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National

August 24, 2015

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What she achieved covertly in Agra, Sushma did overtly in Delhi

I am surprised at those who are surprised by the Indian decision to postpone what was being billed as an ice-breaking meeting between the National Security Advisers of the two countries in New Delhi today. New Delhi’s excuse, spread over the last a few days, to postpone the talks did not surprise me at all.
That has been the Indian norm over the past many decades with rationality being a rarity seen only on occasions when the hawks amongst the Indian political leadership withdrew tactically to mask the actual face of Indian Hindu fanaticism. And I say this not out of any venom or bitterness but on the basis of historical facts and personal experience.
It was the summer of 2001 and we were all overly excited at the prospect of witnessing history in the making as Pakistan and India moved towards summit level talks in the fabled city of Agra.
Hundreds of media persons travelled to India from Pakistan and as the Pakistan delegation led by President Pervez Musharraf moved to Agra from the Indian capital for substantive talks with Prime Minister Vajpayee in the backdrop of Taj Mahal, that ultimate symbol of love, hopes ran high both in the diplomatic circles as well as amongst the media.
Musharraf had been extended all the expected protocol and there was optimism in the air as the two sides landed in Agra. There was expectation that some of the love radiating out of the white marbles of the Taj would rub on the Pakistan-India leadership to give birth to a new, more peaceful, more tolerant relationship between the two important South Asian nations paving the way for removal of the many irritants that stood in the way of harmony and peace between them.
To put the latest Indian stance in perspective, let me remind the readers that Sushma Swaraj, the present day Indian minister for external affairs was then the Indian minister for information and broadcasting.
The talks began on the right note. As both the delegations sat down, Prime Minister Vajpayee

greeted us with much warmth and cordiality. He asked us to take a bite of the “peras” bought for us especially from the Indian town of Mathra, famous for the milk-based sweet.
The talks progressed smoothly and as we broke for lunch, I suggested that we issue a brief joint statement to the hundreds of waiting media persons to avoid any speculation. Indian minister for external affairs Jaswant Singh agreed and graciously left it to the Pakistan side to do so. On my request, he agreed to a mutually agreed Press release stating that the talks were progressing smoothly and the two sides would meet again after lunch. Such was the cordiality until then.
During the lunch break, President Musharraf’s spokesperson Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi and I decided to hop over to the crowded media centre nearby to greet the large number of media persons assembled there. As we reached the media centre, we were accosted by the media who wanted to know if Kashmir was not being discussed.
Taken aback, we replied that as indicated in the Press release, talks were moving smoothly and every issue would be discussed.
They then informed us that Sushma Swaraj had earlier visited the media centre and had said that Kashmir would not be discussed. Coming from the Indian information minister, the remarks could not be taken lightly. We rushed back to our hotel and in consultation with foreign minister Mr Abdus Sattar issued a Press statement saying that all issues including Kashmir will be discussed at the talks. That indeed was the beginning of the end of the Agra talks and not, as alleged by the Indian propagandists, the rather sarcastic reply of President Musharraf to the Indian editors that if he was not expected to mention Kashmir while in India, he might as well buy back his ancestral home in Delhi and not return to Pakistan.
Sushma Swaraj was then the minister for information and not external affairs. She was not part of the Indian delegation involved in the talks. But she was then, and remains even today, a key member of the Indian political establishment that sets its own agenda in relation to Pakistan.
It is an agenda that is based on Hindu fundamentalism, indeed Hindu fanaticism that has no room for coexistence with the Muslims generally, leave alone with Pakistan. For her and her likes, if Pakistan must coexist, it should do so as subservient to the Indian world view.
The talks at Agra broke down in 2001 because of Sushma Swaraj who then had the covert support of L.K Advani. Today, as she directly presides over the affairs of the Hyderabad House in New Delhi, with full patronage of Narendar Modi, should we be surprised when she said, “Pakistan has till midnight to give an assurance that no other topic will come under discussion except terrorism...... if Pakistan does not agree, talks will not happen”. Pakistan was naive at Ufa. Mercifully, Mr Sartaj Aziz salvaged some national pride by his dignified and correct response to Sushma’s arrogance and her clearly lame excuses.
The writer is a former federal secretary

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