“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

The Encounter in Agra

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

02 September 2001

General Pervez Musharraf, President, Chief Executive and the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan, met with Mr. Atal Vajpayee, Indian Prime Minister in the historical north Indian city of Agra on July 15-16 for a much-heralded Summit. The Agra Summit was expected to improve prospects for peace between the two nations, but in reality ended up on an inconclusive note with finger pointing and increased acrimony between the two nations. What really happened?

In assessing the official and unofficial statements and messages emanating from both sides, it is quite clear that both sides have good reasons for not being forthright as to what happened. For Pakistan, it avoids baring their unconventional approach taken at the Summit, a tactic that was truly ‘a diplomatic Kargil’ with ramifications as severe as last year’s military misadventure. For India, it avoids baring its naivete in dealing with an exceptionally brilliant tactician, who came within six degrees of defining a new bilateral regime between India and Pakistan. In narrow terms, while Pakistan scored on tactics in Agra, it lacked a clear strategy for the future as in Kargil, and the new misadventure will only add to historical burdens of the past.

The two countries are truly ‘prisoners of history’ and two specific events in their recent history contribute heavily in defining their political and military strategies. These two events are the wars between India and Pakistan in 1947 and 1972. In the 1947 war, India lost to Pakistan a large piece of the land that had acceded, per the India Independence Act, to the Indian dominion. Worse, the defeat was compounded by gross miscalculation by India’s untested leaders who suffered another defeat — a diplomatic one — when they internationalized the Kashmir issue. Thus Indian strategies have invariably focussed on enhancing bilateralism with Pakistan in order to seek a legal closure with Pakistan on the portion of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) lost to Pakistan in 1947. For Pakistan the demons that rule its psyche were created in 1972, when it lost the war and East Pakistan. Ever since, the ancient Muslim battle cry, “an eye for an eye,” has reverberated in Pakistan’s military establishment that has vowed to avenge the loss of East Pakistan with the take-over of Kashmir. There is more emotion than real-politick in the diplomatic standoff that exists between the two neighbors, and if Agra is any indication, neither of the two countries is any wiser today.

The naivete in the Indian political establishment has been consistently probed and exploited by Pakistan. Indian desire to indulge Pakistani leaders so that ‘they have something to show their distracters back home’, has been abused by every Pakistani leader from Gen. Ayub Khan to Gen. Musharraf. The generous diplomatic magnanimity that India displays at the Summits, like the unprecedented willingness at Agra to rearrange priorities to accommodate Pakistan’s centrality focus on Kashmir, only end up conveying an impression of a desperate and a divided nation and hardening the positions of the opponent.

Pakistan, on the other hand, continues to believe that India is a ‘soft nation’ led by weak-kneed leaders (no pun intended) who are docile Hindus that are no match to martially inspired believers of Allah. This may sound incredible to the Westerners, but this line of reasoning is taught in the Pakistani Madrassas that turn out students (Taliban) that are spearheading the Jehad in Kashmir. No Pakistani military officer can get a promotion to the senior ranks unless he has not personally mentored or sponsored one or more of such Jehadi groups. General Musharraf, no matter how westernized he may appear, is no exception. He too received his promotions in the same way. In Agra, he almost succeeded in proving validity of this argument.

So what happened at Agra? One has to start with the events leading to it. As best as I can tell, the process started with two separate events. One was a desperate cry from General Musharraf, seeking to stabilize his legitimacy, who announced that, “I am prepared to meet the Indian Prime Minister any time, any place, with an open agenda to address one and all issues.” The other was a remarkable admission by the Indian Foreign Minister that, “India faulted by taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations, and I wish we could fix this mistake.” This gave the general an opportunity that he was looking for. He proposed talks with India with the commitment that he was ready to drop references to the U.N. resolutions and plebiscite in Kashmir. Further behind-the-scenes discussions confirmed that Gen. Musharraf was serious and enhanced his appeal by saying that he was now convinced that Kashmir problem could not be solved militarily. He also hinted at de-escalation of troop activity in Siachen.

To the Indian Foreign Minister and particularly the Indian Prime Minister, with an eye for a place in the history books, this was the message that they had been looking for. The problem of timing was quickly resolved as the faltering cease-peace in Kashmir (that had taken an unusually heavy toll among the Indian security forces) was on its last legs. Besides, the simultaneous announcement of the two events — end of cease-fire and call for the Summit – had the effect of ‘zero sum game’, something that would find acquiescence in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The two countries had very different strategies in mind when the announcement of the Summit took place, but the tactics that Pakistan followed did not allow India to understand Pakistan’s true intentions until the wee hours of July 16. Pakistan had a very simple (but very potent) goal in mind — to define a new bilateral regime with India that would delete any Pakistani recognition of the sanctity of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in J&K. India on the other hand took the continuity of past Agreements with Pakistan for granted and did not even once consider a need to reconfirm that the General shared the same view. Instead, in keeping with the traditions of a magnanimous host, it immediately undertook a critical review of options and choices to reward the General for his noble gesture in dropping the U.N. Plebiscite demand. India felt that between Agra (negating UN resolutions), Lahore and Shimla Agreements, the only outstanding step for the future was the final demarcation of the international boundary in J&K between the two countries (with obvious expectations of the outcome).

India prepared for the summit well. Cabinet and top bureaucratic level meetings, including those with the defense establishment, were held frequently in the few weeks leading to the Summit. There are reasons to believe that India was prepared to match Pakistani gesture with their own involving a reduction of security and military personnel in J&K State. In the weeks leading to the Summit, India also announced various concessions and made a number of reconciliatory gestures, including proposing the opening of the border crossing on the Muzaffarabad-Uri road. India also unilaterally announced a meeting of the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs), with likely intention to develop a replacement regime once the United Nations Military Observer Group (UNMOG) is withdrawn and address de-escalation of troops in Siachen.

Unfortunately, the Indian approach was off base, and its pronouncements both prior to the Summit and during the Summit were based on faulty assumptions, as Pakistan chose not to make its Summit goals public, nor did it respond to Indian gestures. Indian government efforts to solicit Pakistani views ahead of the Summit were rebuffed by Pakistani officials, stating that a meeting with a pre-set agenda and any prior joint planning would curtail flexibility in ensuring convergence of views between the two leaders. Furthermore, Pakistani officials, including its Foreign Minister, professed ignorance of what precisely was on the mind of the General and what he wanted to achieve in Agra. The Pakistani tactic worked as Indians were completely taken by surprise at Agra. And Indians would not wise up to the architect of ‘Political Kargil’ until the very last day of the parley.

Pakistan for its part may not have been forthright, but in reality its overt actions were consistent with its strategy. While, the initial feeling was that Pakistani official delegation would be a large one (nearly 100), encompassing various ministries and agencies, in the end the General let it known that he was bringing only a handful of officials (two dozen) that were mostly connected with Kashmir and security issues. So, much to the discomfort of Indians, his priorities were clear. Pakistan did not match Indian reconciliatory gestures, and in fact openly expressed its surprise as to how India could unilaterally propose joint actions (like the DGMO meeting) without consulting with Pakistan. Also, General Musharraf carried out his publicly stated plan to invite the Kashmiri secessionist group, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), for a meeting in Delhi over the objections of the Indian government. The Indians hinted, in a tit-for-tat, that they would invite Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) leader Altaf Hussain from U.K. to embarrass Pakistanis. The General called the bluff, Indians retreated (dropped the idea) and Pakistan scored its first Summit success. And the General had not even left for Agra yet!

But the point that the General made in advance, that the two leaders should meet without any fixed agenda, turned out to be precisely that as Indians found out after the Summit got underway in Agra. General Musharraf wanted to negotiate one-on-one with Prime Minister Vajpayee, and draft a settlement as the meeting progressed. When told that this is not a diplomatic way of conducting such meetings, especially an important Summit, the General reluctantly agreed that the two Foreign Ministers (Jaswant Singh and Abdul Sattar) could develop the initial draft of the Agreement. India as the host country (and the one that had put some thought behind a “logical” Summit) proposed to prepare the initial draft.

The Indian draft, as I understand it, consisted of nine paragraphs, most of which was typical diplomatic jargon worthy of a Summit communiqué, but it did contain eight points that represent the historical issues of contention between the two countries. The first four issues were proposed in the following order: Peace and Security CBMs, J&K, Terrorism and Drug Trafficking, and Siachen. The Pakistani response, surprising as it was to the hosts, was exactly what the General had been saying all along, that the real issue was Kashmir (not J&K, just Kashmir), and that Kashmir issue must be dealt with first before other issues can be taken up. This is where the Indians made their second tactical error. The Summit should have come to a grinding halt at this stage, and the General should have been shown the door, signifying Indian displeasure about Pakistani approach in general and General’s bizarre diplomacy in particular. Instead, India decided to find ways to accommodate General’s wishes. India, in its counter offer, agreed to: (a) reprioritize the list of issues to put J&K at the top, (b) proposed that J&K, CBMs and Terrorism/Drug Trafficking issues be elevated to the foreign ministerial level, and (c) relegated the remaining five issues to a lower tier secretarial level to distinguish the higher level issues.

Pakistan realized that it had the upper hand for the first time since the Kargil fiasco. It rejected the Indian proposal, seeking again to raise the profile of the Kashmir as the “core issue”, and dropping Terrorism from the top tier involving ministerial level issues. (Pakistan for its part claims that the draft agreement lists nine distinct issues with drug trafficking and terrorism listed separately.) When Indians hinted that Terrorism was already acknowledged as a problem in the Lahore Declaration, it is my belief that it was at this point that Pakistan let it be known that it was negotiating an entirely new bilateral regime with India that would neither mention the United Nations resolutions, nor make any references to the Shimla or Lahore Agreements. Indians were totally unprepared for this revelation, and only then realized the real intentions of the General.

Two things happened almost immediately there after that surely sank whatever chances existed for a compromise. Indian side insisted that J&K and “cross-border terrorism” issues being intertwined must be addressed at the same level and with the same priority. And the General went on a media blitz to undercut his hosts in order to generate sympathy from public in India (and Pakistan) that a monumental agreement was being held hostage by Indian leadership on the issue of terrorism, claiming that one country’s terrorist was another country’s patriot. Suddenly, the Indian leadership realized true dimensions of the Kargil style “commando diplomacy” unleashed by General Musharraf. The two foreign ministers and their back-up teams tried to find a common ground to eliminate the six-bracketed areas of disagreement, and the General again pleaded for a one-on-one closure with the Prime Minister, but at this late stage, India was not biting.

Prior to his departure, Musharraf requested Vajpayee to allow him to address the media again, and the Prime Minister without any hesitation turned his request down. India came close to a blunder, and having understood Pakistan’s game was unwilling to coddle the General any more. The General left in a huff and a puff, closing yet another chapter of distrust and misadventure between the two nations.

There is no doubt that Agra could have succeeded had Pakistan utilized traditional diplomatic means to arrive at a mutually agreeable understanding with India. Instead, it used covert tactics to go for an “all or nothing” mission, which like the Kargil disaster ended up as a fiasco. While the blame for failure of the Summit lies squarely with Pakistan, General Musharraf has again displayed his cunning with a style and flair of his own. The Indians better catch up with his wits before facing him again in another military or diplomatic engagement.

On the other hand, do Pakistanis realise what they lost at Agra? Only time will tell.

This article originally appeared in the sulekha.com website and is no longer available on that website.

About Me

Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.

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