General Pervez Musharraf is back from Agra without a peace-process pact with India in his pocket. Was failure on the cards, or did “misplaced sequencing” and “vested interests” sabotage a happy ending?
The Agra Summit followed year-long diplomatic overtures by India and Pakistan. Whether these can be ascribed to international pressure or a sincere desire to mend fences by both sides, or a bit of both, the fact is that both countries were guilty of orchestrating media hype and creating the impression that, despite differences, they would kiss and make up in the city of love. Indeed, many people were led to believe that secret diplomacy had already ironed out the differences between the two protagonists and the two leaders would meet in Agra only to smile for the cameras. In the event, far from concluding anything of the sort before the Summit, both stepped into the fray by firmly drawing their lines in the sand. Mistake One.
On the face of it, General’s Musharraf’s “cautious optimism” didn’t seem unwarranted. He was, after all, only seeking to reflect the ground reality by a slight amendment in one particular clause of the Lahore Agreements — by changing the previous requirement of “moving forward on all outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir” to a new one of “moving forward on Jammu and Kashmir, and all other outstanding issues”. That is why he constantly asked everyone whether India was “sincere” in wanting durable peace with Pakistan — his argument being that an acknowledgement of core ground realities, especially in Kashmir, would demonstrate sincerity on India’s part.
Alas. That was Mistake Two. “Sincerity” has little to do with diplomacy, just as a grudging acknowledgement of “ground realities” is to be invariably sought and expected at the end of a long drawn out process of give and take rather than at the beginning of negotiations between states. Nor, in reality, could General’s Musharraf’s demand to put Kashmir at the centre of the debate be seen as a small Indian concession to the peace process. From India’s point of view, the Simla Pact in 1972 buried the Kashmir dispute for all practical purposes while the Lahore Summit in 1999 made a notable concession to Pakistan by allowing Kashmir to be included in the litany of outstanding issues to be resolved. Hence, the small change of emphasis demanded by General Musharraf on the basis of sincerity and ground realities amounted to, in effect, a significant about-turn from India’s point of view. How could this be affected without a seeming loss of face for India, or without getting something in exchange? Such was India’s dilemma from the outset.
General Musharraf was, of course, prepared to make significant concessions to India in exchange for centralizing the Kashmir dispute. But Step One, he told a conference of Indian editors, was to reflect ground realities by focusing on Kashmir and bringing the aggrieved Kashmiris into the dialogue. Step Two, he suggested, would be to link progress on other contentious issues with that on Kashmir. Meanwhile, progress on Kashmir could be initiated by mutually ruling out Kashmir “solutions” unacceptable to either India or Pakistan. This was an unprecedented and daring offer.
In effect, he seemed to imply that Pakistan’s “flexibility” on the issue could amount to no less than an implicit abandonment of the “either” “or” UN Resolution position in which one country’s gain is the other’s loss, just as much as it would negate the idea of an independent Kashmir at India’s cost. In other words, General Musharraf held out the exciting possibility of a final arrangement on Kashmir in which the Kashmiris could claim to be winners without either India or Pakistan having to be losers.
Pakistani sources claim that an agreement was sabotaged at the last minute by Indian hardliners in Mr Vajpayee’s cabinet who insisted on linking the issue of “cross-border terrorism” with the central Kashmir issue. Indian sources claim that the Indian hardliners were constrained to pull out the stops after General Musharraf’s unrelenting remarks about the centrality of Kashmir in the editors’conference. But the fact is that the Pakistanis were provoked by the one-sided remarks of the hard-line Indian Information Minister, Sushma Swaraj, following the first round of discussions in which she tried to convey the impression that the Pakistanis had quietly acquiesced to the “composite issue approach” advocated by India. When General Musharraf tried to set the record straight in the editors’ breakfast conference the next day, the Indians retaliated by fishing out the clause about “cross-border terrorism” on which the Summit hopes eventually came to be dashed. Wittingly or otherwise, the sequencing of events left much to be desired.
Clearly, both countries still have much to learn about the art of Summitry. But they have regrouped rather well and kept hopes alive for the future. Of course, the hardliners on both sides must be delighted and will do their best to decry future openings. But the two leaders must resist the temptation of finger-pointing. Indeed, every opportunity to talk as soon as possible again must be grasped because people on both sides passionately desire peace.