General Musharraf's hope of a big bang of triumph at Agra to be heard by his people remains unfulfilled. Likewise, Vajpayee's probable desire of leaving behind a legacy that could thoroughly transform the region into a prosperity zone of the world at the twilight of his carrier still remains far-behind-objective. However the Agra summit did not end in total vacuum. Initial shocks and disappointment not withstanding, the leaders and officials on both sides were quick enough to term it a process in continuation.
PARTICIPATING in the world's highest-altitude war General Musharraf, the president of Pakistan is said to have fought in Siachen glacier during the mid-eighties. It must have been little more than sport for a commando of his background to scale the barren summits of Himalayan wilderness. But it was a different experience in Agra. Although he put up a brave face all throughout his stay in India, the straight-talking general apparently failed to scale the Agra summit with equal ease. During his more than eight hours of one to one parley with the Indian prime minister he in his characteristic openness did most of the talking against the deafening silence of Mr Vajpayee who only occasionally reminded the general of India's traditionally-held position either on Kashmir or Indo-Pakistan relations. Simultaneously, in their sub-conscious the both must have tried to size each other up during their talk. It was a nerve wracking experience that seemed to have exhausted Musharraf, not much accustomed to the intricacies of Indian mind. But both the leaders kept their cool and composure till the end. Even in the morning of 16 July when Musharraf met the top echelons of Indian journalists for an exchange he was still full of confidence and optimism which, however, turned into an inglorious anti-climax later in the day.
Little did Musharraf realise that after exchange of so many words, ideas and views they were not even in the finger of an agreement on the important issues of the talk although several drafts for joint declaration were prepared by the officials of both sides only to be rejected by each other. At the end of the day the picture was that of pre-Agra summit position as if nothing happened during the last three days. Other motives apart, India invited Musharraf as a part of confidence building measures (CBM) whereas the latter went to Agra for conflict resolution. Therefore, the Indian order of priority of the issues on the agenda ran opposite to Pakistan's. India had put "cross border terrorism" on the top of the agenda followed by the issues of humanitarian concerns, trade and commerce, cultural exchanges and also Kashmir. For Pakistan Kashmir was the first and rest of them distant second. There was blatant mismatch of both objectives and issues right from the beginning. India obviously overestimated the potentials of the CBM where decades of diplomacy failed. Pakistan was also unrealistic in expecting an instant resolution of a conflict like that of Kashmir smeared in the acrimonies of more than half a century.
Emboldened by a series of personal success since he seized power nearly two years before president Musharraf, it seemed, wanted to oversimplify international relations. He thought he could conquer Indian hearts with his charm offensive. He misread the high symbolism of the summit as well as the courtesies and hospitalities extended to him to be the signs of Indians' flexibility and favourable attitude on issues of the talk. The Indians' spotless protocol and politeness from the ceremony at the airport the gun salute and red carpet to the inspection of honour guard at the Rastrapati Bhaban were enough to overwhelm a widely condemned military ruler hungering for recognition. The symbolism reached its high point in the choice of Agra "the city of love and reconciliation" as the venue of the summit. The multichanneled satellite televisions vied with each other to make it a media event. General Musharraf could not but be tempted to step into the quicksand of illusions.
There is however no denying the fact that his charms his mannerism, an infectious smile and ruggedly handsome feature did work to an extent. He was a bit of novelty in the midst of Spartan, austere and mostly septuagenarian veterans of Indian politics including his host. His easy manner and spontaneity were liked by the Indians. Also liked were his speeches at the banquet and spreading of the rose petal's at the 'Mahatma's Samadhi'. His walk through a recently renovated 'Neherwali Haveli' evoked the emotion of the return of a lost child. He looked more of an urbane, modern and intense human being than one who could mastermind the treacherous episode of Kargil. The first lady of Pakistan moved about with dignity and her stroll together with the spouse in the garden in front of Taj cast a romantic impression to the viewers.
But then, all these were on the sidelines of the main event. The summit where the general faced a giant of Indian politics with half a century's political carrier behind him, was the real testing ground for President Musharraf's acumen. Here he had to deal with a complex 'saffron liberal' whose role still remains an enigma in India's contemporary politics. Apart from this, the two leaders of the summit were poles apart in temperament, background and upbringing. Not only they were generation apart and had entirely different worldview, more importantly they held extreme positions on the 'core issue' of dispute Kashmir. Musharraf was unwilling to rein in the militants while Vajpayee stubbornly refused to recognise Kashmir as a dispute. Worse still, Vajpayee for all his virtues and statesmanship suffers from a characterological flaw whereby he finds it difficult to sustain any policy position for long and keeps shifting from one position to another. True, he is surrounded by the hardliners who are uncompromising on the key issues of Indo-Pakistan relationship. But while they are predictable Vajpayee's shifts in policies cannot be foretold.
Until only a couple of months ago Vajpayee was refusing to deal with Musharraf. Like Advani and Jaswant Singh he also asserted that Kashmir was India's internal affair and Pakistan was to put a stop to 'cross-border terrorism' before expecting a dialogue with India. He branded Musharraf as a military dictator unworthy of being engaged in talk by a democratic polity. Only some months ago he was not willing to meet Musharraf even on the sideline of SAARC conclave. Against this backdrop Vajpayee's dramatic turnaround late in the month of May speaks of his characteristic rapid policy shift moving from one extreme to another. The same way the clarity is lacking in his Kashmir policy at least for the last year whatever could have been the rationale behind it. His policies with regard to ceasefire in Kashmir and dealing with the APHC leaders have been clumsy, to put it mildly.
Although Musharraf did not have an alternative to the acceptance of Vajpayee's invitation he seemed to have inadequate grasp of its prospects. Inspite of Vajpayee having some liberal impulses at times it is not for nothing that he has remained at the top of Bharatiya Janata Party for all these years. Because he is equally a loyal Swayamsevak and unlikely to ever deviate from his doctrinal allegiance to the party not withstanding his moderate face highlighted so frequently to attract coalition partners to keep the BJP ship afloat. He cannot but play to the tune of 'his master's voice' whenever the testing time comes with regard to Kashmir or Indo-Pakistan relations. Although Pakistan pointed its accusing finger only to a few known hawks in the BJP for the deadlock at Agra, most of the senior colleagues of Vajpayee are old veterans of the RSS and are committed to a common ideology. General Musharraf was just a moron before them who seemed to have taken him for a ride. It only reinforces the notion that the personal charm or eloquence cannot be an effective alternative to experience, expertise and vision acquired through a period of time particularly in a summit diplomacy.
So, General Musharraf's dream of conquering Indians' heart and sympathy remains at that. Also his hope of a big bang of triumph at Agra to be heard by his people also remains unfulfilled. Likewise, Vajpayee's probable desire of leaving behind a legacy--legacy that could thoroughly transform the region into a prosperity zone of the world--at the twilight of his carrier still remains far-behind-objective. However the Agra summit did not end in total vacuum. Initial shocks and disappointment not withstanding, the leaders and officials on both sides were quick enough to term it a process in continuation. Given the gory background of south Asia's history, this is also no mean achievement.
Publised in DailyStar, Bangladesh. Author Brig (Retd) M Abdul Hafiz is former DG of BIISS