A tale of two journeys
1 July 2001
Islamabad: After Ariel Sharon became prime minister of Israel, General Pervez Musharraf praised him publicly, lauding his potential to make peace with the Palestinians. The transition from hawk to peacemaker is a role that both President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee covet, and Agra will clearly test their will and vision to make a difference to the 53-year-old status quo on Kashmir.
Already, both have surprised the world with the alacrity and ease with which they have developed a personal rapport, singing praises of each other through talk of mutual 'sincerity and straightforwardness'.
These are just some of the ironies that abound in the run-up to the summit. An even greater irony is that the much-maligned Lahore process, Atal Behari Vajpayee's famous journey that culminated in the signing of the Lahore Declaration in February 1999, is going to be revived by none other than General Pervez Musharraf. Foremost amongst the cited 'sins' of the PML government was the "sell-out" at Lahore which, like the Simla Accord signed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutoo in 1972, are the twin bases on which Pakistan and India are resuming their dialogue with Kashmir as the centre-peace. The Simla Accord too had been widely criticised by the Zia regime after Bhutoo's removal for containing "secret clauses" detrimental to Pakistan's security interests but none were ever discovered.
The 'bus diplomacy' which transported Vajpayee across Wagah facilitated only the second visit to Lahore by an Indian prime minister, the first being Jawaharlal Nehru's trip in 1960, and the second to Pakistan in 10 years. Rajiv Gandhi had earlier made a stopover in Islamabad in July 1989 when Benzir Bhutoo was prime minister.
In between there were seven high-level visits from Pakistan to India -five by General Ziaul Haq between 1982 and 1987, Nawaz Sharif's Delhi journey in 1991 for Rajiv Gandhi's funeral and Farooq Leghari's trip in connection with the 1995 SAARC summit. The Lahore process was a continuation of the Sharif-Gujral meeting at Male, in the Maldives, in May 1997 during a SAARC summit. It was here that, for the first time since Simla, India agreed to discuss Kashmir as a dispute requiring resolution. This was forrmalised at the foreign secretaries' meeting on June 23, 1997 when an eight-point agenda including Kashmir, Siachen, peace and security and trade and culture were incorporated into what was termed a 'composite dialogue'.
The forthcoming summit between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee will be held in three contexts. This will be the first discussion on Kashmir between a Pakistani military ruler and an Indian leader since the Ayub-Shastri meeting at Tashkent. During the Yahya and Zia years, Kashmir was never a subject for discussion in Pakistan's talks with India.
Second, the summit is being held in an international context where the international context where the international community- the US, the United Nations, the OIC and the European Union- all have declined to 'mediate' or intercede on Kashmir. While they are keen to defuse tensions in the subcontinent, fearing the conflict could develop a nuclear edge, theirs is largely a hand-off policy save the occasional reference to human rights.
Third, General Pervez Musharraf negotiates with Vajpayee from a position of far greater domestic strength than that enjoyed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in February 1999. Sharif was then subject to a double jeopardy of sorts, having to 'sell' the India initiative to a doubting establishment and its political allies who were already crying 'treason' before coming out in the streets to protest Vajpayee's arrival in Lahore.
On the eve of Vajpayee's trip, a major Urdu and English daily carried screaming headlines announcing that the "services chiefs have refused to go to Wagah to salute the Indian prime minister". And on the day of his arrival, Lahore was a battleground between the police and demonstrators from the Jamaat-e-Islami. The governor of the Punjab, Shahid Hamid, was the overall in-charge of administration and logistics pertaining to the Indian prime minister's visit. Vajpayee, his adopted daughter and her husband were to stay at the Governor House. Shahid Hamid, an able administrator who is politically savvy as well, called a meeting on the day of the visit to review arrangements. It was known that a Jamaat-e-Islami demonstration was on the cards but the Lahore administration was confident that their 'understanding' with the Jamaat would hold: they would have a peaceful rally which would disperse at an agreed point (Wapda House on the Mall) prior to the Indian prime minister's arrival and would not disturb his itinerary.
The director general Salimullah (ex-DG, ISPR and currently ambassador to the UAE), offered his troops but these were politely declined since the Lahore administration was confident about its arrangements. After the official ceremonies at Wagah, the Indian prime minister flew to the Governor House in a six-seat chopper that carried the two PMs, the Pakistani minister-in-waiting, his doctor and two security men from either country. Before landing on the spacious, well-manicured lawns of the Governor House, the chopper made a circle and from up there Vajpayee caught a glimpse of the hordes of demonstrators still thronging the Mall, Lahore's main thoroughfare situated close to where he was staying.
When the chopper landed, the three services chiefs, attired in uniform, were waiting to greet him on the lawn. All three-General Pervez Musharraf, Air Chief Marshal Pervez Mehdi Qureishi and Admiral Fasih Bokhari-smartly saluted the Indian prime minister. Strangely enough, there were no cameras to record this scene. They escorted him to the living room, where they joined him for tea and withdrew after he retired to his room. They flew back to Islamabad because the Chinese defence minister, Chi Haotien, was in the capital and due to appear at banquet hosted the same night by Foreign Minister Sartaz Aziz. So the salute did take place, not at Wagah in the full public glare, but in the intimacy and serene surroundings of the Governor House lawns.
The Vajpayee visit was not just a media event, or simply a series of photo opportunities, but quite substantive as well. The two sides agreed to resolve Kashmir within a time-frame of up to 18 months and to co-ordinate their positions on the CTBT since both then faced concurrent pressure from the US. A swap of prisoners long held by both sides was also agreed upon, as was the possibility of facilitating Sikh tourism at their religious shrines in Pakistan, plus exchanges in trade and culture.
The Lahore process could begin because it was largely initiated outside normal bureaucratic channels. Had it been undertaken through file-work via the foreign office in Islamabad or the 'south block' in New Delhi, it would have been a non-starter, subject to the same nit-picking and red tape to which such initiative often fall victim.
Mr Vajpayee showed tremendous grace during the visit. He had demonstrated goodwill for Pakistan in the past as well, in 1878, when he visited the country as foreign minister of the Janata government.
His gesture this time round of visiting the Minar-e-Pakistan was meant to convey a message to the people of Pakistan, from the head of a Hindu nationalist party no less. On the night of his arrival, he got delayed for the banquet by about 90 minutes because of the police battle with demonstrators blocking Vajpayee's route to the Lahore Fort. He took it all in his stride and while visiting the gurdwara close to the Fort, where he could hear tear-gas shells being fired close by and the wind blowing some of the fumes towards him, he matter-of-factly said that "I understand such things do happen".
What was the measure of 'success' of the Lahore process and what such criterion can be applied to the upcoming summit? Both sides emerged satisfied from the Lahore Declaration. Pakistan felt that India had at long last accepted its premise of Kashmir being a dispute and had agreed to "intensify efforts for its solution", as stated in the Lahore Declaration. Then there was the symbolism of an Indian prime minister's visit to the Minar-e-Pakistn, an act aimed at 'legitimising' the Muslim struggle for separate statehood.
India was relieved that bilateralism had been accepted by Pakistan as the preferred route to a Kashmir settlement, with the UN not playing a role. Concurrently, Kashmir would be part of a package of issues underpinning normalisation of Pakistan-India relations. And to top it all, Vajpayee managed the transition from a 'hawkish Hindu leader' to a 'moderate' visionary, almost Nixonian in his sense of history and ability to reach out by taking bold decisions.
However, decency or politeness do not mean he will hand Kashmir over on a silver platter to President Musharraf. As is to be expected, he will drive a hard bargain but he has shown he can be very flexible, and even different from his predecessors.
How will 'success' at Agra be measured? Pakistan and India have already moved beyond their stated positions and accepted the transformation of the Kashmir conflict into a trilateral issue-neither 'bilateral' as India would have liked nor 'international' as Pakistan would have preferred. The Kashmiris have been injected as the necessary third party, whose role is central to any settlement. It is thus not surprising that in the span of one year, India's hat trick of about-turns includes agreeing to talk to a mujahidden organisation (when Vajpayee announced his willingness in July 2000 to talk to the Hizbul Mujahideen 'within the framework of insaniyat,), appointing an official negotiator to talk to the APHC and inviting General Musharraf to India.
The Hizb are no longer denounced as 'terrorist' or the APHC cited as 'Pakistani agents' and democracy is not an 'issue' in bilateral relations. For its part, Pakistanis muted about UN resolutions or any role of outside mediators, which it had been asking for in the past. Now the new line seeks a "solution acceptable to the Kashmiri people".
The Agra Summit would be a 'success' if India and Pakistan can agree to a settlement that seeks to alter the status quo in Kashmir, incorporates the Kashmiris into any budding peace process, schedules the next summit with a date and venue, settle Siachen and signs on the gas pipeline deal as symbolic expressions of a mutual commitment to pursue a process of normalisation of relations.
When Nawaz Sharif began his official talks with Vajpayee at the Governor House the day after the latter's arrival, he half-jokingly 'thanked' the Indian prime minister for 'providing Pakistan the opportunity of becoming a nuclear power' since it was the Indian nuclear tests that forced Pakistan to follow suit in May 1998. Vajpayee merely responded with a faint smile.
When Musharraf meets Vajpayee, maybe he too could begin by 'thanking' the Indian PM. After all, the Lahore process followed by Kargil proved to be the catalyst for political change in Pakistan that first propelled General Musharraf to power and then to the presidency. The Indian government's ceasefire in November.
Despite the misery he has witnessed, or perhaps because of it, Amjad is firm in his belief that war offers no solutions. He hails the decision of the Pakistani and Indian leadership to meet and discuss the issue, adding that such talks should have been facilitated much earlier. Amjad's burning ambition of course is to one day return to the home his family abandoned more than a decade ago. He is not alone in this desire.
Qazi Khushal, a 30-year-old refugee and father of two children, crossed into AJK in January 1990 from the border district of Kupwara. His parents, four sisters and two brothers still reside in Indian-held Kashmir. Khushal's uncle was killed and the whereabouts of his 20-yearold nephew, who was picked up by Indian soldiers in 1994 on suspicion of helping the freedom fighter, are still unknown. "we hope the summit talks will bear positive results and lead to a breakthrough on the Kashmir issue," he says with the quiet optimism of a proud man who has little left to loose.
Shehnaz Qazi, a teacher, is originally from Karnah in district Kupwara. Now 26, she was a class six student in 1990 when she and her parents fled their home. Two of her uncles have been killed by Indian forces. "We fled when my father came to know that the army had ordered his death," she reveals. Shehnaz, along with her parents and brother, made it across the LoC but four-year-old sister was left behind with her grandmother.
Although an emotionally charged Shehnaz despairs that nothing may change, she is still pinning her hopes on the forthcoming summit. "We want Kashmir issue to be resolved soon so we can go back home. I miss my relatives, my friends and life in my village, "she laments. "May Allah here us and end our days of trail."
Mohammad Iqbal, 30, welcome Musharraf's scheduled trip to India. "Only dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi can resolve the Kashmir dispute," he insists.
"Otherwise our agony and distress will never end." Iqbal is buoyed by the fact that Musharaff represents Pakistan's most powerful institution while Vajpayee heads the most popular nationalist party in India. "Nobody can accuse them of selling out. I agreed these two leaders have what it takes to grasp the initiative."
Mohammad Ismail from Emrohi Karnah in Kupwara is wary of Vajpayee's motives and intentions, pionting out that intransigence has so far been the Indian leadership's defining trait. Yet he is far from opposed to the summit. "Kashmiris will see an end to their suffering only when the guns fall silent and talks begin," says the 35-year-old refugee.
Ismail was forced to leave his home in January 1993 with his parents and four brothers because the family felt their lives were at risk. A close relative and his two sons were picked up by the Indian forces in 1994 and there is still no clue to their whereabouts. Ismail believes they were killed during interrogation.
Mohammad Liaquat, another refugee, is in his 30s and originally a resident of Lashdat, a border village in district Kupwara. His family was one of 65 households that escape Lashdat in the face of unrelenting brutality by Indian forces. His father is missing in feared dead, while two of his cousins were killed after suffering savage torture. "My cousins were on their way home when they were picked up. Their limbs were hacked off and they were shot," says Liaquat. His mother and three sisters are still on the other side of the LoC. " I received a letter 6 month ago. They were safe but lonely and our mother cries for us." Liaquat feels that negotiations between Pakistan and India could help bring an end to the misery and suffering of the Kashmiri people. "If the talks succeed," he says optimistically, "there will be no more killing and looting and no more this honouring of women. We will go back home. Our mental trauma and sufferings will end." Given the dismal track record on Kashmir, it can only be hoped that Liaquat's dreams are not shattered yet again.