Divergence of views

Published : Jul 21, 2001 00:00 IST

The Pakistanis are unhappy with what they refer to as attempts to shift the focus of the talks away from Kashmir.

UNTIL the eleventh hour, there were expectations that at least a joint statement would be issued by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf at the end of their two-day Summit. The talks had after all started off well, with the "one-to-one" meeting between the two leaders lasting more than an hour.

A thick wall of secrecy surrounded the talks on July 15, the opening day of the summit, with both Indian and Pakistani officials putting a lid on the agenda. Unfortunately, Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj got into the act. Talking to the electronic media, she said that the talks were progressing well; however, she failed to mention that Kashmir figured in the talks. At the same time she laid emphasis on issues that the Pakistanis considered peripheral or non-existent. The official Indian government statement earlier in the day had described the talks as "very frank, cordial and constructive".

There were indications that the atmosphere was getting a little tense as the Summit proceeded into its second day. There was a feeling among Pakistani officials and mediapersons that some key Indian officials were not too keen to ensure the success of the talks. The impression started gaining ground after Musharraf made a courtesy call on Home Minister L.K. Advani in Delhi, before his departure for Agra. Advani had given indications to the Indian media even before the arrival of Musharraf in India that he intended to adopt a tough posture on issues relating to cross-border terrorism. It was allegedly the Home Minister who orchestrated the criticism against the Pakistan government for inviting the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leadership to a reception hosted by the Pakistan High Commissioner in honour of the visiting Pakistan President and attended by over 700 people.

Although the Pakistani side described the meeting with the Indian Home Minister as a routine courtesy call during which nothing official was discussed, the Home Ministry let it be known that Advani had sought the extradition of the notorious criminal and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, who is said to be holed up in Karachi. According to the Home Ministry sources, the Pakistan President said that the "don" from Mumbai is no longer in Pakistan territory.

It is no secret that the Pakistanis were miffed by the attempts to shift the focus away from what they consider the "core" issue. It seems that the Pakistanis had expected trouble from the "hardliners" in the Indian government. According to Pakistani sources, that was the main reason why Musharraf decided to cut down the size of the Pakistani delegation and omitted his Interior Minister from the list. Had the Minister been in the team, Advani, the Indian counterpart, would have been a high-profile participant in the Summit. The hardline stance taken by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir prior to Musharraf's arrival was also an indication of the things to come. He repeatedly emphasised that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and that he could not negotiate on the Indian Constitution with Pakistan.

That the Pakistanis were unhappy with Sushma Swaraj's spin on the talks became evident when they issued a statement late on the night of July 15, saying that Musharraf and Vajpayee had spent most of their one-to-one meeting discussing the Kashmir issue. Before the Information Minister had made her views known, both Indian and Pakistani officials had refrained from even listing the subjects that came up for discussions. The gloves were officially off when Musharraf, during his interaction with Indian editors on July 16, criticised the importance that Sushma Swaraj gave to issues such as the missing prisoners of war (POWs).

Musharraf's meeting with the Indian media personalities did not go well with the Indian officialdom. The bureaucrats were not amused that the Pakistan President had projected a dynamic media profile while getting his views on the "core" issue of Kashmir across to Indian and international viewers. However, there was no indication of a stalemate-like situation emerging until late on the evening of July 16.

The first concrete indication that things were going off track came when the text of Vajpayee's opening statement to the plenary of the Summit on July 15 was released. Reiterating the known positions of India, Vajpayee said India had always taken a "comprehensive view of India-Pakistan relations". In his statement, he focussed on the number of CBMs (confidence-building measures) announced by the Indian government just prior to Musharraf's visit. Vajpayee raised "certain additional specific matters". These related to the "54 Indian POWs", who India says are in Pakistani custody. Vajpayee also mentioned that "some terrorists and criminals" guilty of bomb blasts and hijacking were still present in Pakistan and should be handed back. Musharraf had earlier in the day vehemently denied that Pakistan held any Indian POW and suggested that this was one of the diversionary ploys of India aimed at shifting the focus away from Kashmir.

Given the hype that surrounded the Summit, there was an expectation that both sides would come up with at least a joint declaration. Until late in the evening of July 16, there was talk of a "historic breakthrough", with India recognising Kashmir as the "core" issue and Pakistan giving primacy to the containment of "cross-border terrorism". According to Pakistani sources, the Indian negotiating side had agreed to the wording of the draft, which said that the solution of the Kashmir conflict would lead to the normalisation of ties between the two countries.

According to the draft, the two countries were to hold annual summits and biannual meetings at the Foreign Ministers' level to discuss security and related issues. The Indian side then demanded a written commitment from Pakistan that it would curb cross-border terrorism. Pakistan in turn demanded a time-bound solution to the Kashmir problem in keeping with the wishes of the Kashmiri people. That is when the talks got irrevocably bogged down.

Pakistani officials have been indicating that if there is some progress on Kashmir, there would be an automatic scaling down of the violence in the Valley. Implicit in this is the message that they will try to control infiltration of terrorists into the Indian side and crack the whip on the "fundamentalist" backers of the extremist groups operating in the valley. A written commitment to end cross-border terrorism would have been nothing short of a mea culpa for the Pakistani military establishment.

There were clear indications that the Pakistan President wanted to go home with some sort of an agreement or understanding. Before his arrival, the Pakistani establishment had let it be known that the "gas pipeline from Iran to India" was there for the asking and that it was not tied up to the Kashmir issue. According to Pakistani sources, the other significance of the proposed gas pipeline is that it has the backing of the United States. This is important, as the previous U.S. administrations had objected to gas and oil coming in from the Islamic Republic of Iran. One of the biggest proponents of the gas pipeline from Iran is Shirin Taher-Kheli, who is now in the Bush administration.

A senior Pakistani commentator said that the Bush administration was not giving Pakistan much of a choice either. "The Bush administration is threatening to take Pakistan either to a taxidermist or an undertaker if it does not talk seriously about peace with India. Either way the consequences will be the same for the country." There were loud suggestions that a downscaling of Indian and Pakistani troop presence in the Siachen region would be a good CBM to keep the momentum going.

The former Defence Minister and the current convener of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, George Fernandes, has been loudly protesting moves to de-escalate the situation in the Siachen area, which is considered strategically useless in a conflict with Pakistan. Experts however say that it could be militarily useful against China. At the same time, Musharraf never allowed the focus to slip away from Kashmir. But, according to Pakistani sources, there were changes in their official nuances on Kashmir. He said that when Musharraf talked about the Kashmir problem during the reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he did not mention the relevant U.N. resolutions that talk about plebiscite. He said that it was also significant that the Indian side did not make such a hue and cry when the Kashmir issue was given importance at the presidential banquet.

Pakistani sources also think that Musharraf's interaction with the Hurriyat leadership was of significance. They feel that the meeting has given the APHC added credibility and will force India to take seriously the Hurriyat's claims to represent the people of Kashmir. There are also indications that Musharraf is preparing to crack down on the jehadi groups in Pakistan. An agreement with India would have bolstered his position considerably.

A note of optimism

PAKISTAN Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said in a statement on July 17 in Islamabad that President Pervez Musharraf was optimistic about prospects for better relations between Pakistan and India. According to the statement, considerable progress was made in the Summit-level discussions and in evolving the text of a declaration.

The statement added that it was unfortunate that the expected consummation did not materialise. "Nevertheless, the President remains convinced that the existing goodwill on both sides can and will achieve mutually desired results."

The statement continued thus:

"President Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee share a common vision of peace, progress and prosperity for their peoples in the 21st century. The President has complimented the Indian Prime Minister for the gracious initiative to invite him for the resumption of dialogue between the two countries after a hiatus of nearly two years.

"Cognisant of the benefits of peace and cooperation between the two neighbouring countries, President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee held wide-ranging discussions on Pakistan-India relations, particularly on Jammu and Kashmir.

"They affirmed commitment to addressing each other's expressed concerns, creating an environment conducive to the establishment of peaceful, friendly and cooperative ties, for the welfare of the two peoples.

"While in New Delhi, President Musharraf welcomed the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. We hope India would accord them travel documents to visit Pakistan for consultations.

"Time did not permit substantive discussion on any specific issue. But valuable progress was made at Agra on evolving a structure for a sustained dialogue process, that would take up Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security, and terrorism and drug trafficking at the political level.

"Economic and commercial cooperation, Siachin, Wuller Barrage, Sir Creek and promotion of friendly exchanges in various levels would be addressed at the level of high officials.

"All these issues need to be addressed purposefully, constructively and in an integrated manner, with a sense of urgency.

"Responding to press questions, the President of Pakistan was forthcoming on discussion of any issues of concern to India. He emphasised again and again that realism requires a focus, and that progress on settlement of Jammu and Kashmir would be conducive to normalisation of bilateral relations.

"Prime Minister Vajpayee has accepted our President's invitation for a return visit. The two leaders are expected to meet in New York in September and continue efforts to promote agreement. The goodwill between them is an asset for better relations between the two countries.

"Enlightened opinion in India is no less keen than that in Pakistan to extricate bilateral relations from the time wrap in which they have been trapped for 54 years.

"Like the Indian Prime Minister, the Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Jaswant Singh, brought equal goodwill to the task of translating the convergence of thoughts at the Summit level into words.

"The two sides came very close to bringing the Declaration close to adoption and approval. In fact twice yesterday it appeared we had succeeded in arriving at a mutually acceptable formulation. It is unfortunate that the fruition of the exercise was aborted.

"The Agra Summit remained inconclusive but it did not fail. In fact, the two leaders succeeded in covering a broad area of common ground in the draft Declaration. That will provide a valuable foundation for the two leaders to reach full agreement at their next meeting.

"Compliments are due also to intellectuals, media and the common people in India as in Pakistan for their contribution to building an environment of opinion conducive to forward movement. Heartened by the prevalent goodwill, President Musharraf believes popular support will be an asset also to leaders in India who want to work for a future better than the past."

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