Make or break, Pak eyes dialogue deal
Pause greets push for Dawood
High tea and downfall
Jaswant thrust on treaties
Sartorial feast for telecasters
Gandhi’s weapon for admirer commander
Stiff Sehba sticks to script
Dilip breaks protocol and ice
One hug and one missing hug
Peace hope if talks set pace for more

New Delhi, July 14: 
Pakistan is entering the summit tomorrow with the overwhelming objective of making Kashmir the core issue. If that does not happen, it would at least wish the Agra meeting to yield an institutional framework for the two countries to keep talking.

Foreign secretary Inamul Haq said: “The two neighbours have to continue to talk to each other. We believe Kashmir is the core issue. We certainly hope that our Indian neighbour will agree to that and an appropriate language would be found to reflect that. But certainly the structure of a dialogue and... resumption of a dialogue is on the cards and we believe the two countries would be talking to each other.”

Pakistan is also looking at a document — loosely being called the Agra Declaration — to emerge from the summit but the foreign secretary refused to speculate.

“Pakistan would certainly like the leaders to sit at a table and hold a joint press conference. We have suggested this to the Indian authorities,” Haq said. “An invitation from President Pervez Musharraf to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is also very much on the cards.”

He denied that Musharraf had said the Simla and Lahore documents were irrelevant. “He was misquoted. What he had said was that Simla and Lahore did not lead to any progress on any front as they were expected to... perhaps, both sides should sit down and review why no progress could be made.”

Haq said both leaders have agreed that delving into the past would not solve the problem. “We have to be forward-looking and it is for the social and economic well-being of the people of South Asia that it is necessary that both countries should sit down together, work to resolve their differences so that the potential and energy of the people of this region can be released to promote progress in this region.”

He said Musharraf has said he would like to discuss the Kashmir dispute in substance with Vajpayee. “We have also received indications from the press that Vajpayee would also like to discuss Jammu and Kashmir,” Haq said.

Asked how high he thought Kashmir was on India’s agenda, Haq said: “That we will find out tomorrow. But I believe both sides in principle agree that this is one dispute which has to be settled because progress has to be made in a number of fields. And if progress is recorded in this field, it will be much easier to produce results in a number of other areas.”

Referring to Musharraf’s meetings with foreign minister Jaswant Singh, home minister L.K. Advani and Vice-President Krishan Kant, he added: “These were courtesy calls and no substantive issues were discussed.”

Vajpayee also called on Musharraf for a few minutes just before lunch, but there were no talks on key issues. “Substantive issues,” he said, “will be discussed tomorrow morning in Agra.”

Asked to comment on a report that Advani raised the issue of cross-border terrorism, Haq admitted that it did come up. “As you know, in these formal meetings certain issues can be raised and responded to.”

He said Musharraf has indicated that he is hopeful progress will be made on substantive issues. “We are ready to discuss other outstanding issues as well.”

That includes the proposal for a gas pipeline from Iran over Pakistan and acting as responsible nuclear neighbours.

“It is one of the important issues confronting the two countries. It can certainly figure in the summit,” Haq added.

At a meeting with intellectuals, Musharraf asked them to contribute to a stable peace in the region. “Geographically we are close, but in reality we are at a distance and the reason is well known to you all,” he told them.

I.K. Gujral, V.P. Singh, Bhabhani Sen Gupta and Kuldip Nayar, were part of the group that called on Musharraf at Pakistan House.


New Delhi, July 14: 
Pakistan must extradite underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, home minister L.K. Advani told Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf when he met him for one-to-one talks at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The home minister suggested that India and Pakistan sign an extradition treaty to stem the activities of criminals who slipped into each other’s country taking advantage of the “strained” bilateral relations.

Sources close to Advani said when the home minister brought up the matter of extradition of Dawood and his 11 “criminal” associates, the general appeared to be “jogging his memory” to place it in context. Dawood’s name apparently did not ring a bell instantly.

The sources said Advani declared that he had the underworld don’s Karachi address and also his phone number. Dawood operated from Mumbai and is alleged to have masterminded the serial blasts in the city. He left India immediately after the blasts.

“Ground realities have to be acknowledged if we are to move forward,” Advani was quoted as saying. He is believed to have said that Pakistan should issue a statement on Dawood’s status so that India could react officially.

Musharraf described the reference to Dawood as “small tactics” but Advani reportedly said that while tactics and strategies were the “strong points” of generals, the Pakistan President should work out a strategy with Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to “establish permanent peace” in South Asia.

Advani said if India could sign an extradition treaty with Turkey and Germany, which were not used as havens by criminals, a treaty with Pakistan was all the more imperative.

But home ministry sources said Advani would not allow the issue of Dawood’s extradition to vitiate the summit. “The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and nothing will be vitiated because of the Dawood issue,” they said.

Raising the issue of cross-border terrorism, Advani is believed to have said that innocent people should not be made victims because of differences between Islamabad and Delhi.

The home minister also brought up the subject of taking action against those who hijacked an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in 1999. “All these issues were raised with the understanding that they will be on the agenda of the Agra summit,” the sources said.


New Delhi, July 14: 
What was to be a civic reception for Pervez Musharraf turned out to be a chaotic affair at the Pakistan high commissioner’s much talked about “high tea”.

The Pakistan President sent a reassurance to hardliners back home by thumbing his nose at India and going ahead with his meeting with leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

But soon after the meeting, as he stepped out of the room to meet his guests, the trouble started.

It began with the announcer who shouted to warn the “Ladies and Gentlemen” about the President’s arrival, but only after fumbling thrice in getting the name Islamic Republic of Pakistan right.

This was just the beginning. The large number of reporters and television crew, who too were part of the guest list, ran towards Musharraf even before his face was visible to the rest of the people at the function, forcing his security personnel to throw a ring around the general.

With a smile and a salute, thrown in different directions, Musharraf managed to move ahead, but the surging crowd of newsmen would not leave him. In the melee, a huge flower pot shook precariously close to the President. But before it could fall, someone removed it.

But Begum Sehba was not that fortunate. Following behind her husband, she could not keep up with the aggressive hacks. She was pushed so hard that she fell flat on the ground and had to be helped up by the securitymen. This brought about a marginal improvement in the chaos, but within minutes everything was back to square one.

Several celebrities from different walks of life were present. Film director Mahesh Bhatt was there with his wife Soni Razdan, so was Raj Babbar, film-star-turned-politician, and Nafisa Ali. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and his close aide Amar Singh were the first among political bigwigs to arrive.

CPI leader A.B. Bardhan and CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury arrived soon. The Congress was represented by a junior party functionary, Anil Metharani.

Vivek Katju, joint secretary in the foreign ministry who heads the Pakistan division, represented the government. But there was no one else from either the government or the NDA, which had announced its decision to boycott the high tea.

Musharraf was at the function for only 10 minutes — all of which he was guarded by the securitymen — and only a handful of fortunate guests got the opportunity of breaking the cordon to shake hands with the Pakistan President.

The Hurriyat leaders claimed after their meeting with Musharraf that he had pledged to continue Islamabad’s “moral and political support to the people of Kashmir to determine their future”.


New Delhi, July 14: 
Foreign minister Jaswant Singh today made it clear to President Pervez Musharraf that while India wanted to move forward in its relations with Pakistan, it could not do so by rejecting historic documents like the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.

An hour later, Vice-President Krishan Kant stressed the need for building trust, which he described as the “core issue” in Indo-Pak relations.

“It’s important to recognise the experience and importance of the journeys of the past undertaken by the two countries and they should not be rejected,” a polite but firm Singh reminded Musharraf during their tête-à-tête at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

A day before his journey to India, Musharraf had made it clear that he thought very little of the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.

Though it will be off-the-mark to describe Singh’s meeting with Musharraf as cordial, it was certainly not tension-fraught. In a style marked by deep baritone and flowery English, Singh delivered the bitter pills to the general, but perhaps after sugar-coating them.

In the 20-minute discussion, Singh told Musharraf that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s invitation was part of India’s initiative to re-start the stalled dialogue and move it forward. Singh said the central adversary in Indo-Pak ties was poverty and the time has come when both countries should work in close cooperation to fight the menace.

Musharraf praised Vajpayee’s “bold and courageous” step and said this showed his statesman-like ability. He also agreed that the scourge of poverty should be jointly fought by the neighbours.


New Delhi, July 14: 
Television channels beaming the Pakistan President’s visit to India live through the day have read more into the body language of the general than the man himself has intended. To the delight of the channels, however, the general, acutely conscious of the cameras following his every move, feasted television by quick changes of dress.

So anxious have anchorpersons and correspondents been with reading the “body language” that one moderator, Vikram Chandra on STAR News, actually wondered aloud as a correspondent reported from Neharwali Haveli: “Have we become bodywatchers today? The effusiveness of Lahore (when Vajpayee and Sharif met after the famous bus journey) is clearly not there.”

A Pakistani academic, Rifaat Hussain, in the studios and on camera, responded: “He (Musharraf) is very disciplined. Also, it is clear that it (the summit) is a meeting between two adversaries who are trying to break new ground.”

Aaj Tak, that most of the time beat the other channels with the first visuals, however, made the gaffe of the day. Their correspondent reported from just outside the Pakistan high commission that Musharraf was proposing to the Hurriyat a “formula” to resolve the Kashmir tangle. The channel claimed it had exclusive information that the general was proposing a Joint Defence Council and that he had discussed it with groups in Pakistan during his meetings and was now also seeking the Hurriyat’s “consent”.

India Today Group editor Prabhu Chawla made much of the story and quizzed BJP leader Narendra Modi and Congressman Jairam Ramesh, then in the studios, for their reactions. But after Mirwaiz Umar Farooq told their correspondent, while emerging from the tea party, that the talks were really preliminary and were too premature to discuss a “formula” or indeed for such a proposal to be made, Aaj Tak quietly forgot all about their scoop.

Even staid Doordarshan added “colour” — because little about the Pakistan President’s visit so far has gone beyond the script — with anchorpersons Suneet Tandon and Mrinal Pande quizzing Vir Sanghvi, who went to lunch at Taj Palace, on the mood and the menu. Pande ventured into dangerous territory after Sanghvi said there were a host of former Prime Ministers at the lunch.

“There are not many former PMs around in Pakistan,” she observed in what was meant to be an aside. DD probably had the most “exclusive” visual of the day — largely because of their official status — when it caught air chief A.Y. Tipnis shaking hands with, and not saluting, Musharraf. Likewise, PTV had the best visuals of the General in Rajghat because its crew accompanied him.


New Delhi, July 14: 
He came with Gandhi’s message of peace at the tip of his pen and went back with a rosewood charkha. The man of guns can’t be expected to retire into an ashram and work on the charkha for the rest of his life but by becoming the first Pakistani head to visit Rajghat and “pay respect and homage” to Mahatma Gandhi, General Pervez Musharraf set the tone for the rest of the summit, at least with words.

“I come here to pay respect and homage to the memory of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,” Musharraf wrote in the visitors’ book at Rajghat.

“Mahatma Gandhi devoted his entire life to the struggle for non-violence and peace. Never has the requirement of his ideas more severely felt than today, especially in the context of Pakistan-India relations. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” the message said.

It was a visit loaded with the signal Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had sent out when he visited the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore in February 1999. That trip, too, was the first ever by an Indian leader to the monument erected in the memory of the Pakistan Resolution of 1940 that led to the partition of the subcontinent.

It was raining when the Pakistan president, accompanied by wife Sehba, foreign minister Abdul Sattar, foreign secretary Inamul Haq, information secretary Anwer Mehmood and some other members of his entourage, arrived, with a wreath of white streaked with a single row of red.

He placed the wreath on the samadhi, stood with his hands clasped together, head bowed, with Begum Sehba standing a few inches behind. The President took two steps, stopped and saluted before circling the samadhi with the entire team. Returning to the foot of the memorial, he showered rose petals on the cenotaph — the view blocked by the accompanying entourage, the black canopy of umbrellas. “General saab, Pervezji,” the shouts went off, imploring an encore to be caught on camera. The general graciously obliged, a second time and then a third.

The tiny but familiar figure of Nirmala Deshpande, Rajghat Samadhi Samiti chairperson, escorted him through the occasion. Deshpande said she had invited Musharraf to visit Rajghat during a meeting in Rawalpindi at his residence last February. She told him: “I have welcomed many heads of state. When will I get an opportunity to welcome you?”

“He (Musharraf) had responded with a smile. I never expected the visit to materialise so soon,” she said. The Samiti gifted the President three books — the Mind of the Mahatma, My experiments with truth and Mahatma Gandhi — 100 years, compiled by former President Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, and a scroll on the seven social sins penned by Gandhi in his Young India newspaper in 1924.

When Deshpande handed him the charkha, he said: “Ye to charkha hai. I like it.” Peaceniks don’t need to get too excited. It was only a miniature model of a charkha.


New Delhi, July 14: 
Begum Sehba Musharraf spoke truly like a “Begum”, not letting out a single syllable that might remotely offend the military establishment headed by her husband Pervez Musharraf.

Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia, a non-governmental organisation, had invited the Begum to a meeting this morning hoping to hear some inspiring words from her on a subject that was not entirely without relevance to the on-going Indo-Pak summit: Women and Peace.

But the First Lady of Pakistan chose to give the subject a complete go-by. Instead she read out from a prepared text that sounded very much like a nugget of government propaganda, listing the achievements of the Pakistani government on women’s welfare and empowerment. The organisers and a host of activists from women’s organisations were clearly taken aback by the Begum’s resolute refusal to touch upon the subject of peace, even as they themselves passionately spoke about how peace was central to the existence of women.

“The Begum seemed ill at ease from the very beginning and did not smile till the end of the meeting,” said an activist. Even when the hosts honoured her with a chunri from Sewa, the Begum did not lower her guard and appeared wooden and in a hurry to get over with the whole event.

For a good 40 minutes she listened to at least 10 speakers calling for peace and an end to tension and war. Then when her turn came, the Begum took out her prepared speech, trotted out Pakistani government’s achievements and took recourse to that famous quote of Mao Zedong’s: Women hold up half of the sky. The Pakistani government, the Begum said, had taken measures to correct the gender imbalance in society —- for the first time women’s banks have come up, giving out soft loans and 33 per cent of seats have been reserved for women in elected local bodies.

But what about peace? No, the President’s wife was not ready to say even one word on that highly “emotive” subject, especially when her country was engaged in volatile talks with India.

The only spontaneous response she could think of was: “I am very pleased to hear your views and will convey them to my husband and the government in my own language.” She spoke in English and communicated well. But made it clear that she was her husband’s Begum and would not speak out of turn on “peace”.

A group of mediapersons trying to wangle a little bit of extra information rushed to her and asked whether she had any memories of Lucknow where she was born. The Begum didn’t mince words. “I have no memories. I am a Pakistani,” she said flatly.


New Delhi, July 14: 
Cynics and sceptics may still wonder if the Agra summit would achieve anything tangible. But when India’s political establishment gathered in the Darbar Hall of Taj Palace today to shake hands and say hello to General Pervez Musharraf, it seemed as though the cumulative tension had melted away after a well laid-out luncheon.

And it wasn’t just the four-course meal that helped Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayavati, Farooq Abdullah, Murasoli Maran and the rest to unwind. It was apparently the bonhomie generated by the Pakistan President himself and the presence of celebrities like film stars Dilip Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan and Shabana Azmi that made all the difference between icy formality and a relaxed ambience. Congress leader Salman Khurshid summed up the mood by saying, “The food was very good, the company was excellent, the conversation was exciting and hope, therefore, remains unfinished.”

In keeping with protocol demands, Vajpayee arrived first but Musharraf came soon thereafter without his wife, who had another engagement. The seating arrangement was pre-planned and 15 tables with seven or eight chairs carrying the guests’ names were laid out. The tables were named after Indian rivers.

Vajpayee and Musharraf sat on the Ganga table which they shared with two former Prime Ministers, V.P. Singh and I.K. Gujral, besides finance minister Yashwant Sinha, home minister Advani, commerce minister Maran and Pakistani foreign minister Abdul Sattar.

According to one of the guests, eyebrows were raised when leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi had to share a table, named Yamuna, with Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel and principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, instead of one with Vajpayee. It seems they “stared into space” and made no effort to strike a conversation.

There were other curious placements as well. Shah Rukh was sandwiched between the vice-chancellors of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamic University and also had Ajit Panja and J.S. Raghavan, the joint secretary of the PMO, for company. Mayavati and Maneka were pitted against each other and Mulayam and Manmohan Singh sat cheek by jowl and ate in silence.

After the photo-op, the guests tackled lunch. The main course over, cine star Dilip Kumar reportedly broke protocol and went up to wish Musharraf. He was followed by Congressman K. Natwar Singh and Trinamul MP Krishna Bose. It finally looked as though the ice was broken.

On his part, Vajpayee introduced Musharraf to the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah who exchanged pleasantries with him.

The consensus view was that the General was “extremely charming” as Shabana later told reporters. Shah Rukh’s comment was: “I said hello to the General and his reaction was one of a gentleman’s.”

There was an air of optimism after the event. As Heptullah said: “I think the ice has broken. The dust that has gathered over the last 50 years will take time to disappear, but let us keep our fingers crossed. If European countries which fought two World Wars and have no common language and no common attitude can become friends, why should India and Pakistan with a thousand-year-old history become prisoners of a 50-year past?”


New Delhi, July 14: 
One hug, one missing hug and the knees that possibly kept the Prime Minister rooted to a spot.

As President K.R. Narayanan introduced President Pervez Musharraf to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the two shook hands once and then a second time, on request, and a third time while walking away after the guard of honour. The first brush between the head of state of Pakistan and India’s head of government — memories of the post-Lahore “betrayal” at Kargil — hanging as a diaphanous curtain in the middle — was correct and formal. There wasn’t the spontaneous hug with which Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee had greeted each other when the Prime Minister made his bus journey to Lahore in 1998. Nor was any expected.

Musharraf mumbled something: “Nice meeting you” or whatever. Only Vajpayee can tell. But the Prime Minister wasn’t in a talking mood. The hint of a faint smile on his face, the avuncular Prime Minister took the hand of the General who’s known to have plotted Kargil. On his side silence reigned. On the other, military inscrutability.

And a frozen silence it was, too. With the guard of honour by the three services over, and ministers of the Vajpayee government lined up, the President began the round of introductions. Traditionally, the Prime Minister follows the President as he escorts the visitor through the maze of officialdom. Vajpayee stepped away from that custom. He didn’t accompany Narayanan but stood chatting with his second man, L.K. Advani. This was his first public appearance under media glare since the surgery on his right knee in Mumbai last month.

The hug was reserved for the two so-called hawks on either side — Advani and Pakistan foreign minister Abdul Sattar. They, of course, have met before.

If Musharraf had looked stiff during the introduction with Vajpayee, his responses to the gallery were not cramped by iron-like military manner. “General saab,” a cry went up from the tight bunch of photographers as he walked towards the shoulder-to-shoulder group of Indian ministers and officials. The President swiftly turned around and saluted.

The ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan went off with clockwork precision, starting exactly at 9.30 am as scheduled. But when Musharraf’s convoy drove in, the President’s house was still to complete the arrangements for the guard of honour, the rain having made the work more difficult. The last-minute sweeping, levelling of the ground under the red carpet made lumpy by the rain.

When he emerged 35 minutes later from Dwarka Suite and onto the forecourt for the guard of honour to the boom of a 21-gun salute, a light drizzle was falling and it continued for almost the entire length of the ceremony.

The President chose to bat on a wet wicket in the English weather. At the end, he ran his right hand through his neatly-combed damp hair, as if wiping away the moist beginning to his three-day stay in this country.

The rain would stay with him for most of the day, though.


New Delhi, July 14: 
The priority of Indian policy-makers is finding a way to turn the Agra Summit into a pacesetter for continuing dialogue which could, perhaps, make a new beginning in bilateral relations.

Any precipitate haste to rustle up an agenda, as is being indicated by President Pervez Musharraf in voicing his almost obsession with Kashmir, might act as a damper. Never before did an Indian Prime Minister promise in writing to discuss Kashmir with a Pakistani head of state while inviting him to a dialogue, and it was presumably done to impress the General that Kashmir, in India’s reckoning, too, is a problem.

But any attempt to see the problems distancing the two neighbours only through the Kashmir prism might be short-sighted.

A sound basis for bringing the two countries together as safe neighbours can hardly be achieved without attaining an appropriate level of trust. India’s relations with Pakistan lately are far too complicated and Kashmir happens to be only one of the problems.

India has officially alleged that Pakistani agencies have actively been involved in subversive activities in the country. It was also alleged that these agencies are operating against India from some neighbouring countries.No serious engagement with Pakistan can be feasible without addressing the questions of the nation’s security and stability. The pace at the summit can be set only by grasping the compulsions on both sides.

In the run-up to the summit, Pakistan has sought to make it Kashmir-centric. Musharraf has, in some of his statements on Kashmir, perhaps tried to give history a short shrift. His rather clumsy attempt to lower the relevance of the Simla Agreement can be a bone of contention for the political and, particularly, the military establishment in India.

As a soldier, the General should have shown some respect for sensitivity. Pakistan was in no position to claim inclusion of Kashmir in Simla in 1972, having been decisively defeated in the war. This fact of history is sensitive and, for India, a painful reminder of a blunder which denied it what could have been a compromised settlement of the dispute.

The Indian leadership in Simla bartered sentiment with hard reality when then Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went up to Indira Gandhi to impress her he would settle for the Line of Control, but to promote democracy in Pakistan and prevent what he evocatively described as return of the Bonaparte, a bare reference to Kashmir was required.

The lesson of history is a warning India cannot ignore. The interest of the world community in Kashmir has, since the blooming of the Taliban, shifted with a measure of some appreciation of the Indian position. India’s restrained response to the Kargil conflict, which some feared might lead to a nuclear disaster, made a good impression. The world community, particularly the US, may no longer wait in the wings to talk over the shoulders of Musharraf and Vajpayee, but at the same time they can be said to be closely watching.

Pakistan can hardly precipitate the collapse of the summit. If the General is seen to have been mounting pressure to buy peace in his constituency, which is narrow and unknown, then he is spinning a wrong signal. The Indian leadership, which is for a change enjoying the support of leading political parties, can hardly risk engaging in any negotiation with Pakistan in a head-on scenario.

It is reasonably certain India is convinced it has to reach a negotiated settlement with Pakistan with mutual accommodation and a measure of compromise even in Kashmir. It cannot be achieved in one outing even under the romantic ambience of the Taj.

The two leaders will be able to claim some modicum of success if they agree to continue talking even if it might be a long-winding exercise. The burden on the two leaders is enormous, but there can be no short way to peace. The summit at Agra is saturated with speculation, both dark and benign, but it certainly will not mark the birth of a new dawn.


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