Kashmir - no mere molehill
Working off the chemistry of its leaders, India and Pakistan's summit ends with promise of more talks.
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But while these compulsions would accompany any discussion between these two rival nations, the final straw for the Pakistani delegation appears to have been a television appearance by Indian information minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday.Skip to next paragraph
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In her interview, Mrs. Swaraj listed the issues discussed by Vajpayee and Musharraf, including trade, cross border terrorism, nuclear risk reduction, and reported prisoners of war in Pakistan.
After waiting 10 hours, the Pakistani delegation blasted Swaraj, both for breaking an agreement to not discuss the substance of the meetings with the press, and for the fact that she didn't mention Kashmir, which for Pakistan was the whole point of these talks. Then, on Monday morning, in a televised meeting with top Indian editors, Musharraf himself said, "The main issue is Kashmir. This is what we've killed each other for."
Then noting that no Pakistani leader can remain in power if he doesn't discuss the issue of Kashmir, Musharraf joked, "If India expects me to ignore the issue of Kashmir, then I better buy Neharwali Haveli and live here." (Neharwali Haveli is the ancestral home in Old Delhi that Musharraf left in 1946, as a child of three.)
But the economic and political forces that pushed Musharraf and Vajpayee together in Agra may prove stronger than the forces pulling them apart. Of both leaders, Musharraf faced the most pressure to reach a peace settlement on Kashmir. With an estimated 2 percent economic growth rate, and a faster-growing population, Pakistan is fighting off economic implosion. Few foreign companies are investing in Pakistan, because of international trade sanctions imposed after Pakistan's May 1998 nuclear test and its close ties to radical Islamic terrorist groups based in Pakistan. These same forces of Islamic extremism have also begun to destabilize Pakistan, a nation that long stood as a beacon of modern and moderate Islam.
Yet the costs of the 12-year Kashmir insurgency are felt by both sides. Posting 350,000 troops permanently in Kashmir has put a drain on India's treasury, restraining economic growth to around 6 to 8 percent, in a period when other Asian "tigers" were growing at double-digit rates. In addition, India appears to have reached the conclusion that they have no choice but to deal with Musharraf, who took control of Pakistan in a coup almost two years ago.
"The history of these military rulers is that they stick around for 10 years, and if he's going to be around for 10 years, we might as well do business with him," says Gen. V.R. Raghavan, former chief of the Indian Armed Forces and now director of the Delhi Policy Group, a New Delhi think tank on security issues. "So this is a good time to test out Musharraf. We can say, we have done our cease-fire, let's see you rein in the militant groups."
Musharraf's return to his roots
While the trip was largely a diplomatic one, the story of Musharraf's visit to India also provided a deeply personal step into the contentious 54-year history that occurred since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Immediately after arriving in Delhi on Saturday, Musharraf visited the national memorial to Mohandas Gandhi, the founding father of India who was assassinated by a Hindu zealot in 1948. Later, Musharraf paid a visit to Neharwali Haveli, his ancestral home, and hugged the family's longtime maid, nicknamed Kashmira, presenting her with a gift of a new Pakistani salwar kameez and $100 in cash.
Musharraf and his wife, Begum Sehba Musharraf, also took time between meetings in Agra to visit the famed Taj Mahal. Built by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan in 1653 to commemorate his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the gleaming white marble tomb has become an international symbol of love. The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore called it "a teardrop on the cheek of time."
Like countless tourists and statesmen before him, Musharraf and his wife sat on the "lovers bench" in front of the mausoleum and posed for the cameras. Of course, Musharraf and the Begum were no mere lovebirds, and when they sat for their picture, hundreds of cameras clicked en masse.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor