Chastened at Agra, and unable to return to Pakistan with a joint declaration, Gen Musharraf is expected to do a tightrope walk in his meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee in New York later this month. Indications are that he'd harp on Kashmir and yet not veto progress on other outstanding disputes between the two countries.
A recent meeting between Vijay Nambiar, Indian high commissioner in Pakistan, and Pakistan foreign secretary Inamul Haq has sparked speculation that the New York meeting would have a mutually-agreed structured format. But, says the Pakistan foreign office spokesman, Riaz Mohammad Khan: "It was primarily held to decide the timing of the meeting and to finalise arrangements for the New York talks." He says any further movement has to be on the basis of the Agra summit.
But diplomatic sources are sure of some progress during the Inam-Nambiar meeting, arguing that India and Pakistan cannot repeat the mistake of going into negotiations without doing their homework. A subtle change in Islamabad's stance found its echo in commerce minister Razzak Dawood's statement on his recent visit to New Delhi when he declared that Pakistan "wanted progress on all issues—Kashmir, Wullar Barrage, economic and trade relations."
This, though, isn't to argue that Pakistan is going to resile from its position of Kashmir being the core issue. In fact, immediately after Vajpayee announced his decision to meet Musharraf in New York, the Pakistan president's address to the newly-elected Legislative Assembly of Azad Kashmir had Kashmir as its principal theme. He said thus: "Progress in India and Pakistan is not possible without an early resolution of the Kashmir issue, and Pakistan has always emphasised the continuity of dialogue between the two countries to resolve all outstanding issues, including the core issue of Kashmir."
But the issue remains intractable and Agra was incontrovertible proof of this. Consequently, no one is willing to stoke any hope for the impending New York meet. The foreign office says it would be too much to expect any real breakthrough. "Nevertheless," says a foreign office spokesman, "the two leaders are expected to pick up the threads from the Agra discussions." He adds: "We'd continue to give utmost preference to the resolution of the Kashmir issue in talks because if this issue is resolved, there would be no major point of tension in South Asia".
The fact that the two leaders are meeting in New York is in itself reason for optimism, a distinct improvement upon the sombre mood that prevailed after the collapse of the Agra summit. Well-placed diplomatic sources say the US played a role to bring both the countries together in New York. Says a diplomat, requesting anonymity: "Without a quiet US role, the meeting in New York was impossible after the provocative statements from both sides post-Agra. That is why after the Pakistan foreign secretary's recent Washington visit, Gen Musharraf sent his second invitation to Vajpayee for a meeting in New York."
Realism is the dominant mood among analysts. Says political scientist Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi: "Before going for his second meeting with Vajpayee, Musharraf must take into account the reasons why the last summit derailed, despite India agreeing on the centrality of the Kashmir dispute." Adds Imtiaz Alam, convenor of the South Asia Free Media Association (safma): "If we expect the Indians to address the aspect (Kasmir), we must also be prepared to address issues they want to discuss. Otherwise, there cannot be any dialogue. So, if an agreement is reached on addressing the Kashmir issue as a major source of conflict, then you must address all the other issues as well since the main issue cannot be isolated from the whole."
Obviously, fundamentalists see no room for a compromise on Kashmir. But the people want Musharraf to move forward and make some progress towards an amicable and mutually-acceptable resolution of the Kashmir problem. Imtiaz Alam consequently warns: "Diplomacy is a far more sophisticated art than fighting a war. We need to learn more about it from the Indians. Let not the next meeting go waste like the Agra summit. There isn't any need to generate any hope or media hype about it. It should remain a behind-the-scene serious business meeting and pave the way for a successful summit and a very well-structured composite dialogue process."
Perhaps then, the Agra failure was necessary to prepare both countries for prolonged negotiations and ejecting the possibility of instantaneous solutions. Considering that the hostility between the two countries is more than five decades old, it is puerile to expect peace to dawn on the subcontinent overnight.
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