Views on Agra Summit: Book Excerpts

Dawn: Book Reviews - September 11, 2005

Peace is the way
By Dr Mubashir Hasan

This is a collection of articles by various writers from Pakistan and India on the Agra Summit. While capturing the mood of the event, the articles are a mix of analytical opinion and personal impressions which look at the peace process in the subcontinent in a historical perspective

Dr Mubashir Hasan writes about the closing years of the 20th century when the tide turned in favour of peace in South Asia

The prime minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee, boards a bus at Amritsar and heads towards Wagah on the India-Pakistan border. Thousands and thousands of Indians gather to see him enter Pakistan. The prime minister of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif, and thousands of Pakistanis give an enthusiastic welcome to the Indian guest and his entourage. Next day, the Indian leader visits the monument erected at the site, where 59 years ago, the All India Muslim League meeting presided over by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had passed the resolution demanding the division of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan. He also pays a visit to the mausoleum of the poet Mohammad Iqbal, considered by many to have conceived the idea of a separate state for the Muslims.

Through these symbolic actions the Indian prime minister effectively buries the lingering belief in the minds of many hard-to-convince Pakistanis that India had not accepted the reality of the state of Pakistan and was bent upon undoing it. The leaders of the two countries meet several times and talk peace. The summit is hailed as a great success and a breakthrough. That is in February 1999, 511/2 years since the countries achieved independence. Within months of the Indian prime minister’s visit, Mr Nawaz Sharif’s government was overthrown.

The armed forces of Pakistan put the army chief of staff, General Pervez Musharraf in power, first as chief executive and later as president. The Pakistani general was the country’s army chief at the time of the bloody Kargil skirmishes with Indian forces. He had been fiercely criticized in India as the person responsible for the Kargil episode and as such was not a figure liked in India. As the events unfolded, two years and four months after the Lahore summit, President Pervez Musharraf paid a state visit to the Indian capital. The general was cordially received in New Delhi and later in Agra. He met the Indian leader and held wide-ranging discussions, covering all aspects of their relations. They promised to meet again.

* * * * *

Given the past of Hindu-Muslim relations, the two meetings between India and Pakistan within a period of two years, with a mini-war in between, was a very propitious augury. The question, however remains: When will they meet again? When will their talks result in ironing out their differences and settling their disputes? The record says that though Pakistan and India have fought wars, they never did cease to talk peace or announce friendly intentions...

For decades after independence the governments of India and Pakistan attempted to conclude no-war pacts, peace treaties, friendship agreements, like the one they proposed on several occasions, and to sort out their problems by peaceful means, yet the two countries have fought three wars. Somehow, the governments were never open about what they wanted to do. The people were never fully taken into confidence. No effort was made by any government to mobilize the people for peace. No government felt itself strong enough to write down “peace” in its election manifesto and neighbour-hating rhetoric remained popular among politicos. At least many politicians on both sides of the border acted on the assumption that rhetoric against the other country would get them more votes.

The negotiations at government level were carried out under a veil of secrecy. Whatever became public about the negotiations and about the improving relations between the two governments, did not receive encouragement from the majority of the elite or the media.

Over the years, the environment has changed. Younger generations have begun to question the assumptions of the older generations. The common people as well as the elite have begun to debate upon the conventional wisdom about the state of relations between the two countries and of the long-held views on which this was based.

A significant event occurred in April 1984, when with the approval of the government of General Ziaul Haq, the English language newspaper The Muslim invited a number of eminent Indian journalists and intellectuals, including a retired vice-chief of army staff, to a two-day conference in Islamabad. On the Pakistan side were journalists, politicians, and retired high civil and military officials. The rights and wrongs in the India-Pakistan relationship were aired by both sides with great frankness and candour. They were one in desiring the normalization of the relations between the two countries. Occasionally, the criticism by some Pakistani participants of martial law rule of the then government was a surprise for many Indian participants...

The contacts established between peace-loving Pakistanis and Indians during this conference were to go a long way in making joint efforts for peace in the following years.

The last decade of the 20th century saw the tide decisively turn in favour of open campaigns for peace and against war.

* * * * *

There can be no South Asian community without peace between India and Pakistan. It is impossible to envisage normal relations between India and Pakistan until there is settlement of the Kashmir question. It is the moral and political obligation of all South Asian intellectuals to protest violations of human rights wherever they occur. No one contested a Pakistani contention that today Kashmiris were in extremes of such violations...

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Over the years, the environment has changed. Younger generations have begun to question the assumptions of the older generations. The common people as well as the elite have begun to debate the conventional wisdom about the state of relations between the two countries and of the long-held views on which this was based

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A new phase in the peace-making efforts between India and Pakistan was ushered in when a group of eminent Indians — Nirmal Mukerji, Rajni Kothari, Dinesh Mohan, Gautam Naulakha, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Teesta Setalvad, Amrita Chachi and Tapan K. Bose arrived in Lahore and met with I.A. Rehman, Karamat Ali, Dr Mubarak Ali, Dr Haroon Ahmad, Nighat Saeed Khan, Hussain Naqi, B.M. Kutti, Anees Haroon, Iftikharul Haq, Madeeha Gohar, Dr Rashid Ahmad, Shahid Kardar, Khaled Ahmad and Professor Mehdi Hasan and myself.

They formed the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy and agreed:

• That war and attempts to create war hysteria should be outlawed;

• That a process of denuclearization and reversal of the arms race should be started;

• That Kashmir not merely being a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, a peaceful democratic solution of it involving the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir is the only way out;

• That religious intolerance must be curbed as these tendencies create social strife, undermine democracy and increase the persecution and oppression of disadvantaged sections of society; and to constitute a convening committee for setting up a Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy.

* * * * *

Peace activism in the subcontinent touched unprecedented heights in the 90’s. According to documents consulted at the Ford Foundation offices in New Delhi, the new non-governmental initiatives launched, and institutions created, exclusively to promote peace between India and Pakistan numbered one in 1987, one in 1989, two each from 1991-1993, eight in 1994, one in 1995 and one in 1996, the last entry in the inventory. One can say with a degree of certainty that the activism shown by the people and the elite began to have the desired favourable impact on the governments of India and Pakistan by the mid-90’s. Before that, the governments had remained unmoved. This writer is personally aware that when, in his first term, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was keen to open a dialogue with India, he did not receive a positive response from Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. When Benazir Bhutto took over as prime minister, Mr Narasimha Rao was now keen to open negotiations, but the Pakistani side would not relent.

When the tide turned, Presidents Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari of Pakistan and the prime ministers of India, Narasimha Rao, I.K. Gujral and Deva Gauda, ministers Manmohan Singh, Dinesh Singh, Inderjit Gupta during their tenure in the government and Atal Behari Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh in the opposition, exhibited a sincere desire for peace and for the resolution of disputes in private meetings. It was during the prime ministership of Inder Kumar Gujral that the prime ministers of the two countries began to directly exchange views on the telephone. In fact, the two came quite close to each other, yet not close enough. The secretary level negotiations were not fruitful despite many meetings at international gatherings.

Slowly, but decisively, political leaders of both countries shed their apprehensions. Finally, they came to conclude that their overt contact with the leaders of the other country would not have a negative backlash on their voters, that it was no longer possible to attract votes in elections by rhetoric against the other country. Political leaders started talking of establishing a durable peace with neighbouring countries. One after another, Indian prime ministers started publicly declaring that the progress and prosperity of Pakistan was in India’s interest. In his election campaign in 1996, Nawaz Sharif openly declared that if elected, he would try to improve relations with India which he did. He got a positive response from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who also correctly judged that if he were to make his dramatic bus journey to Pakistan, the people of India would support him. Nawaz Sharif was also proven right when his warm welcome of the Indian prime minister at the Lahore summit received an equally positive response in Pakistan.

The congenial atmosphere for peace created by the Lahore summit was vitiated by the mini-war on the Kargil heights, but only temporarily. The Kargil war did not dampen the desire of the peoples of the two countries to establish a durable peace. The post-Kargil convention held by the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy in Bangalore was a tremendous success and so was the convention convened by Nirmala Deshpande in Kolkata where a number of retired generals of the Pakistan army appeared on the dais, clasping hands with an equal number of retired generals of the Indian army. Indeed, the activism for peace shown by the people in the years 1999 and 2000, was absolutely unprecedented.

Groups of enlightened women from India and Pakistan became aggressively active in the promotion of peace and goodwill between the two countries. Chapters of Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) were established in Delhi and Lahore. In March 2000, about a dozen prominent Indian women expressed the desire to visit Pakistan to confer with Pakistani women to promote peace and friendship. So strong was the desire that within a few days the number rose to 20, then to 30. On March 25, 41 delegates arrived in Lahore to a rousing welcome with garlands, songs, dances, and a band. They had to be rushed to Islamabad, as on the next day, without their knowledge, Pakistan’s Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf had agreed to receive them. They were thrilled beyond description and were all praise for him after the meeting. A number of meetings and an Indo-Pakistan Women’s Solidarity Conference ensued. The joint statement issued at the end stated:

The women’s peace bus from India to Pakistan has given an impetus to the process of peace. The warm welcome that the initiative has received in Pakistan bears witness to the fact that most women on both sides are committed to peace and reject the prejudices which have partly been state-sponsored.

Pakistani women responded strongly to the Indian women’s visit. Two bus loads, under the leadership of the redoubtable Asma Jahangir, arrived in Delhi to a tumultuous welcome. So enthusiastic was the delegation’s reception in India that her detractors taunted her of ambitions to contest elections to the Indian Lok Sabha. Reacting to the pressure from their citizens, the two governments liberalized their visa policies a little. As a result, scores of delegations of citizens, students, teachers, media-persons crossed the international border to visit the land and sights they had heard so much about and not seen. They enjoyed the traditional hospitality of the culture of the subcontinent and returned full of praise saying of the people on the other side. “They are just like us.”

Typical was the case of a large delegation of Pakistani visitors to Panipat. They had been invited by the children of the pre-1947 residents of that Indian city. None of the guests had ever met any of the hosts. Yet they were profusely entertained from early morning to late at night. Receptions, banquets, mushairas, public meetings, visits to historical sights, shrines, schools and institutions of their elders, knew no end. Not even one-third of the invitations could be accepted for want of time. As they returned, they were overloaded with gifts.

An entirely new development on the peace-making front was the interest shown by retired soldiers on both sides of the border. Many times this writer was graciously asked to meet and address middle and high-ranking retired military officers. In the years 1999 and 2000, a large number of retired senior military officers and their wives took upon themselves to visit the neighbouring country and meet with their counterparts. Groups known as the Soldiers Initiative were organized in both countries to create better understanding and to promote peace. General Pervez Musharraf generously received Indian generals, admirals and air marshals. Several Indian army chiefs of staff repaid the compliment by publicly hinting that India-Pakistan problems should be resolved on the negotiating table. A war between the two countries was not the solution.

The pressure of public opinion in both the countries was too strong for the governments to resist for much longer. The people and the generals of the two countries, helped by gentle persuasion from the international community, had left virtually no options for the two governments. The Kargil war, notwithstanding, the Agra summit had to happen. Rising like a statesman, Atal Behari Vajpayee issued the invitation to General Pervez Musharraf to visit India.

The discussions on making progress on an agenda of eight points were a success. Informally, there was even an agreement among the two foreign ministers, the prime minister of India and the president of Pakistan on the craft of a communique. But a problem cropped up. A person of disarming charm, not armed with diplomats finesse, the Pakistani president had created a larger than life image for himself. His meeting with the luminaries of the Indian media, a personal success, proved counterproductive for the summit.

There was no way that an asymmetrical hero should emerge out of the summit. The opportunity was seized by the pundits of older mind-sets. They had built their reputations and positions of influence on the policy of nurturing confrontation throughout their careers. The entire last day of the summit, they monopolized the commentaries on television screens on both sides of the border and successfully robbed the summit of its success. It was a strange spectacle: political leaders with a distinctly religious tilt or military background trying to move forward and professional heavy-weights with a modern, liberal education trying to pull them back. The foreign ministers of India and Pakistan retrieved the inconclusive summit in their press conferences the next day. More summit level meetings are in the stars.

There are no other options but that of peace available to the leaders.

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