July 2001 News

Agra summit, a good opportunity

6 July 2001
The Hindu
Amit Baruah

NEW DELHI: It has been a year since this correspondent's assignment in Pakistan came to an end. After having reported on the heady days of Lahore in February 1999, and Kargil a couple of months later, one can now watch from a distance, India and Pakistan entering a dialogue mode once again. The rhetoric-dictated stalemate between the two countries had reached such a state that it could have been broken only at the Head of Government level. And so, when the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, invited the Pakistani Chief Executive (now President), Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a meeting was certain. India's refusal to talk to Pakistan after October 1999 was shortsighted. Pakistan today has not been brought to ``its knees'' nor has it been forced into a dialogue with India - and its President will travel to New Delhi and Agra on the basis of a bonafide invitation. If the Vajpayee Government felt so strongly about Kargil and its architect, it should have, at the least, recalled our High Commissioner from Islamabad and left a deputy in-charge to supervise the issuing of visas to Pakistanis. At one point, the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad had been told by New Delhi that there was no question of his meeting any ``Ministers'' in the Musharraf Government. It was a question of policy. Let us recall, too, the cancellation of the SAARC meeting to keep the Prime Minister from meeting the General. With a little over a week to go for Gen. Musaharraf's arrival in New Delhi, the focus seems to be on him as a person - his Mohajir connections, his birth in Daryaganj - and not on the motivation behind renewed India-Pakistan dialogue. Whatever be the truth behind the two leaders' desire to go down in history, there appears to have been more pressing issues behind the invitation to Gen. Musharraf. First, there is a strong Indian business lobby that is interested in a gas pipeline - and it is aware that the route through Pakistan is the shortest. The choice of an interlocutor from the Indian side during the troubled Kargil days was not incidental. And, as a whole, Indian business is interested in the Pakistani market. Secondly, India has now established a solid link with the Bush administration and is hopeful that if push comes to shove in any sustained dialogue process, the Americans will back the Indians. Given the recent public statements of American officials and the high level of engagement, such a hope is not unrealistic. Other motivations may well be hidden from public view. While a resolution of Kashmir will not resolve differences between India and Pakistan (my stay in Pakistan convinced me that Kashmir is all about Bangladesh), India must have its maximalist and minimalist negotiation positions clear. Given the negative sentiments about Pakistan in Indian officialdom, only the politician can chart a new course. In the early 1960s, Sardar Swaran Singh and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto held several rounds of talks and even had map-based discussions on re- orienting the Line of Control (LoC). The renewal of such a process, if genuine from both sides, could be a way forward on Kashmir. For India, the Kashmir Valley is non-negotiable but other changes of the LoC could be discussed if the two leaders agree. There is already a ``two-plus-six'' issues approach in the Foreign Secretary dialogue, agreed to in September 1998, by India and Pakistan wherein Kashmir and peace and security are to be addressed independently of Siachen, Wular barrage / Tulbul navigation project, Sir Creek, terrorism, economic cooperation and promotion of friendly exchanges. When Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Vajpayee meet, they could renew the agreed-upon process or get the Foreign Ministers to take charge of the process. In Lahore and after Lahore, the elevation of the dialogue process to Foreign Minister-level has been discussed. Gen. Musharraf, the first Mohajir President of Pakistan, will have his own pressures and concerns. Meeting the Hurriyat leadership is one such issue - the ``jehadis'' will question his sincerity in resolving the Kashmir issue if he does not meet the Hurriyat leaders. While the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam faction of Maulana Fazlur Rehman has backed the dialogue, there are other ``ferocious'' jehadis who can create problems for the General. If a leader is seen as ``selling out'' Kashmir, he can be in serious trouble. To give Gen. Musharraf something to say on his return, his concerns on Kashmir must be met part of the way in any statement that is issued after the summit. There is little doubt that the Agra summit is an opportunity. It is up to Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf to seize it. And, if only to satisfy those in the business of images and sound bytes, the Heads of Government (and if necessary, the Pakistan Chief of Army Staff) should meet regularly (annually or every six months) to end the novelty of such summits. Business may then be possible. More seriously, one could go through the Indian newspapers of February 1999 to see how the balloon of expectancy rose. Given the realities between India and Pakistan, a small poke is enough to deflate the most serious of enterprises.


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