DAWN - Opinion; 06 July, 2004

July 06, 2004


Change the system

By Shahid Javed Burki

On June 26, Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali resigned after 19 months in office, bringing to closure the rumours that he would be required to leave his post. The rumours had persisted for 37 days by the former prime minister's own reckoning.

Jamali gave no reason for his resignation which he announced at a meeting held at the PML House in Islamabad, the headquarters of the governing party. He carefully followed a script that was obviously written for him at the presidency.

Jamali nominated Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, PML's president as his successor but only for an interim period. The job would eventually go to Shaukat Aziz, one of the longest serving Finance Ministers in Pakistan and widely credited for pulling the country out of a deep economic slump.

Aziz would have to wait to fulfil the constitutional requirement for getting himself seated in the national assembly by winning a special by-election. Unlike the Indian constitution, Pakistan's basic law does not allow a member of the upper house - the Senate, in Pakistan's case - to become prime minister.

In announcing that Aziz will be the ultimate occupant of the chair vacated by Jamali, Shujaat Hussain did not lay down the time line. He did not indicate how long would it take for Aziz to find a safe seat from which he could be elected.

The Musharraf-Jamali fallout reminded people of a similar situation in 1988 when President Ziaul Haq dismissed Muhammad Khan Junejo, his handpicked prime minister. But Jamali was not dismissed, he resigned. Also Jamali, unlike Junejo, did not attempt to challenge Musharraf by unduly exerting his authority.

Junejo had worked hard to create some room for himself in the power structure and had succeeded to some extent. He had managed to sideline the president - Gen Ziaul Haq at that time - on the important issue of securing peace in Afghanistan.

The Geneva accord signed by Pakistan in 1988 with Afghanistan, the Soviet Union and the United States as the other parties did not have the support of the president. General Zia was upset; he believed that his prime minister had acted prematurely.

The Soviet Union, by pulling out of Afghanistan at a time when no viable successor was in place, would create a vacuum and therefore chaos. Events vindicated the president.

"In the system we have created it is now clear that there is not enough space for two individuals with authority," General Zia said in a conversation I had with him in late July 1988, a couple of weeks before he died in an air crash.

"Junejo is an extremely decent man. If I couldn't work with him, I wouldn't have been able to work with anybody." General Zia also told me that he was working on changing the constitution and bringing a presidential form of government to the country.

He was thinking of splitting Pakistan's four provinces into about twenty states, each to be governed by a governor directly elected by the people. Jamali did not present General Musharraf with the same kind of challenge that Junejo had posed for President Zia.

What then was the reason for his removal? There were explanations provided by the western press? According to John Lancaster and Kamran Khan of The Washington Post, "a close aide to Musharraf who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in forcing Jamali out, the president sought to redress the grievances of politicians from Punjab... Hussain, the interim prime minister is from Punjab as is Aziz."

My own view is that Musharraf, by replacing Jamali with Aziz, was not seeking provincial balance at the highest echelon of government. Salman Masood and Amy Waldman of The New York Times were closer to the mark when they wrote that "having a technocrat prime minister may also be an attempt to signal the president's commitment to broadly reforming Pakistani society."

The president was clearly looking for competence in the person who should head the government. "He is facing a rising law and order problem in Karachi, a nationalist movement and a pro-Taliban government in Balochistan, and an on-going conflict with Al Qaeda militants and their supporters in the North West Frontier Provinces," continued The New York Times reporters.

The same line was taken by the Financial Times. Jamali's departure "came as a result of General Musharraf's frustration with what he saw as the ineffectiveness of [his] government."

Would this change in leadership bring political security and sustained economic development to the country? I am at this time working on a book under the sponsorship of the Woodrow Wilson Centre at Washington that raises the same question but in a wider context.

The book deals with the Musharraf period and its main thesis is that bit by bit the Pakistani president is putting together a project to rescue his country from all manner of possible pitfalls.

When he assumed office in October 1999, Pakistan stood at the edge of an abyss, with its economy in disarray and close to bankruptcy, with a political system that was on the verge of being hijacked by the leader of the party that had a large enough majority to endlessly tinker with the constitution, with the law and order situation deteriorating rapidly and with Pakistan's reputation abroad in tatters.

Now, five years later, the economy is healthy. Some of the country's reputation has also been repaired. But the law and order situation remains troubled and the political system has still to become functional.

There will have to be palpable improvements in these two areas before what I have called "Musharraf's Pakistan project" in the book can be said to have succeeded. Will the passing of the baton from Jamali to Aziz get the country to move in the right direction in these two important areas?

A change in the leadership helps if there is a solid institutional base to support it. That has still to be created. Would the Musharraf-Aziz team succeed when so many other attempts in Pakistan's troubled political history have failed? There are times when situations demand fundamental changes - a revolution rather than an evolution.

There are challenges and opportunities in both courses - probably more challenges in the revolutionary approach and more opportunities in going the evolutionary way.

A revolution would mean going down the route President Zia was planning to take in the summer of 1988. General Musharraf could have taken that route in October 1999 by scrapping the 1973 Constitution and establishing a new political order in the country.

He could have opted in favour of a presidential form of government of the type established by General Ayub Khan and contemplated by General Ziaul Haq. He chose not to adopt that course fearful that he would end up opening a Pandora's box.

He felt and was also advised that it would be exceedingly difficult to get a new constitution accepted with the country so deeply divided. Constitutions serve the people for as long as they have the respect of those who are required to live within the constraints imposed by them.

They are, after all, not God's revealed word. They should be dispensed with if they hinder rather than help the business of governance. That has been the case with the 1973 constitution in Pakistan.

Not only was it suspended twice by the military; little respect for it was shown by civilian politicians when they were in power. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rammed through amendments without debate and was on the verge of introducing another that would have given him near dictatorial power.

What has been the record of constitutional durability in other parts of the world? The United States was exceedingly fortunate that a remarkable group of men, the country's founding fathers, were able to draft a simple document that has withstood the test of time.

That notwithstanding, the way the country is now governed does not resemble the way the founding fathers had originally envisaged. Not only twenty-six amendments brought new features into the American constitution.

Sometimes an activist Supreme Court interpreted constitutional provisions to expand the scope of federal government's operations and to give more rights to the disadvantaged segments of the population.

India was similarly fortunate in that its constitution although heavily amended, has survived in its original form for more than half a century. While the Indian constitution has preserved the country's basic law by keeping a parliamentary system of government in place, the country is governed very differently from the way Jawaharlal Nehru ruled the country as its first prime minister.

In practice India is much more of a federation now than Nehru had envisaged at the time he piloted the constitution through the Constituent Assembly. The Indian states now wield tremendous authority, one reason why regional parties have become so powerful in the country.

It is now exceedingly unlikely that India will ever be ruled by a single national party as was the case for four decades when the Congress was all powerful. With coalition governments of various shapes and hues, the state will continue to increase their power and the centre will continue to weaken.

There are examples where constitutions had to be abrogated since they did not bring political stability. Latin America has many countries in which new constitutional arrangements were experimented with for more than a hundred years.

It was only over the last ten to fifteen years that the region has adopted the presidential form of government. And then there is France, from our perspective a country with a more interesting constitutional history and now with a system that may have some relevance for Pakistan.

France is now into its "fifth republic" after discarding four arrangements that simply did not work. The fourth republic saw governments and prime ministers come and go with the frequency that lost France respect among the community of developed nations.

It was General Charles De Gaulle, a man in uniform, with vision and with great ambition for France, who devised the power sharing formula that was to become the most important feature of the constitution that ushered in the Fifth Republic.

Power under this dispensation is shared between the president and the prime minister. The former has the responsibility for giving strategic direction to the work of the government presided over by the prime minister.

The president also has the assistance of the foreign minister. He chooses the prime minister who need not be the head of the political party with the largest presence in the legislature.

However, the prime minister is required to win a vote of confidence in the assembly for him to hold office after being placed in that position by the president.

Political stability is ensured when the French president and prime minister are from the same political party. That has not always been the case. The French have learned to live with "cohabitation" when the two principal office holders in the state are from different parties.

Since General Musharraf has chosen to go the evolutionary route, he should seriously look at the possibility of making the Pakistani system move in the direction of France. The 17th amendment passed by the National Assembly in January 2004 gives him enough space within which he can exercise executive authority.

The assembly's resolution that created the National Security Council chaired by him gives him an institution with the help of which he can keep a watchful eye over the prime minister and the working of his cabinet. With these powers available to him, he could let the day to day affairs of the state to be managed by the prime minister.

Kashmir and the peace process

By Mahdi Masud

The resumption of the composite Pak-India dialogue at the Foreign secretaries' level in Delhi on June 27 and 28 provides an opportunity to review the progress of the peace process since the path-breaking Musharaf-Vajpayee statement of January 6, 2004, on the sidelines of the Saarc summit in Islamabad.

Over a hundred cross-border goodwill visits by civil society and political figures, numerous CBMs and a few substantive agreement notwithstanding, there has been no discernible move forward on the Kashmir issue. Over a thousand people have been killed in occupied Kashmir since the Islamabad Declaration of January 6, 2004.

The joint statement issued by the foreign secretaries at the end of the Delhi meeting reiterated the commitment of the two sides to the principles and purposes of the UN Charter and their determination to implement the Simla agreement in letter and spirit.

The new Indian government has, thereby, confirmed its intention, as earlier indicated by Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, to treat the Simla agreement (concluded in the wake of the debacle of 1971), as the basis of dialogue with Pakistan.

The Lahore Declaration is conspicuous by its absence in the joint statement. The only reference to the Islamabad Declaration (described by the Pakistan president "the basis of ditente") occurs way down (clause 4) only in the context of President Musharaf's assurance on of terrorism.

Although the composite dialogue resumed in New Delhi on June 27 and 28, with the sole item of peace and security CBMs and Jammu and Kashmir on the agenda, the reference to Kashmir is contained only in one clause of the joint statement.

Reiterating the usual pious intentions, the statement refers to "the hope that the dialogue will lead to peaceful settlement of all bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both the parties.

They held detailed exchange of views and agreed to continue serious and sustained dialogue to find a peacefully negotiated final settlement". Although no one expected any breakthrough at this early stage, there was not even a hint of any relaxation of India's rigid position on Kashmir.

Foreign Secretary Khokhar was being honest when he cautioned against any "hype" about the outcome of the meeting, though he described it as a good beginning. President Musharraf has told Indian and world opinion, time and again, that "there has to be a linkage/simultaneity between the CBMs and the composite dialogue, and that the CBMs could not be allowed to take the place of a composite dialogue on Kashmir.

This is, however, precisely what is likely to happen in the absence of any move forward on Kashmir, contrasting with the rush of events and exchanges in numerous fields in line with Indian priorities.

In spite of repeated Indian professions of peace and goodwill, not once has any Indian spokesman, political or bureaucratic, spoken of the possibility of a change in the status quo of Kashmir.

The soft Indian line is represented by the suggestion for freezing the problem, to be taken up later, as stated by the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan during a talk in Lahore in May. The traditional position is an insistence on retaining the LoC as the international border with minor adjustments.

With reference to peace and security, the joint statement states that "the two sides proposed a comprehensive framework of conventional CBMs aimed at initiating and enhancing communication, coordination and interaction".

It is not known whether the dangers in the increasing conventional imbalance resulting from India's augmented arms build-up (and the impact of the imbalance on the nuclear threshold) are receiving serious consideration of the Indian authorities.

It was agreed that the New Delhi meetings on the six remaining subjects of the composite dialogue (Siachen, Sir Creek, Wuller barrage, terrorism and drugs, trade and economic cooperation, exchanges in cultural and other fields) would be completed by early August, to enable the foreign secretaries of the two countries to review progress in the dialogue process and prepare for the next meeting of the foreign ministers, which, according to a Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman, world mark the culmination of the current phase of the composite process.

Since the joint statement does not reflect any tangible advance on Kashmir, one hopes that further ground would be covered on the subject between now and the foreign ministers' meeting due for August.

The measures relating to nuclear CBMs proposed by the experts meeting of the two countries, confirmed by the foreign secretaries at the Delhi meeting, covered provisions of the Lahore memo of understanding (such as prior notification of missile flight tests and unilateral ban on further nuclear tests) and procedural improvements such as a hot line between the foreign secretaries.

There was also a substantive decision to finalize a formal agreement on prior notification of missile flight tests. The hope is that as confidence and cooperation develops, significant suggestions for nuclear restraint, proposed by Pakistan and some by Indian agencies would be seriously considered.

These include avoidance of an anti-ballistic missile system likely to threalen the other side and destabilize the basis of ditente. Pakistan has stressed the advisability of a minimum level of nuclear deterrence.

Suggestions have also been made for avoiding the deployment of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles within a specified range of the common border. While the dialogue on Kashmir could be stretched indefinitely by India as a sop to Pakistani susceptibilities, the rapid change in ground realities resulting from the numerous CBMs and exchanges in various fields may effectively consign Kashmir to a back-burner of public consciousness.

With exchanges in many fields, the situation may become irreversible, irrespective of what happened on the negotiating track on Kashmir. In the developing situation, the desired linkage between the CBMs and the composite dialogue on Kashmir is likely to be overtaken by events.

Nothing stated above is meant to detract from the importance of the peace process, for nothing is more important for India and Pakistan than economic and social development, for which durable peace in the subcontinent is indispensable.

However, in relations with India and on the issue of Kashmir, there is only one way that Pakistan can reconcile the dictates of realism with the demands of popular will and historical obligations. This is by treating peace with India as indispensable and linking full normalization in India with discernible progress on Kashmir.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Saddam's trial

By Omar Kureishi

It has already been billed as the trial of the century though this century is still in its diapers. The court itself, whatever little we have been shown of it, resembles a movie set and a tight rein is being kept on the video footage.

Sovereignty may have been passed on to the Iraqis, television coverage of Saddam Hussein's trial will be controlled by the Americans. The Iraqis have been given the legal custody but Saddam Hussein remains in the physical custody of the multinational forces as they are now called.

Bringing Saddam to justice may be the ultimate objective but for the present it is meant to boost the popularity of George Bush and if Osama bin Laden can be killed or captured it would be game, set and match for Bush in the coming elections.

But will it mean the end of violence in Iraq or Afghanistan? We had already been warned that the insurgency would intensify and it is not enough to say that there are " bad guys" who don't want to see a free and democratic Iraq.

A free and democratic Iraq was not on the list of reasons for invading Iraq. The reason given was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat to its neighbours and in the case of Tony Blair, he narrowed the threat to 45 minutes.

Forty-five minutes sounded precise, as if it had been measured by a slide-rule. Of course the reasons kept changing. No weapons of mass destruction have been found. Then regime-change became fashionable as Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant. But this was skating on thin ice.

There is the legal adage that one must come to court with clean hands. Both the United States and Britain had been complicit in the rise to power of Saddam Hussein and were virtually accomplices in the war Iraq fought with Iran.

The Iraq-Iran war is listed in the charge-sheet drawn up against Saddam Hussein and if the trial is a fair one, there ought to be some highly embarrassing disclosures. But the brutality of Saddam on its own did not justify the mounting casualties of the coalition forces and an emotive element had to be introduced to which people could relate.

Saddam Hussein had to be linked with 9/11. And so the connection was made without a shred of evidence. The preliminary report of the 9/11 commission, however threw cold water on this and found " no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.

"George Bush's response had a touch of Louis XIV ("I am the state"). He said: " The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and Al Qaeda is because there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

"That's proof enough. It's the sort of logic Saddam Hussein might have used himself. That Saddam Hussein is being tried in an Iraqi court and by the Iraqis themselves is a bit of fiction.

So far he has been denied a lawyer. He was brought to court, his hands cuffed and a chain around his waist but these were removed when he appeared in court. But this fact was well publicised.

Chastened by the power of photographs, the television coverage was tightly controlled, not by the Iraqis but by the US armed forces. I think it is important to make the point that those who were against the war in Iraq are not sympathizers or admirers of Saddam Hussein.

Saddam's regime was a brutal one and there is little doubt that he had contempt for human rights. But was he worse than Pinochet of Chile? And the Argentine generals or the Greek colonels? Or the many despots that are still in business? War crime trials and to which is now added crimes against humanity are always show trials because they have been seen as the revenge of the victors, as an outpouring of self-righteousness.

Nuremberg took account of the war crimes committed by the Nazi leadership but took no account of the war crimes committed by the winning side. By any legal or moral definition the fire-bombing of Dresden by the RAF was a war crime.

Dresden was neither a military nor an industrial target. It was a defenceless city. Thousands of people were killed. It was, as the expression goes, shooting fish in a barrel.

Three million Vietnamese died in a war that was waged to save Vietnam from itself. "O liberty! O liberty! what crimes are committed in thy name!" Mme Roland's stirring denunciation rings true more than ever.

The trial of Saddam Hussein is not expected to commence till 2005. By that time the American elections would be over. Hopefully, elections will also be held in Iraq by that time and there will be a government in Iraq that represents the will of the Iraqi people.

The present Iraqi government has been cobbled together and lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people. It has been given responsibility for the sake of public appearance but real authority has been withheld.

The foremost need is that killing has to stop. The Iraqis have already paid a terrible price for their ' liberation'. The invasion of Iraq was not undertaken on the invitation of the Iraqi people.

I think it is right and proper that Saddam Hussein should be held accountable. But the accountability should not stop there. Saddam's crimes may have been horrendous but they still do not justify a full-scale war on Iraq. A war that has gone horribly wrong except for those who had planned it and fudged the reasons for it.

The United Nations had been spurned with chest-thumping arrogance but in the end it has been the United Nations that has played such a central role in the handing over of sovereignty even if it's token or virtual.

It is now for the United Nations to declare pre-emption to be in violation of international law. Self-defence too has to be re-defined anew. And the people of the United States must start questioning their leaders more closely about the unqualified and come-what-may support of Israel. "What's in it for us? " they should ask.

Can terminology tip the balance?

By M.J. Akbar

It is of course entirely coincidental that Pakistan will soon join India in making an IMF alumni its prime minister. While reasons vary, this reflects, at least partly, a growing urge in the developing world to place men at the top who are honest, efficiency-driven and committed to economic reform.

At the top, but not at the very top. The political class that has permitted them to rise has given them the responsibilities of office but denied them the privileges of political power. Both Shaukat Aziz, when he becomes PM, and Dr Manmohan Singh, who has already been sworn in, have a boss. One is the president of the country, and the other is president of a political party.

In Pakistan this works, because there is no confusion about the limits of democracy. Power in Islamabad grows out of the barrel of the gun, and therefore remains clearly in the grasp of President Pervez Musharraf and the corps commanders who keep him in the chair. If the Pakistan prime minister wants to set policy, he knows whose permission he must take.

Delhi is different. The prime minister is the fountainhead of power because he, or she, is in office by virtue of a popular mandate. But since the last general election threw up a complex jigsaw puzzle, Dr Singh got the job that should have gone to Mrs Sonia Gandhi.

Ideally, a prime minister in India should be the first among equals in his cabinet. But for some of his senior colleagues, Dr Singh is less than equal. They believe that he is a transitional figure, or even a figurehead, the winner of a lottery that he does not quite deserve. They do not accord him the courtesy, or accept the necessity, of consulting him. This has led to what could be the first gaffe of the new government.

Traditionally, the prime minister plays a much larger role in the exercise of foreign policy than he does over other departments not directly in his charge. The reason is obvious; foreign policy deals with state to state relations.

Relations with Pakistan are particularly sensitive, and there has never been a prime minister who has not overseen this aspect of state policy. There are indications that foreign minister Natwar Singh chooses to keep his own counsel even on Pakistan policy.

If he had consulted the prime minister's office, the joint statement at the end of the foreign secretaries' conference in Delhi in June might have been formulated with more care.

But Mr Natwar Singh believes he knows more than anyone else on his subject, and that he is accountable to his party president rather than his prime minister. Mr Natwar Singh's motives were not very complex.

He wanted to establish a new framework for the dialogue between India and Pakistan for three reasons. First, he wanted his personal signature on policy. Second, he is keen to suggest that the BJP's approach was inadequate, if not amateur. Third, he wanted to pay homage to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has given him his present job.

And so he brought into play the idea that the Indo-Pakistan dialogue should be based on the Shimla pact, signed between Mrs Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972, which brought the 1971 war to a formal end.

The Shimla pact did end the war, but it did not initiate a peace. Many commentators have noted that Mrs Gandhi won the war against Gen Yahya Khan in 1971 with adroit skill but lost the peace against Bhutto in 1972 with inexplicable feebleness.

One prominent individual to hold such a view is Mr Natwar Singh's colleague in the new government, Mr J.N. Dixit, foreign secretary under Mr Narasimha Rao and national security adviser to Dr Singh. He might have warned Mr Singh about the quicksand at the centre of the Shimla Pact.

Bhutto came to Shimla with nothing in his hand except perhaps a wild card or two. He was leader of a nation that had been physically divided and psychologically decimated.

The Pakistan Army was shattered after the humiliating surrender to India, and nearly 100,000 of its personnel were prisoners of war. There was a strong view in India that this was a moment to resolve the status of Jammu and Kashmir through a treaty that Pakistan would have to honour.

Instead it was Bhutto who had reasons to smile after the Shimla pact. The positions of the two countries on Kashmir are too well known to need much reiteration. Jawaharlal Nehru went to the United Nations in 1947 in the hope that the UN would be an honest broker.

It was partly out of idealism and faith in the newly-formed world body, and partly naivete: the world was still young after the bloodletting of the Second World War and the consequent collapse of colonialism.

Pakistan seized on this mistake and has insisted that a UN-sponsored plebiscite is the only way out. India says a plebiscite is now out of the question, since the Pakistan army never vacated the territory it seized in the first war of 1947-48, and that a bilateral dialogue is the only way forward. Pakistan, conversely, has insisted on a reference to the United Nations Charter.

So what happened at Shimla in 1972?The reference to the United Nations Charter was retained in the pact: "That the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations shall govern relations between the two countries."

More important, the accord said that the clauses would be without prejudice to the recognized positions of either side pending a "final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir". This is unambiguous.

Pakistan agreed to respect the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir, but then so did India. This becomes a restrictive clause when any suggestion is made to cross the line to stop cross-border terrorism.

A post-accord theory was floated in Delhi that the Shimla Accord is tantamount to a final settlement on the basis of the Line of Control. Perhaps Mr Natwar Singh believes that. If so, all one can say is that he has not read the details of the accord in a long long while.

Bhutto did agree at Shimla to find a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem through negotiations. He was in power for five effective years after the accord. How many times did he visit India for such negotiations after he had got the signature on the accord, all his PoWs back and peace on the western front at a time when the Pakistan Army was in its worst shape? Naturally, not once.

Instead, he rebuilt the strength of the Pakistan military services with much help from his nation's friends, and secretly initiated the nuclear programme that has enabled Pakistan to become a nuclear power.

The consequences of the Shimla Non-Agreement have been evident in the last three decades: insurrections in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, Kargil and a heavy price paid in blood. As for the talks, we are still talking about them.

Atal Behari Vajpayee made three attempts to break this blood-stained deadlock; in effect, to move beyond Shimla. His first, in Lahore, was sabotaged by Kargil. His second, at Agra, was destroyed at the last minute by either deliberate will or poor planning.

The third, initiated in 2003, held the most promise because both India and Pakistan indicated that they had learnt from mistakes and still retained the will to carry the idea of peace forward.

It was a work in progress when the Vajpayee government was defeated. The talks between the foreign secretaries was part of the structure constructed between Mr Vajpayee and President Musharraf during their historic meeting in Islamabad in January.

A quiet but consistent effort of Indian diplomacy has been to play down, if not entirely negate, any reference to the United Nations. This has not been easy, because it means convincing Pakistan that there is hope outside the UN, and that a plebiscite is now a non-starter.

This was not easy, for the idea of a plebiscite has been fundamental to Pakistan's Kashmir policy. It is a tribute to Mr Vajpayee that he managed to persuade President Musharraf to drop the demand for a plebiscite.

The latter first tested such a radical change in his country's position a little before the Islamabad meeting, and has been carefully encouraging Pakistani public opinion to think out of the box.

There are many reasons to regret the failure of the Agra Summit. The most important one, from the Indian perspective, is that if the Agra Declaration had been signed it would have been the first time that Pakistan had inked a document without a single reference to the United Nations. It was, in that sense, a historic departure from past Pakistani positions.

There was no mention of the United Nations at Islamabad in January this year. By a kind of unspoken consent both countries were moving away from the past that had held them back.

Suddenly in June Mr Natwar Singh has agreed to a reference to the UN Charter in a joint statement just because he wanted a wholly unnecessary mention of the Shimla Accord. The Pakistan delegation must have been laughing all the way back to Islamabad.

They gave away nothing on either Jammu and Kashmir or on bilateral relations, as we have seen, when agreeing to make Shimla the framework while restoring what was being quietly, but effectively, denied to them - a reference to the UN.

Diplomats are meant to achieve win-win situations. This must go down as a classic defeat-defeat situation. Does a change in terminology lead to substantive damage? It may not, but diplomats fight over every word only because it can. Relations between India and Pakistan rest on such a fine balance that even a memory can tip the scales.

The writer is editor-in-chief Asian Age, New Delhi.