Saturday, June 30, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Flexibility, but no compromise on basics
How New Delhi looks at bilateral complexities
From Hari Jaisingh

New Delhi, June 29
How serious will be the business of peace at the historic summit between President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee scheduled to take place on July 15 and 16 against the backdrop of the love monument of the 17 century Mughal raj? Will it take off from where Mr Vajpayee's bus diplomacy ended in Lahore amidst the roaring guns of the Kargil flare-up?

How different will General Musharraf be in his responses and approach to some sensitive matters which have constantly kept India-Pakistan ties on the boil?

Has he outlived the authorship of bloody Kargil skirmishes?

There emerged more questions than answers as I explored the thinking process in the corridors of power in New Delhi for a couple of days.

It seems the Indian leadership is broadly clear about what to expect and what not to entertain. It has drawn up a precise agenda which includes even do's and dont's. The only difference this time is the decision to treat bilateral matters in a realistic manner but with a degree of open-mindedness and flexibility.

"There will be no compromise on what we consider to be our basic national interests," a key functionary known for his closeness to the Prime Minister told me. He, however, hastened to add, "Our endeavour will be to create an atmosphere of peace through dialogue."

The challenge for the leadership is how to go about the onerous task of building bridges of understanding with a country whose psyche is rooted in 53 years of a hate-India campaign backed up by jingoism of Islamic fundamentalists.

One redeeming feature of President Musharraf's strength-weakness balancesheet is the support he has managed to get from the fundamentalist groups like the Jamait Ulema-e-Islam and the Jamaat Ulema-e-Islami.

"There is a 180 degree turnaround by some hardcore fundamentalist leaders." Jamaat-e-Islami leader Qazi Hussain Ahmed is all praise for General Musharraf, though he was heaping abuses on him till the other day.

"There seems to be some strategy in this new-found proximity at a time when Pakistan's major political parties like Ms Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Mr Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML) have kept away from the General's pre-summit parleys.

Interestingly, the PPP and the PML are not opposed to holding talks with India. All they resent is the usurping of civilian legitimacy by the coup leader, courtesy India.

A number of Commonwealth countries and the USA are intrigued by the sudden Indian move to recognise Chief Executive Musharraf as President. This gives India the privilege of being in the company of communist China.

I spoke to a number of "insiders" to understand the Indian position.

"This was not a sudden or abrupt move. We had taken a decision on this at the time the ceasefire was withdrawn. It was then kept a guarded secret so that the process of peace gathers momentum without much fanfare. After all, we had to tell the world that we mean business and that we were serious about the ceasefire and now are equally serious about peace," a source close to the Prime Minister's Office told me. He denied any pressure in this regard.

"It is wrong to suggest that there was pressure from Washington on India as President Musharraf was quoted to have claimed the other day. We have our own agenda, though the Prime Minister is keen on a negotiated settlement between the two countries," he remarked.

What could be the nature of such a settlement?

This is a million-dollar question. And there are no ready answers available.

Much depends on what sort of priorities President Musharraf draws.

More trade and better economic environment?

There will be no problem as far as New Delhi's response goes.

Opening of consulates in Karachi and Mumbai?

This issue will be handled with utmost care and caution because of its wider implications, keeping in view Islamabad's track record.

A freer exchange of intellectual and cultural groups?

This is not a problematic area for India. The Prime Minister personally intervened to give clearance for the visit of Pakistan's intellectual and media groups for a South Asian conference being organised by Prof M.L. Sondhi's Indian Council of Social Science Research. Pakistani leaders have invariably been extra-cautious on a people-to-people contact.


India will not treat this subject in isolation.

How about what Pakistan calls the core issue of Kashmir?

India, as usual, will be willing to discuss the matter within the parameters Pakistan is familiar with.

"Kashmir talks can be delinked from other areas of cooperation. Discussions can go on Kashmir. Even the negotiations can be upgraded to the ministerial level provided Islamabad is serious about such a course and is prepared to taper off its support for cross-border terrorism," knowledgeable sources confided in me.

What could be a finale?

The Line of Control (LoC) as international border?

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has been advocating such a course.

So has occasionally the USA.

New Delhi has an open mind on it, though a lot of groundwork has to be done if this matter is to acquire a degree of seriousness.

The ball is in President Musharraf's court. The fact that two of the seniormost Generals kept away from his swearing-in-ceremony as President may be a pointer to his troubles ahead.

Pakistan's armed forces are not interested in a Kashmir solution which will make them as well as Pakistan virtually irrelevant.

This adds to both confusion and complexity. Indian leaders, therefore, show cautions optimism on the outcome of the summit.

Mr Vajpayee is quite serious about peace. All the same, he is aware of the fact that the road to peace is tortuous. For, more than his genuine intentions, he is up against several unknown factors around President Musharraf.

"In any case, it is better to talk than to play war games. And in the subcontinent, the nuclear capability has put extra pressures on bilateral diplomacy", an old Pakistan hand told me.

The Prime Minister is conscious of the new harsh realities, and hence the present initiative.

I am told he wanted the summit to take place in Goa—away from the glare of publicity in Delhi. But the monsoon made Goa out of bounds as a venue. So, the next choice was Agra, though Musharraf was more keen on Delhi.

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