Focus on one-to-one talks

NEW DELHI, JUNE 16. The visit of the Pakistan Chief Executive, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is likely to be structured in a manner that would let him spend considerable time in direct talks with the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee. Extended one-on-one sessions, it is hoped here, would allow the leaders to discuss a broad range of issues without prejudice and the stifling presence of bureaucrats.

Sources familiar with the planning for Gen. Musharraf's visit hope the format would help the two leaders get to know each other better and understand the motivations, objectives and difficulties of the interlocutor. A personal rapport at the top is crucial, it is being suggested, if India and Pakistan are to sustain the latest round of engagement. Neither side would want Gen. Musharraf's visit to become just another one-shot affair, like the summit at Lahore two years ago. The sources also cautioned against excessive expectations from the talks. Having learnt the lessons from Lahore and Kargil, the foreign policy planners are determined to be realistic in their approach to Pakistan. India believes that the encounter with Gen. Musharraf is important and wants to reach out to him. But there is no room for romanticism.

There was a flurry of activity today in the foreign office, assessing Gen. Musharraf's comments on Indo-Pakistan relations in a television programme on Friday. The political assessment of the General's remarks here has not been negative. But the foreign office was certainly outraged by some of his remarks, in particular the undiplomatic comments on the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh.

A Foreign Office spokesperson responded to questions from the press on Gen. Musharraf's suggestion that Pakistan may be more open-minded than India with a cryptic counter-question. ``How can we gauge how open a mind is until it is opened?'' She was implying India would not be found wanting in the game of political posturing and verbal sparring with Pakistan. She would also not let Gen. Musharraf get away with trivialising Mr. Singh's statement at a press conference last month that Kashmir is an ``integral part of India''. Last night, Gen. Musharraf said he hoped the statement was ``just a view'' and ``not a position'' to be taken in the coming dialogue on Kashmir.

The spokeswoman hit back: ``The External Affairs Minister was not giving his personal views or simply making a statement. He was reiterating the provisions of the Constitution of India''.

At the press briefing, Mr. Singh was reluctant to be drawn into an assertion of well-known positions on Kashmir. And his remarks were in response to persistent questioning from reporters on the emphasis by the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Mr. Abdul Sattar, on ``self-determination'' for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf surely know they need to go beyond the stated positions on Jammu and Kashmir. But their foreign offices believe they are under constant pressure to reaffirm all the cliches in response to those from across the border.

Bureaucrats are trained to defend old positions to death. That probably is the reason why Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf want to keep the officials outside the door when they explore a future Indo-Pakistan relationship very different from the one in the past.