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The Agra show

Ranabir Ray Choudhury

SO, the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has finally had his way in holding a summit with the Pakistani dictator, Gen Pervez Musharraf, though it is clear (in fact, it has been clear for sometime) that no substantive progress in reducing Indo-Pak istani tensions will result from the event.

Indeed, as everyone knows, diplomatic initiatives of the sort the Prime Minister has crafted with regard to Pakistan have no chance of success (in the realm of foreign policy, that is, as opposed to a domestic objective which may, in fact, be the true ob jective at times) unless the ground conditions are ripe for progress. Since Mr Vajpayee has an enviable understanding and grasp of foreign affairs, and since it is more than apparent to all and sundry that the summit idea was sprung by him on the world a nd the nation at a time when there were simply no indications of a breakthrough in the situation, the only conclusion is that the Agra affair has been directed to achieving some objective or the other in the domestic sphere.

That Gen Musharraf has made the best use of the opportunity provided by Mr Vajpayee, both to strengthen his position (in terms of nomenclature) at home and to proclaim to the world at large that Islamabad is not a capital to play second fiddle to New Del hi's initiative in reducing tension between the two countries, is there for everyone to see. Indeed, the self-appointed Pakistani President (who will be given a grand welcome by a democratically elected Government of India which is based on the rule of l aw) has announced to the world that his visit to this country will change the course of history, which of course is rubbish of the first order.

The tragedy is that Mr Vajpayee has, willy-nilly, got himself involved in this farcical process, the true worth of which will become crystal clear only after the Pakistani strongman returns home with the proclamation that not only has India agreed to put Kashmir on the pedestal in negotiations with Islamabad (itself a remarkable achievement for the General considering New Delhi's past stand on the issue) but also that he has been able to put forward Islamabad's views on the subject in forceful terms to the Indian leaders -- of course, in a spirit of conciliation and compromise!

So why is the Prime Minister leaving no stone unturned to make the Agra event a huge `success' when he knows that the Pakistanis have already stolen a march over the Indians by focussing explicitly on the Kashmir issue as the `core' subject, which in fac t has not been challenged adequately by New Delhi? In fact, the situation has been made even worse for India by the composition of the Pakistani 19-member delegation, which does not include the Ministers of Finance and Commerce, which would, among other things, have signalled Islamabad's intention of engaging in talks on other subjects apart from Kashmir at the appropriate level.

When the dust of the Pakistani dictator's trip settles down, one is almost certain that the focus will then be on the post-summit follow-up measures (which, in any case, are a part of the drill, as they have always been in the past). The question is: wil l India-Pakistan relations be any better off because of Agra? Mr Vajpayee will probably be chuckling. Whoever said that such an outcome was expected?

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