No illusions of love for Asia's N-powers
By Mark Tully
(CNN) -- This weekend the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India meet within the shadow of the Taj Mahal in an attempt to improve relations between their two countries, bedeviled by the dispute over Kashmir.
It's their first meeting since the Pakistani President came to power in a military coup and since Pakistani infiltrators were forced to retreat from positions they had occupied in the Kargil sector on the Indian side of the line of control in Kashmir.
International attention is focused on the summit because of fears that the tension between Indian and Pakistan could lead to nuclear conflict.
Itís remarkable but true that Atal Behari Vajpayee Indiaís first Prime Minister from the right wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party,or BJP, which has always taken a hard line on anything to do with Pakistan, should want to go down in history as the man who made peace with his hostile neighbor.
Some therefore argue that if any two leaders can make a breakthrough, itís Vajpayee, representing as he does the hardliners, and the Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf representing as he does the army, where real power lies in Pakistani.
But is there any room for optimism about their meeting in Agra beyond that?
When Vajpayee first issued his invitation and Musharraf accepted, it was fashionable to be optimistic, but as both sides blew hot and cold in the days that followed Indian and Pakistani commentators, filling the pages of the newspapers daily with their speculation, became less confident.
Now itís clear that Vajpayee will be no nearer achieving his ambition at the end of the summit unless he is prepared to acknowledge that there is a dispute over Kashmir and it must be resolved.
Musharrraf canít return home with anything less if heís not to be accused of a sell-out. It shouldnít be difficult for Vajpayee to concede that. But it is because the Indian opposition as well as the BJP maintain that there is no dispute that Kashmir is an integral part of India.
The Simla agreement which restored the relationship between the two countries after the Bangladesh war acknowledges there is a dispute and if a suitable form of words could be found then it should be possible to produce a statement which satisfies both sides this time.
From that beginning the two leaders could move onto improving the situation on the ground in Kashmir, but for that to happen Vajpayee will need assurances form Musharraf that he will curb the separatists who infiltrate across the line of control to fight the Indian security forces.
The decision to send the Indian Director General of Military Operations to Pakistan indicates that Vajpayee believes there is a possibility of force reduction and confidence building measures nuclear and non-nuclear.
In particular the summit could be the beginning of the end of troop deployment on the Siachen glacier, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers are eye-ball to eye-ball on the worldís highest battle ground.
Maintaining troops at that altitude costs India the equivalent of $20 million a month and itís been calculated that Pakistani taxpayers stump up $20 for each chapatti their soldiers eat.
Withdrawal from Siachen has been almost agreed twice before, and would not only boost exchequers but army morale too on both sides. More than three thousand soldiers have died on Siachen, many from illnesses caused by the high altitude.
Although neither leaders will admit it this summit is at least in part a response to pressure from America which believes the hostility between the two nuclear nations makes this probably the most dangerous area in the world.
India, perhaps in response to American pressure, has announced several measures to lessen the tension between the two countries and to make travel between them easier.
There is even a suggestion of a bus service across the line of control in Kashmir for the first time.
All this may be welcomed internationally, but such is the suspicion on both sides that Pakistan sees the measures as attempts to persuade Pakistanis of the advantages of living peacefully and putting an ultimate solution to the Kashmir problem on the back-burner.
Itís the suspicion on both sides that will be hardest for Vajpayee and Musharraf to overcome if the summit is not to end merely with an agreement to continue talking.
Jaw, jaw is better than war war, but America will tell both countries thatís not good enough because they are effectively at war now in Kashmir, and that war could escalate.
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