Indians' mood veers from hot to cold as Summit approaches Back   Home  

The Agra Summit approaches, and the mood in the Indian capital veers from hot to cold, and swings back again, with the eye of the storm the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference attendance at the Pakistani High Commissioner’s tea party.

Storm in a teacup? Lots of Indians don’t think so. Though Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, at a Press briefing on Thursday said it would not cast its shadow on the Summit, and that full protocol would be observed, the ruling National Democratic Alliance decided that it would boycott the function. However, clearly both the parties are treading something of a minefield, and some of the Indian irritation comes from a realisation that President Pervez Musharraf has made his point, though that is perhaps all that he might be making. However, to avoid the issue sabotaging the Summit, yet to register its own displeasure in an acceptable way, the ruling party boycott of the tea party was announced. Interestingly, the opposition Congress has announced that it will be attending, though it has not finalised its list of participants.

Meanwhile, there was a serious media effort launched, with the slightly pathetic sight of journalists talking to journalists common, both Indians interviewing Pakistanis, and Pakistanis getting quotes from Indians. Some of the interviews degenerated into outright debates, getting quite heated at times. Pakistani journalists had a whale of a time appearing on Indian talk shows and discussion programmes.

Part of the reason for this is that the Pakistani delegation is very small, but the course of negotiations is expected to see Pakistan raise the Kashmir issue, and India to attempt to raise others. However, the Indian delegation might well accept even agreements in principle to talk on specific technical issues, and will probably steamroller any attempts to put off talks on trade, tourism, people-to-people exchange, and other issues, on the ground that the concerned minister or technical expert is not present.

At the same time, it appears that President Musharraf’s expected agenda, of obtaining a concession of the centrality of the Kashmir issue, followed by a framework for negotiations, and of a specific timeframe within which this framework would deliver results, might just be do-able for the Indians. According to former Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey, it should be possible to formulate language acceptable to both sides which would acknowledge the importance of the Kashmir issue without using the phrase ‘core issue’. Also, it should be possible to prepare a framework of negotiations, provided it fitted into a larger framework of examining other bilateral aspects which India at least ascribed importance, while giving Kashmir a higher priority or profile. While a timeframe for a final solution was not possible, he opined, it should be possible to set a timeframe for the negotiations to reach a conclusive stage.

Dubey’s precisely stated response summed up the general trend of Indian thinking, which brings the wheel full circle back to the composite dialogue of the Nawaz-Gujral period, with some advances. India is not willing to talk only Kashmir, and there is a certain quiet consternation that Musharraf’s insistence on ‘Kashmir-only’ would lead to the Summit leading nowhere. However, to bring other issues onboard, India is probably willing to yield substantive and timebound talks on Kashmir.

However, Musharraf’s distaste for the phrase ‘composite dialogue’ (with its connotations of the bad old Nawaz days) is also well-known, and the Indians would also need to formulate language that would overcome this. It may be that Musharraf has taken this high-handed stance precisely because Vajpayee’s invitation caught him and his government a little off-balance, in which case the tactics seem to have worked.

Unlike previous Summits, there is not merely expectation in the air in New Delhi, but there is also a certain edginess. To a veteran player and commentator like I.K. Gujral, the Summit would succeed even if the two merely agree to meet again.

However, Musharraf wants results, and it is possible that India might use this desire of his to leverage him into accepting composite dialogue under a new name. However, all preparations are fast-moving towards a conclusion, and the Indians are preparing to give Musharraf a red-carpet reception, despite the stir in the City in sympathy with Ripu and Zenny Daman, an orphaned brother and sister, who live in a two-room house in Neherwali Haveli, Musharraf’s childhood home, which he is to visit. As part of the preparations for the visit, one of the two rooms were demolished, and the 18-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy have been left with only one room to live in.

However, the ire of the locals is directed at the Metropolitan Corporation of Delhi, which carried out the demolition, rather than the visiting President that in itself is a significant indication of the public mood. Had it been hostile, some of the flak now directed that the MCD would surely have hit Musharraf.

This article was published in TheNation, Pakistan.