M.L. Sondhi & Ashok Kapur

Asian Age, August 6, 2001 

Part - I

The Agra Summit was an extraordinary meeting between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf which, despite the negative note on which it ended, was not a failure.  It was not mishandled by the two leaders but there were other negative elements which bear scrutiny.  The political discourse laid the basis for an ongoing dialogue between the two leaders and the two nations, but to be sustained the political classes in the two countries will need to maintain a sense of perspective about the future.  They will need to develop a clear public identification in favour of peacemaking rather than domestic bickering which confuses and spoils rather than facilitates a peace settlement.  Forward looking social forces should be examining, with a microscope, the events on the day the meeting failed to produce the final declaration when personal agendas and interests of a foreign power wrecked the acceptance of the draft agreement.  An objective analysis is needed to facilitate a breakthrough in the dialogue but this requires negotiations and not political theatrics and psychological warfare.  The focus now should be on “Agra and Beyond”, not on Agra and the Indo-Pakistani history of conflict since 1947.  Just as Pokharan II has a “beyond” in the form of negotiated relationship with the major powers in the West and the East, thinking beyond Agra means to develop the two legs of strategy, first to achieve the military strength to fight, and the second, to develop the internal commitment to negotiate by practical steps rather than megaphone diplomacy and finger pointing.  Thinking beyond Agra means to reflect on the long term value of Indo-Pakistani peaceful relations for the tranquillity of Kashmir as well as the growth of linkages through the flow of ideas, people and goods rather than insurgents between the two countries.  But the starting point of thinking beyond Agra is July 16, 2001.  Certain key actions would have to be taken to clear the underbrush before Vajpayee and Musharraf meet again.  The poisonous weeds would have to be exposed and uprooted so that new seeds have a chance to grow.

The Agra Summit was derailed by a powerful combination of Indian and foreign players and there were errors of commission and omission that shaped the negative ending. One must go beyond the lines of foreign minister Jaswant Singh to understand the interests and the high stakes for the spoilers.  In his press conference on July 17, he argued that Pakistan had a unifocal approach on Kashmir and that India’s issue was “cross-border terrorism.”  This is political theatre and not the truth because the private discourse showed a willingness to develop an exit strategy on Kashmir and to do so via the building of a linkage between reducing “cross-border violence” and “improving the human rights situation in Kashmir.  Another part of the exit strategy was to find ways to assess the opinions of the Jammu and Kashmiri stakeholders, and there are many: Jammu Pandits, Ladakhi Buddhists, the Valley population, apart from “Azad Kashmir” and the Kashmir which Pakistan provisionally handed over to China.  An exit strategy requires on-going high level political dialogues that would bring into play the various J&K constituencies.  This requires a bilateral Vajpayee-Musharraf track as well as an intra-Kashmir track of building the peace-oriented constituencies and putting distance between the Pakistan Army and the Islamic-Jihadis.

There are already signs that the Corp Commanders Committee in Pakistan recognises the importance of containing the Taliban and the jihadi forces within Pakistan, to curb ISI’s involvement in Kashmir and to reduce the shelling across the LoC.  Note that the Pakistani military brass has thought through its new approach to India:  it knows it cannot gain Kashmir by force, it has a failing economy and needs world support, including India’s, to re-establish its internal economic position and its international standing.  Moreover, as Pakistan foreign minister, Sattar pointed out in his July 17 press conference, “no substantive discussions about a settlement of the Kashmir question took place at Agra.”  Pakistan cannot ignore the Kashmir issue because of domestic compulsions, but if an exit strategy is being sought, it is in the Indian interest to explore it and not shut it out.  Mr. Jaswant Singh is doing just that by diverting attention to his agenda.  The structural changes in Pakistani politics, in the adoption of a negotiation position by the corps commanders (Musharraf works by consensus and has his act together), and Pakistan’s shaky international position require serious Indian negotiations rather than grandstanding.  In other words, Musharraf the author of Kargil has gone beyond Kargil in his thinking and his diplomacy, but the Indian and foreign spoilers have not.  A joint statement would have given him the legitimacy to nurture the Vajpayee-Musharraf dialogue and to develop meaningful trade-offs and linkages with India through significant but small steps in a variety of issues and areas.  Obviously the foreign minister and his Pakistan desk do not have the diplomatic intelligence and the expert analysis about these fundamental and subtle changes in Pakistani diplomatic and military affairs.  Hence, the fondness for the recycled political speech and the frenzied mobilisation of emotion in Indo-Pakistan affairs.

 Who had an interest against Indo-Pakistani peace making?  Who were the spoilers at Agra?  Here is a list for the consideration of the reader.

CHINA:  Chinese leaders often proclaim the importance of trust and regional peace in their visits to India yet China has a serious strategic interest in Indo-Pakistan tension.  This is a matter of their national interest.  An Indo-Pakistani settlement or even a sustained dialogue would reduce Chinese leverage in Pakistan, it would diminish its access to Pakistani facilities.  Pakistan is China’s gateway through the Karakoram highway to West Asia and the Indian Ocean.  China needs to guard its image as Pakistan’s guardian as a platform for Chinese activities in relation to the subcontinent (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, as well as Burma) and West Asia.  An Indo-Pakistani strategic discourse would reduce Pakistan’s role as a line of military and diplomatic pressure in Chinese policy of containment of India through Pakistan and other sub-continental states.  The stakes for China are high.  This is why the Chinese defence minister was in Pakistan when Vajpayee was engaged in the Lahore bus exercise.  This is why China’s supply of missiles to Pakistan continues.  China is also involved in developing port facilities in Pakistan (Gwador), which along with Chinese activity in the Bay of Bengal, indicates a long term strategic plan vis-à-vis India.  An Indo-Pakistan strategic discourse would bring out the contradiction between China’s peace talk and the strategic aims which are revealed by the pattern of its dangerous meddling in the region.  If the situation is framed as above, then one has to wonder why the MEA has a soft policy towards China and now a very hard one against Pakistan.  (It should be the other way around given the view of Indian defence professionals that China is a big problem for India).  If Pakistan is a military problem, and its ability to borrow military power from outside powers (first America and then China) is a problem then it would be sensible strategy to find ways to loose the Sino-Pakistan links by bringing Indians and Pakistani under the sub-continental tent.  MEA policy, however, seems not to want to loosen the Sino-Pakistani linkages by making India a pole of attraction rather than repulsion for the Pakistanis.  In other words, not only does China have a policy of opposition to Indo-Pakistani détente, the MEA too appears to oppose it and to avoid finding ways to loosen the Sino-Pakistani links.

INDIAN SPOILERS:  Is it just a coincidence that Mr. Swaraj Kaushal, MP (husband of minister of information, Sushma Swaraj) and Mr. Sanjay Nirupam, Shiv Sena, MP, were the leading lights of the Chinese Embassy-handpicked delegation (July 1-7, 2001) to Beijing which was intended to give a new momentum of the India-China relationship?  Does it throw any light on Sushma’s conduct at Agra and Mr. Nirupam’s attack on the PMO?

The Agra Summit unravelled after Sushma Swaraj had her press briefing on the substance of the tasks.  Who briefed her (minister L.K. Advani)?  Who authorised the press briefing at the time?  President Musharraf took a hard line after the Swaraj conference and the result is known.  Here too it appears that the MEA was more interested in bureaucratic level activity rather than a political level breakthrough.  Now MEA argues that it was sidelined.  True enough, but there was a reason.  In major breakthroughs in recent years (China-US normalisation in the Seventies, the German reconciliation, the Israel-Egypt peace treaty and in the Korean discourse) breakthroughs come through the debureaucratisation of the political ice-breaking process.  This is done because bureaucracies have over the years developed an attachment to a system of conflict and having learnt to manage it, it becomes in their interest to stay involved.  In other words, there is a conflict of interest between bureaucratic politics and conflict resolution.  So, on the last day of the Agra Summit an interface between MEA bureaucratic politics and the China lobby cannot be ruled out.  Having grown up as practitioners in a system of Indo-Pakistani conflict for over 50 years.  India’s Pakistan hands in the MEA have a hard time thinking and coming up with creative solutions outside the old box.

THE HARDLINERS:  This constituency did not want a conciliatory position on Pakistan and Kashmir and they argued that Vajpayee was soft on Kashmir.  This is not true and it is also short-sighted because the endgame, according to Western experts, was not the joint declaration in Agra, but rather it was to explore the possibility of recognising over time the LoC as the border while India agreed to discover the real voices in J&K, give autonomy (whatever that means) in exchange for Pakistan scaling back its support of militancy.  As the killings declined and the militants and the jihadis were tamed by the professional Pakistani military, a combination of Indian carrots could be used to promote the economic and social development of the entire J&K region, and this could change the context of Pakistani policy and thinking.  The aim of foreign policy is to create situations which alter the other side’s thinking and policy from hostility to neutrality and then to friendship.  It is a long road and it requires careful step by step moves.  It rests on the simple proposition that people respond to carrots and if compromise by the other side is sought, there must be the offer of some meaningful compensation.  This is the logic of the Indian bazaar and this is also the logic of international politics.

AMERICAN DIPLOMACY: American diplomacy was poor during the Agra Summit.  The new US ambassador was appointed and he has an impressive background in Chinese and Russian affairs.  He understands geo-politics.  But he arrived in India after the Agra Summit, and the embassy was leaderless for months.  During this period, three American foreign policies were in play in Delhi politics.  The official line consisted of actions out of Washington which highlighted India’s importance in the context of Asian affairs and its economic performance.  But in Delhi there was a policy vacuum.  The second American foreign policy line goes back to the Clinton administration.  As expressed by Madeleine Albright, Frank Wisner and Thomas Pickering, it sought Indian containment in the subcontinent, and joint Sino-American leadership in Asia.  Indian nuclear and missile disarmament continued Pakistan pressure on India on the military and nuclear fronts, American mediation of Kashmir.  Many Delhi commentators – K. Subrahmanyam, Kanti Bajpai, Amitabh Mattoo, Praful Bidwai – have expressed views which corresponded to the Wisner/Pickering foreign policy.  This line has specific indicators: non-weaponisation of its nuclear potential, adherence to the CTBT and eventually the NPT.  The Ford Foundation representative in Delhi, Gowher Rizvi, the author of a book which advocated Indo-Pakistani bipolarity and hence a bipolar system of conflict in the subcontinent, too had his or Ford Foundation’s foreign policy.  The second and the third American lines corresponded to Chinese interests and those of the Clinton administration and they revealed a commitment to Indian disarmament as well as Indo-Pakistani parity, and hence to the maintenance of an Indo-Pakistani system of conflict.  These non-governmental commentators and opinion makers in Delhi have over the years enjoyed American patronage and at the same time their work fits neatly into the Chinese agenda.  What is going on?  Whose side are they on?  The US government needs to decide which of the three foreign policies it wishes to pursue on the ground in Delhi, and if it is the first one then it needs to get some discipline among its lobbyists in India. 

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