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Tuesday, July 31, 2001

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The Agra summit & thereafter

BEFORE THE talks between the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan formally commenced at Agra on July 15, an Indian spokesperson said, "It is the commencement of a journey and the beginning of a process". After Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf had their first informal chat before they had their luncheon hosted by the Prime Minister, the same spokesperson announced that the talks were "positive, purposeful and constructive". After the first day's formal talks at Agra, the media reported that there were "positive signals" though some "hurdles remained". In fact the Indian spokesperson termed the talks as "very cordial and constructive".

According to The Hindu of July 16, "Ms. Sushma Swaraj, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting, told mediapersons that many key issues figured in the talks. These included Jammu and Kashmir, cross-border terrorism, nuclear and military confidence- building measures, trade and economic cooperation, and the Indian concerns about the prisoners of war in Pakistan". The next day, the paper reported "Gen. Musharraf's pointed and public criticism of the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Ms. Sushma Swaraj, for her remarks on television the previous night". He expressed his regret that she had suggested that the bilateral discussions had been on trade, cross-border terrorism and the nuclear issue. `But not a word on Kashmir!' Was Ms. Swaraj misquoted in the earlier report or was Gen. Musharraf misinformed by mischievous elements about what Ms. Swaraj said? In any case, this clearly indicated that much of the problem at the summit was the overzealous reporting by the media searching for straws floating in the wind to indicate the direction the talks were taking from minute to minute.

Political flexibility

On the day he arrived in India, Gen. Musharraf in his interaction with Indian intellectuals said both he and Mr. Vajpayee "enjoy a certain political flexibility". He does not appear to have shown the slightest political flexibility neither in regard to matters to be discussed between the two countries at the summit nor in regard to Kashmir itself, though he declared in Delhi "Let us move on all issues in tandem". He and his delegation took umbrage at Ms. Sushma Swaraj's remarks and her Pakistani counterpart Mr. Anwar Mahmood contradicted "the perception that Kashmir was one of the many issues that dominated the discussions between Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf". The discussion "in tandem" was forgotten and according to Mr. Anwar Mahmood, "the President of Pakistan has emphasised once again that Kashmir has to be focused and has to be addressed and once it is addressed, other issues can also be addressed''. Again, in a somewhat ambivalent statement, "Our position is that Kashmir should be the focus of the talks and other issues also can be discussed".

What was Pakistan's position? Was it that other issues could be discussed but not disclosed to the public that they were discussed, or was it that other issues could be discussed only after the issue of Kashmir was settled to the satisfaction of Pakistan? If according to the Pakistani Minister, "Discussions focused on Kashmir. They have discussed other subjects as well in the delegation meeting," what was wrong in Ms. Sushma Swaraj referring to the discussions on subjects other than Kashmir? In any case, what was so egregiously wrong in what Ms. Swaraj stated that they should "trigger such a furious reaction on the Pakistan Television (PTV)" and other Pakistani media and in the government circles in that country?

When the talks were over, the Indian spokeswoman announced, in a needless attempt at flowery prose, that "although a new journey has begun with Pakistan," "the destination of a joint statement has not been reached". The Pakistani spokesman talked of a draft of a joint statement being ready, corrected in hand by the two Foreign Ministers, but a "hidden hand" had intervened to prevent it being finalised and announced. The reference was apparently to the Home Minister, Mr. Advani or some others in the Central Cabinet or the BJP demurring and defeating the purpose of the summit. Such a comment amounted to misdemeanour by a member of the Pakistani delegation. It was generous of the Indian Government not to have taken umbrage at the remark. In any case, a draft remains a draft until it is finally approved or rejected; if relations between two sovereign countries are to be determined by drafts drawn up during discussions between delegations, and the parties do not have the right to discard drafts they consider unacceptable, no sensible and purposeful decisions would be possible. Already India declared that the draft declaration could not be the basis for further engagement with Pakistan. Pakistan however considers this a `u-turn' and was reported to be "dumbstruck". India considers that the further discussions should be based on the Shimla and Lahore accords. It should not be difficult to reach an acceptable solution to this controversy.

The Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan have both characterised the summit as "inconclusive and not a failure". This is as it should be. Problems that have cropped up in the relations between the two countries since their birth more than half a century ago cannot be swept away in a meeting between the two countries in one day. Gen. Musharraf in his breakfast meeting with the media leaders said again and again that we should forget the past and start our relations on a clean slate. Perhaps he was stating this only to emphasise the need to make positive moves towards solving all bilateral problems. Otherwise, this would be impossible.

Past bitterness

The General himself is not ready to forget the past and the bitterness much of it entailed. In his meeting with the media, he recalled "the sense of pain and hurt in Pakistan from Indian actions in relation to the Mukti Bahini in 1971, and to the Siachen controversy." "Hurt and pain have been caused to both sides, we have to forget the past and move forward". True. How can India forget the pain of millions of Bangla refugees driven out by the excesses of the military in East Pakistan? How can India forget the supply of arms and training and other encouragement to insurrectionary elements in Nagaland, Mizoram, and other Northeastern States? According to one commentator on the television (Mr. Brahma Challaney on the Zee TV), Gen. Musharraf himself was earlier involved in training and equipping Naga rebels and other insurrectionary elements in Northeastern India. He was also involved in training Sikh terrorists for subversive activities in Punjab.

How can anyone forget the cross-border terrorism into Kashmir? The least Pakistan could have assured was denial of passage for elements other than Kashmiris from crossing the border, denial of passage for arms and explosives used for subversion and massacre of innocent citizens. How can India forget the hijacking of civilian Indian aircraft and the protection given to the hijackers in Pakistan? Gen. Musharraf went to the extent of describing the main culprit behind the hijacking as a religious leader. How can India forget the pumping of counterfeit currency into India? How can India forget the cruel banishment of pundits from the Kashmir Valley? Not only have we to forget these, but more importantly there should also be an assurance or verifiable guarantee that such activities will not be repeated, encouraged or abetted. Improvement in relations between the two countries cannot be founded on mere wiping out of memories of recent events that have hurt the two countries. One has to remember what has happened without being overwhelmed by it and strive to eliminate those factors that caused these events. Positive steps have to be taken to prevent animosities from being exploited by religious fanatics and rightwing extremists in both countries.

Kashmiris not included

India's failure has been in its inability to project Kashmiris to argue India's case. One does not understand why not even the Chief Minister of Kashmir was included in the Indian delegation. Hindu extremists in India also never fail to queer the pitch of any constructive discussion with Pakistan by their statements and demonstrations. If there was ever any government in India that had the ability to influence these elements to adopt a constructive approach it is only the BJP Government. One is not sure whether the BJP Government is doing enough in this direction.

Much worse is the case with Pakistan. One cannot help noticing several private and religious outfits such as the Hizb-ul- Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba which are heavily armed and engaged with or without the active help of the Pakistani army and government in military training and cross-border terrorism. Pakistan may call them freedom fighters; but it should realise that they constitute the one strongest impediment to restoration of cordial ties between the two countries. They are, in the ultimate analysis, a threat to any orderly governance in Pakistan. It would be in the interest of the Government of Pakistan itself to attempt to curb these elements. Pakistan's refusal to discuss these factors in the summit meeting can only result in the failure of the summit to reach any useful conclusion.

One almost wishes that Gen. Musharraf avoided addressing the media on the Indo-Pakistan issues till matters are first sorted out at the diplomatic level. Already his meeting with the senior representatives of the media at Agra had caused enough problems. In his latest such meeting with the media in Islamabad, he again said that "a declaration on the centrality of the Kashmir to the problem between India and Pakistan within 30 minutes if there was sincerity on both sides. If you are not sincere it is a different matter". If he feels, as he implies, that India is not sincere in the talks, why does he participate in it? His praise for Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Jaswant Singh sounds hollow in the light of his remarks.

A. UMAKANTHA SARMA

Former Chief Secretary, Bihar

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