6 August 2001
NEW DELHI: Post-Agra, the blame game has truly begun. Last week Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf held a fiery press conference decrying New Delhi's persistent refusal to accord Kashmir the centrality in the Indo-Pak relationship. New Delhi responded through a prompt reiteration of its inalienable rights to Kashmir and harped on cross-border terrorism. The ongoing mutual recriminations have the peaceniks worried about the future: can anything still be done to pick up the pieces from Agra to salvage the peace process?
Implicit here is the need to identify what precisely undid the Agra summit. Most analysts here believe the hardliners in A.
B. Vajpayee's team worked concertedly to ensure the Agra summit didn't yield a joint declaration. Says former foreign minister Agha Shahi: "His Lahore journey and invitation to Musharraf are expressive of his sincerity. But a coterie in his team seems wedded to the Shiv Sena mentality,
which does not wish to transform the old animosity into a functional friendship."
The only section in Pakistan that blames Musharraf for the Agra deadlock are political leaders. Says Makhdoom Ameen Faheem, senior vice chairman of the Pakistan People's Party: "The general was never sincere in talks. He portrayed himself to be a man of peace before the Agra summit. Post-Agra, he is claiming to have emerged as a credible spokesman of the Kashmiri people by not striking a deal with Vajpayee. The general shouldn't have accepted Vajpayee's offer if he didn't want to talk to India on any issue other than Kashmir."
Yet, even among the political class, some feel the general acquitted himself with aplomb. Says former information minister Mushahid Hussain: "It would be puerile to deny General Musharraf credit where it is due. The hard fact is that he ably defended the national interest in India."
Intellectuals here think Musharraf had quite sagaciously taken a three-point agenda to Agra: India should accept the centrality of the Kashmir issue, agree to a structured arrangement for talks on this contentious issue and promise a time-frame for concluding an agreement on Kashmir.
"But," says political analyst M. Ziauddin, "India had nothing concrete to offer Pakistan on Kashmir. The more one tried to find out what was on Vajpayee's mind, the more one felt convinced that India would be only too happy to keep the dialogue going without reaching any conclusion on Kashmir and, simultaneously, exploit ongoing negotiations to get Pakistan to put a complete stop to what is called the 'cross-LoC jehad'."
But not everyone is pessimistic about the future. Says Dr Moonis Ahmar, a professor of international relations at the Karachi University: "A day after the Agra summit, the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers embarked on damage-control measures to show to the world that the two neighbours had not given up on the option of dialogue. The issue here is not the debacle at Agra but where do India and Pakistan go from here. Post-Agra, already hawks on both sides are reinforcing their call for jehad and war against each other."
What peaceniks emphasise, to use a cliche, is the silver lining in the dark clouds—that both Musharraf and Vajpayee have expressed the desire to continue the peace process, that the Indian prime minister has accepted Islamabad's invitation for a visit, and that the two leaders will hold parleys on the sidelines of the UN meet in September. Says Abbas Sarfraz Khan, federal minister for Kashmir affairs and Northern Areas: "The Agra summit had given a sense of hope not only to more than one billion people of South Asia but also to the entire world that perhaps the two leaders can do something tangible in replacing the conflict process with a peace process." Adds seasoned Pakistani politician and former Kashmir Committee chairman Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan: "If India and Pakistan were close to reaching an agreement at Agra, they should step up efforts to minimise the areas of disagreement for reaching a practical and respectable solution to all their outstanding disputes. But no plausible solution is possible unless the two sides succeed in neutralising hardliners."
Renowned political scientist Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi thinks the next meeting between Musharraf and Vajpayee can't achieve a breakthrough unless the two sides are willing to make significant concessions on Kashmir and other issues. Says Dr Rizvi: "Instead of spending energies on what to include in the declaration, they should create major issue-baskets and agree on the structure of negotiations. Each issue-basket should be taken up at the diplomatic level determined by the heads of government."
One issue-basket, says Rizvi, can focus on Kashmir, covering all dimensions of the problem as identified by the two sides. "This method," says he, "can take up India's concern on cross-border terrorism and Pakistan's concern about human rights violations and the conduct of Indian security forces in India-administered Kashmir. These groups should meet simultaneously but one shouldn't expect all of them to produce results at the same time. Priority should be given to measures for the common people. A flat no to the cbms by Pakistan will provide the Indian government with a chance to accuse it of pursuing a segmented, unifocal approach."
I.A. Rehman, former editor of The Pakistan Times, agrees. "Both sides now have time to reflect not only on their objectives but also on their tactics," says he. "The important thing to remember is that removal of differences between them is not an end in itself; it must be the means to realising the possibilities of mutually beneficial cooperation in all fields. Any settlement that leaves either party with a sense of grievance will wreck the chances of goodwill. For success, both sides will be required to rise above their perceptions of themselves."
Many in India have looked askance after Musharraf's press conference, believing it could have foreclosed options for diplomatic parleys. But columnist Prof Khalid Mahmood would want the press conference to be seen from a domestic perspective. "It was a damage-control exercise," he says.
Agra has helped Musharraf legitimise himself internationally. Says former vice-chancellor Dr Rafiq Ahmed: "Today, he is in a much better position to tour the western countries and ask for economic assistance." Quoting a recently released World Bank progress report, Dr Ahmed says the Musharraf regime has put the Pakistani economy back on track. "It has made a clear break from the past in its efforts to bring the economy back from the brink of bankruptcy. For the first time in two years, Pakistan's providing basis for stronger operational engagement by the Bank."
Yet others are disapproving of how Musharraf ran down civilian rule in his press conference. As Mushahid Hussain, a key man in the Nawaz Sharif dispensation, points out, "Musharraf should not present the Indo-Pak issue in a polarised perspective by insisting on a politician versus military divide, as if politicians 'sold out' while only the khaki 'protected' the national interest. The politicians could rightly retort that every previous military regime was responsible for losing territory to India—the Rann of Kutch under Ayub, East Pakistan under Yahya and Siachen under Zia.In contrast, the Simla Accord or the Lahore Declaration was no sell-out on Kashmir, simply a roadmap for future relations."
Indeed, New Delhi must understand that Musharraf's press meet was guided more by domestic compulsions than foreign policy imperatives. What he said on Kashmir was what he'd always said—and what perhaps most Pakistan would want of their leader.