The Agra Test and the Politics of Peace

LIKE A typical short story with a stunning end and lingering impact, the Agra story was not really over with General Musharraf’s midnight flight back home from Agra. There was no Agra accord after the summit, not even a joint statement. And ironically, this is precisely what has added more meat to the Agra story. If Vajpayee had contemplated Agra to be his diplomatic trump card on the eve of the crucial UP elections and yet another possible mid-term elections to the Lok Sabha, this trump card has already let him down. Truth be told, the Indian foreign policy establishment has seldom suffered another humiliating diplomatic disaster of this magnitude. In certain ways, the Agra fiasco could have a similar impact on India’s saffron Nehru as the defeat in the 1962 war with China had on the non-saffron original.

Even by Vajpayee’s own declining standards, the Agra initiative was simply no match to the Lahore coup he had pulled off in February 1999. If anything, the invitation looked rather suspect and intriguing from the outset after New Delhi’s relentless rhetoric ruling out any dialogue with Pakistan, least of all with a military ruler. The fact that New Delhi after all chose to talk and thus lend a rare seal of legitimacy to the General-turned-President was therefore widely attributed to strings pulled by the not so invisible long hand of the self-appointed global police called the United States.

Having committed the original ‘faux pas’ of inviting the General, the Vajpayee government started hoping against hope that the symbolism of the visit would remain confined to the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and not spill over into India’s undisputed valley of death, repression and shame. It even made a foolhardy last-ditch attempt to test the world’s credulity by claiming that it was talking everything under the sun except Kashmir to the General. But the world knows better and the ill-kept secrets have started tumbling out from the guarded corridors of high diplomacy to the everyday thoroughfare of public debate. Between an eager Musharraf and a reluctant Vajpayee (the saffronised media would say a garrulous dictator and a reticent statesman), the world has had little difficulty in judging who has the upper hand in the terrain of diplomacy.

Unlike Pokhran or Lahore, there is clearly no euphoria over Agra. While the chauvinists are happy to have scuttled a possible ‘sellout’, the opposition cannot think of a more serious plank of critiquing Agra except on grounds of inefficient media management or insufficient diplomatic homework. This is understandable. When it comes to matters of foreign policy or a sensitive subject like Kashmir which is a test case for both India’s domestic as well as foreign policy approaches, the entire spectrum of bourgeois parties and even large sections of the opportunist Left have a shameful record of speaking the same language.

The issue is not just an empty declaration. That way it is better that Agra has not followed Lahore or Simla to produce yet another misleading script of peace based on the logic of war. It is not bad that Agra has highlighted the differences between the two versions of the Indo-Pak story. What needs to be understood in clear terms is that these differences cannot be resolved by merely quibbling over semantics or tinkering with phrases. What is imperative for peace is nothing short of a paradigm shift in India’s Kashmir and Pakistan policies. The very mindset that holds that Pakistan is on the brink of failure as a nation and a state, and that India can deliver in 2001 the diplomatic equivalent of the 1971 military blow called Bangladesh is inimical to the politics of peace. If on Bangladesh truth and reality were against Pakistan, with regard to Kashmir they are increasingly not with India, what with the growing saffronisation of the Indian polity.

Agra has identified the challenge on both sides of the border. The thread now has to be picked up in terms of a serious and concerted struggle for peace, for an alternative political paradigm that is not at war with peace.