24 November 1999

Gen Beg praises India's concern for democracy

24 November 1999
The Times Of India

Gen Beg praises India's concern for democracy

By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service

RAWALPINDI: General Mirza Aslam Beg - the man who (as army chief)
oversaw the restoration of democracy in Pakistan after Zia-ul-Haq's
death in 1988 - has endorsed Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari
Vajpayee's robust defence of his deposed counterpart Nawaz Sharif. Gen
Beg has also called for international pressure to be brought to bear on
Pakistan's new military regime.

Vajpayee's Durban statement expressing concern about Sharif's fate has
been denounced by Islamabad and most Pakistani analysts believe India
is criticising General Pervez Musharraf's coup only in order to score
political points. One senior Pakistani diplomat, who knew Vajpayee
personally and did not want to be quoted by name, said he was bitterly
disappointed by the Indian PM's ``unrealistic attitude'' towards what
had happened in Pakistan.

Gen Beg, however, believes India is doing the right thing by drawing
attention to the subversion of constitutional norms across its borders.
``I have great respect for Vajpayee for supporting the cause of
democracy in Pakistan,'' he said in an interview with The Times of

If there is sufficient internal as well international pressure,
especially from India, ``this will force Gen Musharraf to decide very
soon to do what he can do in a limited period of time and then pack up
and go'', he said. If the army does not restore democracy by the end of
2000, Gen Beg said, there would be chaos and confusion, and, without
any viable political dispensation, rightist political forces would gain

``That is why I am working to develop an alliance of like-minded
moderate parties which can build a political movement to ask for the
restoration of democracy.'' What Gen Musharraf should be aiming for, he
said, is a peaceful way to transfer power so that the present military
set-up could be ``bailed out'' before trouble erupts.

Gen Beg - who had predicted a coup more than a month before it
occurred - said that news of the military takeover came as a painful
blow to him. ``I am one person who has not welcomed the army's
intervention. I firmly believe Pakistan's future lies in liberal,
participatory democracy. Anything else will lead to the dismemberment
of Pakistan, like in 1971, notwithstanding the other factors which were
operating at the time.''

``Every nation has a vision of life,'' he said. ``Our vision is
reflected in the struggle for Pakistan. The people who participated in
that struggle were liberal-minded, moderate people. None of the radical
religious parties supported the Pakistan movement. In fact, every time
Pakistanis have been given the opportunity, they have voted for
democracy and not fanaticism. Religious nationalists have never got
more than a handful of seats. Tomorrow if there are elections, I don't
think they will improve their showing.''

Asked whether he believed India was right to force a postponement of
the SAARC summit after the coup in Pakistan, Gen Beg said New Delhi's
stand was constitutionally correct. ``Gen Musharraf has not sought to
validate his regime through the courts. So Vajpayee's objections are
valid in a sense.''

At the same time, Gen Beg added, this did not mean India should refuse
to hold talks with Pakistan until democracy is restored. ``Once
Musharraf gets the legal and constitutional backing of the courts,
India must conduct business with Pakistan as usual.''

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