August 2001 News

Leave The Door Ajar

6 August 2001
Outlook
V. SUDARSHAN

NEW DELHI: As Parliament opened for its monsoon session on July 23, many wondered how A.B. Vajpayee would face up to the Opposition regarding the failure of his summit with General Musharraf in Agra. As it happened, he fared quite well, telling the two houses: "Obviously, India's concern in vital areas—such as cross-border terrorism—will have to find a place in any document that future negotiations endeavour to conclude." But for those who thought that Agra and Musharraf's subsequent press conference back home had killed all hopes of continued India-Pakistan dialogue, Vajpayee kept the door open for engagement by declaring, "We shall continue to seek dialogue and reconciliation." Is it possible to reconcile the two contradictory positions, what with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf insisting on a framework for addressing the Kashmir issue and, at the same time, denying Pakistani role in cross-border terrorism? More importantly, does it mean that Vajpayee will visit Islamabad once his invitation comes through? The prime minister is yet to receive a formal invitation though foreign minister Jaswant Singh has received his. Vajpayee can only finalise his travel plans once he gets the invitation. But it is not likely that the prime minister will announce the dates soon, though he and Musharraf are expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN in September. A senior bureaucrat describes the peculiar situation New Delhi finds itself in thus: "We made a U-turn when the invitation was extended to Musharraf, and after Agra, we are now in full reverse gear. Vajpayee will now slowly retreat to occupy the moral high ground." The U-turn refers to the primary principle that Vajpayee abandoned in his decision to invite General Musharraf to Agra—that Pakistan must first rein in terrorism before the two countries could sit across the negotiating table. With Musharraf palpably demonstrating his reluctance to discourage cross-border terrorism, the moot question is: what have New Delhi and Islamabad gained respectively from Agra? Says a diplomat: "After the summit, the memories of the sins of Kargil have been overtaken by the relative merits of the positions of the two sides on Kashmir." In other words, Agra has enabled Musharraf to wipe out the stigma of Kargil. Bureaucrats say Musharraf's Agra agenda had three important dimensions, aiming at pushing New Delhi on the defensive, catering to his domestic constituencies (jehadis, the army and Pakistanis at large, in that order) and ensuring that the hopes of Kashmiris remain alive. He seemed to have addressed all the three aspects quite deftly. On the Indian side, there has been some discontent about the way the summit was conducted. Says one senior bureaucrat: "It doesn't look as though the pmo did any homework." And the "communication gap" between the pmo and the rest of the bureaucracy was obvious. This would lead to uncomfortable questions so far as Vajpayee was concerned on what he expected to get from all the summitry. What then have been Vajpayee's gains? Post-Agra, some broad trends are discernible. For one, the government feels the dialogue process, though now sputtering, is better than having had none at all; that it has helped in having a better understanding of the other side. The government also feels Musharraf has exposed himself thoroughly, demonstrating his lack of vision and limitations. More importantly, his spirited refusal to acknowledge cross-border violence casts him in the mould of a jehadi in a business suit, something international observers are not overlooking. Domestically, the perception that the government has not lost the stomach to hold on to Kashmir has been bolstered. In fact, some decisive measures might now be unfurled to make the point tellingly on the ground as well. The Kashmiri has got the message loud and clear that New Delhi isn't about to relinquish any territory. Government officials also feel that the disappointment in Kashmir over Agra is largely because it failed to yield a modality for scaling down violence, which is expected to witness a sharp spurt in the weeks to come. So is Vajpayee's visit to Islamabad off? Government officials say his decision will depend on the situation in Kashmir and the domestic compulsions he faces. The latter factor militates against an Islamabad trip. Says a bureaucrat: "Vajpayee will be committing political suicide if he were to go to Islamabad now." Meanwhile, it has been reported that US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca has been briefed on the Agra summit. It is significant that she made no statement that marked a departure from President Clinton's Four-R formulation on Kashmir (Respect for LoC, restraint, reduction of violence, re-engagement). The Republican administration does not openly subscribe to Kashmir being a nuclear flashpoint, and Rocca's visit has held out hope that Washington's relationship with India will not be viewed through the prism of Pakistan; that Indo-US relations would be decisively delinked from Pakistan-US relations. Says a diplomat: "Washington will not link the pace of engagement with New Delhi to its pace of engagement with Pakistan." New Delhi is confident that President George Bush's statement regarding freedom movements from "Kosovo to Kashmir" was more a case of alliterative excesses by an overenthusiastic speechwriter rather than a considered policy statement. Sources also point out that the US, which is reviewing post-Pokhran (1998) sanctions against India, hasn't yet formed a clear perception of the Agra summit. Thus the battle for winning the hearts and minds of the international audience is expected to become more intense in the next few months. Government sources say that domestically, the emphasis on Jammu and Kashmir will now increase, especially as the state goes to election in a year from now. "We will talk about devolution of powers without calling it autonomy, to avoid embarrassment," says an official. Sources say that this might eventually lead to a "rolling back of a certain number of Central laws and minor acts that have been extended to the state and provide a face-saving measure to Kashmiris (read Farooq Abdullah)." The Hurriyat, on July 23, held a short executive meet thanking Musharraf for meeting them. It also passed a resolution for initiating a mass contact programme within India, involving political parties, religious organisations, social organisations, intellectuals, ngos. This mass contact programme is aimed at convincing people that the Hurriyat's movement will not herald the "disintegration of India". Government officials are viewing this as a positive political development. But what they are worried about is Syed Ali Shah Geelani's campaign over last month to get Abdul Majid Dar ousted from his position of commanding the Hizbul Mujahideen in the Valley. With Dar perceived as a moderate and pro-peace, a complaint has been sent to Pakistan saying that the Hizbul's performance has been "lacklustre" in comparison to the Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed's and that "if the present leadership (Dar) continues, it would be difficult to portray the violence as an indigenous movement". Vajpayee's other problem stems from his party cadre which is sceptical about talking to the 'enemy nation'. When Vajpayee briefed his parliamentary party last week, his MPs listened to him silently without protest. But the following day, when Vajpayee stated in Parliament that he had accepted the invitation to visit Islamabad, a group of party workers had to be lathi-charged as they wended their way to the Pakistan High Commission protesting against cross-border terrorism. However, now that the party has laid down the line that talks with Pakistan will continue, MPs are finding reasons to justify it. Says M.A. Karabala Swain, the articulate MP from Balasore in Orissa: "Pakistan has lost its traditional support from the West. Osama bin Laden is being given protection. Islamic fundamentalists trained by Pakistan have targeted the Christian world. It is a crusade-like situation. We are the diplomatic gainers because of the Lahore Declaration and our restraint during the Kargil war." Lal Muni Choubey, a bjp MP from Buxar, Bihar, says Vajpayee must keep talking because "Pakistan kitni bar jhoot bolega (how many times will Pakistan lie)?" He feels party cadres and MPs will come around to seeing the wisdom in initiating talks with Pakistan. "The bjp is not the Jana Sangh. Politics has to change with time," he says. Swain points to the plight of the swadeshi ideologues to stress that the MPs will be made to understand the government's view. "We are a disciplined party. We are not Shiv Sainiks." It is really the right wing then that has to be contended with. Faizabad MP and Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar is one of its most vocal representatives. To a question whether Vajpayee should have accepted the invitation, he says: "Since he has and he is a senior leader, he must have good reasons." But Katiyar is quick to define Vajpayee's agenda: "Pura Kashmir hamara hai. Hamein PoK par haq jatana chahiye (All of Kashmir is ours. We should claim right over PoK)." Katiyar offers a quirky solution to the problem. "The government spends crores on the Valley every year," he says. "I believe we should just relocate the entire population of the Valley (read Muslims) to other parts of India and compensate them financially. The Valley should become a no-man's land. Terrorism will automatically disappear."

 

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