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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK
Analysis: Vajpayee's summit setback
Shiv Shena activists burn a Pakistani flag on Monday
There was strong domestic oppositon to the summit
By Jill McGivering in Delhi

One academic close to Mr Vajpayee had trailed this summit in grand language.

This, he said, will be South Asia's equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sadly, it wasn't. The political divide between the two countries didn't disappear - and the only collapsing structure was the summit itself.

Already the Indian Government is trying hard to limit the damage. Mr Vajpayee would still be going to Pakistan in response to General Musharraf's invitation, they said - the process would continue.

Some analysts had accused his government of issuing its dramatic invitation to General Musharraf in the first place as a way of deflecting criticism at home, in the aftermath of the defence scandal.

Under pressure

If that were part of the thinking, the cure is already starting to look more dangerous than the sickness.

The political embarrassment, both at home and abroad, of a much heralded but failed summit could be longer lasting and potentially more damaging than corruption allegations at home.

Mr Vajpayee in particular had a lot to lose. Many described the search for a solution on India-Pakistan relations as very much his personal initiative, driven by his heart-felt vision of a breakthrough.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
Both leaders had little room for manoeuvre
Some said he craved the stature of a leader who could find a place in the history books. Allies insisted his motives were more altruistic.

The prime minister had already taken a major political risk in implementing the government's unilateral ceasefire in Indian Kashmir in the second half of last year.

That move sparked fierce opposition amongst many on the political right wing. It also lost him some support from the Indian security forces operating there.

Shift in stance

The collapse of the ceasefire - as a result of pressure from the political right and little evidence of any gain - could have had the appearance of the collapse of his whole bold new search for a solution to the Kashmir question - if it hadn't been carefully twinned with the summit invitation.

It was a sudden change of direction which caught analysts off guard and succeeded in re-focussing the political agenda.

But this move too was a major risk. To secure the invitation, Mr Vajpayee had to make an emotive concession - dropping India's long-standing preconditions for talks.

The groundwork needed to be laid carefully before the two leaders should be brought in for the grand public meeting to endorse it

He had to accept as an equal a difficult adversary, General Musharraf, suddenly self-declared President Musharraf.

The same man previously blamed in India as being the architect of the 1999 Kargil conflict was suddenly an honoured guest of the Prime Minister, deserving a red carpet welcome and Indian guard of honour.

It left many people feeling uncomfortable. Many ordinary people say they want better relations with Pakistan and progress on Kashmir - but there's also a high level of mistrust.

Many said they did support the prime minister in taking this risk - but at the same time were sceptical about Musharraf - was this really a man they could trust?

Now the apparent failure of this high-profile and politically high-risk summit is rekindling those memories.

No groundwork

In the run up to the summit, some analysts had questioned how the summit could make real progress when the positions of the two countries on central issues like Kashmir were still so far apart.

And with both leaders being watched closely by powerful conservative domestic lobbies, there was little sign of room for manoeuvre.

Some pointed out that the summit, called with such unseemly haste, had left little room for real homework. The groundwork needed to be laid carefully before the two leaders should be brought in for the grand public meeting to endorse it.

The implied response seemed to be that the engagement of the two personalities - Musharraf and Vajpayee - and their determination to forge progress would be the magic which could ensure success.

Now that optimism has been exposed as unfounded. Despite the hype, both sides are clearly still unable to find common ground on key issues.

Those opposed to the whole process must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Far from emerging as a great statesman of vision, Mr Vajpayee is left with a strategy which appears muddled and directionless.

In the long-running war with the hardline elements of his own government to chart a more moderate and liberal political course, he's just lost a crucial battle.

See also:

15 Jul 01 | South Asia
Positive start to Agra summit
14 Jul 01 | South Asia
Musharraf seeks fresh start with India
14 Jul 01 | South Asia
Indian press cautious on summit
06 Jul 01 | South Asia
India and Pakistan: Troubled relations
17 Jul 01 | South Asia
Q & A: What next after Agra?
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