The post-Agra ups and downs in India-Pakistan relations make an engaging study of how two hostile countries, wanting to normalise relations or at least lower tensions between them, act and articulate their constraints and compulsions.
It was interesting to see India blow hot and cold and how in particular its South Block zigzagged in putting up its version of what happened at Agra and why there was no "closure" to it and who was to blame. First, Jaswant Singh spoke generally in positive terms hoping that the "caravan" will continue to march, suggesting the process would continue, building on the Agra talks. In his first Press conference he said "we will pick up the threads from the visit of the President of Pakistan." Soon after, the soft-spoken External Affairs Ministry spokesperson took a different line, declaring that draft Agra declaration could not be the basis of further engagement with Pakistan. "It is disappointing," she said, "that no closure was reached on the text of the agreement. We will have to begin again on the basis of existing agreements, the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration."
Her Foreign Minister later reiterated this view and revised his ministry's earlier approach. When Prime Minister Vajpayee broke his silence on the subject, he too adopted a hard line. He had some harsh words to say about General Musharraf's lack of understanding of history and of experience in international diplomacy. This, he said, while addressing the BJP national executive meeting which reviewed the Agra summit. He added that "no meaningful dialogue with Pakistan can be conducted as long as the Jehadi mentality dominates the Pakistani establishment" Thus Mr Vajpayee chose to express himself, sitting amongst his hard-line party colleagues. Later when he made a well-considered and measured statement at the Parliament it was a different Vajpayee altogether. He literally repudiated Jaswant Singh's articulated perceptions. Addressing the MPs, he said that he and General Musharraf had achieved "a degree of understanding" at Agra and that "we will build on this to further increase the areas of agreement." Referring to the draft joint statement discussed at the summit, he acknowledged that it "sought to incorporate the structure of a future dialogue process on all issues including meetings at official, ministerial and summit levels."
To balance the positive thrust of his analysis, Mr Vajpayee also observed that "we cannot ignore the fact of terrorism and violence in the state of Jammu and Kashmir which is exported from across the borders." (It needs to be said here that Amarnath killings had already taken place). On the whole Vajpayee struck a hopeful note and enforced his stand with the disclosure that he had accepted General Pervez Musharraf's invitation to visit Pakistan for further talks. During these early post-Agra days Pakistan sought to put a positive construction on the "inconclusive" summit. Both Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar and President Pervez Musharraf regretted that the talks could not reach the desired conclusion and expressed optimism about the continuation of the process. Both avoided indulging in criticising the other party.
Later, Advani's talk about amnesty to army personnel involved in human rights violations as also the rise in the Jehadi operations, much bitterness was generated because of leaks, accusations and counter-accusations from both sides. But the dark clouds did have a silver lining. In Colombo the two Foreign Secretaries did meet and Pakistani Commerce Minister also attended another Saarc meeting in Delhi. He further had an audience with the Indian Prime Minister. The usual sweet noises of the peaceniks on both sides of the border were also heard. The South Block however dropped hints that the expected meeting in New York was no longer on the cards. Making a diplomatic virtue out of necessity, Pakistan too formally ruled it out.
It is in character with the Indian way of doing things and showing that it is New Delhi which holds the aces that suddenly the news came that the New York meeting, after all was to take place. Mr Vajpayee himself made the statement in Lucknow that "I will meet President Musharraf in New York and discuss all issues including Jammu and Kashmir which will help in improving bilateral ties." And he added that "the J&K issue will be taken up and besides I would like to improve economic understanding between the two countries."
Writing under the caption "An Informal chat with PM", Kuldip Nayyar in a recent article published in a Pakistani newspaper has come out with his discovery that while "ministers and officials" were "wanting to spoil things", they were not in the know of things. The vital fact he found was that the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan had remained in touch all along and he quoted Mr Vajpayee as saying that "my contact with President Musharraf was never broken." Kuldip also found that Vajpayee was worried over killings in the valley and felt that if they did not stop, things could take a turn for the worse." Vajpayee had welcomed Musharraf's "cracking the whip against fundamentals" and despite some backtracking his "faith" in Musharraf's liberalism remained "unshaken."
True to style India has decided to lower the percentage of tariff on a number of goods imported from Pakistan. It has also released a few Pakistani prisoners who had completed their terms in Indian jails. These measures have come after the announcement that the two leaders will meet in New York. How nice a neighbour India is the message it has thus communicated abroad. It would not however play cricket - it being Uma Bharti's domain!
Is Vajpayee alone fighting the battle for peace? How strong is his hold on BJP and the coalition leaders? Will ultimately the hard-liners prevail? Is he responding to the American pressure? Whatever the answers, the New York meeting is good news. This time however expectations will remain restrained.
This is a modified version of the article published in Jung, Pakistan. The author is a Lahore-based columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org