About the best thing that could have happened to Pakistan and India was to have no agreement at all at Agra. Munich is a benchmark that compromises made on appeasement can have a terrible backlash. Refusing to fall into the trap of having to satisfy an expectant world at any cost, the two countries decided to walk away from the negotiating table without a Joint Declaration containing compromises lacking sincere intent. There may not have been the success of a Declaration, there was no failure of the peace process at Agra. Consider the intent behind a play of words in the language of the draft declaration, any agreement reached under such compulsions would have been torn apart by domestic dissent on either side before the ink was dry, the two leaders would have been eaten up alone by the lionséinéwaiting on either side. Maturity prevailed in foregoing a short-time exultation of a contrived success, and in agreeing to continue future discussions in the congenial atmosphere that have seems to largely replaced the public acrimony of the past the countries may have had their first real success on the road to achieving lasting peace. Instead of the dialogue of the deaf prevailing since Kargil, a growing understanding (and a public deference hitherto missing) was manifest in the statements of the two Foreign Ministers the day after Agra. Many commentators have observed that 54 years of mistrust, suspicion, conflict, etc could never be erased in three days, unfortunately the divide goes back over a thousand years plus. Given such an environment even if the miracle had happened, the very speed of the understanding would have been its undoing.
Army wags call RWR (Road, Walk and Run) as “Running Without Reason”. In the person of their Minister of Information roaming around Agra Mughal Sheraton in a series of extraordinary walking Press Conferences, one can say she was sent to “Walk With Reason” (WWR). Sushma Swaraj seems to have been launched on a fishing expedition with depth charges instead of fishing nets. The equivalent of a smart guided missile, the “iron butterfly” was quite lethal in spelling out the Indian hard-line position to friend and foe alike. Quite obviously Pakistan had to react officially and that put the final nail in the “Declaration” coffin. However, one must say that the Indians were gracious hosts and whether in the drawing rooms of the rich and elite or the streets of New Delhi and Agra, there was a surprising lack of acrimony or antipathy towards Pakistanis, if anything one felt genuine warmth. Discordant notes were struck only by some bureaucrats and various middlemen (including the odd media personality) whose profit (and stature) depends upon conflict under the bogus faéade of conflict resolution. Some from the media seemed more intent in creating news rather than reporting it. The Indian print media may have real depth, they are not free in the Pakistani sense insofar as they tend to treat some subjects either as taboo or slavishly toe the government line e.g. there is a conspiracy of silence about areas like Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Assam, etc. No one talks about repression by Indian forces in Kashmir. But the freedom and relative sophistication of the electronic media is indeed a marvel, an example of free enterprise at its best, the quality of service is far ahead of western standards. Three major private channels were extremely active, Star News (with 18% audience), Zee News (with 28%) and Aajtak (of India Today) with 40% of the audience. Without doubt Aajtak was the most moderate, unfortunately it is not seen in Pakistan. Pakistan benefited from this electronic barrage, one would be very surprised if perceptions about Pakistan as fed by the Indian establishment to the Indian public will remain the same. In contrast Pakistan TV was an absolute disaster. If anything, the Pakistani President was a clear beneficiary, particularly of the electronic media. He came across as himself, not as the Indians have been projecting him since before Kargil. According to one of our well-informed scribes on Star payroll it was Pranoy Roy (of Star News) whose “killer instinct” made him get a copy of the TV tape of Pervez Musharraf’s breakfast meeting with the major Indian print and electronic media leaders and air it within the hour. Pranoy fell for commercial considerations rather than any platonic ambitions in airing the impromptu live Press Conference, it gave the Pakistani President a crowning moment. It was subsequently carried by almost all the channels as well as BBC and CNN. Pakistan did not contrive the media event, so why did the Indian Government cry “foul” when it was Pranoy Roy who was the unwitting medium? Musharraf was forthright, blunt and humble in the face of fairly hostile questioning, the Indian public simply ate it up. But it was nothing compared to the Pakistani public’s ravings about his frank and focussed manner. Musharraf and Pakistan were the clear winners here.
For Pakistan Kashmir has always been the “core issue”, for India “cross border terrorism” and nuclear restraint have greater connotations. Correctly Musharraf said that if he compromised on Kashmir he might as well buy his ancestral house in “Naherwali” and stay back in India. Moreover, accepting to “eliminate” terrorism would tacitly accept that Pakistan promotes terrorism. For India, the militants in Kashmir may be terrorists, for Pakistan they are freedom fighters. And as for a nuclear pact, that would have to follow a comprehensive understanding on Kashmir, given that India with overwhelming numerical superiority in conventional forces and Pakistan geo-militarily without any tactical (what to talk of strategic depth), cannot preclude “first use”. As for “confidence building measures” (CBMs), both India and Pakistan can implement these on merit as per each country’s individual interests. There must have been agreement in the Summit on some issues, confidence and trust can only be enhanced in the manner such “pledges” are implemented, albeit in a phased and deliberate manner.
At Agra Vajpayee represented the one billion Hindus while Musharraf symbolically took on the role of the prime negotiator for the 400 million Muslims of South Asia. Not 54 years but a millenium plus of mistrust and suspicion came to the negotiating table. Founded by Sikandar Lodi in the 16 century on the banks of the Jumna River, Agra hosts the tomb of Akbar, the greatest proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity. Akbar constructed Agra Fort having the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) and the palace “Jahangiri Mahal”, while Shahjahan constructed the magnificent Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world in the 17th century. The Indians must be commended for choosing the site with sensitivity even though it must have been a security nightmare. To the credit of both the sides a genuine attempt was made to forge an amicable solution but the backlog of a thousand years cannot be laid to rest in less than a 100 hours. Agra established a rapport of sorts to continue dialogue, the plus point beyond measure would be if it eroded (even slightly) the deep set prejudices and misgivings of two great religions which must learn to live together for the sake of their respective peoples.
For Pervez Musharraf personally and for Pakistan generally, Agra has been an unparalleled triumph. The world media attention focussed on Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint for the most extended time in the last 50 years. It showed Musharraf the unelected as a man with an absolute mandate, albeit gathered painstakingly and patiently over numerous consultations/briefings, it also showed the intransigence of some extremists among the Indian leadership. For a change the Pakistani leadership was shown up as a mature entity in this backdrop. It may not have been a good day for democracy, Musharraf came out as a far more articulate and committed leader than the Pakistani political leaders that preceded him while democracy’s vagaries were on display, howsoever much the Indians tried to paper over their deep-rooted prejudices. But then again that is the beauty of a democratic system, the ability of individuals and factions to display dissent, albeit in this case mostly behind closed doors. Democracy suits India, does the same unfettered democracy suit Pakistan? The answer is yes, Musharraf may have proven himself unique, but what about the next person and the next? Unfortunately, we cannot trust the present or the future to the whims and caprices of one individual just because we have been lucky this time over in the person of Pervez Musharraf. For whatever it is worth, Pervez Musharraf almost pulled off at Agra in less than a 100 hours the fault lines between two great religions developed over a 1000 years.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.