May 30, 2020
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The Common Bond Of Dilemma

Agra is only the beginning, but lack of intent will make multilateralism on Kashmir inevitable

The Common Bond Of Dilemma
Conventional wisdom has it that the summit meeting between Pakistan president and CE Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will scarcely go beyond the reiteration of old positions and trite themes, yielding little tangible gains in the end. But government sources insist the ground has already been prepared for Musharraf and Vajpayee to come out together in Agra and jointly declare their intention of ushering in peace in Kashmir.

Such a declaration will, subsequently, pave the way for working out the nitty-gritty of the method through which the intention can be implemented. Government sources say since the path to peace is usually long and tortuous, involving tough bargaining and complex negotiations, the joint declaration of upholding the peace principle in the Valley would consequently represent a significant forward movement—the desire to engage each other and attempt to break the impasse in Kashmir. It would also rekindle hope in both countries and prepare their populations for working out compromises in the future. One inevitable byproduct will be further meetings between Musharraf and Vajpayee, perhaps in New York in September (on the sidelines of the UN meet).

Sources, however, warn against hoping for breathless breakthroughs in Agra. A declaration on peace, most pertinently, will have a resounding effect in Kashmir and satisfy Musharraf who, in an interview to The Asian Age of April 8, 2001, said: "Once we start the process of dialogue, we will then keep moving ahead and we will keep walking towards each other and reach somewhere in the mid-ground...." In the same interview, he said he was prepared to demonstrate flexibility on the UN resolutions as well. In other words, the Agra summit will mark the beginning of the peace process, and not its culmination.

Government sources say when the two leaders go into a retreat in Agra, they will get a lot of breathing space; the official accent is on underpreparation. As one official puts it: "A top-down approach is theoretically more conducive to a breakthrough." There is also a greater willingness to concede that, ultimately, the road to better relations with Islamabad passes through Srinagar. As a source declares: "New Delhi has very little credibility in Kashmir. If we were in control in Kashmir, there wouldn't be any need to talk to Musharraf."

Would New Delhi have invited Musharraf if Vajpayee hadn't seen an opening? Would Musharraf have constantly yearned for such a summit if he thought he couldn't meet Vajpayee halfway on Kashmir? Says a government official: "Both Musharraf and Vajpayee have an equal stake in the success of the summit. During the summit, they will be like two fish in a glass bowl, with the whole world watching keenly. If after all this fuss, nothing comes out of it, they will look like two very stupid fish, going round and round and round." Adds another source: "Musharraf said he'd be reasonable and now he has to show how reasonable he can be. And for our part, we have to ask ourselves: can we afford to let Musharraf go back empty-handed? If this summit fails, multilateralism on Kashmir will become inevitable."

What, though, remains a mystery is the reason why Agra was chosen as the venue for the summit meeting. Indeed, what can Musharraf and Vajpayee talk in Agra that they can't in Delhi? Some believe this has been done to cut out the bureaucracy from the summit; others think Musharraf wanted to portray the summit to be business-like. But the most credible theory is that Agra was chosen to keep the Hurriyat at bay; even its leaders believe this to be the case. As one of them points out: "They are not taking any chances. They are going out of their way to ensure we don't gatecrash. That's why." The reasoning here is the Hurriyat, which would prefer to be invited by Musharraf, wouldn't want to be seen following the Pakistan President all around and, consequently, rendering hollow their boast of being an independent body that isn't tied to the apron strings of their benefactor across the border.

With Gen Musharraf becoming president, what impact will this development have on the summit? Sources say, if anything, it shows he has definitely more control over Pakistan than what he had before the 1999 coup. All this presages well for the summit, testifying to his ability to deliver on the promises that he might make in Agra.

For, not only has he started to tinker with the system, but he has also started lecturing the religious leaders, urging restraint. In one interview in April, he pointedly referred to Qazi Ahmed Hussain of the Jamaat-e-Islami (who called Musharraf a "security risk") as being "an unbalanced man". Officials cite these to say that Agra is better than Lahore; that Musharraf can handle the major political forces better than Nawaz Sharif. "He is conveying a clear political message: I can deliver. I am the real McCoy," says a source as an explanation for why Musharraf added the prefix of president to his name three weeks before the summit.
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