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Reconstructing the Agra summit

By Atul Aneja

NEW DELHI, JULY 26. In seeking a deal on Kashmir at Agra, Pakistan counted on the ``moderate elements'' within the Indian leadership in the hope that the latter would eventually relent on the question of ``cross-border'' terrorism. While reconstructing the Agra summit, highly-placed sources in the Government pointed out that the Pakistani leadership, especially its President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Abdul Sattar, had decided right at the outset to maximise negotiations with the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh.

Pakistan's strategy of engaging India at the political rather than the official level during negotiations became evident in the run up to the summit itself. For instance, the Pakistani side, on at least four occasions, rejected India's request to let the officials of the two sides talk and fine tune an agenda for the summit.

Pakistan's game plan became transparent when Gen. Musharraf, on the evening of July 15 at Agra, sought to unsuccessfully convince Mr. Vajpayee, to get personally involved in drafting a possible joint statement.

The Pakistani draft, therefore, reached the official delegations after Mr. Vajpayee declined to work on it. The text, once it reached the Indian officials, was outrightly rejected even as a starting point for talks. Instead, the Indian side put across its own draft for talks, on which the two delegations burnt the midnight oil. From the Indian side, negotiations for a ``joint statement'' were mainly conducted by the Foreign Secretary, Ms. Chokila Iyer, the Joint Secretary of the Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan (IPA) desk, Mr. Vivek Katju, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Mr. Vijay Nambiar, and the Joint Secretary designate to the IPA, Mr. Arun Kumar Singh. No breakthrough was in sight till nearly 4 a.m. on July 16. The status of Jammu and Kashmir remained the bone of contention.

The meeting between Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf began on July 16 on a sombre note. The Prime Minister, by then had already met his Cabinet colleagues to consider the efforts of the officials who had worked at night. President Musharraf had also met editors of leading publications - a meeting which had been telecast, much to the resentment of the Prime Minister. Both leaders found it difficult to reconcile their positions on Kashmir.

Finally, it was decided that the draft would now be considered by the two Foreign Ministers. Both Mr. Jaswant Singh and the Mr. Sattar covered considerable ground in reconciling their differences, raising hopes for the first time that afternoon of a possible ``joint declaration.'' The two leaders narrowed down their differences in stating that ``the settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir issue will pave the way for the normalisation of Indo-Pak. relations.'' Finding a language which would link Kashmir and cross- border terrorism was, however, turning even more intractable. Mr. Sattar, when asked to commit himself on ``cross-border'' terrorism, sought to link it with the wider question of human rights violation in Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Singh put both elements of a possible deal - the characterisation of the Kashmir issue as well as the paragraph on terrorism in square brackets, signalling that all his reservations on both counts had not been addressed. He also made personal notes on the margin of the draft.

Mr. Singh made it clear to his Pakistani counterpart that formulations on both topics could be clinched only after discussions with the Prime Minister and his other Cabinet colleagues.

Pakistan, however, interpreted the decision to forward the draft to the Cabinet with great optimism and expectations.

A meeting of the de facto Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) began after 5.30 p.m.. Prior to this, the text discussed by the Foreign Ministers had been circulated among the members of the official delegation where some of its deficiencies had already been noticed. During the CCS, the Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani was the first to point out that a linkage between the centrality of the Kashmir issue and the cross-border terrorism was missing in the draft.

His views were unanimously endorsed by the rest of the members. The CCS also noted that the draft deliberately excluded any reference to the Shimla Accord and the Lahore Declaration as part of the Indo-Pak. discourse. Consequently, the text was rejected and the Pakistani side was subsequently informed about the Indian decision.

Incidentally, India, through its spokesperson later emphasised the importance of Shimla and Lahore and declared that the two agreements, in future, be the cornerstones of any negotiations with Pakistan.

The Pakistani side made a last ditch effort to rescue the summit during President Musharraf's courtesy farewell call on the Prime Minister. But Mr. Vajpayee maintained that it was ``too late'' for any more changes.

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