Years of mistrust and suspicion prevailed at the end of the summit at Agra, described by President K.R. Narayanan the other day as a city of love and reconciliation, as hour upon hour of talks between Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and between the respective delegations did not yield the document the two sides had hoped would lay the ground rules for future interaction.
The summit ended without a joint declaration that would have tied the leaders down to certain positions.
Even the modest expectation of a joint statement that would have simply said that Musharraf and Vajpayee discussed so and so issues also did not come at the end. “I am disappointed to inform all of you that although the commencement of the process and beginning of the journey has taken place, the destination of an agreed joint statement has not been reached,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nirupama Rao said in her one–sentence statement after Musharraf and his entourage left for Islamabad.
Musharraf’s historic trip now appears to have simply ended with the promise of another trip some time in the unmentioned future by Vajpayee to Islamabad.
Depending on what the various expectations were from the summit, the Agra exercise could be called an utter failure or a modest step forward and all the other gray shades in between.
It marks the resumption of the process of dialogue with a built-in continuity that lies in the probable return visit by Vajpayee. Given the collapse of the talks, there’s a question mark over whether or not and when that visit will take place. Agra provided a platform where the two leaders got to know each other and assessed the domestic limitations of each and within those parameters the extent to which they can go.
As it appeared, they cannot go too far because, finally, the talks on a declaration broke down over familiar terrain — the acceptance, or lack of it, of the “centrality” of Kashmir in the negotiations and cross-border terrorism, or violence as the Pakistanis call it.
Through the day today and through much of last night, possibilities swung back and forth between a joint statement and a declaration, finally to simply freeze.
At 1.30 pm, the third draft of a declaration went to the Indians but never came back, according to the Pakistanis. But there was still hope that the situation could be salvaged. Pakistan foreign minister Abdul Sattar amended the draft further. That, too, never came back.
Word was out late afternoon that there will be a joint signing ceremony, suggesting that a declaration was under way.
Finally, at around 10.30 pm, Musharraf decided to pay a courtesy call on Vajpayee before taking off for Islamabad. He left in the black limousine a while before midnight and not through the front door.
But the possibility of a declaration had most likely receded in the morning itself after Musharraf’s breakfast meeting with Indian editors where he first spoke extempore and then fielded questions, as in a full-fledged news conference. It was meant to be a response to information minister Sushma Swaraj’s claim yesterday that the two leaders had discussed the nuclear issue, cross-border terrorism, trade and prisoners of war. She was silent on Kashmir.
This morning, Musharraf said for the most part he and Vajpayee had discussed Kashmir alone. He reaffirmed Pakistan’s oft-stated position that without Kashmir there can be no dialogue.
While Musharraf was holding the meeting, Vajpayee was closeted with his deputies, L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh. They were called out to be informed of the President’s action. A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security was held where it had become more or less clear that the hardliners were having the final say.
Soon after the telecast of Musharraf’s interaction, hawks had convinced Advani that India should not make any compromises unless Pakistan accepted cross-border terrorism.
Initially, Abdul Sattar and later the high commissioner to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, shuttled between Jaypee Palace and Amar Vilas hotels carrying words and fresh copies of the draft. Senior officials of the two sides had been negotiating with each other till early morning. “Our officials sat up till four in the morning. The foreign secretary is still sleeping,” Musharraf had told the editors.
Since morning, Vajpayee and Musharraf met and made their foreign ministers meet several times more to try and give shape to a document.
Indications from the Indian side suggest that Pakistan was insisting on a formulation that determination of the Kashmir issue must pave the way for normalisation of relations. This was not acceptable to the Indian side and that, too, when Pakistan refused to give the same kind of focus or link cross-border violence with the Kashmir issue.
Musharraf had come to “make history”. The only time he came close to history was when he visited the Taj.
Pakistan Television has been showing a slide repeatedly announcing that Musharraf will address the press shortly after landing in Islamabad.
The official spokesman for the Pakistan government and its information secretary, Anwar Mahmud, was the first to lay the blame on India’s door. He did not elaborate.
Later, the director-general of the Associated Press of Pakistan, who also doubles as an official spokesman, Jamil Mufti, said the draft of an agreement for a joint declaration was drawn up and submitted to Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh at 1.30 pm. The officials said that one after the other, two amendments were suggested from the Indian side. They were incorporated by the Pakistani officials who took the draft with them.
“The Indians took the draft with them to get it typed and they did not come back. Instead there was a telephone call informing us that Vajpayee has gone to lunch and that we can also have lunch,” the spokesman said.
The President and his men waited till about 3 pm. Musharraf then sent foreign minister Abdul Sattar and foreign secretary Inamul Haq to find out what was happening. The Indians said the draft was still being studied and suggested yet another amendment.
The Pakistanis said they had already agreed to two and no other change would be acceptable. They also asked how long they would have to keep waiting. This was around 4 pm. The Pakistani officials were told that information was on its way. But none was forthcoming despite waiting for five hours.
Musharraf then decided enough was enough and told his men he would return to Pakistan after a farewell call on Vajpayee. But what was expected to be a 10-minute meeting stretched to nearly 90 — almost as long as the first encounter between them yesterday.
As if to allay speculation triggered by Musharraf’s prolonged stay at Jaypee Palace, Pakistan government spokesmen said India was to blame. One spokesman even said: “Vajpayee wanted to sign the declaration but Advani did not let him.”
The officials said Musharraf had also formally asked for permission to address a news conference, but was not allowed. But the government said they would require some time to make security and other arrangements.
The Pakistan-based Hizb-ul Mujahideen warned that the breakdown of the summit would lead to escalation of violence in Kashmir, adds PTI.
“Kashmir is the main issue. Unless that is accepted, there can be no movement.”
As apprehensions of the storm raised last night by information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement that cross-border terrorism, the nuclear issue, trade and release of prisoners of war were discussed at the summit lingered at the break of morning over Agra, President Pervez Musharraf took, what he called, “the bull by the horns” at a breakfast meeting with Indian editors.
Before the food was put on the table, he laid out his cards neatly one by one, playing the ace again and again. It had to be Kashmir first, but certainly not the last.
“I am a realist,” he said. “I have never said that I refuse to talk about other issues.”
“(But) I have seen the information minister (speaking on TV), talking of everything... and not a word on Kashmir.”
“I can tell you now that the most part of my meetings with the Prime Minister was spent discussing Kashmir,” he said.
In a measure of the damage Swaraj’s statement caused to the first interaction between the leaders of the two countries after two years, the President placed the onus of upholding the dignity of the occasion, which, he obviously felt, had been sullied by her remarks, on the “big neighbour”.
He said: “There is a sincere and honest way of approaching things. There has to be unity between mind, heart and tongue.”
If he shoved a lecture on propriety down the Indian side’s throat, left somewhat dry after his masterly performance, the general also laid down a stage-by-stage approach to tackling the “main” — he was no longer calling it the “core” — issue. In clear terms, he enumerated five steps that he hoped would lead to a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
Again, stressing the fact that he was a realist, the President said he would go back from the summit satisfied, if he and Vajpayee could progress at least until stage two. “Step one was initiation of dialogue, which has already been achieved. I thank Prime Minister Vajpayee for this courageous decision.”
The rest of the four steps — what he called “entering troubled waters” — he left for a future date to be tackled.
Upping the ante for the talks that were to follow with the Prime Minister, he said all he expected from Agra to emerge was an acceptance from India of the fact that Kashmir was a dispute where three sides were involved — India, Pakistan and the Kashmiri people.
This means that the Pakistan side would be looking at the summit as a success if the final document acknowledged this long-standing Islamabad demand, couched in whatever diplomatic niceties.
India has never accepted Kashmir as a dispute and has described it as an internal matter where Pakistan has no role to play. Musharraf was not ready to accept it as a “problem” since that presumes it is again an internal problem. There are suggestions that the Indian side in the negotiations had offered the words “unresolved problem” as an alternative to “dispute” to be put in the final document.
“Let us not behave like an ostrich,” Musharraf said. This was a situation where he could not do business with India. “There seems to be a constraint on government officials and the Indian media in talking about Kashmir.”
In order to arrive at step two, the President was prepared to be flexible.
“Okay, you are sensitive about calling it a dispute. I’ll call it an issue.” “But I cannot live in make-believe. I am not saying anything that is not real.”
Confidence-building measures in peripheral areas were futile without addressing the main issue. “What confidence building measures? The biggest confidence-building measure is Kashmir.”
He admitted that there were compulsions for Vajpayee to raise other issues and he sought understanding in return. “There are compulsions on my part to talk about Kashmir. If I ignore Kashmir, I better buy back Neharwali haveli and stay here.”
The President then described his domestic considerations. He spoke of the mistrust that the people of Pakistan had about the Indian government. “The extremists will say (about the summit) that they have not interacted. They have not discussed the main issue. We need to kill that suspicion.”
In spite of the seemingly unwavering tone on Kashmir, the President seemed to suggest that he was keen on progress. “An atmosphere has been created. I think, I believe the public wants a solution.”
“The summit is historic. The gains from it should also be historic,” he said.
The buzz of a plot is again humming within 2 km of the Taj at Jaypee Palace where the Indian delegation is staying.Did Sushma Swaraj make a slip of the tongue, or did she let a few words slide off her tongue? The words — that Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee discussed almost everything but Kashmir — made the summit take a vicious midnight turn away from its main purpose.
Neither the government nor anyone in the BJP would admit that Sushma’s statement was a programmed plant in the media by the Indian delegation. “They think we did it deliberately. It (Kashmir) was not a deliberate omission. No question of denying such an issue. I was only highlighting the positive aspects,” she herself said today.
Sources said she was asked to give the impression that the first 90-minute talk between the two leaders was very positive and that she could mention the issues without going into substance.
The pat explanation then would be that she simply succumbed to the insistent questioning by the media thirsting after some news about the summit amid a complete information blackout. It would also presume that she did not realise the importance of what she was saying. Sushma Swaraj is nobody’s fool.
Those that are prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt are dismissing it as a simple faux pas.
Rumours swirling at the media centre here even suggested that the lady was upset with the stir she had “unwittingly” created. If she was, it was not evident as she flitted about, like yesterday, at the media centre.
If there was indeed a conspiracy, in which Sushma was a mere pawn or was privy to the plot, what did it seek to achieve?
One, it was a way of telling Musharraf that hardliners within the BJP would not brook any compromise on Kashmir, that Vajpayee — like the Pakistan President — had to work under severe internal compulsions and could go only this far and no farther. And, if push came to shove from the Pakistan side on Kashmir, the summit could even end in disaster.
Keen on showing a measure of success, Musharraf — this line of argument suggests — might have been ready to bend a little more. It was not clear if his calling Kashmir the “main” and not the “core” issue and readiness to describe it as an “issue” and not a “dispute” at his morning meeting with Indian editors had anything to do with the sequence of events unleashed by Sushma yesterday.
In that case, Vajpayee would be a party to the plot. It would also suggest that the long first meeting did not really go as well as thought, that the two leaders were still grappling with the historical deadlock over Kashmir.
The other scenario is that, fearing that the Prime Minister in his eagerness to achieve a breakthrough might yield too much ground on Kashmir, a section of the government and party tried to sabotage the talks through Sushma, who is known to be close to L.K. Advani.
It can be said now that some people had an inkling that the Indian side would come out with a deliberate statement to suggest that Kashmir was not being discussed at all and that the summit was going very badly.
A senior journalist known for his proximity to the ruling party hinted on a television channel that the summit was almost lost, though he stopped just short of calling it a failure.
On the Pakistani side, too, there are suspicions — which at least one senior media commentator gave voice to — that it was a deliberate leak.
For those who believe Sushma’s action was part of a conspiracy, her statement was the culmination of a series of actions aimed at reining in the enthusiasm for the summit and keeping it within the limits of acceptance for hardliners in the BJP and outside.
The first of these actions was Advani’s plain speaking with Musharraf. Advani went to the heart of the matter for hardliners in the government by going as far as to accuse Musharraf of sheltering Dawood Ibrahim. It is unheard of, protocol-wise, for a home minister to discuss an individual fugitive with a head of state.