July 2001 News

Agra As A Milestone

6 July 2001
The Indian Express

New Delhi: Vajpayee depended on his instincts as the subcontinent’s most senior politician How is the world looking at the forthcoming Indo-Pak summit? Take Moscow’s response, for instance. Russia’s foreign minister Igor Iganov sees the ‘‘very event of the summit’’ a cause for optimism. In an exclusive interview, Iganov regards ‘‘dialogue’’ leading to a step by step settlement of the complex issues in Indo-Pak relations as the only route that would lead to ‘‘regional stability.’’ Considering that the interview follows the important Shanghai summit, the foreign minister naturally dwelt at length on Afghanistan. The Russians see the Indo-Pak summit as an important stepping stone towards controlling the sort of extremism that is radiating from Afghanistan. It is interesting that at Shanghai, even the Chinese expressed serious concern at their own Uighur people in Xinjiang catching the extremist infection. ‘‘It is a fact widely recognised by the international community that the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan have become a centre of international terrorism’’, Iganov said. Iganov sees criminal activity like ‘‘drug trafficking’’ as the principal aim of the terrorists ‘‘behind a facade’’ of religion. Russian concerns in Chechnya and their Pan Slavic interest in Balkans makes Moscow that much more sensitive to ‘‘terrorism’’. And this comes through Iganov’s responses. Would Pakistan gradually play the constructive role, along with Russia, India and ‘‘a majority of countries’’ in coordinating the only action that would bring peace to Afghanistan: promoting political talks between opposing factions. Iganov hopes so. After Moscow if you were to touch, say, London or any other western capital last week, you would have found the foreign offices totally pre-occupied with the Milosevic trial at The Hague. That should place the forthcoming Indo-Pak summit in some sort of a global perspective. There is another reason why some of the key western capitals have not been able to give their undivided attention to the summit so far. In London, the transition from Robin Cook to Jack Straw has been somewhat abrupt. Straw, in his earlier incarnation as Home Secretary, had grasped such issues as terrorism, narco traffic, and the complications in Afghanistan. He found himself in perfect harmony with North Block on those concerns. But he would like to acquaint himself with the files in the foreign and commonwealth office before he finds himself acquainted with the cavernous Indo-Pak track. In Washington, Christina Rocca is new to the job as the officer in charge of the South Asia desk. Ambassador Blackwill also has not yet left the shores of the United States to take up residence at Roosevelt House. Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar’s meetings with the res- spective foreign offices clarified the picture in one respect but complicated it in another. Sattar gave a glimpse of what the Pakistani stance might be at the summit. But he also went on to explain why Musharraf would not declare himself President. Lo and behold, days after Sattar’s departure from the Western capitals, Musharraf declared himself President. Had Sattar been left out of loop? In fact, there was speculation whether he was on his way out. The development in Pakistan, namely Musharraf becoming President, caused western capitals to take note. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: “I was deeply concerned to hear that Gen. Musharraf has dissolved and suspended assemblies and assumed the Presidency. There is bound to be widespread anxiety that this represents a setback in the transition to elected democracy.” Commonwealth Secretary General Donald McKinnon was in a particular bind. One of his key tasks is to prepare for the CHOGM (Commonwe- alth Heads of Government Meeting) in Brisbane in October. The last Commonwealth summit in Durban had barred Pakistan from any active participation in Commonwealth activities. In fact, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group was to visit Islamabad and set a deadline for a return to democracy in that country. The other country against which such penal action was instituted was Fiji. But Fiji is now holding elections in August under the 1987 constitution, which the international community endorsed. Fiji will therefore have qualified to resume its seat at the Brisbane summit. Will President Musharraf have taken suitable steps to qualify as a leader who has placed democratic processes on the rails again by the time Brisbane takes place? Surely the implications of all this will not be lost on President Musharraf. Vajpayee, depending on his instincts as the subcontinent’s most senior politician, made an evaluation of Musharraf’s trustworthiness, the dismal failure of the cease-fire in Kashmir, the altered global picture and issued the invitation which Musharraf accepted. Now they are both launched on a high-wire trapeze act.


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