If the Agra summit fails, Prime Minister Vajpayee will be remembered as one who merely legitimised a dictator. If the summit succeeds, President Musharraf could reasonably hope for a future democratic mandate. The stakes for both leaders, therefore, are high.
Experience shows that a phased movement towards peace fails because vested interests sabotage progress. Vajpayee and Musharraf must, therefore, clinch a first move that makes progress towards peace irreversible.
What can that first step be?
If Kashmir is the core issue, nuclear war is the core danger. Possession of nuclear weapons by both nations has lent urgency to resolving the Kashmir dispute. Thus the first step must be to end the nuclear threat.
Vajpayee and Musharraf could declare at the end of their meeting that both nations would cooperate for mutual defence. President Ayub Khan offered joint defence in 1959. Nehru had spurned the offer. Defence cooperation between India and Pakistan would generate mutual trust. It would become Pakistan's responsibility to end cross-border terrorism. That would create a climate which allows rational solutions of all problems, including Kashmir.
After a decision on defence cooperation is approved in principle at the summit, an Indo-Pakistani committee of experts could be constituted to draw up an appropriate treaty.
Eventually the scope of the defence cooperation treaty could be extended to cover all of South Asia. India and Pakistan could jointly offer a nuclear shield to all nations of South Asia. This would require that India and Pakistan cooperate in devising modalities for control of nuclear weapons.
This should, among other things, position India and Pakistan to prod the big powers into adopting a time-bound programme for total nuclear disarmament. Both nations could build up pressure for ensuring that nuclear weapons and the National Missile Defence scheme being considered by President Bush are ultimately placed under the UN or any other specially set up world body.
In short, this agreement should enable South Asia to play a creative global role that might set the agenda for a new world order. The world's preoccupation with war and nation-states could be diverted towards development and humanity.
Does this sound too utopian? It might have some years ago. But the world has entered a new millennium. Ideas, not wealth, will lead it to new horizons. Why can't India and Pakistan help the world change direction?
The world can kill
But empty stomachs
It can't yet fill!