LAHORE - While most of the Indian leaders are opposed to Pakistan and publicly say they want to break it up, Atal Behari Vajpayee was the one who had tried to improve relations with the Islamic republic.
He had come to Lahore in February 1999 by a bus and held talks with then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as a result of which the famous Lahore Declaration was signed between the two nuclear states.
Although this was a very important development, even more important was his visit to the Minar-i-Pakistan, the monument set up at what was previously known as Minto Park, the place where the Pakistan Resolution was adopted in March 1940 in the presence of the Quaid-i-Azam.
In his speech in Lahore, Vajpayee had admitted that many people had advised him not to visit the Minar-i-Pakistan as such a step would amount to giving the stamp of approval to the creation of Pakistan. But he said he rejected the advice.
“I insisted on coming because I saw no logic in what was being told to me and I made it loud and clear to them that Pakistan does not require my stamp for its entity. Pakistan has its own entity,’ Mr Vajpayee said.
“If somebody back home asks this question, this will be my answer there too”, said the Indian leader.
This was the most important remark by the Indian leader, although the other outcome of the visit also could not be underestimated.
(The writer had covered the visit for a different newspaper then).
Under the Lahore Declaration both countries pledged to a peaceful resolution of bilateral disputes, especially Kashmir, and fostering friendly commercial and cultural relationships. The declaration stated that the two sides would engage in bilateral consultations on security concepts, nuclear doctrines and avoidance of conflicts. The two countries also agreed to give advance notification of ballistic missile flight tests and conclude bilateral agreements. They were also committed to undertaking necessary measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorised incidents that could lead to a nuclear war.
A reception was hosted at the Governor’s House where Khwaja Hassan presented the welcome address, focusing on the development works carried out by the PML-N government.
The speech of the Indian prime minister was so captivating that as a journalist it was hard to edit any sentence thereof.
He also praised the Quaid-i-Azam as a “Mahan” leader.
Mr Vajpayee also recited his poem ‘Ab jung naa hone denge hum’ (we’ll not let the war break out).
In the evening, a dinner was organised at the historical Lahore Fort.
A religious party held a protest near the Bhaati Gate, which fell on the route the Indian prime minister was supposed to use to reach the historical place. The police force was used to disperse the demonstrators.
However, the Lahore visit did not improve relations between the two sides.
Mian Nawaz Sharif alleges that Kargil operation launched by Gen Musharraf without taking him into confidence had changed the situation.
Gen Musharraf, on the other hand, insisted that Mr Sharif had been briefed many a time on the subject.
Gen Musharraf also tried to improve relations with India by paying a visit to Agra in July 2001. Mr Vajpayee was the prime minister.
Various rounds of one-on-one talks were held between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee. On the first day, the two leaders discussed the Kashmir issue, cross-border terrorism, nuclear risk reduction, release of prisoners of war, and commercial ties. There were hopes that both the leaders would arrive at an agreement and a joint statement or declaration would be made at the end of the summit.
However, the role played by elements like LK Advani led to the failure of talks.
Pakistanis believe that relations between the two neighbours cannot normalise unless the Kashmir dispute is resolved in accordance with the UN resolutions. However, India is trying to silence the Kashmiris by using brute force against them.
Therefore, tensions between the two countries persist – and there’s no hope for any improvement in the foreseeable future.
When Vajpayee rejected suggestions not to visit Minar-i-Pakistan