In the post-summit wrap-up remarks, India and Pakistan showed the maturity and understanding that had eluded them a few hours ago when President Pervez Musharraf took a late-night flight back home from Agra.
The signals emerging were not as bleak as they looked last night with both sides stressing on the need for dialogue to resolve differences and insisting that Agra was not a one-off event.
“The Agra Summit was not a failure. It is yet another step in a march to improve bilateral relations,” foreign minister Jaswant Singh said here this morning. “We are, of course, disappointed that the two sides could not arrive at an agreed text. But India and Pakistan need to remain in dialogue to bridge the existing gap between them and for the benefit of their people.”
The sentiments were echoed in Islamabad by his Pakistani counterpart Abdul Sattar later in the day. “It is unfortunate that the fruition of the exercise was aborted, but the Agra Summit remained inconclusive, it did not fail,” the Pakistani foreign minister told a news conference.
Putting a positive spin on the summit, Sattar claimed that Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee succeeded in covering a lot of common ground in the draft declaration that will provide a valuable foundation to reach a “full agreement” at a future meeting.
The Pakistani foreign minister began the briefing by stating that Musharraf was optimistic about prospects of a better relationship after the summit. “It is unfortunate that the expected conciliation could not materialise. Nevertheless, the President remains convinced that the existing goodwill on both sides can and will achieve mutually-desired results,” Sattar said.
He added that “valuable progress was made on evolving a structure for sustained dialogue process that would take up Jammu and Kashmir, peace and security, terrorism and drug-trafficking at the political level”.
However, television images of a sombre-looking Musharraf arriving in Islamabad early in the morning told a different story. Pakistan information minister Anwar Mahmood was quoted as saying that the President was “hurt and disappointed”.
But Singh took pains to assert that all was not lost. “We will pick up the threads from the visit of the President of Pakistan. We will unceasingly endeavour to realise our vision of a relationship of peace, friendship and cooperation with Pakistan,” he said. “The caravan of peace will continue on its march and on some auspicious day it will reach its destination.”
The occasional rhetoric notwithstanding, the overall tone of the foreign ministers was sober as they tried to explain why the talks, despite coming so close to achieving results, failed to do so.
Singh maintained the “unifocal” policy of Pakistan to put Kashmir before all issues could not be accepted. Sattar spoke about Indian security forces’ repression in Jammu and Kashmir and the need to make the Kashmiri people a party to negotiations for a final resolution of the “core issue”.
There were clear signs, nonetheless, that the dialogue will continue. Singh asserted that Vajpayee’s acceptance of Musharraf’s invitation to visit Pakistan stands. His counterpart felt a meeting was possible in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Though it came 24-hours too late, Singh’s news conference in Agra was the first detailed interaction the Indian camp had with the media since the summit began on Sunday. Despite repeated queries, Singh refused to give details of how the mood swung within a few hours. He argued that the principle of confidentiality in negotiations should be respected, but pointed out three areas where India and Pakistan differed fundamentally.
Pakistan’s insistence on making Jammu and Kashmir the central issue, its refusal to give any commitment on cross-border terrorism and Islamabad’s rejection of the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration were said to be the causes for the impasse.
Singh detailed how every effort was made to prepare for the summit. A team of foreign ministry officials was sent to Islamabad for putting in place an agenda, but Pakistan said it would be done by Musharraf when he sits across the table from Vajpayee.
Asked whether there was any point in doing business with Pakistan, Singh remarked: “I have to deal with the world as it is and not as it ought to be.”
He denied that Musharraf had been stopped from holding a news conference here and said it was because of security reasons that an impromptu briefing could not be arranged. “It needed 90 minutes’ notice for security arrangements,” he said. But Sattar said a fresh request was made in the evening “when we came to know that the final text would not be worked out”. “For reasons best known to India, the press conference did not work out,” he said.
At the same time, the experience in Delhi and Agra might serve as a valuable guide to a realistic assessment of the character of the regime in Islamabad and its gameplan. India should have been more alert in setting the pace for the summit, particularly after Pervez Musharraf had given a raucous demonstration of priorities to be accorded to engage India in any meaningful negotiation.
Obviously, India proceeded on the assumption that Musharraf was only indulging in a public relations exercise to raise his ante, but at the conference table he would be responsible and realistic. He maintained his guile with some skill and at the end of the day it was clear that the thrust of his mission was not adequately grasped by the Indian side.
Even after taking a strong public posture on Kashmir at the breakfast meeting with Indian editors, a draft on a joint declaration was approved by him at noon on Monday. Around 6 pm, Pakistani foreign minister Abdul Sattar telephoned Jaswant Singh seeking urgent consultations. The two met soon enough and it fell like a heap on Singh when he was told that paragraphs in the draft on Kashmir accepted earlier will have to be redone.
When Sattar was told this would mean Pakistan was reneging on its commitment to go for a composite formula to begin talks on Kashmir, his reply was these were instructions from his President. India went to the extent of suggesting negotiations in a structured form with an assurance that even a compromise to find a solution would not be spared.
Sattar countered with the argument that Pakistan’s moral and diplomatic support to the struggle for self-determination of the people of Kashmir would seriously be compromised by any admission of violence in the Valley.
India sought to link any move to reach a political solution in Jammu and Kashmir with what it called cross-territory terrorism. It suggested that a different definition of terrorism could be negotiated without ignoring its relevance to the totality of the Kashmir problem. There was a moment of happy tiding when the two sides agreed to include Kashmir as an issue instead of a conflict to facilitate a declaration.
Even today competent Indian sources could not explain what could have been the provocation for Pakistan suddenly shifting its position which brought the summit down. Some were only prepared to hazard a guess on the circumstantial atmosphere in the Pakistani camp. There was speculation that very often Musharraf consulted his colleagues in Islamabad.
There has not yet been a definitive Indian assessment of Pakistan’s strategy at the summit. There is no denying that Musharraf’s gameplan succeeded in highlighting Kashmir as a serious problem in South Asia.
It is rather a puzzle that during his farewell call on Vajpayee, Musharraf maintained that the peace process should be maintained and sought better appreciation of his compulsions.
The three-day drama in the backdrop of the Taj Mahal has altered the tone — though not the content — of the talks which the Chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Henry H. Shelton, will have with defence and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh in New Delhi on Thursday.
This is equally true of talks which foreign secretary Chokila Iyer and other South Block officials will have with the new US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Christina B. Rocca, in New Delhi next week.
Had the withdrawal of 20,000 Indian troops from Kashmir, made public just before Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf arrived in India and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bold package of confidence-building measures (CBMs) with Pakistan been followed by an agreed formula with Pakistan in Agra — however tenuous — it would have been a different India talking to the US: an India which is showing off that it can deal with a nuclear South Asia on its own and without any meddling from outside the region.
The failure of the Indo-Pakistan summit will not in any way affect the course of India’s growing ties with the US, at least not for the moment. But it will definitely have a bearing on General Shelton’s strategic vision of that part of the world as he proceeds today from Doha to Muscat and onward to New Delhi.
Similarly, much more time will be taken up by Indo-Pakistan issues during Rocca’s conversations in New Delhi next week than would have been the case had Vajpayee and Musharraf agreed to jointly take the next step towards a reconciliation and meet for a second time in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
For the record, the US has called for “the sustained engagement at a senior level between India and Pakistan”. State department spokesman Richard Boucher said: “This is the best way to address long-standing bilateral disputes and to make real progress towards a reduction of tensions and a resolution of their differences.”
But in this city, which is well-trained to accurately analyse the currents in Pakistan — America’s close ally for half a century — the overwhelming private view from those who matter is that India sabotaged the Agra summit. What is seen as surprising here is that it was clumsily done, without tact or finesse.
America’s South Asia veterans, though, are making a clear distinction between “blame” and “responsibility” in the sabotage of the summit. No one is “blaming” India, even in private, for the outcome in Agra: all they are saying is that India is “responsible” for the failure.
With the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers taking the public position that the summit has not been a failure — and the news blackout earlier — two journalists have been the minute-to-minute barometer for gauging the temperature in Agra.
Anyone in the US who has had anything to do with Pakistan knows that columnist Nasim Zehra has always had her finger on what is going on in the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Hamid Mir, editor of “Ausaf” is known for his close ties to the jehadis: he has interviewed Osama bin Laden and continues to be in touch with him.
The New York Times today interviewed Zehra who said Musharraf’s chief of staff Lt. Gen. Ghulam Ahmed had asked her to pass on an account of the failure of the talks to the media.
Mir told the paper that among Pakistani officials, “there was a sense of betrayal that a number of times things were agreed and gone back on” by the Indians.
Zehra later traced the final hours of Musharraf’s presence in Agra in her column in “The News”. After it became clear that the third draft of the summit document would not come back from Indian officials, Musharraf sought a meeting with Vajpayee “to inform him personally about why the talks had broken down”.
Ostensibly, he did not trust Indian officials to faithfully carry his message to the Prime Minister.
Zehra said the discussions between the two sides on the draft started at 4 pm on July 15 and went on till 1 am and again from 10 am to 9 pm the following day.
Zehra reflected the view at the top in Pakistan when she said Musharraf had returned to Pakistan “in the knowledge that he had fulfilled his mandate of upholding the Kashmiri rights on Indian soil”.
Even the cynics criticising Musharraf for making the journey to Agra without a mandate expected a joint declaration. There wasn’t even a joint statement.
Blaming Pakistani politicians for succumbing to army pressure, some in India believed that it was better to do business with the army. They found a self-confessing powerless army chief who said he’d have to live in India in his old Neharwali house if he signed a declaration. The civilian leaders signed Simla, Islamabad and Lahore. All honourable agreements.
Diplomacy is the art of the possible. Political leaders are trained in the art of give and take. General Musharraf is a military dictator. When he speaks, others jump to attention. If they don’t, they are locked away. Surrounded by unelectable yes men, Musharraf, despite proclaimed good intentions, stumbled at each key test: date for elections, political victimisation, economic revival and now foreign policy.
It was startling to witness the puerile brinkmanship where the Indians called the bluff. Time was always running short — and then extended. Musharraf departed when sources leaked that the talks would continue the next day.
Musharraf made key errors in the trip. He failed to build an internal consensus of legitimate political forces. He relied on an inefficient team which failed him previously. With good advice, he could have stayed an extra day. Exhausting the other side is a pretty elementary diplomatic trick. Instead, he left in a huff.
Islamabad was keen for a declaration and New Delhi knew it. This was confirmed by a Pakistani delegate who told the Gulf News, “I went up to Jaswant Singh and told him he could write what he wanted, we would accept it.”
This is extraordinary. It is little wonder that foreign minister Jaswant wanted another day of talks to put in his wish list when the Islamabad side offered such accommodation.
If there is a legacy to this summit, it is that New Delhi managed to match Pakistan’s commitment to the Kashmir Dispute with an equally vocal and high-profile repetition of “cross-border terrorism”.
Since 1993, when the diplomat Dixit offered Pakistan Kashmir as a separate agenda item at the Commonwealth Conference at Cyprus, the Indian side has been willing to include Kashmir as the bone of contention. But the interpretation of that contention is different to Pakistan’s.
Narrowing the focus to the words on a draft statement, usually successfully manoeuvred by diplomats, is ignoring the larger picture. That picture involves tense relations between two nuclear-capable states that fought three wars and are daggers drawn at the Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir Valley.
A nervous world community pushed both leaders towards the negotiating table to lessen tensions that could prove fatal for a South Asia housing one-fifth of humanity.
But Musharraf was hampered by his dependence on a military constituency wedded to militancy since the Afghan Jihad days. He lacked a popular mandate and desired his nation’s highest constitutional posts.
Given his agenda, ambitions, army, America and Afghan- istan, Musharraf played his cards well, except for the late-night departure.
Camouflage is second nature to the commando and the camouflage came in handy. Landing in his sherwani, he hid the soldier who personally fought in two frontlines with India courting death with every breath. Soon the sherwani was replaced with the informal short-sleeved and tieless look. The message was, “I am at home and relaxed. You can trust me.”
The President of India did just that. In his banquet speech, he called the General “one of its (India’s) distinguished sons on his first visit to the city after nearly half a century”. This was an amazing turnabout for the man whose Kargil operation resulted in the deaths of Indian soldiers.
Lacking internal support, under international financial pressure to play good cop in Delhi and with the UN sanctions heating the Afghan front, the General played the full gallery until his patience ran out at night.
Buying international time and goodwill in the run up to the summit, he seized the Presidency, assumed draconian powers under the National Security Council, got another tranche of the IMF loan and persecuted opponents.
In extending an invitation to Premier Vajpayee, he held out the promise of another summit. More time to choreograph a domestic political scenario by October 2002.
The Indian foreign office went out to woo him but he initially wooed them instead. He hogged the press headlines changing suits several times a day. A different man for every occasion.
Yet the summit revealed fatal flaws in the personality and background of the General. First, his impetuousness dramatised by the sudden departure for Islamabad. Second, the deep wounds he evokes in both India and Pakistan.
The Indian Air Chief, representing the armed forces, refused to salute him, repaying the earlier Lahore refusal to salute Vajpayee and demonstrating solidarity with his troops in Kashmir.
In Pakistan, the ghosts of Kargil watched Musharraf. Kargil was Pakistan’s biggest setback since Dacca’s fall in 1971. There is something undignified and unsavoury about Musharraf, the architect of the operation, scorning the lives lost.
Therefore, it was argued, far more dignified and honourable for the new government, unburdened by the cruel Kargil legacy, to enter negotiations after elections conclude in October 2002.
Musharraf had tea and cakes in Agra and posed at the Taj Mahal. Vajpayee’s coming next to have tea and cakes and pose at the Quaid-e-Azam’s Mazaar. These tea parties are yet to stop men and women dying in the blood soaked Kashmir Valley.
So what were the gains and losses?
That two leaders from two nuclear-capable states finally broke their silence was an achievement in itself. They sized each other up. They agreed to meet again.
But two ceasefires broke: the unilateral Indian ceasefire in the Kashmir Valley and the Indo-Pak ceasefire between the two countries.
Even as Musharraf declared, “a military solution is not an option”, more than 80 people lost their lives in renewed violence.
The sound of bullets never stopped. It was a grim reminder of the real dangers South Asia poses to peace and security.
The summit did prove that whilst politicians come up with agreements, declarations are difficult for Generals.
Benazir Bhutto is former Prime Minister of Pakistan