India and Pakistan: Back to Square One

Activists from India's National Freedom Party burn Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in effigy in a Jul. 21 protest near India's Parliament. The activists were angry that Vajpayee had invited Gen. Pervez Musharraf to India (Photo: AFP).

The much-anticipated India-Pakistan summit, held on July 14-16 in Agra, India, between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan’s self-appointed president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, ended abruptly after two days of intense negotiations. Years of mistrust and bitterness between the two nations prevailed in the end, and the leaders parted without yielding the joint declaration that would lay the foundation for future interaction.

The main purpose of the talks, at least from Pakistan’s perspective, was to resolve the half-century-long dispute over Kashmir, the Himalayan land they each claim and over which they have fought three wars. But India insisted on a “composite dialogue” with equal priority given to issues of bilateral concern, including nuclear confidence-building measures, trade, and travel rules.

The disappointing outcome of the meeting came as little surprise to analysts in both the Indian and Pakistani press, who, for the most part, have expressed skepticism about the summit’s virtue. M.J. Akbar wrote in Karachi’s centrist Dawn (July 3), “What can 50 years of continual war breed except evidence that trust is foolish if not suicidal?”

That feeling of suspicion was mirrored on the other side of the Indo-Pak border. B.S. Raghavan, writing in Chennai’s centrist The Hindu (June 29), questioned how the Indian government could pin its hopes on Musharraf, a man who sacked his chief justice in order to appoint himself president.

One positive step did emerge from the summit, though: Vajpayee’s acceptance of Musharraf’s invitation to Islamabad.

Keeping this small spark of hope in mind, Kolkata’s independent The Telegraph (July 16) opined that no black-and-white conclusion could be drawn from the summit: “The Agra exercise could be called an utter failure or a modest step forward and all the other gray shades in between.”

But in Pakistan, M.A. Niazi, writing for Lahore’s conservative The Nation (July 17), saw the summit’s close as an unambiguous “breakdown.” He called for a “radical rethink on both sides, combined with a re-evaluation of basic priorities.”

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