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July 08,
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Sharif faces new front at home
By Muddassir Rizvi

ISLAMABAD - As Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifmoves towards closing the Kargil front, he opens another at homethat may damage his political standing and lower his popularity.

The June 5 meeting between Sharif and President BillClinton in Washington raised hopes of peace in South Asia asPakistan agreed to take concrete steps to restore the Line ofControl (LoC) according to the 1972 Shimla Agreement. However, Sharif's agreement to peace was not welcome back home, with many terming it a total sellout on Kashmir and a failure ofPakistan's foreign policy.

''Restoring the sanctity of Line of Control as the way todefuse the current fighting is an unmistakable affirmation of theposition taken by India throughout the two months of Kargilcrisis,'' reads an editorial in the country's leading English-language newspaper The News.

Following the Washington declaration, the popular mood inPakistan has turned hostile towards Nawaz Sharif, who returned topower in February 1997 with a massive majority in generalelections. Many believe that Pakistan has military supremacy over Indiaand that this has been compromised by Sharif with his intention toannounce a withdrawal of Mujahideen from the Kargil heights.

On the other hand, the Muhahideen groups, who are fightingagainst the Indian Army across the LoC, have refused to surrender anddeclared that the war will go on. ''We will not accept any agreement made between Pakistan and theUnited States on Kargil or Kashmir,'' said Amir Mehmood, leader of aKashmiri militant group, at a press conference in Rawalpindi. ''America is our enemy; we cannot trust an American solution."

As major Kashmiri militant groups formed an alliance to fightthe Indian Army in Kargil, a spokesman for the Hizbul Mujahideengroup told the press in Muzafarrabad that ''neither Pakistan norany other country could compel them to vacate the territory they'liberated' from Indian occupation.'' However, cooler-headed elements and defense analysts are hopeful thatPakistan will be able to influence the Mujahideen to pull back topositions according to the Simla Agreement.

''Sharif is a shrewd politician and he must have played hiscards in Washington. Unless he shows his cards to people and theMujahideeen, one should not reach conclusions,'' commented ShakilShaikh, a senior defense analyst. Shaikh says Pakistan has the option of cutting off supplies tothe Mujahideen. ''I believe Pakistan enjoys influence over theMujahideen and will be able to convince them to withdraw in thelarger interest of peace and stability in the region and also astep towards a long-term and permanent resolution of the Kashmirdispute."

Retired deputy army chief K.M. Arif was also cautious in hiscomments and said, ''Let the prime minister come back and disclosewhat he has done, but ostensibly they have agreed on themodalities of withdrawal.'' Sharif, who has not made any public comment after his meetingwith Clinton, went on a religious trip Saudi Arabia, where heis likely to meet the Saudi leadership in order to gain broadersupport for his peace initiatives.

As Sharif continued his diplomacy, army chief Gen. PervezMusharraf threw his weight behind Sharif's Washington sojourn.saying it was finalized after ''hectic consultations'' with themilitary. ''There is complete understanding between the government andthe army about Sharif's Washington mission,'' he said inIslamabad, dispelling the impression that the military and thegovernment had developed serious differences over the Kargilstrategy.

The army chief said that 1,500 to 2,000 Mujahideen entrenchedin Kargil and Drass sector will be requested to leave. ''But itwill be up to them what they decide, and the procedure adopted forthis will be decided by the Prime Minister upon his return."

Standing alongside the Mujahideen are the country's pro-Islamicparties, which are trying to use the situation to turn the tables onSharif. The powerful Jamaat-i-Islami, which observed July 6 as a blackday to protest the Washington declaration, said that it would forma larger opposition alliance to resist what it calls ''a total surrender and complete sellout of Kashmir which is tantamount tohigh treason."

The Islamic parties are believed to have full support of somepowerful, retired army generals, who are bent upon fanning thewar. ''Pakistan has accepted what India wanted us to accept and ourprime minister has responded, not to the will of nation but thewill of President Clinton and Prime Minister Atal BihariVajpayee,'' commented Gen. (retd.) Hamid Gul, who once headed thearmy's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).

Aslam Beg, who took over as army chief after Gen. Ziaul Haq'splane crashed in 1988, was also hostile in his comments andcharged Sharif with compromising the blood and sacrifices ofMujahideen. Although cooler-headed politicians and parliamentarians are demandingmore insight into the Sharif-Clinton meeting before taking apublic stand, opposition parties are having a field day misleadingpeople, even if that hurts peace in the region.

Even ''progressive'' political parties are opposing Sharif'speace initiatives to gain political mileage. ''The prime ministerhas compromised the Kashmir cause - it's a total sellout,''commented Altaf Hussain, the self-exiled leader of the ethnicMohajir Quami Movement.

Veteran politician Nawabzada Nasullah Khan, the man behind allopposition alliances, swiftly moved to call an all-partiesconference to finalize a strategy against the government. ''Wehave to see what consequences the country will have to bear as aresult of the withdrawal,'' he told a local news agency.

With the heat on, the government is assuring politicians,parliamentarians and people that details of the Sharif-Clintonmeeting will soon be made public. ''Foreign Minister Sartaj Azizwill brief parliament on the Washington meeting upon his returnfrom the U.S.,'' said a government spokesman.

On the other hand, there are voices of support from civilsociety organizations, despite their differences with Sharif onmany issues including the recent crackdown on non-governmentorganizations (NGOs). ''We are for peace . . . . We have been advocating all along thatpeace is the only way to prosperity,'' commented an Islamabad-based NGO worker, Fatima Aslam. ''The main reason for the public outcry is that the governmentreciprocated India's nuclear tests last year and now the peoplehope that it will establish the country's military supremacy overIndia,'' she said.

(Inter Press Service)

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