Kashmir - no mere molehill
Working off the chemistry of its leaders, India and Pakistan's summit ends with promise of more talks.
After three days of marathon meetings, lavish banquets, and peevish finger-pointing, the leaders of India and Pakistan have reached only the most basic agreement of all: simply to meet again.Skip to next paragraph
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Part homecoming, blind date, and high-stakes poker game, the Agra summit contrasted the polar-opposite negotiating styles of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Musharraf is a no-nonsense military man who prefers detailed, point-by-point discussions and decisive actions. Mr. Vajpayee, a life-long parliamentarian, has a penchant for poetry and florid, wide-ranging dialogues that have the effect of wearing down opponents with charm.
But because both men represent the most hawkish elements of their country - the Pakistani Army on one hand, and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party on the other - analysts say that any decision reached in subsequent meetings, however minor, will have a greater chance of sticking.
"The political situation does not allow both countries to make 180-degree turns from their stated positions," says Rifaat Hussein, chairman of the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies at Quaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan. "So this summit simply prepares the ground for them to be able to announce certain initiatives for Kashmir that may contain the seeds for a resolution. The success will be small, but that small success will be irreversible."
Borders to war over
The stumbling block of the troubled northern border state of Jammu and Kashmir, which both countries claim, was also the very issue that brought the two sides together. The summit is the first meeting of the top leaders of India and Pakistan since then-General Musharraf oversaw an attack on the Kashmiri border town of Kargil more than two years ago. Underscoring the troubles in the territory, at least 86 people have been killed during the talks, say reports from the Himalayan region.
According to sources close to the summit participants, Pakistan was unwilling to rein in militant groups based in Pakistan unless India accepted that Kashmir is a disputed state. India, for its part, wouldn't concede that Kashmir was anything but an internal matter, unless Pakistan showed progress on cross-border violence. At press time, Indian and Pakistani representatives were still working out the precise language of a joint statement on the summit.
It was an anticlimax to weeks of raised expectations prompted by both diplomats and the news media. But given the wide differences of views over their chief dispute, the much-coveted state of Jammu and Kashmir, the outcome was not entirely unexpected.
A new start
Indeed, both Pakistani and Indian officials pointedly termed this meeting the first part in a new relationship by the two rival neighbors. In the spirit of that relationship, Musharraf extended an invitation to Vajpayee to visit Pakistan for further talks, and Vajpayee accepted the offer.
But while official spokespersons said the two leaders were having "cordial, frank, and constructive" discussions, sources close to the Pakistani delegation said that the lower-level ministerial meetings were often contentious and frustrating.
Broad outlines reached by Musharraf and Vajpayee on nuclear risk reduction, trade, and cross-border terrorism, these sources say, were often undermined by hawks on both sides. They pushed their own agendas, such as the exchange of a few dozen prisoners of war, and the extradition from Pakistan of the Indian underworld figure, Dawood Ibrahim.
"Hard-liners are undermining the prime minister's and president's agreements," one Pakistani source grumbled. "They have pushed aside Kashmir, which is the reason we are here."
The forces pulling the Indian and Pakistani delegations largely were domestic political issues. Musharraf could not be seen by Pakistani citizens as giving up on Kashmir, a mostly Muslim state in the north of India, which many Pakistanis see as "the unfinished business of partition." Vajpayee, for his part, could not afford to give Kashmir away, thereby undermining the founding notion of India as a secular state that can govern all religions, creeds, and colors.