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Agra Summit 2001: Former Indian Diplomat Unveils Behind-the-Scenes Drama

In his upcoming book, ‘Anger Management: The Troubled Diplomatic Relationship Between India and Pakistan,’ Ambassador Ajay Bisaria, who played a crucial role as a key aide to former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, provides a detailed account of the behind-the-scenes drama that led to the collapse of the Agra Summit in 2001. Contrary to some reports that attributed the summit’s failure to LK Advani’s hardline approach, Bisaria asserts that it was Pakistan’s then-President Pervez Musharraf’s actions that played a pivotal role.

The book highlights Musharraf’s “overreach” during the summit, particularly in publicly expressing hawkish views on Kashmir and equating terrorists with freedom fighters. On the second day of the summit, Musharraf’s breakfast conversation with editors of major newspapers and TV networks, where he shared his hardline positions on Kashmir, raised concerns. This public telecast gave the impression that Pakistan was imposing its hard views on India, while India’s positions remained unclear.

Bisaria, along with Brajesh Mishra, Vajpayee’s principal secretary, watched Musharraf’s televised remarks with “dismay” in the makeshift Prime Minister’s Office in Agra. In response to Musharraf’s public stance, Bisaria conveyed the developments to Vajpayee, leading to a tense exchange between Vajpayee and Musharraf during the summit.

The book also delves into the internal dynamics of the negotiations during the summit, revealing the challenges faced by both countries in bridging the vast gaps in their positions on Kashmir and terrorism. Bisaria highlights the lack of diplomatic preparation and planning for the summit, emphasizing that negotiating a joint statement at the level of prime ministers and foreign ministers was not the most strategic choice by Pakistan.

Despite the summit’s ultimate failure, Bisaria contends that diplomacy had worked for both countries. The experience with Musharraf at the Agra Summit contributed to the evolution of Vajpayee’s Pakistan policy over the next three years. The book offers a comprehensive and insightful look into the complexities of the Agra Summit, providing readers with a nuanced understanding of the factors that contributed to its collapse.

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