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June 16, 1998


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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 Gjural doctrine.

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 international border.

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 since then.

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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