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No More 'Megaphone Diplomacy' Over Kashmir

India and Pakistan's agreement to avoid any more ''megaphone diplomacy'' before a mid-July summit, expected to address their long-standing dispute over Kashmir, sets a better tone for the high-level meeting, reports Inter Press Service correspondent Ranjit Devraj from New Delhi.

This agreement was reached during a five-minute telephone conversation between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a few hours afer the military ruler, who calls himself chief executive officer, was sworn in as president of Pakistan on June 20. 

''It would be good if political rhetoric on both sides could be toned down before the summit meeting since it had an impact on political forces in both countries,'' a spokesperson for the Indian foreign ministry said.

On June 19, when the July 14-16 date for the summit was announced, Vajpayee reiterated that the status of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was not negotiable. What was open to negotiation, Vajpayee went on to say, was the third of the former princely state occupied by Pakistan or Azad (free) Kashmir as Islamabad calls it.

''We will try and find solutions for that (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) and other issues,'' Vajpayee told reporters in the western metropolis of Mumbai.

Vajpayee's statement was apparently made as a rejoinder to Musharraf's reported statements that Kashmir would be the core issue at the summit which is to take place in the city of Agra, famed for the Taj Mahal and other Mughal monuments.

Musharraf has also been reported referring to Kashmir as ''the unfinished agenda of the partition''. India and Pakistan were created out of British India following independence in 1947, when the former princely states were given the choice of joining one or the other country.

India considers the whole of Kashmir as a part of India since its ruler acceded to India, but Pakistan holds the position that the people of Kashmir should be allowed to vote in a plebiscite to decide which country they would like to join.

In 1994, India's Parliament resolved that territories held by Pakistan should be retrieved but many analysts believe that conversion of the Line of Control (LoC) , where the armies countries found themselves at the end of the 1971 war, could be turned into an international border.

However, few expect any serious change to come about as a result of the July summit. The foreign ministry spokesperson said it reflected a ''large picture of reconciliation and dialogue.''

India's High Commissioner in Pakistan, Vijay Nambiar said the main idea of the summit was to induce confidence between the two countries after the bloody six-month war they fought in 1999 on the LoC which divides Kashmir.

According to Nambiar, what really compelled the two countries to get together was globalisation and the fact that Kashmir had become a ''major hurdle for the development of the region''.

''If we can re-establish confidence and resume the Lahore process after the summit that would be a great achievement,'' Nambiar said.

Lahore city in Pakistan was where the last Indo-Pakistan summit took place in February 1999, when Vajpayee symbolically crossed over the border riding a bus to sign the Lahore Declaration with then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharief..

But the Pakistan army, then headed by Musharraf, was opposed to the Lahore process and instigated massive infiltration across the LoC. That led to the bloody Kargil war which ended only after former United States President Bill Clinton pressured Islamabad to withdraw the infiltrators.

In October 1999, soon after the end of the Kargil war, Sharif was ousted in a bloodless coup by Musharraf and India refused to open dialogue with the military dictator. Vajpayee's May 23 invitation to Musharraf for a summit came as a surprise to many, but as Nambiar said: ''I think even a military regime can establish the broad parametres for the foundations for good relations.''

Musharraf's new position as president would greatly enhance his authority and legitimacy, and according to observers in both Pakistan and India, was done with the July summit in view.

''We can now accord him full honours due to a head of state -- we did not know where how to fit a chief executive officer (CEO), into protocol,'' said an official here.

Musharraf's move was seen in Islamabad as an attempt to get more credibility in order to meet Vajpayee on equal footing as Pakistan's leader, but some here said Musharraf's assumption of a civilian leadership makes little real difference, since as one of said, ''we all know who calls the shots''. Islamabad officials deny any link to the summit.

Still, there is scepticism about the outcome of the talks unless Musharraf agrees to stop supporting militancy in Indian Kashmir. So far, he has refused to do that, saying it is linked to the progress of dialogue between the two countries.

In spite of Vajpayee's statement asserting that Kashmir's status as an integral part of India is not negotiable, the issue is certain to be discussed at the summit.

''We know that Pakistan will insist on discussing the core issue (Kashmir) and we are not going to shy away from it,'' Nambiar said during a television interview aired June 20.

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