When prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and chief executive Pervez Musharraf meet in Delhi this July, it will not be for the first time that heads of the two countries confer at the historic capital of India. Leaders of the two countries have met in the past also, and in the perspective of history, these meetings have always been held either after a great ‘war of attrition’ or after intense artillery exchanges between their troops or after bloody wars had consumed thousands of soldiers on both sides. Many of these meetings, have, in the literal sense, been meetings between the victors and the vanquished, and most of them have ended in signing of pacts, agreements, treaties and declarations of far-reaching consequence.
The then prime ministers of India and Pakistan, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan, might not have arrived at an agreement on the vital Kashmir issue during their July 20-24 1950 meetings at New Delhi, but both had pondered over exploring the possibilities of signing a no-war pact. The Nehru-Ayub meeting in September 1960 resulted in the signing of the Indus Water Treaty. The Tashkant Agreement between the Indian prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri and the Pakistani president, Ayub Khan was a direct fallout of the 1965 war. Similarly, the Shimla agreement signed by Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a consequence of the fall of Dacca. Subsequently, there have been meetings between Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutoo, and between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif.
The question that remains is what makes the ensuing summit between Indian and Pakistani leaders different from previous meetings. Firstly, it will not be victors talking terms to the vanquished, but a dialogue between two evenly placed nuclear powers. Secondly, there is a lot of optimism on both sides that was not seen in the earlier meetings.
Thirdly, the meeting is taking place between an Indian right-wing leader who enjoys the tacit support of all militant groups like the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena, and a military ruler of Pakistan. Fourthly, unlike their role in the past, the oppositions in both countries seem more responsible and responsive to the emerging scenario. And lastly, the international community particularly the United States, is looking forward to the success of the summit.
A conducive atmosphere needs to be created in the sub-continent to ensure that the present efforts usher in lasting peace to the region. Initially, some Indian leaders like foreign minister Jaswant Singh made some erratic statements that could have spoiled the atmosphere needed for the summit. These statements reflected more the power tussle within the BJP rather than the policies of the Indian government. If the statement made by home minister L.K. Advani is an indicator, there is a sea change amongst the hardliners in the ruling party at New Delhi. It is in the best of interests of the teeming millions in India and Pakistan to end the logjam, but vested interests in the two countries, particularly in the troubled state, will try their utmost to vitiate the atmosphere before the talks. As leading journalist M J Akbar rightly pointed out in a recent article, at one level this vested interest is material interest. “There is money in war. The game of defence-offence requires vast outlays of hard cash (hard as in dollar-hard) that feed mammoth institutions, turn huge corporations profitable and look after the needs of layers of individuals.” Vested interest has assumed gigantic dimensions in Jammu and Kashmir also. The recent incident at Chrar-e-Sharief, where a grenade thrown at pilgrims killed four innocent women on the spot and injured scores of others, could be the handiwork of these vested interests. These nefarious elements in Kashmir need to be defeated. And every individual in the sub-continent, particularly in Kashmir, has a role to play in creating a congenial atmosphere for setting in a thaw that could lead to the resolution of the 53-year-old dispute.
Mr. Sajjad Haider is the editor-in-chief of the daily Kashmir Observer.