Vajpayee wants talks on Kashmir in totality
9 July 2001
The News International
NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister AB Vajpayee has implicitly conceded before his parliamentary colleagues, both from the opposition and ruling parties, that his forthcoming meeting with President Pervez Musharraf would primarily be focusing on the issue of Kashmir. But India wants to discuss the said issue "in its totality, specially the terrorist side of it."The prime minister was reported to have made these remarks at the conference of all those political parties of India, which have some representation in the parliament. Five days before the Agra summit, these parties were called to toss their ideas for building a "national consensus" on issues related to India and Pakistan.Paramod Mahajan, minister of parliamentary affairs, briefed news persons after the all-party conference. He revealed that almost each political party expressed the desire that instead of turning out to be Kashmir-specific, the Agra summit should rather address a broad- based agenda. Substantive progress was also needed on some other "equally important issues." Nuclear related confidence building measures and increasing the mutual trade, for example.They also expressed the opinion that New Delhi does not need to sign any "no war pact" with Pakistan, at least at this stage.Mahajan admitted that most political leaders were "upset" over reports that Islamabad was determined to invite leaders of All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to the high tea, Jehangir Ashraf Qazi is hosting at the High Commission of Pakistan in New Delhi on July 14.That can help build the impression as if before sitting with the Indian prime minister for serious discussions, the Pakistan president and chief executive had "consulted the true representatives of the Kashmiri people."Jaswant Singh, the minister of external affairs, had to intervene at this point and is reported to have firmly told the APC participants that for New Delhi "APHC has no legitimacy. We don"t recognize them as true and sole representatives of the people of Kashmir. They have no locus standi to make such claims." He stressed that like any one else in the conference room, APHC leaders were also "Indian citizens." They should contest elections to prove their representative claims. For us, the present government in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a duly elected and legitimate government."Despite the tough posturing, the Indian minister of external affairs didn"t sound to be committing that New Delhi would want to stop APHC leaders going to the High Commission of Pakistan, for a meeting with the Pakistani president, by all means. "We will go by the international protocol of dealing with a visiting head of the state," was his vague reply.The discussion then turned to the question, what those representatives of the political parties should do, who have also been invited to Pak High Commission, if APHC leaders are found there.For protocol reasons, it was conceded, "one representative of the status of a minister from the government of India has to be around the visiting dignitary, wherever he goes to and whosoever he meets with."Yet, the president of the ruling BJP pledged there and then that no one from his party would attend the high tea, if APHC leaders were also to be found there. All the political parties joined him to make the vow of abstaining from the party, if that happens.The prime minister was reportedly touched by this expression of "total unity on national issues" among political parties and profusely thanked the participants. In passing, he also recalled that General Musharraf had also called for an all-party conference to build the national consensus before his visit to India. "But two of their main political parties, (the PPP and the PML-N) were not found there. No one is missing from our conference."After the crowded conference of today, he is now scheduled to meet party heads on one-on-one basis. Beginning with Mulayam Singh Yadev from Tuesday, he would finish the next round with an extensive but exclusive meeting with Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition party, AIC (I). The proposed meeting will take place on July 12, two days before the president and chief executive of Pakistan lands in the Indian capital.Ms. Gandhi has recently returned from a high profile visit to the USA. Many in New Delhi believe that during the said visit, Washington has discreetly persuaded her to fully support the efforts; the Indian prime minister is making to negotiate some sort of "lasting peace" with Pakistan.AP adds: "In this euphoria, there should not be any lowering of guard across the border," Mahajan quoted opposition leaders as telling the prime minister. Also Monday, Pakistan ignored Indian objections and invited top leaders of Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, to a tea party in the capital on July 14, United News of India news agency reported.India had said it was opposed to any meeting between Musharraf and the Kashmir leaders, calling the Kashmir issue an internal matter. Opposition leaders also cautioned the prime minister against letting the Kashmir dispute hijack the talks. "Though there is no hesitation in discussing Kashmir, it cannot be the sole issue of discussion," Mahajan said. He added: "Today's meeting has strengthened the hands of the prime minister."The opposition leaders also urged Vajpayee that the peace talks should take as their basis the two previous peace agreements between the two nations in 1972 and 1999. "Talks on Kashmir should be based on the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration," said Manmohan Singh, a leader of the main opposition Congress party in Parliament's upper house..