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No Romance in Agra-the summit that failed...
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

The mandarins and pundits, in both Delhi and Islamabad, will go on collecting the pieces of the shattered Vajpayee-Musharraf Summit in Agra for a long time to come. These pieces will not fit into a neat mosaic, for sure, but rather into a kind of kaleidoscope showing differing hues and patterns in the respective capitals.
The spin doctors in both seats of power have quickly hunkered down to putting a gloss to their liking on the outcome of Musharraf's three-day visit to India, especially his intensive and prolonged parleys with Vajpayee. Every official spokesperson is vehemently disclaiming failure in Agra, and lauding the ` personal rapport ` established between a septuagenarian Vajpayee and a youthful-comparatively-Musharraf. They are desperately seeking a lot of mileage from Musharraf's return invitation to Vajpayee, and the latter's acceptance of it. The road signs emerging out of Agra, according to these votaries of the two establishments, are all encouraging and prodding to the travellers to stay on course. What they are saying, in a nutshell, is that despite ostensible collapse of the summit, what it achieved in terms of personal equation between the leaders is more substantive than the obvious lack of progress on substance.
There may be a good element of reality, for a change, in what the spin doctors are so meticulously and glibly trying to portray. It was nave and very unrealistic of anyone to expect the deep freeze in relations between the two south Asian neighbours to have melted in only one round of face-to-face talks between their leaders. The much sought-after thaw in the deep chill will not be that easy or reachable in a telescopic span of time. We South Asians, by temperament, are a highly volatile and emotive people. Our graph of expectations and disappointments fluctuates wildly and precipitously in matters of days and weeks. We expect inordinately too much even from symbolic gestures and nuances. Vajpayee's dramatic invitation fitted perfectly into this pattern of exalted and exaggerated expectations. After all, who could have hazarded a guess only three months ago that Vajpayee would be supping with the man regarded almost a pariah in New Delhi eversince he had toppled the popularly elected Nawaz Sharif to become Pakistan's de facto ruler? Expectations thus vaulted, understandably, about equally dramatic results from the meeting of two leaders who, otherwise, have very little in common. In their burst of euphoria and elation, many on both sides of the great South Asian divide lost sight of the wide gulf separating Delhi from Islamabad.
Many, if not most, in India seem to have little perception of how far Pakistan has drifted from India in the decades since the army in Pakistan became that nation's arbiter. It started, subconsciously, in the wake of the birth of Bangladesh. The Pakistani masses, goaded by vested interests in Pakistan's military-feudal culture, were convinced that India alone was responsible for midwifing Bangladesh. The trickle became a deluge under the twin impact of the end of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the commencement of the Kashmiri uprising against the Indian rule. Afghanistan's liberation from the Soviet yoke heartened Pakistan's Bonapartist generals. They surmised and regaled that with its back secure in Afghanistan, Pakistan, at last, had acquired sufficient 'strategic depth' to take on India. The commotion in Kashmir provided more grist to whet their appetite to settle scores with India for the humiliation of surrender at Dhaka. The stage was set for Kargil.

Coupled with this were two other parallel streaks: the rise of Punjabi chauvinism, and a groundswell of religious fanaticism. Both have strong roots in the Pakistan army whose complexion has undergone a remarkable transformation during the past three decades. Whereas the officers corps, in the past, was usually drawn up from amongst the landed gentry and elite of the land, it has thenceforth been made up largely of sons of middle and lower middle classes from the heartland of rural Punjab. These classes are also, to a fault, deeply religious. They were the ones who provided the backbone to a radical Islamization of the army in Pakistan-which has since become a fait accompli -under the long shadows of Ziaul Haq, whose Islamic zeal knew no bounds. It is now as much an army of Islam as of Pakistan.
A robust and pugnacious Punjabi chauvinism is an off-shoot of the truncation of Pakistan in 1971. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight it could easily be argued that the separation of East Pakistan, with its ethnic Bengali population, was engineered to ensure Punjabi dominance in the rest of Pakistan. Enmity with India, because of its perceived complicity in the sundering of Pakistan, became the battle cry to rally the Punjabi ethnicity round this platform. It has since become a convenient focal point in the propagation of this new creed to recall, with chauvinistic pride, the thousand- year Muslim rule over the South Asian sub-continent, glossing over the historical truth that never in that thousand year did the Punjabi Muslims ever rule over their own patch of land. However, the power elite in the Punjabi-dominated ruling class of Pakistan does not like to be reminded of this historical truth.

The rise in Afghanistan of the Taliban-who owe so much to their patrons and mentors in Pakistan's hectoring military establishment-was regarded as a God-send to galvanize the Kashmiri uprising against India, and thus hasten its own disintegration. The Taliban have become a role model not only for Pakistan's increasing legions of illiterate masses but also for those whose thirst for avenging the humiliation of Dhaka is still unquenchable. It was conceived quite logical and plausible that just as the Afghans had succeeded in driving the super-power Soviet Union out of their land, so could the Kashmiris, aided and abetted by the Taliban-inspired Jehadis, bleed the Indians and make the cost of staying on in Kashmir increasingly unbearable for them.

The meteoric rise in numbers and popularity of the Jehadis in Pakistan must be an issue of serious concern in India, irrespective of whether or not its underlying cause is also fully grasped. There are three integrated and inseparable elements to this conundrum: Islam, Punjabi chauvinism and, not least important and relevant, Punjab's archaic feudal culture.

The Islam being drummed into the ears of largely illiterate masses of Pakistan is not the mainstream Islam but the kind of an inhospitable Islam being given currency in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. It is an intolerant Islam which gives no quarter to other interpretations and practices of the religion. A robust militancy is integral and endemic to keep the flame of this Islam burning. The rise of Hindu fundamentalism across the border in India on the watch of a communal and religion-based BJP lends it a stamp of relevancy.
Chauvinism is a dangerous prescription under any circumstances but becomes lethal when mixed with religion. Administered to an ignorant people, it becomes an intoxicating potion capable of making the uninitiated masses pliable tools in the name of religion. The havoc this mixture is wrecking on Pakistsan's civil society needs no further elaboration.

A feudalistic culture of the type holding sway in much of Pakistan, and overwhelmingly in Punjab, then makes easy prey of all those toiling under its oppressive tutelage. It allows no dissent, and there is no room in it for any independent initiative. None knows this better than Nawaz Sharif who became a marked man for the powerful military-feudal-chauvinistic elite the day he welcomed Vajpayee in Lahore in February of 1999. He was seen to be undoing all that this elite stood for, and had to be eliminated. Kargil did not take long to undercut Nawaz and his policy of cutting across the thicket of enmity with India. What followed is history.

It would, thus, seem unreasonable of anyone in India to expect Musharraf, the perceived architect of Kargil, to change his spots overnight and become a man of peace. Musharraf is not ideally placed to bury the past with India . He is not a Mandela, and he is no different from a typical Pakistani general-infuriatingly self-righteous and disdainful of politicians. What is most important is that Musharraf, not belonging to the mainstream of the Pakistani military top brass which is predominantly Punjabi, has to look over his shoulder all the time to ensure that his ethnic roots are not questioned. In other words, he is not a free agent in the mould of Ziaul Haq when he embarked on his own, abortive, 'cricket diplomacy.' Zia did not have to be concerned about his back, which was well and truly secure. He was a son-of-the-soil, unlike Musharraf.

Musharraf may have conducted himself with all the aplomb and finesse, as the atmospherics of the summit demanded, but could not contain himself when pressed on the Kashmir issue in his meeting with newspaper editors in Agra. He lost not a moment in parroting the stereotyped Pakistani military / chauvinist-feudal elite's line of Kashmir being the 'core' issue between India and Pakistan. To the chauvinists in Pakistan, it is either Kashmir or nothing. It is zero-sum as ever. And it is not entirely emotional. There is a cold logic to it as well. Keeping Kashmir simmering on the front burner-and occasionally stirring the pot-ensures that the army would always hit the bull's eye in Pakistan. It keeps the feudals happy because their culture of ruthless exploitation and dominance remains safe under all undemocratic dispensations. It keeps chauvinism alive because the syndrome of India being the perennial enemy stays unhurt. And it also keeps the religious mafia in good humour, for Kashmir and India's hostility to Pakistan because of it is an ideal potion to keep the illiterate masses intoxicated on a religious brew.

In the aftermath of the failed summit, it is going to be business as usual in both Delhi and Islamabad. A negative or adverse fallout for either interlocutors, Vajpayee and Musharraf, is inconceivable.

Vajpayee has little explaining to do. His dramatic and generous invitation to Musharraf deflected from him all criticism in the outside world that he was not open to a dialogue with Pakistan's military ruler. All that grumbling has now been silenced and, in the bonus, Pakistan's unbending and rigid insistence on Kashmir -or- nothing has been exposed, if any exposure was needed.

For Musharraf too, there was never a concern of him losing anything by meeting Vajpayee half-way. There is no accountability in Pakistan of any autocrat, not least of it for a military dictator. Musharraf seized Vajpayee's invitation to get rid of the last vestige of constitutionality in Pakistani when he fired President Rafiq Tarar and 'elevated' himself to that position. By standing up for Kashmir's 'core' status in the India-Pakistan tangled equation, he would remain a hero for the ruling elite and the illiterate masses fed on an anti-India chauvinistic-religious diet. His grand-standing in Agra would only augment his credentials of being 'tough and resolute' on India. That is all that matters in a Pakistan not at peace with itself.

Lost in all this high drama-played out live to a world-wide audience in the splendour of the fabled city of Agra-is the fate of the Kashmiris. Already bedevilled by a splintered leadership vying for recognition from Delhi and Islamabad, the Kashmiris' case went unheard and unattended at Agra. The Pakistani ruling elite may pretend to be robustly engaged on behalf of the Kashmiris but this engagement is about as genuine as was the American involvement with the Afghans when they were tilting at the windmills to throw the Russians out of their country. The idea, then, was to bleed the Soviets; the idea, now, is to see India being drained.

But all said and done, it is always preferable to talk than to have a complete blackout on contacts. Even disagreement is preferable to a boycott. Like the Taj Mahal, peace between two estranged entities like India and Pakistan, will have to be painstakingly built, brick by brick. The name of the game is engagement, not estrangement. So the dialogue must go on, at regular intervals, even though it may not spawn early result.

Postscript: Jaswant Singh hit the bull's eye on Musharraf missing out on Ajmer. Indeed, one can visit the shrine of Khawaja Gharib Nawaz only when summoned by the Great Saint. This should arouse curiosity, if not concern, in Islamabad why Musharraf was not summoned? But it is highly doubtful that it would, given the Pakistani ruling elite's overt overindulgence in all things mundane and carnal. Spirituality is about as distant from Islamabad as Ajmer itself is. 

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