July 17, 2001
0315 IST


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 Indo-Pak Summit

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India, Pakistan trip on contentious issues

George Iype in Agra

The historic Indo-Pak summit that threw up dramatic schedules, animated suspense and much speculation ended in a fiasco mainly because both sides failed to find common ground on two contentious issues - Kashmir and cross border terrorism - and partly due to the meddling by Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf abandoned moves to sign a joint declaration after the two sides failed to agree on the phraseology.

A last ditch attempt to put together a joint statement also collapsed as the Indian government termed the process of dialogue with Musharraf as 'disappointing'.

A glum-looking Musharraf emerged from the Jaypee Palace Hotel on Monday night, after what was described as a courtesy call on Prime Minister Vajpayee, with his entire delegation and left in a 16-car cavalcade without talking to the waiting reporters.

The much-hyped summit failed to achieve any concrete breakthrough as the countries stuck to their known postures on the issue of Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan squabbled over the vocabulary of a possible declaration.

India wanted to use 'cross-border terrorism' in the declaration, which Pakistan resisted.

On the other hand, Pakistan insisted that Kashmir be coined as the core disputed issue, which was not acceptable to India.

Musharraf and his officials also insisted on incorporating the part about the self determination of the Kashmiri people in the statement.

India, which has historically resisted such a proposition, rejected it outright.

Earlier, Musharraf and Vajpayee held five rounds of one-to-one meetings that lasted over six hours while ministers and top officials from India and Pakistan carried out two days of continuous delegation level talks.

Officials claimed that the Agra summit was the longest one in the history of India-Pakistan relations if the total number of hours that the heads of states spent on one-to-one meetings and the non-stop dialogue that the delegation teams engaged in were taken into account.

The talks, which began on a very congenial note on Sunday morning proceeded in a positive direction till Pakistan got upset over the remarks of Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Swaraj had, in what was meant to be a public relations exercise, on Sunday told reporters and television channels that Vajpayee and Musharraf discussed everything except Kashmir.

Perturbed, the Pakistan Foreign office issued a statement late on Sunday night rejecting Swaraj's claim and reiterated that Pakistan's main concern centered on the core issue of Kashmir.

Musharraf, who met a dozen senior Indian editors over breakfast on Monday, also got into the act and did some plain-speaking, even going to the extent of admonishing Swaraj for her comments.

As Musharraf's interaction with the editors went on air, the Indian government feared that the Pakistani president was trying to steal a march over them.

He put forth his views very clearly - Kashmir was the central issue and discussion on other issues like cross-border terrorism, nuclear restraint and trade ties could take place only after deliberating on Kashmir.

From then on, it was downhill all the way as both India and Pakistan were seen to be competing for public relations coups.

Immediately, Vajpayee called an informal meeting of his ministerial colleagues, which included Home Minister L K Advani, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and Commerce and Industry Minister Murasoli Maran.

The meeting restrained Sushma Swaraj from commenting any further on the Agra summit.

To counter Musharraf's media blitzkrieg, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on Monday afternoon released to the media the set of demands that Vajpayee had submitted to Musharraf when they began talks on Sunday morning.

The aim, officials said, was to counter Musharraf's aggressive tone during his interaction with the editors, which had received wide television coverage.

Even as the dialogue process seemed to falter due to the hardening of postures by both sides, Vajpayee and Musharraf sat down for a third round of one-to-one meeting on Monday morning.

The meeting lasted more than two hours, by which time Musharraf had climbed down to agree that he would accept Kashmir as an 'issue', and not as a 'dispute', which was how Pakistan wanted it to be incorporated in the proposed declaration at the conclusion of the talks.

However, problems cropped up as officials got down to the nitty-gritty of finalising the declaration even as Musharraf cancelled his Ajmer visit to be at hand to sign it.

Officials said Pakistan resisted the Indian demand to include the words 'cross border terrorism' in the statement while Pakistan's demand for inclusion of the part about self-determination for the Kashmiri people was opposed by India.

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar tried to sort out the matter, but failed.

When even a last-ditch meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf at Hotel Jaypee Palace late on Monday night also failed to produce any breakthrough, it was all over.

However, there is still some hope in the long term as Vajpayee and Musharraf had agreed to maintain and take forward the bilateral dialogue process that they have just began.

The two leaders are certain to meet in the United States of America (USA) in September on the side-lines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

They will get another opportunity during the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that is slated to be held sometime in October this year.

However, considering the outcome of the Agra summit, it appears unlikely that Vajpayee would be taking up Gen Musharraf's invitation to visit Islamabad in the near future.

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A public relations disaster for India
Hizb Threatens to Escalate Violence in J&K
US officials hopeful despite summit failure

Indo-Pak Summit 2001: The Complete Coverage

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