VAJPAYEE GOES ONE UP AS PERVEZ BITES BAIT 

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By FROM K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 10.07.01
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Washington, July 10 :    Washington, July 10:  The script is India's. And all the dramatis personae are faithfully following the script. With only five days left for the summit, there is quiet satisfaction in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the ministry of external affairs that India has regained the initiative for the Agra talks. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee now hopes to set the unwritten agenda for his meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, just as he dictated the course of his three talks with Nawaz Sharif in 1998 and 1999. At the highest levels of the Indian leadership, it was secretly hoped that Delhi's unilateral gestures of friendship announced in two instalments this month would have the exact opposite result in Pakistan. Just as Madan Lal Khurana's talk of a "fourth war" with Pakistan in May 1998 and L.K. Advani's threats of "hot pursuit" after Pokhran II sent Pakistan into a panic and forced Islamabad out of its nuclear closet! Without Chagai, it is now acknowledged, India would have been the world's villain and it would have been hard put to overcome the negative international reaction to Pokhran II. A top PMO official today said: "You have to concede that we are at least good at reading Pakistan's mind." The historic lifting of barriers along the Line of Control for family reunions, the offer to reopen the Rajasthan-Sindh rail link, the selective reduction of duty on Pakistani imports and scholarships for Pakistani students were all designed with a solitary purpose: to widen the agenda for the Agra summit, and in the teeth of Pakistan's opposition, move it beyond just Kashmir. When the first package of unilateral concessions such as scholarships in Indian institutes of higher learning were announced, Musharraf was holding the high moral ground, having counselled Vajpayee a few days earlier to avoid inflammatory rhetoric. He also effectively used the platform of the Indian media through selective interviews. But India's first package threw Musharraf's junta off balance, just as the Indian leadership had hoped. Musharraf was forced to eat his own words about inflammatory rhetoric and go to town about Indian acts of repression and oppression in Kashmir. According to sources in Pakistan, Musharraf personally cleared the foreign office statement that day about "rising (Indian) atrocities in Jammu and Kashmir". In the media, and among the public, the Pakistani statement may have dampened enthusiasm about Agra, but in South Block, there was elation. It showed that Musharraf, the uniformed General with little experience of diplomacy, was not beyond manipulation by a politician as seasoned as Vajpayee. So, package two of unilateral concessions, which included travel liberalisation and the opening of new border checkpoints was put in motion. Once again, Pakistan has reacted predictably. Within hours, information secretary Anwar Mahmood and Musharraf's chief spin doctor Major-General Rashid Quereshi announced at a press conference that Musharraf will take only a small delegation with him. Abdul Sattar, the foreign minister, Inam-ul-Haq, the foreign secretary and officials dealing with Kashmir and Indo-Pakistan relations are the only ones who would go to Agra. Once again, as the Indian leadership had hoped, Musharraf rose to the bait. As of now, in the eyes of the world, Vajpayee is the good man, bending over backwards to have better ties with Pakistan, something he has aspired for since his stint as foreign minister in 1978, the Prime Minister's spin doctors assert. On the other side is Musharraf, as it is lacking legitimacy, pursuing his sole agenda of Kashmir. No wonder, the more independent Pakistani newspapers are cautioning that if it goes on like this, the post-Agra state of the Kashmir issue will be that "Kashmir will remain with India and the issue with Pakistan".