Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Agra revisited

In a recent interview to the Indian media, General Pervez Musharraf says all the "right things, in the right vein, with sincerity" but ensures that the skeletons of the 2001 Agra Summit tumble out. In one of his most candid and forthright confessions, the Pakistan President blames Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President LK Advani for the failure of the July 14-16 summit. "I personally suspect it was Advani (then Home Minister) Sahib. That is my guess because he was quite hawkish in those days," the General tells jurist AG Noorani. "Mr Prime Minister, today both you and I have been humiliated. Because I feel that what we agreed on, somebody above us, who had the veto power, rejects it. I don't know who it is…" Musharraf had told Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001.

The General's finger pointing at the former Deputy PM springs no surprise, especially after the latter went on record in 2002 saying: "He has no faith in Musharraf". Advani had said that Musharraf was adamant on not accepting the fact that there was terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and described it as a "freedom struggle". Recalling the summit, Advani had said: "…When it was pointed out (to the General) that killing of women and children could not be termed as "freedom struggle", he maintained that in any freedom struggle, innocents were killed. But in the Almaty Security Summit in 2002, the Pakistani leader changed his stand because of international pressure…"

The high point at Agra was a significant diplomatic encounter between India and Pakistan, which came after Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif signed the Declaration for Peace and Stability in Lahore in 1999. But in 2001, President Musharraf and PM Vajpayee could not even arrive at an agreement on a joint statement on the talks, which aimed to resolve long-standing issues between the neighbours. Earlier too, Pakistan had hinted of a "hidden hand" that prevented the success of the meet, but the reference was not clear. But the General loses no time in revealing "there was something happening on the foreground while in the background there was something else happening".

Praising the military ruler for saying the "right things, in the right vein", an editorial in Pakistan's Daily Times says that the establishment must take lessons from the Agra episode. "The significance of what exactly happened at Agra is not merely academic. It throws some light on how India might behave even now," the paper warns. That's probably another way of saying that India cannot be trusted. There is a lack of mutual understanding and trust between the two governments, the media, intelligence and even the hoi polloi. It defeats the raison d' etre of holding any dialogue when the end result is just to "pass on the buck". Both the countries have made the issues between them seem like a "ball game" and as per their conveniences, keep kicking the ball in each other's court.

The main issue between India and Pakistan is not Kashmir; it is not Sir Creek, but "passing on the buck". Till that situation is arrested, the leaders from each side will keep harping the old tunes: "I would say that it was a pity that we lost so much time. Agra was a great opportunity; it was the greatest opportunity…"

(Written for Hindustan Times on August 24, 2006)

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