- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan has just become even more dangerous, with the acrimonious collapse of a crucial summit meeting between the two nations' leaders.

Pakistan's military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf stunned his Indian hosts by flying home late yesterday without agreeing to a much-debated joint declaration that would have given a road map for future relations.

Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, was the summit's insurmountable obstacle, as it has been throughout the 54-years since the two neighbors gained their independence. Pakistan says the state should have self-determination.

The failure of the summit came down to semantic differences that saw the two sides exchange at least nine separate drafts of the proposed communique.

According to sources in the two delegations, Pakistan could not agree to India's insistence that a reference to violence by Pakistan-backed Muslim separatists in Kashmir be included in the declaration.

India, for its part, objected to a reference to Kashmir as the key factor in improving relations.

The collapse of the summit leaves vital issues in limbo, including nuclear-risk reduction and a proposed gas pipeline to carry Iranian gas to India via Pakistan.

More than three years since they tested nuclear weapons, the two countries have yet to agree on mechanisms to limit the risk of accidental use of nuclear weapons.

"It is a disaster. The Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan will be cheering," said Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jehangir, who attended the summit as an observer.

An upsurge in violence in Kashmir during the summit may be a harbinger of worse things to come. Indian media reports said at least 50 persons were killed in violence between separatists and security forces yesterday.

The early progress, which had seen India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee strike a rapport with Gen. Musharraf, began unraveling Sunday when Pakistan took strong exception to highly selective press briefings given by India's information and broadcasting minister, Sushma Swaraj.

In numerous interviews, the minister had omitted Kashmir from a list of issues discussed. She said the oversight was not deliberate, but the move was widely seen as an attempt by hard-line Hindu nationalists in Mr. Vajpayee's government to sabotage any agreement.

The poisoned mood prevailed yesterday, despite valiant efforts by the two leaders and their officials to salvage an agreement.

As officials worked to reconcile differences, Gen. Musharraf, 58, delayed his departure from Agra for more than nine hours. But shortly before midnight, he drove to Mr. Vajpayee's hotel, paid his respects, and then drove to the airport and flew home.

While hopes were high among ordinary Pakistanis for an end to the bitter rivalry with India, analysts believe the general will be welcomed home as a hero.

"He will be seen as having stuck to his guns," said Ayaz Amir, a respected Pakistani columnist.

But popularity aside, the failure to reach accord leaves Pakistan vulnerable to forces that Western diplomats say are undermining democracy and the fabric of a once-moderate Muslim nation, and could even lead to war.

"I'm afraid that we are not looking at the restoration of democracy in Pakistan for some time. General Musharraf will now ride on a crest as the hero of Kashmir," said Miss Jehangir. "We may actually end up at some point with skirmishes leading to war."

The result also weakens Mr. Vajpayee, who staked his reputation on a successful outcome, and now faces a backlash.

The Indian leader had overturned the country's policy of not talking to Pakistan's military government until it ceased fomenting violence in Kashmir to invite the general for talks.

He has little to show for abandoning the moral high ground, and Hindu nationalists are already claiming that Gen. Musharraf exploited Mr. Vajpayee's trust to gain legitimacy.

Also in doubt is a planned visit to Pakistan later this year by Mr. Vajpayee, and high-level political contacts that had been agreed to before the two sides lost control of their brinkmanship.

"The proceedings at Agra, whose famous Taj Mahal is a monument to love, have left a bitter taste. They [Vajpayee and Musharraf] have played with the emotions of over a billion people. I think they are both to blame. They cannot call themselves leaders," said Miss Jehangir.

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