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Politics & Policy
Pakistan - India summit

Agra talks have not failed but remained inconclusive

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi

July 23 - 29, 2001

Foreign Ministers of Pakistan and India in their post-summit press conferences in Islamabad and New Delhi respectively have tried to salvage the damage caused by some hawks in the Indian Cabinet at the last moment. Reportedly the two Ministers of the Vajpayee cabinet threatened to resign if the joint communique, the draft of which had been earlier approved both by President Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister was signed and released to the press.

While some Pakistan counterparts of Indian hawks may also be happy over the last minute set back to the summit, it has caused a gloom and a shock to the majority of the people of both the countries who had pinned lot of hopes with the historic summit to bring an end to 54 years old bitterness and hostility between the two countries. Watching TV one could not help noticing President Musharraf leaving India as a dissatisfied person.

The deadlock at Agra on the wording of an Indo-Pakistan joint statement came as a shocking anti-climax to summit that began on such an upbeat note. Expectations had been raised to euphoric proportions by the media hype, there being too much of it which must have hampered the work of the negotiators. But even a bland statement, rather than no statement at all, would have been a facesaver. So the disappointment has been all the more intense.

Perhaps a better sense prevailed later on the Indian leadership when Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, at a press conference at Agra on Tuesday morning, told newsmen "No I don't term Agra talks as failed talks and I am very hopeful that the two countries will be able to maintain the process of dialogue in future. Indian Prime Minister has accepted the invitation to visit Pakistan. He will undertake this visit in the near future besides meeting Gen. Musharraf in New York in Sep. on the sidelines of U.N. General Assembly session.

Same afternoon Pakistani Foreign Minister at a press conference in Islamabad said that "Agra talks have not failed but remained inconclusive". The leaders of the two countries have agreed to continue their dialogues. They will next meet in New York in September this year.

If Abdul Sattar said that "in their inconclusive talks Musharraf and Vajpayee succeeded in covering a broad area of common ground which would provide a valuable foundation for them to reach full agreement at their next meeting", Jaswant, too, seemed optimistic saying that "New Delhi would like to pick up threads from the Agra Summit for future negotiations with Pakistan. I am very hopeful that the two neighbours will be able to maintain the process of dialogue in future. In fact the Agra parleys have helped the two sides to have better understanding of the each other's point of view".

Sattar minced no words in elaborating Pakistan's principled stand on Kashmir and said that President Musharraf repeatedly emphasised on the Indian leader that "realism requires a focus and that progress on settlement of Jammu and Kashmir issue would be conducive to normalization of bilateral relationship between the two States". Although Jaswant admitted the Kashmir is the main dispute between India and Pakistan, he drummed a new terminology of "unifocal approach" which according to him, became the reason for not signing of a joint declaration. It is plain that the breakdown of the talks has been a victory for the hawks on both sides. They were the ones who opposed tooth and nail any negotiations between India and Pakistan. It goes to the credit of President Pervez Musharraf that he proceeded to New Delhi and Agra in spite of strong reservations expressed by the hardliners and militant parties and factions which are in some way involved in the fighting in Kashmir. They found obliging allies among the Indian hawks led by the hardliners in the BJP, namely the L.K. Advani faction, which finally scuppered the draft of the joint statement which had been agreed upon by the foreign ministers of the two countries. So strong was the hold of this faction that it overruled its own Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh thrice to make changes in the agreed draft. This goes to prove how the BJP government in New Delhi has become hostage to the hardliners who now constitute the core of the ruling party. Given their strength, it appears that Pakistan was being over-confident about the prospects of a breakthrough on Kashmir, which President Musharraf believed he could count on.

All said and done, Foreign Ministers of both the countries have once again raised the hopes for the continuation of a peace dialogue and, as per Jaswant's announcement, Vajpayee would be visiting Pakistan at a mutually agreed date, it is hoped that better sense would prevail on the Indian Prime Minister to part ways with his government's rigid stance on Kashmir issue which is the core issue. Once it is solved, it will lead to automatic resolution of all other problems and irritants between the two countries.