Prospects at New York -- By Dr Aftab Ahmed Back   Home  
So the New York summit between the leaders of Pakistan and India is on. It has been announced by the Indian prime minister himself clearing the haze of doubt and uncertainty which had enveloped it.

The summit in New York, which is to take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session on September 25 is indeed a welcome development. But will New York improve upon Agra? Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar says: "We do not expect the finalization of the (Agra summit) draft in New York... this declaration would be consummated during Mr Vajpayee's visit to Pakistan. In the meantime the two leaders can decide how to proceed further". In other words, the New York summit is meant only to set the procedure and draw up the framework for future talks.

The Agra summit did not produce any tangible results except an agreement to continue the dialogue. It was not termed a failure by Pakistan or India. Pakistan called it inconclusive; India regarded it as the beginning of a process. Immediately after Agra, Mr Vajpayee came out with the statement that a comprehensive agreement would be reached at the next meeting. He then said that a framework for the talks had been settled. All these were positive signs. But later some negative signals started coming from India, which made even the continuation of talks seem doubtful. There was, for instance, a report in the Indian press that Mr Vajpayee's visit to America was going to be curtailed; he would stay in New York only for a day on which he was supposed to address the General Assembly, implying that he would have no time for a meeting with General Musharraf.

When the Indian foreign secretary met his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of a SAARC meeting in Colombo, in what virtually amounted to writing off the Agra summit, she informed the Pakistan foreign secretary that the New York summit was under consideration. Following this the spokesmen of the Pakistan foreign office also told the press that the New York summit was on the cards.

India had indeed started treating the Agra summit almost as a non-event although it was held at the Indian prime minister's invitation. The meetings went on for two days, which included two sessions of one-to-one talks between Mr Vajpayee and Gen Musharraf lasting for nearly six hours. It is obvious that they could not have just discussed the weather at Agra. There was exchange of views; the two leaders came to know each other and also came to understand each other's position on the Kashmir dispute and other controversial issues. Unfortunately, no joint declaration or statement could be signed, thanks to the tough stand of BJP's hard-liners in the Indian cabinet.

That was sad enough. But it was sadder still when the Indian prime minister and his foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, started making statements full of acrimony and sarcasm about General Musharraf as a negotiator. Didn't they know that the General was a soldier and would talk like a soldier in a plain and direct language? In particular, it was surprising that Mr Vajpayee made all these snide remarks while eulogizing the respect and courtesy due to a guest in Hindu culture. Not only did he belie these values of the great Hindu culture he is supposed to represent but also violated the ordinary norms of diplomatic decorum. Mr Vajpayee rose to the stature of a statesman before Agra but after Agra he started behaving like a BJP politician playing to the gallery at home.

Mr Vajpayee must have had his own compulsion vis-a-vis the hard-liners of his party and other coalition partners but such comments were enough to spoil the atmosphere of any future dialogue between him and Gen Musharraf. However, it must be said to the credit of Gen Musharraf that he did not retort in the same manner. In fact, he asked the Indian leaders "to exercise restraint in their statements in order to improve relations between the two countries... I am exercising restraint myself and trying to avoid giving provocative statements with the sole purpose of settling disputes with India through peaceful means.

While treating the Agra summit as a non-event India has been repeatedly referring to the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration in the post-Agra period. In the meeting between foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan in Colombo the Indian foreign secretary stressed "the need to observe and implement the provisions of the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration." Again, the Indian prime minister, in his message of felicitation to Gen Musharraf on Pakistan's Independence Day, specifically mentioned, "India is committed to establishing a relationship of peace, friendship and cooperation with Pakistan in accordance with the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. It was only recently that Indian side announced its intention to pick up threads from the Agra summit at the forthcoming New York summit between the leaders of Pakistan and India.

India wants to settle the Kashmir dispute and other contentious issues through bilateral negations. Hence the repeated references to the Simla Agreement and Lahore Declaration. But it is not prepared to create the spirit in which these two documents were signed. At Simla the leaders showed sensitivity to each other's predicaments and compulsions and adopted an attitude of accommodation. Also, there was a will to reach an agreement.

Mrs Indra Gandhi, after her ignoble role in the Pakistan crisis of 1971, was inclined to be gracious. At Lahore the situation was different: the equation between Pakistan and India had changed; they were now both nuclear states. The atmosphere at the talks was congenial and friendly. The result was a declaration of intent calling for peace and friendship between the two countries.

At Agra the spirit of Simla and Lahore was lacking. In spite of all the fanfare the leaders of both countries had to contend with some unfortunate irritants. However, Gen Musharraf did show his promised flexibility in not insisting on UN Security Council resolutions on plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, thereby conveying Pakistan's willingness to consider other solutions and to adopt other means to ascertain the wishes of the Kashmiri people. But India adamantly stuck to its policy of Kashmir being an integral part of India and its stance on the so-called cross-border terrorism.

It is patent that bilateral negotiations between nations can produce results only when there is flexibility in the attitudes of their leaders and a spirit of accommodation prevails, along with a will to succeed or else talks invariably turn out to be a barren and futile exercise. For the same reason the New York summit is not expected to produce any substantive results. The leaders will only discuss how to proceed further. One can perhaps entertain some hopes for the future if the US, believed to be the behind-the-scenes facilitator of Indo-Pakistan talks, decides to exercise some quite diplomatic pressure on India to show flexibility in order to ensure a breakthrough.

Following American secretary of state Mr Colin Powell's statement expressing his willingness, "to do everything the US can to lend our good offices to the difficult outstanding issues whether it is Kashmir or the nuclear issue", one of Pakistan's former foreign ministers, Mr Agha Shahi, posed the question: "Can the US in its role as facilitator provide an input to find a compromise that would be acceptable to both Pakistan and India? This does not of course imply US mediation, which is anathema to India, its strategic ally. Also, mediation may well evoke reservations even in Pakistan because of this new Indo-US alliance".

Mr Shahi precludes mediation by the US, but recently an influential US Senator, Robert G. Torricelli, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has proposed that India should accept mediation by the international community, possibly some one from the United States, to resolve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan.

The fact of the matter is that if bilateral negotiations cannot produce results, third-party mediation by the UN or by a group of eminent world leaders known for their integrity and neutrality appears to be the only answer. Pakistan has always been agreeable to third-party mediation. India's resistance to it is not quite understandable. India insists on bilateral negotiations based on the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. But it seems to forget that both these documents also commit India to "the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations". Now the Charter in its chapter on Pacific Settlement of Disputes clearly provides, under Article 33, for mediation in addition to negotiation, arbitration, etc., as means of seeking solutions to disputes.

The US as an old friend of Pakistan and currently a strategic ally of India is certainly in a position to prevail upon India to agree to third-party mediation in the Kashmir dispute- in the interest of peace, stability and cooperation in this troubled part of the world.
This article was published in Pakistan Newspaper Dawn. I agree with some arguments of the author.