Jobs @ MG
Where do we go from here?
By M. Zeyaul Haque
Despite declarations of
injured innocence from both sides, the parties seem to have agreed to disagree
amicably. Three articles in three different publications written by three
different people immediately before the Agra summit gave a clear indication of
what to expect from it. Not much. That’s what they said. Because the writers
were influential people in their establishments, they had to be taken seriously.
former chief of Pakistan’s Inter Services intelligence (ISI), Lieut.
Gen. Hamid Gul, said in a guest column in India Today right before the
summit that as the two sides were talking under U.S. pressure, not much
could be expected from it. One has to take the ISI seriously, because to
us it is omnipotent and omniscient. Or, is at least made to look like
that. (Incidentally, one angry Pakistani journalist visiting India for the
summit complained: "If there is monsoon failure in India, it is
because of the ISI; if there is unemployment, it is because of ISI; if it
is overpopulation and poverty, it is because of the ISI".)
Even if the ISI is not half as powerful as we deem it, we have to take its
former head’s words seriously, which was not to expect much from the
Brigadier (rtd) Usman Khalid was more forthright and categorical in his
rather elaborate article in Impact International (published from London)
of July. Khalid’s advice to Musharraf: "President Musharraf should
thank Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his hospitality and return home to rebuild
a strong and respectable Pakistan and structure anew its Jammu and Kashmir
strategy based on self-reliance and popular resistance". As simple as
that. And that’s what the Pak president actually did.
Interestingly, this is almost exactly what senior BJP leader and veteran
journalist KR Malkani told Gen. Musharraf in his article in The Hindustan
Times a few days before the summit, of course, minus the Kashmir part. He
said the Pak president was welcome in India. He should have a good time in
Delhi and Agra, move around and enjoy India’s sights and sounds, and go
home happily without expecting anything more, because India can’t give
up Kashmir and Pakistan can’t give up the Kashmir issue. Nice advice,
that. And the Pak president seems to have taken it earnestly.
So, if it is that we already knew where we stood in relation to each
other, why do we feign surprise and injured innocence? Why is the blame
game being played with such enthusiasm? Some people in their desperation
to find a convincing scapegoat have got down to blaming the media for
"failure" of Agra talks! Come to think of it.
The argument here is that the media created over-exposure and gave to Pak
side a greater play than what it deserved. The Indian Express rightly
countered this in its editorial by arguing that the one thousand
journalists from all over India and abroad were thronging Agra to gather
news. And most of the time it was the Pakistani side which was seeking out
the media to exchange views. It was ultimately the Pakistani point of view
that got aired and disseminated. The Indian side kept away from the media
most of the time. Even at the end of the summit, the news hungry
journalists got a miserly 19-word statement from External Affairs
spokesperson, Nirupma Rao. Five of those words were, "I will not take
Everyone trying to call the talks a failure has, in fact, his or her own
axe to grind. However, the general consensus all over South Asia and
beyond is that it was not a failure, but an inconclusive affair. And that
should not shock anyone unduly, because nobody expected it to be
conclusive, to begin with. Even Gen. Musharraf stated before coming here
that he did not envisage any instant solution.
The government side’s argument that it cannot be expected to conduct
delicate negotiations with media breathing down its neck is well-taken.
But, who gave those 1,000 journalists special passes to cover Agra talks?
Of course, the PIB (Public Information Bureau) of the Ministry of
Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. Once they descended on
Agra in hordes, what were they supposed to be doing there for three days?
Ogle at the Taj? And how would they justify their salaries and travel
expenses? They were there to get news. And they were denied that precious
commodity. So, they lapped up what they got, form whichever source.
Some people are badmouthing the Prime Minister and External Affairs
Minister in pique and sheer frustration. As all of us know, NDTV got the
exclusive rights to the Agra summit live telecast. This was one of the
rare government decisions that was sound beyond question, for the simple
reason that the people running NDTV are far better educated and sobre than
its competitor that goes on chattering mindlessly 24 hours a day, day
after day, without showing much grasp of the issues it tries to debate.
However, the denial of live telecast rights made it insanely furious, and
it started a campaign of declaring the summit a failure even before it
started. All through the summit, it was a lone (and looney) voice, all
other media by and large agreeing that the summit was worth the trouble.
That brings us to Jaswant Singh’s point that the media has only a
limited role to play in delicate negotiations. That should be fine with
the media in general. After all nobody asked him what he had been talking
about in his parleys with Strobe Talbott for over two years. Not even
Parliament sought to be enlightened. Nor did he think it fit to do that.
Despite all the discordant noises being made here, we get a clear
impression from President Musharraf’s press conference on July 20 and
Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar’s press conference on July 17 that the
Pakistanis are taking the summit as a foreword movement. Prime Minister
Vajpayee and Foreign Minster Jaswant Singh are of the same view. The Pak
president and foreign minister refuse to make any negative comments about
Mr Vajpayee or Mr Singh. In fact, President Musharraf has gone on record
saying about Prime Minister Vajpayee: "I respect him. I honour him
for his dignity and statesmanship". This shows they would like to
keep engaged with India.
All this may begin to look like talking about talks. Talks, and more
talks. Even the Pak side has such fears. To quote Usman Khalid again:
"Many suspect that the Agra summit could see the unfolding of a
Kashmiri version of the Madrid Conference on Palestine, followed by Oslo,
Wye, Camp David, Sharm al-Shaikh, Mitchel Report, CIA ceasefire and an
endless ‘peace process’…"
Protracted talks may seem frustrating, but there is no other way here. And
the comparison of Kashmir to Palestine is odious and facile. India does
not see any parallels between the two. Four million Kashmiri Muslims are
entitled to their views, but 120 million Indian Muslims have an entirely
different perspective on it. q