Covering the Singh-Musharraf meeting

IN Media Monitoring | 23/03/2005
The questions asked by the anchors of their correspondents reporting from New York gave an indication of what each thought was the most important point of focus for the talks.



This is the third in a series on Indo-Pak media monitoring on the Hoot. This is a Panos funded project.


Shubha Singh

For the past few years, Indian and Pakistani leaders have visited New York about the same period in the month of September to address the session of the United Nations General Assembly. This has provided the leaders of the two countries the opportunity to hold a summit meeting in New York. On these occasions there is usually a large media delegation present from both countries which provide for almost a week of high voltage media coverage through the build up to the meeting, the leaders’ speeches at the UN, and the analysis of the events in New York.

In September 2004, Pakistan’s President Gen Pervez Musharraf was meeting the Indian Prime Minister in new circumstances. The general election in India earlier in the year had brought a new government in Delhi with the result that the dialogue process initiated in January 2004 was to be implemented by a new government. President Musharraf was meeting the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first time in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. Television in India as well as Pakistan covered the meeting of the two leaders in great depth.

Any analysis and comparison of television coverage of the two countries show an intense interest in developments in each other’s country especially on events, statements and policies that relate to the country. The television coverage of the build up to the meeting of the leaders showed the preoccupations and prevailing views on either side. The questions asked by the anchors of their correspondents reporting from New York gave an indication of what each thought was the most important point of focus for the talks.

Though there was a general mood of optimism about the meeting, PTV chose to show file shots of a scene of a riot with the police making efforts to control the situation in Jammu and Kashmir during a studio discussion. The visual on the screen had no connection with the discussion in the studio.

Among the issues that the Indian media referred to before the meeting of the two leaders in New York was the subject of UN Security Council reforms, where India is a candidate for membership in an expanded Security Council. It formed a major part of the studio discussions on Doordarshan with participants giving their view on India’s chances and Pakistan’s opposition to India becoming a permanent member. On ptv a  Pakistani leader explained that it was in favour of more non-permanent members in an expanded Security Council, instead of adding more permanent seats.

The media also focused on President Musharraf’s speech at the UN General Assembly where he did not use "the K word" as a Doordarshan anchor described it. The general interpretation was that it seemed to set the mood for a productive meeting between the two leaders. The other issue that interested the Indian media was that of terrorism. Since the Indian-Pakistan summit in Islamabad had included an assurance that Pakistani territory would not be allowed to be used for terrorist activities across the border, Indian reporters were asked whether there had been any discussion on the subject of terrorism. It was seen as deliberate silence (chuppi). However, the prevailing impression from the Indian channels could be summarised in the words of AajTak’s, Prabhu Chawla: "Yani mann milte hue dikhayi pad rahe hain.." (It seems that there is a meeting of minds.)

In Pakistan there was much speculation about the position that the new United Progressive Alliance government would adopt regarding relations with Pakistan and the Kashmir issue. In studio discussions on ptv before the New York meeting of the two leaders took place, there was some debate on whether the UPA government in New Delhi would follow the same policies as its predecessor, the National Democratic Alliance government led by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. There was also some comment on Mr Manmohan Singh’s capacity to take his coalition government to move in a forward direction.

During a studio discussion on the same channel  between a former diplomat and an academic, the anchor remarked that President General Musharraf had shown the sincerity and the will to carry forward the dialogue but was the Indian Prime Minister in a similar position. "Is he (Mr Manmohan Singh) in a position to give and take on some crucial issues" since his government is a coalition and he does not head a political party himself?

A professor of international relations, Dr. Parvaiz Iqbal Cheema said that the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in a relatively more difficult situation as he headed a coalition Government." But he felt that the Communist Party, which was part of the coalition, have held fairly open views about some of the issues between India and Pakistan. He said that both countries need to be "little more flexible, we need to be a little more accommodative, we need to be extremely sincere. I think there is a way out."

A former foreign secretary of Pakistan, Mr Tanvir Ahmed Khan was also optimistic. He said that Mr Manmohan Singh should not be underestimated. "He is a man of outstanding calibre, outstanding will. One should not sort of think in narrow terms as just an economist. I mean he is not a professional politician but he is man of deep insight and he is a man of vision, vision for India, and I think man of vision for South Asia."

Mr Khan said that the Indian Prime Minister had prepared himself well for the meeting with the President of Pakistan. To add to Dr Cheema’s comment about the Communist Party, Mr Khan said that Mr. Manmohan Singh went right to the opposition and held a discussion with Mr.Vajpayee his predecessor on the past, the present and the future of India-Pakistan negotiations.

Mr Tanvir Ahmad Khan said that he was very optimistic about the forthcoming meeting. "They can’t possibly sit in New York and resolve all the problems. But I think they can give a direction. I think the best would be that India and Pakistan would return to the composite dialogue with a renewed mandate and with the blessings of their top leaders and with a clear direction."

Dr. Parvaiz Iqbal Cheema categorised himself as a cautious optimist, while expressing the hope that a positive direction of the dialogue and eventually some kinds of resolution would be on the cards. PTV News on the day before the meeting had the Pakistani Minister for Information, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad saying that the entire world was watching for the results that come out of the meeting between the two leaders. "As far as President Musharraf is concerned he is going with an open heart (khalus-e-niyat) and an open mind. It is his wish that both sides resolve their matters cordially. It is the expectation that the meetings will continue and talks will go forward."

A PTV discussion held after the summit meeting in New York also referred to the issue of the new Indian stance. In a studio discussion between Qaivar Ahmed, a former Ambassador and Dr Talat Vazarat, commentator on international affairs, Ahmed lauded President Musharraf’s for maintaining the centrality of the Kashmir issue. According to Mr Qaivar Ahmed, President Musharraf had been able to convince Mr Vajpayee, who used to call Kashmir an "atoot ang" (indivisible part), to accept it as a central issue. In the meeting with Mr Manmohan Singh, President Musharraf said that there was need to show flexibility on the subject or the same pattern as the past 57 years would continue. (lachak dikhane ki zarurat hai varna 57 saal se jo ho raha hashar wohi hota rahega).

The visual of Mr Ahmed speaking in the studio was interspersed with a file clip of a scene from Jammu and Kashmir where a large crowd of young demonstrators were seen throwing stones as the police tried to control the demonstration. The police fired teargas shells, and some policemen used lathis as young men broke the windscreen of a car next to some burning debris on the ground. From Mr Ahmed, the anchor turned to a video phone link with Dr Talat Vazarat to speak on President Musharraf’s statement on terrorism and the misconceptions about Islam.

Later in the day PTV carried a bulletin showing a visual clip of the Pakistani President responding at a press conference in New York. The Pakistani leader spoke of giving bilateralism "a final chance". To a question from an Indian journalist on whether he might consider accepting a proposal that involves making a few changes to the Line of Control, President Musharraf said an emphatic no. "My mind is closed to that absolutely, because that is, the Line of Control has been the dispute. What have we fought the wars for? How can the conflict on which we have fought wars be the solution tomorrow? That is absolutely ridiculous," he said.

The same news bulletin showed a clip of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the UN General Assembly. The Indian Prime Minister is shown saying: "Relations between India and Pakistan have been a matter of attention for the international community. It is known that since January this year India and Pakistan have initiated a composite dialogue to resolve all issues including Jammu and Kashmir. Sir, I reaffirm our determination to carry forward this dialogue to a purposeful and mutually acceptable conclusion."

Another item in the bulletin referred to the meeting of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. Representatives from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Nigeria and Pakistan attended the meeting, where Pakistani Minister for Foreign Affairs, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri expressed the hope that all bilateral issues including the Jammu and Kashmir issue will be discussed and would be resolved in a peaceful manner. The Secretary General of the OIC was quoted as saying that it was only with the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions that the Kashmiri people achieve self-determination.

On September 25, the Indian news channels concentrated on the live coverage of the meeting of the two leaders. Most of them carried similar visuals of the two leaders greeting each other and President Musharraf presenting gifts of photographs of Mr Manmohan Singh’s ancestral village in Pakistan.

The Indian channel, AajTak’s anchor, Sanjay Brata, setting the scene before the meeting, said that several important issues would be discussed. He said that before the meeting Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf sang the Kashmir song (Kashmir ka raag alapa). He had reiterated that Kashmir is the main dispute between the two countries at a press conference in New York. According to Brata, President Musharraf said that both countries had been talking on this subject for 50 years but have not reached anywhere. Though President Musharraf expressed optimism that there would be some concrete outcome of the meeting, he stressed the need for both sides to adopt flexibility (lacheeda rukh apnana).

The visual clip on the screen then switched to President Pervez Musharraf addressing a press conference in New York. Addressing the media, President Musharraf said: How can any confidence or any normalization take place, without addressing the issue on which we have fought three wars and the number of skirmish and we kill each other everyday on the line of control. Is it possible to deal in anger, with anyone?

As the meeting began Brata informed viewers that as soon as the meeting starts the issue of crossborder terrorism will be raised. Dr Manmohan Singh does not want to raise it in the open meeting But Dr Manmohan Singh is saying this very strongly that the dialogue will not move any further if terrorism does not stop. (Ye mudda solve nahin hoga ye Dr. Manmohan Singh bade jor shor se unhe keh rahe hain aur usko badhane wale hain.)

ZeeTV’s correspondent, Sheetal Rajput reported that the meeting lasted one hour and it was being termed successful and historic (safal aur etihaasik). Doordarshan carried a phone conversation with its correspondent Ashish Joshi in New York after the joint press conference. Joshi said that it was quite a happy atmosphere (kaafi khushnuma mahual). According to Joshi, the one-to-one meeting lasted for more than an hour, which was a significant event since it was rare for such a long meeting to be held. The two leaders addressed the press, President Musharraf said that we want to dialogue to go forward, we want the dialogue process to go ahead. We want to carry forward the joint press statement that was issued after the January summit in Islamabad, to implement the confidence building measures mentioned in the statement.

President Musharraf said on Zee  that the gas pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan was a good project and would increase the economic ties between the two countries. He also said that they had discussed the Kashmir issue, and said that they will discuss all options for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that it was a historic meeting and that wished it would begin a new era of good relations between the two countries.

StarTV’s anchor, Siddharth described the meeting, saying: "This is their first face-to-face meeting. When Manmohan Singh reached New York’s Roosevelt Hotel Pervez Musharraf greeted him with great warmth. When both leaders shook hands in the presence of their delegations the entire atmosphere became emotional (pura mahaul bhavuk ho gaya). Both the Indian and Pakistani leaders have addressed the UN. Both leaders agreed to talk on all issues including the Jammu Kashmir issue.

Anchor Siddharth asked StarTV correspondent, Ajay Kumar that there was silence over the issue of terrorism in the joint statement. Ajay Kumar responded that it was difficult to say why there was silence (chuppi kyun rahi) on the subject of terrorism. But, he added that it was obvious that some discussion did take place on the issue of terrorism because when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began his tour he had said that the complete end to terrorism is the first condition for a dialogue. So there must have been some discussion, but in the joint statement that has been issued there is greater emphasis on the issue of Kashmir.

In their coverage of the meeting in New York, the Indian channels concentrated on the atmospherics of the meeting, the warmth with which the two leaders met and later speculated on the absence of any mention of terrorism in the joint statement issued after the meeting. In the studio discussions it was felt that Mr Manmohan Singh had said enough on the subject in his address at the UN session.

PTV’s news bulletin said that the Indian Prime Minister in his address at the UN General Assembly session had said India was ready to discuss all bilateral issues including the Kashmir issue for acceptable solutions (kabil-e-kabool). The film clip showed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterating his determination to carry forward the composite dialogue to "a purposeful and mutually acceptable conclusion." The Indian channels showed film clips of President Musharraf at a press conference in New York, saying, where the Pakistani leader said that bilateralism "must be given final chance because I think the best option is bilateralism". Both Indian and Pakistani channels found the meeting between the two leaders to be fruitful in setting the direction for bilateral dialogue.

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