The first India-Pakistan summit in two years ended this week with no agreements, as talks ran aground on the most contentious issue dividing the two countries: the conflict in Kashmir. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel speaks with Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid about the political aftermath of the summit in Pakistan and its significance for Afghanistan.
Prague, 18 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Ahmed Rashid reports on Southwest and Central Asia for the Hong Kong-based weekly "Far Eastern Economic Review." He is also a political analyst and the author of a book on Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia. He spoke with RFE/RL by telephone from Lahore.
Rashid discussed the impact on Pakistan and Afghanistan of last weekend's meeting in the Indian city of Agra between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The two leaders held talks Sunday and Monday (15-16 July) that ended without a joint declaration, but with both agreeing to meet again later this year.
Asked what the goals of Pakistan and India were going into the summit, and whether the meeting produced any narrowing of differences between them, Rashid responded:
"Pakistan wants the centrality of the Kashmir dispute acknowledged by India before it discusses any other disputed areas, or starts up trade or investment or anything like that. India, on the other hand, believes in what it calls a 'composite dialogue,' which means that India wants the two countries to discuss everything, which includes Kashmir [but] does not give any particular attention to the Kashmir issue. Now this seems to have been the major stumbling block."
"The two leaders agreed in Agra about how they would word [a final summit declaration] but it seems [that] then officials disagreed over the text and the actual words to be used, which is why the summit fell apart. But what we saw in Agra is that both sides have made enormous progress in the sense that they were both flexible. They both have come to some kind of middle ground, which we don't know [the exact nature of] because the text of the declaration was never declared. Both the Indian foreign minister and the Pakistani foreign minister are saying that talks will continue, that the dialogue will resume, probably in September when the two leaders meet in the United Nations and so all that is a very good sign."
Rashid says that, despite the inconclusive nature of the summit, the two nuclear-capable rivals now appear to have reached a compromise. Pakistan is agreeing to talk about all subjects -- including nuclear confidence-building measures, economic cooperation, and more open borders -- in exchange for India agreeing to put a special focus on Kashmir.
The Indian province of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority, is wracked by a war between secessionists and Indian troops that has taken some 30,000 lives since it broke out in 1989. India accuses Pakistan of fanning the conflict, while Islamabad denies supporting the guerrillas.
At the same time, Pakistan wants Kashmir to have a referendum on whether to remain within India -- a demand India, which considers Kashmir an integral part of the country, calls non-negotiable. The two states have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since they became independent in 1947.
Rashid says reaching a middle ground is important for both sides for their own domestic reasons. He says Musharraf needs to be able to show Kashmiri secessionists, Pakistan-based Kashmiri groups, and Pakistani Islamic fundamentalists fighting India that a political solution could be found through dialogue.
"Pakistan, of course, does not acknowledge that these groups are getting any support from Pakistan, but clearly they are and the issue, really, at the moment is that the main focus of the two sides privately is how to get the genuine local Kashmiri groups, which are more moderate, into some kind of dialogue with both India and Pakistan, and how to marginalize the Pakistani-based jihadis (that is, holy warriors who cross into India to fight). Now this is a very sensitive issue, both for India and Pakistan, because India says this is cross-border terrorism and Pakistan says no, these Kashmiri groups, whether they are based in Pakistan or in Indian Kashmir, are freedom fighters."
Rashid goes on:
"The issue for [Pakistani President] General Musharraf is that already today we have had most of the militant Kashmiri groups based in Pakistan saying, 'the jihad will continue, India cannot be trusted, we told General Musharraf that you can never trust India and the failure of this summit proves that.' Now, this clearly is going to be a major challenge for Musharraf, as to how he is going to be able to control these groups so they don't [jeopardize] any other future talks."
A Pakistan-based Kashmiri guerrilla group, the Lashkar-e Taiba, vowed yesterday (17 July) to step up its armed struggle against Indian rule. The group said there was no solution to the dispute except through holy war.
Rashid says that in the immediate aftermath of the summit, tempers are hot in both Pakistan and India, with many blaming the other side for the failure of the talks to produce any agreement. He says this will pose serious political challenges at home for both governments:
"The failure is going to have very unpredictable repercussions domestically both in Pakistan and India, because there are [Hindu] hard-liners in India, too, who will gun now for Vajpayee and tell him 'we told you never to talk to Pakistan, you can't trust Pakistan.' So, we are going to see a lot of domestic upheaval over the next couple of weeks as the hard-liners try to push their case in both countries."
Rashid says this week's summit was of direct importance to Afghanistan because any increase in the Pakistani public's support for the jihad groups in Kashmir translates into an expansion of the same groups' activities in Afghanistan:
"If Musharraf had come out with an agreement and some dialogue would have started in Kashmir, that would have enabled him to curb the militant groups. These Islamic parties in Pakistan are also providing thousands of recruits for the Taliban, and there would have been very important repercussions for Pakistan's support for the Taliban and perhaps a change of policy on Pakistan's side vis-a-vis the Taliban."
"The biggest thing is that many of these militant groups have training camps inside of Afghanistan, they are given sanctuary by the Taliban, and it would have changed the whole complexion of Afghan-Pakistan relations. There is a very important spin-off -- and I am one of those who very strongly believe that, in fact, a change of Pakistan's policy toward Afghanistan cannot occur until there is going to be some shift in policy toward Kashmir."
Without an agreement to begin talks over Kashmir, Musharraf so far has shown no sign of trying to rein in the militant groups, or of reducing Pakistani support to the Taliban -- despite strong international pressure to do so. Rashid says:
"We know that thousands of recruits [of Pakistani militant groups] have gone in for this summer's offensive [in Afghanistan] to fight for the Taliban. There are an estimated, at least, 4,000 or 5,000 Pakistani Islamic students inside of Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban at the moment."
"At the moment there has been no effort by Pakistan to either change its policy or reduce its support for the Taliban. And, of course, this is going to create major problems in the months ahead, because many countries are accusing Pakistan of breaking the UN Security Council sanctions against providing arms and ammunition to the Taliban. So this is going to become a very hot issue in the next few weeks."
Despite the inconclusive summit, both India's and Pakistan's foreign ministers sought yesterday to put a positive light on the two days of talks. The two ministers underlined that they at least mark a start for top leader-level meetings, which will continue.
India's External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told reporters that New Delhi "will pick up the thread from the visit of the president of Pakistan." He added, "The caravan of peace will continue on its march and on some auspicious day it will reach its destination."
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said that the Agra summit remained inconclusive, but "did not fail [because] the two leaders succeeded in covering a broad area of common ground in the draft declaration." Sattar concluded, "That will provide a valuable foundation for the two leaders to reach full agreement at a future meeting."