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Washington Seminar on Agra Summit
January 15, 2005
By: Mir M. Ali

A seminar was organized in Washington D.C. (Aug 8) by California based think tank the American Institute of International Studies (AIIS) to deliberate on the outcome of Musharraf-Vajpayee summit that was held in July in the Indian city of Agra. Scheduled speakers at the seminar included: Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, Michael Krepton of the Stimson Institute, and Bruce Robertson from the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department. While Mr. Zamir Akram, Deputy Chief of the Mission, represented the Pakistan Embassy, there was no showing from the Indian embassy.

Opening the seminar, AIIS President Riffat Mahmood said that the primary objective of the Institute was to help build peace in South Asia by providing channels of communication between India and Pakistan. Emphasizing the need for peace between two nuclear capable powers where over a billion impoverished people live, he urged peoples, individuals, groups and governments all over the world interested in promotion of peace to help India and Pakistan resolve their disputes and disagreements through peaceful means. He offered the AIIS platform for this purpose.

Stephen Cohen saw Agra summit open up possibilities for both a better understanding between India and Pakistan as well as increase tensions between them. He found the climate in India more conducive to a comparatively more open discussion on Kashmir question and other bi-lateral relations. Said: "there is no debate on the subject in Pakistan. Public opinion is same as the official position". This latter situation, in his opinion, does not help a fruitful dialogue for conflict resolution. He regretted that not enough preparation was made for the Agra parleys. He hoped the United States would continue to play "its discreet role behind the scenes" to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table.

Michael Krepon wished the Musharraf-Vajpayee talks were more "structured". "Open ended meetings with no defined agenda do not produce results, unless the parties have a will to pursue for mutual agreements even after the talks as it happened at the Raykjavik in l985 between USSR and the US", he said. According to him, there were 3 major issues that have to be addressed for establishing sustainable peace in the subcontinent ? 1) a mutually agreed resolution of the Kashmir issue; 2) nuclear non-proliferation; and 3) effective curtailment of terrorism. In his view, a climate of mutual trust must precede and this could happen if India and Pakistan are willing to forget the past and bury the hatchet. Any small beginning in this direction, he said, would be welcome. He expressed his alarm at the growth of religious right wing in Pakistan. Interestingly, he made no reference to the equally spreading religious extremism in India in recent years. Krepon doubted if external intervention would be of any help.

Bruce Robertson of the Foreign Service Institute clarified that he was speaking for himself and did not represent the U.S. State Department. Carefully choosing his words, he literally tip toed through the subject avoiding any affirmative statements. Nevertheless, he noted that "democratic India" provided a better environment for open discussion on sensitive subjects than Pakistan. He cautioned both India and Pakistan to steer away from the extremist forces that are averse to peace between the two countries. Said: "there are David Dukes" on both sides but better wisdom should be allowed to prevail. He appreciated India for "forgetting the Kargil and inviting Gen. Musharraf". Similarly, he welcomed Pakistan's invitation to prime minister Vajpayee. Added: "there is more to gain from co-operating with each other than to go their different ways". Indians and Pakistanis living abroad, as in the United States, he said, could contribute in removing tensions between the two countries.

Zamir Akram, Deputy Chief of the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, answered most of the questions that were raised by other speakers where directly or indirectly Pakistan was portrayed as "the bad guy" in South Asia. He remarked: "We (Indians and Pakistanis) are unfortunately prisoners of our past". He desired to see a recognition of the ground realities if any headway is to be made toward normalcy and peace between India and Pakistan. Both the countries he added needed to learn to live next to each other. In his words, "We can choose our friends but have to live with our neighbors". He disagreed with the suggestion that passage of time intensity on the Kashmir dispute would diminish. Advocating for a third-party mediation, Zamir pointed at the Indus Basin Treaty that was signed between India and Pakistan because of international presence.

In order to lend a balance to the seminar, organizers invited an Indian Muslim, Islam Siddiqi, a former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton administration, and a Hindu Kashmiri Pundit Vijay Sazaval, also to address the audience. Siddiqi wanted the dialogue between the two countries to continue. Sazaval provided "the other perspective" to the Kashmir issue and called for a just settlement where all components are satisfied.