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`Positive movement' in Indo-Pak talks


Sukumar Muralidharan

AGRA, July 15

DAYTIME deliberations at the historic summit meeting between the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the visiting Pakistan President, General Pervez Musharraf, produced a rather guarded statement from the Ministry of External Affairs at 4.30 thi s evening.

The two leaders were then scheduled to meet for a further round of sequestered discussions at 6.30 p.m., with parallel deliberations taking place at the ministerial and official levels.

Both sides are reluctant to reveal the details of the discussions. Major-General Rashid Quereshi, military spokesperson for the Pakistan President, provided a summary description of the progress of the talks, saying that there had been an element of ``un derstanding'' and ``some positive movement''. It has been inferred from this, that there was a serious effort at both the apex and the delegation-level talks, to grapple with the issue of Kashmir.

Conflicting priorities continue to divide the two sides. Pakistan insists that a clear recognition of the centrality of Kashmir is necessary before discussions can take place on any other issue.

India believes that acknowledging Kashmir as a ``dispute'' would only reward Pakistan's sustained sponsorship of cross-border terrorism.

There are some signals of progress towards breaking this logjam. The one-to-one dialogue between Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf went far beyond the fifteen-minute time-frame that had been laid down in the original programming of the summ it.

The two leaders spent 90 minutes in sequestered discussions before the delegations from the two sides were brought in, suggesting that they had been able to work out a set of principles that would govern a common approach to the resolution of differences on Kashmir.

Mr Musharraf has in the course of the day's discussions, extended an invitation to Mr Vajpayee to visit Pakistan. It is being inferred from India's rather quick acceptance of this invitation, that there has been an agreement to raise the level of the dia logue on Kashmir.

Under the Islamabad accord of 1997, India agreed to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan, as part of a broader dialogue process, referred to as the ``composite'' or the ``two plus six'' negotiating brief.

Kashmir and ``peace and security'' constituted the first two among the issues that were to be discussed, followed by six other matters that Pakistan has traditionally insisted are of lesser importance.

But the Foreign Secretaries from the two sides, who were designated to discuss the issue of Kashmir, never managed to go beyond long-held positions. By offering implicitly to institutionalise the dialogue on Kashmir at the level of the political leadersh ip, India has now held out the promise of a mechanism to discuss this issue, though over an unspecified time frame.

The Pakistan side it is learnt, retains several reservations about this assurance and would like to see a formal commitment from India towards a ``process'' of resolving Kashmir. This would require a number of time-bound commitments from the Indian side that would necessitate the entry of a third party into the negotiations at an early date.

Pakistan's designated third party in these negotiations is understood to be the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in Kashmir, which India has refused to deal with except as part of the Indian constitutional process.

At the delegation level talks, India renewed its insistence that Pakistan should put an end to cross-border terrorism, account for Indian prisoners of war, and initiate meaningful discussions on reducing nuclear risks in the sub-continent.

Pakistan pleads that it has no control over militant violence in Kashmir, which it continues to describe as ``indigenous'' in its origins. And it is unwilling to bargain away its nascent nuclear weapons capability, which it argues, is a necessary deterre nt against India's superior conventional military strength.

The two delegations it is learnt, are working through the evening and possibly the night, on the phraseology of an agreed statement that would bridge the massive gaps in perception and interests. President Musharraf needs a concession on Kashmir to justi fy his opposition to the Shimla and Lahore accords.

India believes that an ``Agra declaration'', if at all one is forthcoming, cannot sacrifice the legacy of earlier agreements. Both sides now agree that the Agra summit has to show a positive outcome.

President Musharraf has to placate a restive community of Islamic warriors at home and India has to ensure that political turbulence in Pakistan does not endanger its internal security any further. Day two of the Agra summit promises to be a serious chal lenge for both the verbal craftsmen and the political statesmen on both sides.

Picture: High stakes : The Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, at a one-to-one meeting in Agra on Sunday.

Picture by Kamal Narang

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