Tuesday, July 17, 2001,
 Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Talks collapse, Musharraf leaves for home
Differences on Kashmir persist; Agra declaration dropped;
Pak blames ‘invisible’ hand

T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

Agra, July 16
The summit between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf came crashing down late tonight with the two sides failing to reconcile their differences on the critical Kashmir issue and cross-border terrorism.

Hopes had been raised that some mechanism would be evolved to discuss the Kashmir issue, provided Pakistan stopped cross-border terrorism even till this evening but the exercise virtually collapsed after Mr Vajpayee and General Musharraf held at least five rounds of one-to-one talks.

The bone of contention was the wording of some critical paras in the joint statement as the prospects of an Agra declaration had receded rapidly since this morning when General Musharraf held a press conference to emphasise that Kashmir was the core issue and without addressing that issue any forward movement in the economic and commercial spheres would just not work.

It was apparent that General Musharraf was addressing his constituents to ram home the point that he and Mr Vajpayee had deliberated at length on the Kashmir tangle. He took the stand that he had agreed to India’s desire to describe the Kashmir tangle as an “issue” even though it was a long-standing “dispute.”

India had not taken kindly to General Musharraf seeking to burrow his own line and hurting some of the sensitivities of this country, including his meeting with leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference. This was all the more so when New Delhi had expressed reservation on General Musharraf meeting the APHC in unambiguous terms, especially when the Vajpayee government did not consider the separatist APHC as the sole representatives of the Kashmiri people.

Sources in the Pakistani delegation said it could not agree to being directly blamed for cross-border terrorism and India had its reservations in working for a resolution of the Kashmir issue in keeping with the wishes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

They attributed the collapse of the talks to the handiwork of what they described as an “invisible hand,” a euphemism that hawks in the BJP had scuttled a successful conclusion of the summit. It was also claimed by the Pakistani delegation that each time they made minor changes to the proposed nine-point joint statement, India raised a volley of objections.

Pakistani sources also said that General Musharraf on his part had made a significant concession to India by agreeing to drop the term “dispute” and address the Kashmir problem as the “Kashmir issue.” This, they said, taken away the advantage from Pakistan for raising the Kashmir issue at any international fora and finding a solution to it bilaterally.

It was widely perceived by the visiting dignitary that this concession would facilitate them in according centrality to the Kashmir issue in future Indo-Pakistan dialogue. But that has now fallen by the wayside with India unwilling to dilute its stand that Pakistan stops cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

A Pakistan spokesman said General Musharraf had decided to leave for home after waiting for eight hours for India’s response. However, before he departed for home late at night, General Musharraf paid a farewell courtesy call on Mr Vajpayee which lasted nearly two hours.

Well past midnight, the spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry said she was disappointed to inform that although the “commencement of the process at the beginning of the journey” had taken place, the destination of an agreed joint statement had not been reached. She refused to take any questions, except to say that a “press conference will be addressed tomorrow morning at a senior level.”

Earlier, in the day the Pakistani President went on the offensive asserting that Kashmir was the main source of friction and bitterness between the two countries, and said he was willing to call it an “issue” though it was nothing but a ‘‘dispute.”

“Let us not be under any illusion that the main problem confronting us is Kashmir,” General Musharraf emphasised with all authority at his command. Acknowledging that both Pakistan and India had their own compulsions, he stressed that his summit with Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee had to necessarily focus on Kashmir.

“If we do not talk about Kashmir, I will have to buy back Naherwali Haveli in the walled city of Delhi and stay back”, he said. at a breakfast meeting with editors of the Indian media to highlight that Kashmir dominated his one-to-one discussions with Mr Vajpayee.

He also drew pointed attention to the “omission” of Kashmir when Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj gave her impressions yesterday of how the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit was progressing.

General Musharraf was clearly addressing his constituents in Pakistan with Pakistan Television in attendance as Mrs Swaraj’s observations had created a delicate situation for him. He wanted to make it clear in no uncertain terms that it was Kashmir which occupied centrestage during his talks with Mr Vajpayee.

He affirmed that the situation in Kashmir is a human tragedy. “Why have we fought wars? It is all on Kashmir. I therefore say that we need to solve the Kashmir problem. It is a dispute and let us find some mode of solving it.”

On the question of Indian Prisoners of War still languishing in Pakistani jails, the visiting dignitary said, “We would be mad to retain PoWs for so long. I have fought wars and seen soldiers dying. We have parents who have lost their sons in war but if the Indian side still has reservations then I will personally get involved in it.”

General Musharraf was also firm in saying that it was not possible to have confidence-building measures without finding a solution to the Kashmir issue. He failed to understand how there can be a forward movement on economic, trade and commercial matters without first tackling the core issue of Kashmir. “We can’t live in a make-believe world and illusion.”

He said the public in both countries should be told that the main issue is Kashmir. “I have never said we will not talk about other issues. If there are constraints in tackling Kashmir, then I am afraid it might be difficult to move forward.”

At the same time he spoke of taking the dialogue forward on Kashmir and adopting a step by step approach giving an indication of what to expect in the joint statement. In this context he said he respected and honoured Mr Vajpayee for his statesmanship and courage for inviting him (General Musharraf) and restarting the dialogue process between the two countries. 


Highlights of PM’s speech in Agra on Sunday

* Calls for a framework for addressing differences on Jammu and Kashmir, including the issue of cross-border terrorism.

* Says other confidence-building measures could also be looked into.

* Wants a detailed exchange of views on all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan, and tells Pakistan to create a conducive atmosphere.

* Feels terrorism and violence being promoted in Jammu and Kashmir from across the border are impediments in this direction.

* Says India has the resolve, strength and stamina to continue resisting terrorism and violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

* Urges Pakistan to release 54 Indian PoWs in Pakistani jails.

* Asks Pakistan to arrest and hand over terrorists and criminals, guilty of the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts, hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight (from Kathmandu in December 1999) and other crimes.

* Calls for facilitation of pilgrims to religious shrines in both countries. Urges Pakistan to hand over terrorists hiding in various gurdwaras.

* Expresses India’s concern over the upkeep of Hindu temples and the treatment of Hindu pilgrims.

* Says progress on subjects identified for the composite dialogue between the two countries can meaningfully contribute to the welfare and security of the people.

* Calls for reciprocal response to India’s decision not to arrest Pakistani fishermen who stray into the Indian waters.

* Says India is willing to take major steps in furthering trade and economic ties with Pakistan.

* Proposes constitution of a group of experts of both countries to recommend measures to increase bilateral trade, economic and technical interaction. UNI


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