July 23, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/ Hameed Haroon

'There were summit wreckers on both sides'
Hameed Haroon, chief executive and publisher of Pakistan's Dawn group of newspapers, tells Ramesh Menon why the Agra summit failed.

You were so hopeful before the summit. Now that it is over, how do you feel?

Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf established a strong rapport. There was no downward trend in the initial rounds. The problem was that the foreign offices are repositories of conflict and could not be relied upon to deliver peace. When the talks moved to the delegation level, they started showing themselves in their true role. They were not very keen to get things moving outside their orbit. We know this was responsible for wrecking the talks.

What are the lessons to learn here?

One: Optimism is not a substitute for good homework.
Two: Be careful with the rhetoric.
Three: Try and keep a laboratory-type fanfare as it can easily be ruined. Sushma Swaraj and the Hurriyat tea party for example.
Four: We need more of the media, not less. We need print to be as ready in being able to support positions. Television lives for the moment. The absence of print tends to reduce historical perspective.

Do you think Musharraf should learn some diplomatic skills?

No. General Musharraf should not learn any diplomatic skills. He might use it to sustain himself beyond 2002.

He threw diplomacy to the winds and spoke at a televised meeting while the summit was on.

It does not matter that Musharraf spoke his mind. I do not think the Indian public is paranoid in these matters. They are very open minded.

Could we not have discussed other areas like the conflict on the Siachen glacier, trade, visa restrictions instead of getting stuck on Kashmir? It is one strategy to deal with the smaller issues first.

We do not know whether they did it. They spoke earlier of a nine point declaration. If Kashmir and cross-border terrorism were two points, what were the others? They must have talked of the gas pipeline and other issues.

But they did not agree on anything.

The declaration has to be in its entirety. Musharraf said the biggest confidence building measure would be peace in Kashmir. He was ready to drop the word 'dispute.' He said there cannot be a military solution.

A battle by the Indians on the word 'aspirations' was not justified. It was for Musharraf not to have cared about aspirations. He does not need people to stay in power. But for the Indian people who care about democracy, this is just not justified. It did not say self-determination, independence or identity. It just said aspirations, which was harmless. That is why I say the foreign office can be a problem.

What made Musharraf so belligerent?

General Musharraf felt Sushma Swaraj's message sent a direct threat to his constituency. It could have discredited him in the eyes of his people. She mentioned six topics. Was she being clever? Did she make a genuine error? Was somebody formulating it for her? Was the foreign office or some others in the Indian delegation involved? These answers cannot be easily answered. It might have been a genuine error, but that error proved to be near fatal for the summit.

Some believe Swaraj's remark led to the press conference and the press conference damaged relations. I do not believe either. General Musharraf felt Sushma Swaraj's message sent a direct threat to his constituency. It could have discredited him in the eyes of his people.

The summit started well and then degenerated.

After Swaraj's remark, the Pakistan government issued a clarification. Clearly, Swaraj's statement was a turning point. Pakistan over-reacted.

Many believe the encounter with the Indian editors made the whole thing turn sour as he was straight talking and forthright. I do not believe that. Honesty and forthrightness does not damage anything. Both Vajpayee and Musharraf tried to resist the inevitable collapse on the fourth round.

When did you realise the slide had started?

When we saw the images of Shiv Sena volunteers wanting to perform ritual cleansing at Rajghat as President Musharraf had gone there, we knew the summit wreckers were at work.

Unless there are dramatic changes, we will continue to count years of truncated relationships, missed economic opportunities.

There is a feeling both countries lost a great opportunity.

Hameed Haroon  
I agree with you. But they created a great opportunity, only to have lost it. The structures that rise from that are still not out. Why can't dreams submerge for a few weeks and then emerge again? I might have lost dreams, but I am not prepared to give them up either.

The common man wants peace, but politicians are often caught with semantics and narrow interests.

Peace and semantics are as close as tension and semantics. In Indo-Pak relations, semantics have been a slowing influence. Pakistan Persianised Urdu and India Sanskritised Hindi making it difficult to even listen to each other's news broadcasts without having at least ten words which one cannot understand. It is a deliberate effort to take people away from each other. But the language of the people remain the same.

Was Musharraf under pressure? Can he fight militant and religious pressure from those who are not interested in peace?

There is a lot he can do. His war on the madrassas and his de-weaponisation campaign could have been the basis for moving forward. But with the collapse of the summit, this would have slowed down or made it dead for the moment. Which is a dangerous thing.

That is a real worry.

It is a real worry. The Indian summit wreckers may have weakened Musharraf's resolve to fight summit wreckers in Pakistan. And that could become a nightmare for India.

If there is peace, what will the Pakistan army do? Is that a problem?

Not an immediate problem. The army could be converted from soldiers of war into soldiers of peace. They could build bridges in mountain areas and roads in the desert. That is what demilitarisation of society is all about.

Would there be a demand for peace in Pakistan which has consistently seen the military in power?

If there is peace, it will require policing. There also might be a need to move to the Afghan borders.

What is the way out?

The way out is terribly clear to me. The first thing is an absolute recognition by Pakistan that Kashmir cannot be won by force. The second is for India to realise it cannot retain Jammu and Kashmir by force.

This is closely tied in Indian minds with Nehruvian secularism. It is a fake. It is a fake because when Jaswant Singh says Kashmir is the essence of Indian nationhood, he is laughing at us. There is much more which is at the essence of Indian nationhood. If Kashmir is the essence of Indian nationhood, it is in deep trouble. But since we know it is not in trouble, we know Kashmir is not the essence of Indian nationhood. In fact, I do not think Kashmir is even the core issue of Pakistani nationhood.

Solutions for Kashmir include a possibility of an independent Kashmiri state compromising the Indian and Pakistan held areas or a new economic union or political system or confederation that needs fresh rules. Unless India accepts this, there is no way out in the future.

The third major acceptance is to soften our borders with sledge hammers. We have to break down the walls. The fence the Indian government is constructing today is an attempt to seal borders.

You cannot have normal relations with an iron curtain between us. We have to remove barriers. India cannot become a superpower unless it sorts out relations with Pakistan. We have to approach these problems honestly and ruthlessly.

The world is veering towards the reality of how peace has its dividends. When will we see it?

We sacrificed three or four generations after Partition. I can understand how a country like Pakistan can reconcile to the fact as it was under autocracy. Autocratic dictatorships owe nothing to their people. But how can India as a democracy reconcile to it with its values and beliefs? Its responsibility to change is much stronger. You have both responsible and representative government. We have neither.

The phrase 'cross-border terrorism' touched a sensitive nerve with Musharraf.

I object to the term 'cross-border terrorism' as it has no meaning. Today's terrorist can be seem as tomorrow's liberationist. What does that mean? Cross-border violence would have been a more acceptable word. If the problem had to be solved, a more emotion-free vocabulary should have been used.

I can understand why India failed to notice that there are many parties in Kashmir who support the interface of Pakistan in the future of Kashmir. Some are militant extremists like the Harkat-ul Ansar and Lashkar-e-Taiyba. They are based partially in Pakistan and partially in Kashmir.

How do you see the failure of the summit?

Indo-Pak relations have not collapsed. Some incredibly important things have happened. Both in the language of symbolism and in the language of interaction. Firstly, President Musharraf's visit to Rajghat and his epigram on Mahatma Gandhi is a first for a Pakistani head of state. It is a step forward to pay some kind of homage to the leadership that formed post-Partition India. Living together has a lot to live with each other's history.

The second major change is that the Hurriyat is seen even in the Indian establishment as a group with whom business can be done for the future of Kashmir.

Thirdly, the centrality of the Kashmir issue. The Indian intelligentsia have already accepted Kashmir as the core issue; it is only the foreign office who have to say it.

The triumph of phraseology was the triumph of the summit wreckers. Everyone recognises the high position that summit wreckers hold within the Indian government and in the hierarchy of the ruling party. It means that Pakistan and India have to learn how to deal with the summit wreckers.

What can be done?

They have to keep talking. They have to be prepared with a round of violence with those who fear that the status quo was being disturbed. The Pakistanis need to show more understanding about cross-border violence within India. Musharraf has to be clearer on what cross-border violence means to Indians.

The Indians have to be clearer about being allergic to phraseology like the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. There are legitimate aspirations of the Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists of Jammu and Kashmir, some of which may coincide with the Indian Constitution and international human rights and international law. That phrase and its removal was childishness on the part of the Indian delegation.

Do you see hope?

Of course. Lots need to be done in the next four to six weeks to ensure that a difference over two phrases is not something that cannot be overcome.

Was the homework for the summit not done the way it should have?

Certainly, summit homework was less than it should have been on both sides. If it was a question of phraseology, clearly it should have been sorted out. Both sides were touching the right buttons, but there were summit wreckers on both sides. Some were concealed in the foreign office and some were in the delegation that offered strategic advice to both parties. The political complexion of the BJP and its influence on the delegation were responsible in stalemating Vajpayee's moves for peace.

Sometimes, I wonder if we will see peace in this generation.

We have to hope against hope.

Design: Dominic Xavier. Hameed Haroon photograph: Santosh Verma

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