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India-Pakistan Summit Yields No Peace Deal

Asia: Disagreements related to Kashmir conflict kill plans for a joint declaration, but leaders agree to meet again later this year.

July 17, 2001|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AGRA, India — The leaders of India and Pakistan failed to agree on a route to peace Monday as their two-day summit degenerated into a public disagreement about issues as old as their conflict over Kashmir.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed to try again at a meeting in Pakistan later this year. But with violence already escalating in Kashmir, their lack of agreement could prove costly.

Indian and Pakistani officials spent most of Monday drafting and redrafting what was supposed to be a joint declaration with enough weighty commitments to give momentum to a new peace process.

Musharraf said he wanted the document to set out "a structure for the process of future dialogue" and an agreement that a solution is urgently needed. But after a final, one-hour meeting with Vajpayee, he left India without either.

Pakistani officials privately blamed India, while Indian officials kept silent, waiting for Musharraf and his wife, Sehba, to reach the airport. Then Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao read a one-sentence statement to reporters early this morning.

"I'm disappointed to inform all of you that although the commencement of a process and the beginning of a journey has taken place, the destination of an agreed, joint statement has not been reached," she said.

Pakistani columnist Ayaz Amir, who writes for the English-language Dawn newspaper, said the summit "was an honest attempt by both sides to come to some kind of agreement."

"The fact they came and had this interchange is a good thing. It only looks a disaster when you contrast it with the hype and the adjectives [such as] 'historic summit,' " he added.

Violence in Kashmir Grows During Talks

Vajpayee and Musharraf met without an agreed agenda in the hope that would leave them free to find new ways out of a 54-year dispute. But they were dragged down by some of the same old claims and counterclaims.

Musharraf insisted that India had to accept that bilateral relations could not improve without real progress on the conflict over its Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, while Vajpayee accused Pakistan of supporting "cross-border terrorism."

Violence escalated in Kashmir during the summit, and at least 86 people died.

The latest killings came amid two days of clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops along a cease-fire line drawn in 1972. For years, India has accused Pakistani forces of shooting across the so-called Line of Control as a diversion so that groups of guerrilla fighters can infiltrate the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.

"We are not encouraging any violence in Kashmir," Musharraf insisted Monday at a breakfast meeting with Indian newspaper and television editors. "This is an indigenous freedom struggle going on."

A videotape of the meeting was aired on Indian national television as Musharraf continued sensitive talks with Vajpayee.

Musharraf touched a raw nerve among many Indians when he called civilian casualties "deplorable" but added, "If you see the history of freedom struggles all over the world, there is a lot of innocent blood shed."

The Indian response came in the form of the printed text of Vajpayee's opening statement from his first private meeting with Musharraf on Sunday morning.

The gentler touch demonstrated the sharp contrast in style between Musharraf, a blunt general, and Vajpayee, a soft-spoken poet of few words.

"We cannot deny that there are vast differences between us on [Jammu and Kashmir]," Vajpayee said. "We are willing to address these differences and move forward. But for this, it is important to create a conducive atmosphere.

"The terrorism and violence being promoted in the state [of Jammu and Kashmir] from across its borders do not help to create such an atmosphere. We will counter them resolutely."

Diplomatic Lingo Frustrates Musharraf

Vajpayee pressed Musharraf to renew talks on a wide range of issues, including both countries' nuclear weapons and trade. He also asked him to hand over "criminals and terrorists" suspected of bombings and hijackings in India.

For each grievance the Indians raised--such as the charge that Musharraf masterminded the Pakistani border attacks that destroyed the last peace effort in 1999--the Pakistani leader had at least one countercharge.

"I think it will be in the fitness of things that we forget the past and move forward with the understanding that all these pains and hurts have been caused due to Kashmir," Musharraf said. "So let's address the Kashmir issue, and resolve it once and for all, so that these things don't recur."

Despite his clear frustration with the diplomatic niceties--for instance, on whether the bloodshed in Kashmir should be called a dispute or simply "an issue"--Musharraf praised Vajpayee for his dignity and "the understanding he shows toward our concerns."

But he added, "If we can't agree on the word 'dispute,' how can we move forward?"

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