Gujral doctrine puts Vajpayee in a spot with Pakistan
George Iypein New Delhi
Even as India and Pakistan continue their diplomatic shadow-boxing over
the bilateral dialogue, the Gujral doctrine of good neighbourliness
seems to have put the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in a tight spot.
It is not the quibbles on the dates for the peace talks, but an informal
commitment made by then prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral to Pakistani
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief on the Kashmir issue that is said to be
hampering diplomatic talks between India and Pakistan.
Gujral, during his meeting with Sharief in Male during the summit of the
South Asian Association of Regional Countries last year, had reportedly
assured that India was willing to set up a working group on Kashmir.
It was under Gujral's tenure that India and Pakistan resumed foreign
secretary level talks in March last year in New Delhi after a break of
more than three years. The then foreign secretary of India, Salman Haider,
and Pakistani Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan had identified eight
"outstanding issues of concern to both sides" in Delhi.
The eight issues were peace and security, Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen,
the Wullar barrage project and Tulbul navigation project, Sir Creek,
terrorism and drug trafficking, economic and commercial co-operation and
promotion of friendly exchanges in various fields.
The foreign secretaries then met again in June 1997 in Islamabad in an effort
to set up working groups on the eight issues. Gujral stuck to his
commitment to Sharief and Haider assured his Pakistani counterpart
that a joint working group would be set up on Kashmir as part of the
But soon after the Islamabad meeting the Gujral government is reported
to have back-tracked on the joint group on Kashmir under pressure from
political parties and the ministry of external affairs. It
resulted in the breakdown of the third round of secretary level talks
in New Delhi in October.
MEA officials now say Pakistan last week refused India's offer of talks
mainly by clutching their argument on Gujral's informal assurance to
Sharief. "But interestingly there is no formal, written agreement
between India and Pakistan about Gujral's so-called informal commitment
to the Pakistan prime minister," an official told Rediff On The NeT.
"The joint communique issued after the Islamabad meeting was ambiguous,"
he said. Officials say the offer to set up a joint working group on
Kashmir was to be further "negotiated" between the secretaries when they
would meet in future.
But sources said since Pakistan was clutching on to the Gujral promise,
Prime Minister Vajpayee has asked Gujral himself to set the
controversial issue right. No wonder then that ever since the nuclear
tests, Gujral has called up the Pakistani prime minister a number of
times, informing him and explaining why India finds it difficult to put
Kashmir on top of the bilateral dialogue.
India has not yet responded to Pakistan's refusal to resume foreign
secretary level talks dialogue on June 22.
The Vajpayee government is now said to be toying with the idea of
putting in a fresh proposal before Pakistan. The government will list
Kashmir on the agenda as a core issue provided the secretary-level
discussions are about terrorism and human rights.
The government fears that Kashmir as a core issue becomes a difficult
proposition when Pakistan hits upon the question of the ultimate control
of the Kashmir valley and formalising the Line of Control into an
Until 1994, the text of the Shimla Pact held that the LoC would be
gradually endowed with the characteristics of an international border.
But a Parliament resolution in 1994 stated that the entire Kashmir was
for India and the Bharatiya Janata Party has stood by the resolution
However, diplomatic observers feel Pakistan might now use India's
reluctance to set up a joint working group on Kashmir to take the
issue back to world fora like the United Nations. Pakistan would
also renew its demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir.
Many believe since the crux of the diplomatic stalemate between India
and Pakistan is the Gujral doctrine on Kashmir, Vajpayee and Sharief
would be forced to take up the issue when they meet in Colombo for the
SAARC meeting in Colombo next month.
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