What Agra should deliver

Though its implication for Pakistan’s democracy is very bad, Pakistan’s Chief Executive and military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s anointing himself hurriedly as the country’s president before his summit with Vajpayee shows that he has taken his visit to India in all seriousness. This decision only goes to prove that he is consolidating his hold over the power structure of his country to do business with India amidst adverse domestic conditions. So far so good.

Mild anxiety and tension have started building up in both Pakistan and India in view of the oncoming Indo-Pakistan summit on July 14. Since Lahore is fresh in the memory, this time there is not much euphoria. And there has been no jingoistic opposition either. Thanks to the strong urge for peace, so far there has been no sign of Kargil casting its long shadow over Agra.

Both sides seem to be keen on not vitiating the atmosphere before the summit. At least, Pervez Musharraf has taken positive steps by wishing Vajpayee a speedy recovery, chiding fundamentalists at home for their anti-India rhetoric and discouraging Hurriyat from openly clamouring for a meeting with him on the Indian soil. The routine slanging match is however confined to the level of Abdus Sattar and Jaswant Singh and is limited to reiterating the socalled “fundamental” positions. There are any number of players itching to play spoilsport and Chrar-e-sharief was only a grim reminder of possible distractions before the summit similar to the gory massacre witnessed during the earlier Lahore ride.

Coming to substance, no one expects that the summit, marking the resumption of dialogue between the two hostile neighbours, would deliver major instant results. Yet, any number of ideas are being floated in the media on possible avenues of progress on specific issues.

Pakistan insists, for understandable reasons, at least some formal recognition from India that Kashmir is the “core issue” while India insists on “composite dialogue”. Musharraf has reassured Vajpayee about his “flexibility” and “open mind” and has even thrown the ball into New Delhi’s court by declaring that they are keen on discussing arms race in both nuclear and conventional weapons. To underline the priority it attaches to this, the Pakistan government has even made a gesture of token cut in military spending on the eve of the summit. Indeed, the ball is now in India’s court. 

It would be unrealistic to expect Musharraf to immediately give up his Kashmir card and fully abandon cross-border terrorism as a lever for dialogue and diplomatic progress. But it would be a pity if both sides fritter away the minimum positive impact the summit is bound to generate by failing to make some minimum concrete progress in improving the situation in Kashmir, especially in bringing down the level of killings. Some concrete progress on the ground is a must.

The outcome at Agra should help in sustaining the momentum in the much elusive peace process. Both sides should resist the temptation of extracting unilateral advantages and scoring propaganda points. Most importantly, Vajpayee should not be obsessed with the Kargil-for-Lahore bitter past and resist the temptation of paying back Musharraf in the same coin.

Occasional fruitless summits which are long on atmospherics and short on substance can also fit into the general pattern of dilly-dallying witnessed in the relationship between the two countries in past few decades. For that not to happen, much actually depends on the popular peace urge and vigilance on both sides of the subcontinent divide, than the noble intentions of the rulers.