September 1999 News

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Sharif-Vajpayee together in a secret deal

15 September 1999
The Asian Age
By Seema Mustafa

Pakistan's former foreign secretary Niaz A. Naik has very categorically spoken of a secret understanding between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resolve the Kashmir issue by October.

He has also suggested that the Sharif government was not aware of the planning for the Kargil operation just as the Pakistan Army planners were not aware of the secret discussions between the two leaders.

The Opposition parties here have accused Mr.. Vajpayee of striking a "secret deal" with the Pakistan Prime Minister and demanded an explanation from him. Former minister of state for external affairs K. Natwar Singh told The Asian Age: "What Naik has said is mind boggling." The Prime Minister, Mr.. Singh pointed out, had not taken the country into confidence and "obviously something was being decided between them, taking advantage of the fact that the Lok Sabha was dissolved. This is also the reason why they were against an emergency Rajya Sabha session."

Asked the CPI's D. Raja: "What is this solution on Kashmir?" He added: "It is very fishy, very shady, and obviously Mr. Vajpayee has given assurances to Pakistan about which he has said nothing to Parliament."

The Vajpayee government appeared very defensive about the whole issue, with the spokesman of the ministry of external affairs unable to provide my official reaction to Mr. Naik's explosive remarks.

The Pakistan Army has meanwhile, denied that it engineered the Kargil intrusions to "sabotage" a back channel deal between Mr. Nawaz Sharif and Mr. Vajpayee to resolve the Kashmir issue by September/October this year, PTI reports from Islamabad.

In an indication of the Army's growing differences with the Sharif government, a senior military source told the Dawn newspaper that they expected the government to contradict former foreign secretary Niaz A. Naik's remarks alleging that the Army was responsible for the Kargil conflict which "sabotaged" the back channel diplomacy between the two Prime Ministers.

"We hope some responsible government functionary would remove the impression created by Naik (who acted as Mr. Sharif's emissary) that the Army did not want the resolution of Kashmir issue," Dawn quoted the source as saying. Asked if the Army would officially deny Mr. Naik's statement, he said, "Once the government clears the misunderstanding, the Army will give a formal reaction."

Interestingly, foreign office spokesman Tariq Altaf, during a press conference on Tuesday, neither denied nor confirmed Mr. Naik's statement. "It is a very loosely-worked statement. I wasn't sure what was being said," he said.

Mr. Naik, who was the secret envoy sent by Mr. Sharif to confer with Mr. Vajpayee in the middle of the Kargil crisis, has further said that the talks leading to the solution of Kashmir would continue if the BJP won the Lok Sabha election. However, in what has been described as "highly objectionable" by the Opposition parties here, he is also reported to have said that if any other party formed the government after the elections, Pakistan would not continue with the talks.

Significantly, Mr. Naik has laid great emphasis on back channel diplomacy, claiming that in Pakistan only he, the present foreign secretary, the foreign minister and the Prime Minister were aware of the plans. In India in the know, according to him, were the Prime Minister, his principal secretary Brajesh Mishra, external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and defence minister George Fernandes.

Mr. Fernandes was the first to give a clean chit to the Sharif government by claiming at the very onset of the Kargil conflict that the Pakistan Prime Minister had no idea about the operation. He was supported in this by Mr. Brajesh Mishra. Mr. Vajpayee tried to handle the backlash from the Opposition and also a section of the BJP to these statements while Mr. Jaswant Singh maintained a studied silence. He broke this only to release some transcripts of recorded conversation between two top generals of Pakistan in order to establish that the Sharif government was not in the know.

Pakistan foreign minister Sartaj Aziz had told reporters during his hurried visit to New Delhi in June that the Sharif government had full knowledge of the operation. Mr. Naik's statement is the first concrete indication from Islamabad that the Sharif government was out of the picture and if the Pakistan Army had not moved ahead in Kargil the Prime Ministers of the two countries would have resolved the Kashmir issue.

The proposals before both government range from the conversion of the Line of Control into an international border to the establishment of both parts of Kashmir into an autonomous zone. it is not clear which proposal had found favor although Mr. Vajpayee had suggested at his Lahore meeting that the LoC close to Uri could be opened to facilitate contact between Kashmiris living on opposite sides. Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah has been campaigning of an international border throughout the election campaign.

Mr. Naik, in his statement, has taken pains to the establish the bonhomie between the two Prime Ministers. He said that Mr. Vajpayee had wanted Mr. Sharif to make a technical halt in New Delhi on his way back from China so that both could have a round of discussions. The plan was dropped, he said, because of opposition from the BJP in view of the Kargil conflict.

Mr. Vajpayee, while speaking at length about the sacrifices of the Indian soldiers and his own bus journey to Lahore, has not made even a fleeting reference till now to the "back channel diplomacy" which seems to be the real basis of his relationship with Mr. Nawaz Sharif. Journalist R. K. Mishra was Mr. Vajpayee' secret envoy and after making contact with the Pakistan Prime Minister in London, and followed it up with a visit to Islamabad.

The visit was not denied by the government but the subject of the discussions between Mr. Mishra and Mr. Sharif remains a closely guarded secret.


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