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Gestures And Ground Reality

Gestures And Ground Reality

Author: V. Sudarshan
Publication: Outlook
Date: November 26, 2001

Introduction: Musharraf may have scored the PR points, but it was Vajpayee who came back with major concessions. This, despite a poor showing in the media.

Q: Will the United States try to get involved in a settlement of Kashmir?

US Secretary of State Colin Powell: The two sides have to settle that and there needs to be a dialogue between Pakistan and India.  To the extent the US can be helpful in fostering their dialogue, fine. But we cannot become the mediator, the arbitor, or the intermediary between them. (Interview on NBC's meet the press programme, November 11.)

President Bush and President Musharraf agreed that India and Pakistan should resolve the Kashmir issue through diplomacy and dialogue in mutually acceptable ways that takes into account the wishes of the people of Kashmir. -Bush-Musharraf joint statement, New York, November 12.

As Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf swung through Teheran, Paris, London en route to his dinner meeting with President George W. Bush, it did not appear as though he was a pariah in the international community. He was the toast of the West. Nobody was talking about his dictatorial ways. And everybody was listening carefully to what he had to say. He preened before TV cameras, his chest  swelled up, mostly talking about "state terrorism" and Jammu and Kashmir.

In contrast, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's political journey to New York, via Moscow and Washington, was barely mentioned in the world media. His interview to The Washington Post illustrated vividly his problems in communication skills. Post staff writer Alan Sipress thought "the elderly Prime Minister, who rarely grants interviews, responded slowly and deliberately to questions, offering measured answers, separated by long, pensive silences. He sat largely motionless, his eyes downcast and his hands clasped in front of him." Imagine now Vajpayee being interviewed by CNN's Larry King, whom Musharraf charmed visibly on the eponymous show.

This is the grist that feeds the media mill. But diplomats say Vajpayee's lack of dynamism didn't become an impediment in managing concrete results from his Washington trip, where he lunched with Bush. They say it would be erroneous to assume that Vajpayee's trip to the US was about Pakistan.  In fact, in the interactions between India and the US in Washington, three words that found little mention were Pakistan, Musharraf and Kashmir.

This shows India's relationship with the US is no longer influenced by the old zero-sum considerations  and that the broad-gauge relationship envisaged in the Vision Statement, released during President Clinton's visit to India last year, is developing satisfactorily. Diplomats dismiss any pressure on starting a dialogue with Pakistan, claiming that Washington is making the politically right noises only to ease the mounting domestic pressure on Musharraf.

As George Perkovich, of the W. Alton Jones Foundation, told Outlook: "Talks are tricky, as Agra showed. Either India or Pakistan is tempted to use talks for unilateral advantage, in which case relations worsen instead of improve. Today, talks without a positive outcome would be worse than no talks."

New Delhi and Washington were in agreement on four key issues:

* Both sides acknowledged "an active role for India in consultations on the political and economic future of Afghanistan". In this regard, Richard Haass, Washington's pointsman on Afghanistan, is expected to visit India soon. The foreign secretary had a separate round of meetings with him.

* Both agreed to expand cooperation on preventing proliferation of sensitive technologies with weapons of mass destruction applications, including provision of additional training programmes and equipment.

* They agreed to discuss ways of stimulating bilateral high-technology commerce, including dual-use technology. The Vajpayee-Bush joint statement says the two sides should begin a dialogue "with a view towards evaluating the processes by which we transfer dual-use and military items, with a view towards greater transparency and efficiency".

* Expand space cooperation in civilian and scientific fields. Sources say this is a marked change from the days when the US drew a firm line on discussing space cooperation or dual-use technology issues.

Interestingly, during the Vajpayee-Bush conversation, China came up as a talking point. Bush said the days were over when US presidents went all the way to Asia and didn't bother visiting Japan, Korea and India. He remarked, in a lighter vein, that his recent trip to Shanghai had left him no wiser about the Chinese. It was at this point that the Indian side asked how the US could have space cooperation with China, but not with India. Bush, diplomats say, is comfortable in engaging with India in ways previous presidents hadn't. The "free-wheeling" sharing of views on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and on Russia, Afghanistan and China showed that a welcome comfort factor has crept into the political relationship.

The joint statement released during the trip says that "India's interest in purchasing arms from the US would be discussed at the Defence Policy Group meetings in December 2001". Sources say an initial wishlist of such arms was in fact discussed during this trip, adding that in the 10 months of the Bush administration, the maximum progress has been in defence cooperation. When foreign minister Jaswant Singh was wearing the hat of defence minister, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld had written to him emphasising that the two countries should have long-term military-to-military cooperation. As a sign of this, prior to Vajpayee's Washington trip, the US had made specific requests relating to Operation Enduring Freedom. India didn't reject them.

One notable outcome of the visit is the decision to separate the energy sector from environment in any future discussions. This is expected to significantly widen the scope and mandate on both the subjects, and also develop a regulatory framework for commercial projects in India in the power sector, including in hydrocarbon, non-conventional power, third-country projects, and particularly in energy security.

The US also agreed to resume three safety-related projects involving technical information exchanges on emergency procedures with respect to ageing reactors that are already under full-scope IAEA safeguards.

Diplomats who followed Musharraf's political journey to New York find it bereft of similar content. They point out that all he got out of the trip was a billion-dollar loan, part of which had already been announced by US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on October 29. Musharraf did not get any public assurances on F-16s and he was probably also lectured on the need to restore democracy. This is clear from the joint statement of the Bush-Musharraf meet: "Both underscored the importance of Pakistan to have a successful transition to democracy in 2002." In other words, the PR victory may have been Pakistan's, but India managed to get the concessions earlier US administrations were reluctant to provide.
 


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