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|July 23, 2001||
Musharraf outwits India
Military dictator Pervez Musharraf has returned to Pakistan as a hero from the Agra summit. Musharraf, the commando, outsmarted India, turning its initiative to his advantage and frustrating the Indian strategy.
It took just one session with Musharraf at Agra for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to realise he had blundered in making a dramatic U-turn in India's Pakistan policy and inviting the rogue general. Vajpayee had been motivated by an ambition to build a legacy of peace and cooperation on the subcontinent, but Musharraf showed at Agra that he is interested only in scoring tactical gains over India. After the eye-opening first session that revealed peace was far-away, Vajpayee knew he could at best get only a joint declaration or statement with Musharraf, but even that failed to materialise.
Behind the finger-pointing and excuse-making over the collapse of Vajpayee's Taj Mahal diplomacy by moonless light lies a reality that can hardly be cloaked: New Delhi's expectations and calculations have come totally wrong. India has ended up, through its own initiative, reinforcing its international pairing with Pakistan, renewing global attention on the Kashmir issue, and helping Musharraf to build legitimacy for his military regime.
From the time the invitation was extended, the summit process got hijacked by Pakistan, which waged diplomacy through the media and exploited the Indian initiative to the hilt to refurbish its tattered international image. At Agra, Musharraf dominated the media side of the summit, tried to get the better of India in the negotiations and, when India did not wilt under his commando-type tactics, returned home triumphantly, having rebuffed even an anodyne joint statement. He wanted a joint document only on his terms, as he did not want to meet the fate of Pakistani rulers who set in motion a process for their ouster after signing agreements with India at Tashkent, Simla and Lahore.
Clearly, Musharraf outfoxed India with his commando-style tactics. It is a serious setback to India's efforts to institute a process of sustained, multifaceted dialogue with Islamabad. Despite the commitment to a return visit by the prime minister, it will not be easy for India to schedule another Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting unless a repeat of Agra could be avoided. If they meet on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September, it will only be for the handshakes and other photo ops.
Agra is testament to how abrupt, personality-driven changes in foreign policy that catch even the establishment professionals by surprise can backfire. While a new era of cooperative relations on the subcontinent will greatly aid India's interests, it cannot be ushered in through a big, blind gamble. The invitation to Musharraf was the latest turn in Vajpayee's meandering policy on Pakistan.
Any scheme to resume talks with Pakistan should have been in a structured, step-by-step framework, with a summit meeting being offered as a reward for flexibility and joint work at lower levels. However, by conceding a summit meeting without even testing the waters, India not only squandered leverage, it also generated misperceptions in Pakistan that it was under international pressure as well as exhausted from battling jihad. The Indian Army chief's ill-advised political statement lauding the summit initiative only reinforced the belief in Pakistan that India is suffering from jihad fatigue, implying that Islamabad could get a Kashmir settlement on its terms if it kept pushing India.
Musharraf returned home stronger from Agra, having delivered his message directly to the Indian people and been accorded legitimacy by New Delhi. For an army man who trained Nagas in the Chittagong Hill Tracks up to 1971, aided Sikh militancy and masterminded Kargil and the IC-814 hijacking, the treatment he got in India, including the extreme media attention, must have surprised him. The summit invitation came handy to Musharraf to usurp the presidency, demonstrate his diplomatic skills and shed his quasi-pariah international status.
Only a commando like Musharraf will publicly accuse his host nation -- in the middle of a summit -- of atrocities in Kashmir and speak rancorously about its dismemberment of Pakistan and premptive capture of the Siachin Glacier. His spokesperson's subsequent allusion to an 'invisible hand' behind the summit failure was again part of a propagandistic strategy to create the illusion of a split in the enemy command.
Clearly, India miscalculated that Musharraf, chastened by his Kargil experience and burdened by a failing Pakistani economy, was ready to explore a historic peace deal. India did not take too seriously the signals he conveyed before coming to New Delhi, particularly his insistence for progress on the Kashmir issue on his terms.
India's U-turn on Pakistan was founded on an inadequate understanding of Musharraf's domestic constraints. New Delhi also overrated the external influences on Musharraf and misjudged the risk-taking commando turning a new leaf.
The events since 1999 have shown that, instead of getting out of the Pakistan trap, India is intent on getting deeper into the Pakistan trap. The Pakistan trap has slowed, if not obstructed, India's rise as a global power.
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