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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.

M. Zeyaul HaqueA 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 talks.

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 questions".

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.

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