The Heart Break at Agra
By Arabinda Aacharya
– That the summit will at best produce a declaration or a joint statement which would be acceptable to both the leaders sans any contentious issues given the compulsions under which the talks are being held. (This is in the context that Musharraf particularly would have liked a declaration from Agra that would have overruled the Lahore initiative of which the General did not have much liking)
– That New Delhi runs the risks of being blamed for any failure if the summit does not come out with any tangible results. (This was obvious from the amount of hype that the General turned President created to mislead independent observers into believing that it is entirely due to New Delhi’s persistent refusal to accept Kashmir issue as an agenda for discussions.)
I was partly wrong and partly right. And for both the central issue that contributed to the stand-off has been the issue of Kashmir – an issue which President Musharraf carried from Islamabad and Prime Minister Vajpayee choose to keep in some sort of political amnesia.
President Musharraf gave all the indications of having done his homework well. From the beginning he has been maintaining that Kashmir is the core issue and any discussion devoid of Kashmir problem shall be eyewash at best. Objectively analyzed, this appeared to be right at least from Pakistan’s viewpoint.
Kashmir has been a congenital policy dilemma for Pakistani leadership since 1947. The issue has been determining the contour of Indo-Pak relations. There have been formal wars with India over it, continuous border skirmishes and subversive terrorist activities around it. Even when the both the leaders were breaking their heads in trying to find a common ground to discuss at Agra there were reports of cross border firing on the line of control. The Kashmir imbroglio has also been responsible for sub-continental nuclear adventure with both the countries spending huge sums on building up deterrent capacity for themselves – both conventional and nuclear. The money other wise could have been made available for development projects which both the countries badly require given the poor and underdeveloped economy.
Kashmir has also been the central to international community’s perceptions about both the nations. Ever since the UN’s resolution on Kashmir, the topic has come up with certain regularity in statements of various heads of government and statesmen to the region.
Most important, however has been the fact that Pakistan’s history of military governments was the product of issues that center on Kashmir. It has always been the topic to keep the military happy even by civilian rulers like the Bhuttos, Nawaj Shariff and the like.
Musharraf was being pragmatic in his statement that religion and politics cannot go hand in gloves and that irresponsible anti India tirade has led the international community into dubbing Pakistan a terrorist or even a failed state. (“Because of irresponsible statements and actions by irresponsible leaders, Pakistan is now being dubbed a terrorism-sponsoring country,” Musharraf said at a religious conference attended by hard-line Islamic clerics.)
But this also made it evident that the organizations working for the Kashmir cause are under some form of control by Islamabad. The Musharraf warning to the organizations and the advise that they must exercise restraint prior to his Agra sojourn can also be interpreted in terms of some hidden agenda that the military ruler has with the organizations operating from both sides of the border.
Musharraf was also being practical when he stated that in Pakistan only a military regime could enforce any sort commitment with India. For the moment, Musharraf appeared to be the right man in Pakistan to start a dialogue.
Thus before coming for the talks, Pakistan’s new President made it clear that he was coming to negotiate with constructional sanctity, (getting himself sworn in as the President), has got the backing of the army, was going to talk about (Kashmir) the things that people in Pakistan want discussed, the opposition included and that he created the most conducive atmosphere for the talks (keeping the militant organizations on lease). It therefore did not come as a surprise when he opened his mind before the press, putting New Delhi in a spot on Kashmir issue. What can be more near the truth (for Musharraf) than the statement that if he does not talk about Kashmir, it’s as well better for him to buy back his ancestral home in old Delhi and settle down in India?
Strange as it may appear, New Delhi’s continuous reactions to Kashmir issue being a point of discussion was stoic silence expect to the extent that Prime Minister Vajpayee said that he is prepared to discuss any issue whatsoever. But this appeared at first as diplomatic tongue twist or political hypocrisy. Other wise the issue would not have been avoided consistently, including in the speech of Indian President at the dinner reception. This also explained the narrow-mindedness that New Delhi displayed in playing down importance of the tea party meeting with Hurriyat leaders. To expect that an agreement if any can be acceptable without the aquisincence of the representative elements of the parties to the dispute is naïve enough. Sadly moreover, no one is as yet sure who represents the popular sentiment in Kashmir.
The negotiations, predictably failed to achieve even the least expected result. The President made a hasty but dramatic retreat giving all the appearance of a man disappointed. His diplomats castigated New Delhi’s approach and blamed a rather hard-line stand for the failure even to come up with a joint statement. The Kashmir separatists have already joined the chorus though the All Party Hurriyat Conference displayed responsibility in reacting to the events. (In a statement the organization has blamed the rigidity of both the sides for the impasse and expressed the hope that future negotiation for which Agra summit is the precursor will be more positive and flexible)
This is where the diplomatic silence comes to the rescue of India. The pre-summit commotion that President Musharraf created might have succeeded in getting some to believe that India is to be blamed. But as the dusts settle down on Taj Mahal, it will soon be realized that New Delhi did nothing except sticking to its point that the issue of cross border terrorism comes first before the issue of Kashmir howsoever old it might have been. It’s politically axiomatic that New Delhi’s democratic governance has perceived the changing importance of issues. Terrorism now has become a factor that is related not only to Kashmir, but also to Punjab, the North East, it has threatened the internal security of the country, posed serious problems to its economy and trade, and endangered the civic life in India. If the insistence on some firm commitment from Musharraf has put off the tenor of the summit, it is but for the better. Truth triumphs in the end and if New Delhi can convince the international community that its rigidity is all about talking to Musharraf on terrorism, then it is in the right path.
(To be Concluded)
The writer is the Research Coordinator and Fellow, Centre for Peace and Development Research, (www.cpdsindia.org), India and External Research Associate
York University Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies
University of Toronto, Canada