Nepal summit revealed Pakistan’s isolation from its neighbors—although Musharraf was applauded for offering the hand of friendship, “there were no takers for his view that in the global campaign against terrorism, a distinction must be made between ‘legitimate resistances and freedom struggles on the one hand, and acts of terrorism on the other.’ ” The Pakistani papers were frustrated with India’s intransigence—Pakistani authorities have arrested hundreds of Islamic militants, but they have refused to hand over the alleged perpetrators of the Dec. 13 attack on India’s parliament until they receive persuasive proof of their involvement. The Nationof Pakistan sighed, “As time passes, India’s apparent equating of the December 13 attacks, in which six Indian security staff were killed, with the September 11 attacks, which killed almost 4000 innocent civilians, becomes increasingly ridiculous, were it not that it was being used as an excuse to spark off a war that could end in nuclear exchanges.”
A Financial Timesprofile of Prime Minister Vajpayee described him as a “peaceable premier” who is aware that the constant bickering between India and Pakistan distracts his country from taking its rightful place as a world power. According to the paper, “growing disenchantment with Mr Vajpayee’s apparent moderation among his party’s core supporters means there is pressure on him to maintain a confrontational approach to Pakistan.” The Ageof Melbourne said that on the Pakistani side, Gen. Musharraf is aware that he must protect the “newly won respectability and desperately needed aid” that resulted from his support for the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. The editorial continued:
America and its allies should also hold him to his undertaking to restore civilian rule this year. Elections would be consistent with a fight for freedom and would silence, more effectively than repression, extreme religious parties, whose vote in the past has not exceeded 5 per cent. The West cannot afford a repeat of the Cold War folly of mistaking short-term tactical relationships with dictators for long-term security.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair flew to the subcontinent this weekend for meetings in India and Pakistan. The Nation typified the tendency to view Blair as a de facto U.S. representative, when it said, “His visit should help de-escalate tensions since, generally considered a special US emissary, his words carry the weight of both Washington and London.” An op-ed in the Indian Telegraph declared:
Bush’s best way of discharging [the United States’ obligation to Pakistan] would be to withdraw the artificial props that dangerously inflate Pakistan’s importance, encourage Musharraf to come to terms with geography, and advise him that Pakistan’s security lies in cooperation, not confrontation, with India. … Pakistan resists reduction to its natural level only because the US found it expedient during the Cold War to create and sustain a delusion of grandeur. Blair’s mission will serve a purpose only if he explodes that myth.
In Britain, we rather like it when visiting dignitaries wear the costumes of their own countries. If our guests were suddenly to don a three-piece tweed suit with an eyeglass, or a hat straight from the enclosure at Royal Ascot, we might think that they were having a little fun at our expense. … Sartorial vanity aside, the truly diplomatic choice would have been for Mr Blair to stick to a boring old suit and tie.
Young men and fire: The bushfires that have raged through New South Wales, Australia, since Christmas Eve have destroyed more than 100 properties and killed tens of thousands of sheep and native animals, including wombats, koalas, and kangaroos. Heavy overnight rains Sunday provided a short break for exhausted firefighters, but the Sydney Morning Herald reported that weather conditions favorable to the spread of fires—dry weather and gusty winds—are likely to return soon. Authorities believe that at least half the fires have been started by arsonists, and one of the “Lucifers” questioned by police was 9 years old. Writing in the Herald, John Schauble, a journalist with 20 years’ experience as a volunteer firefighter, said Australians had failed to consider the consequences of pushing human suburban settlement closer to the fire-prone bush:
It is as if to address fire on an intellectual as well as physical level is almost un-Australian. Instead of accepting fire as part of the country we live in, we tend not to think about it until the flames are lapping at the back fence. Fire, like our isolation from the rest of the world or our relationship to beaches, is an integral part of the Australian psyche.