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Oppn backs tough stand at Agra summit

July 20, 2001

The Economic Times
July 20, 2001

Oppn backs tough stand at Agra summit 

Vajpayee's Meeting With Pervez At UN Session Sidelines Not Certain

The opposition has backed the tough stance taken by the Vajpayee government during the ill-fated Agra Summit with the caveat that its media management could have been better.

Representatives of the opposition parties at an all-party meeting here tonight were in total agreement with the government in criticising the 'cowboy' diplomacy of President Pervez Musharraf. The deliberations were marked by a strong consensus that India should not take more uni-lateral initiatives for improving bilateral ties unless it was sure that Pakistan would reciprocate The participants also agreed that the format of the bilateral interactions in future should be such as to leave no room for Pakistan to indulge in gimmicks of the type it used at Agra.

The all-party meeting had been called by the government to brief the opposition the reasons that led to the fiasco at Agra amid indications that the opposition was bracing to launch an attack on the government over the matter in the Monsoon session of Parliament beginning July 23. The meeting did see opposition parties joining hands with some of the components of the NDA to criticise the government for not matching the propaganda blitz by Islamabad, and by letting President Musharraf 'sabotage' all the efforts to make deliberations at Agra a structured event.

The government, however, should still be comfortable with the outcome for a host of reasons. Not only did it get away lightly, the meeting also saw, courtesy the scars left by the brinkmanship of President Musharraf a toughening of mood against Pakistan. The sullenness caused by the conduct of President Musharraf was demonstrated well when P A Sangma of the NCP joined hands with Bal Thackeray's lieutenant, Anant Geethe, in calling for a 'no truck' policy toward Pakistan as long as it continued to support terrorism in J&K. Likewise, the participants were also unanimous that Vajpayee should not visit Islamabad, and there was all round satisfaction when external affairs minister Jaswant Singh indicated that there was no immediate plan to visit Pakistan notwithstanding his acceptance of President Musbarraf's invitation. In fact, the foreign minister ruled out any engagement with Pakistan in the near future and he also said that Prime Minister Vajpayee's meeting with the Pakistan president on the sidelines of the UN general assembly session at New York in September was not yet certain.

The event saw the opposition letting off the steam, and that means that the government can afford to

breathe easy when Prime Minister A B Vajpayee makes his promised statement on the inaugural day of the session. Vajpayee's crisis managers had anticipated an attack for allowing Pakistan to score some brownie points on the propaganda front. Vajpayee, however, managed to blunt the criticism with disarming confession right at the outset. He conceded that Pakistan fared better insofar as 'media management' was concerned. He, however, pointed out that New Delhi, unlike Pakistan, could not have thrown the time-tasted norms of diplomacy to winds for short-term tactical gains. He also said that President Musharraf's sole mission was to pander to the fundamentalist gallery back home.

Notwithstanding his reticence, the Prime Minister was in full flow at the meeting which lasted some three hours tonight.

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