Initially, the military regime was divided over the idea of Musharraf meeting political leaders for eliciting their opinions on Kashmir. Vociferous opposition came mainly from foreign minister Abdul Sattar and the garrulous presidential aide, Gen Rasheed Qureshi. Reason: the views of politicians on Kashmir are too well known.
For starters, though, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamaat-e-Ulema Islam (F), a fundamentalist outfit owing allegiance to the Deobandi school, issued a call to both the Indian army and Kashmiri freedom fighters to silence their guns for creating the right environment for the Agra summit.
But such rhetoric left the political class cold. So, when the invitation for a meeting with Gen Musharraf did come through, the Pakistan People’s Party (ppp) and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the country’s two largest political parties, decided to keep away. As did the ard. The only person to break ranks was Awami National Party president Asfandyar Wali Khan, who proudly announced that the invitation vindicated his party’s 50-year-old stand.
Khan told Outlook: "This was an opportunity I couldn’t miss even though the ard, which is the alliance I support, decided to stay away. I was very happy to face the generals and tell them that my grandfather Ghaffar Khan, father Wali Khan and the rest of the family and party have been vindicated. For years we had been branded Indian agents and had repeatedly been put behind bars for trying to improve relations with India. I told Musharraf that the other method had been tried for decades and now it was time to give dialogue a chance to solve the Kashmir issue."
Unsurprisingly, the all-party meet was a damp squib. What ultimately emerged from the marathon five-hour parley was a group photo of participants and the General, with Imran Khan—who has broken with the ard—sporting prime ministerial looks. Even the rhetoric of the gun-toting mujahideen at the meet didn’t match the fury they otherwise are quick to demonstrate. On his part, Musharraf reiterated that any solution on Kashmir must take into account the aspiration of its people.
Says columnist M.B. Naqvi: "The immediate challenge is that Pakistanis will have to remain content with making a beginning at the Agra summit and paying the price of moderating their rhetoric. Given that blood-curdling shibboleths, which are so dear to our jehadis and which have created an especially excitable and paranoid mindset, it will look like an unmerited climbdown. The anxiety is relevant: foreign interests can divide the establishment. Should this happen all bets will be off."
There’s also disinterest in the media about the Agra summit. Only a couple of Pakistani hacks have shown interest in catching a glimpse of the Taj Mahal.
Such being the scenario, what then are the expectations from the summit? Says a diplomatic source: "Nobody is expecting that Kashmir will be solved at the summit. But if the two agree to institutionalise the dialogue process, make the LoC a border for peace rather than a line of fire, agree to curtail infiltration and violence in Kashmir, earnestly begin concrete confidence-building measures, and move decisively towards improved economic relations, the summit could be considered a success."
It will be tough going for Musharraf, who’s now given Pakistanis several servings of his commando action. It took him a couple of hours to depose Sharif; he wrote just three lines to dismiss an elected president. Does he have a quick-fix on Kashmir?
Says Syed Mushahid Hussain, who was earlier a Sharif frontman: "Gen Musharraf’s real test has now begun. What will he do with his absolute, unchecked power? His challenge will be to show whether he can change the country’s direction by making a difference. Otherwise, the quest for power as a means for self-perpetuation is something that Pakistanis are quite familiar with, as they are with its consequences." Pakistanis have never really prided themselves for being a patient nation.