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Zain Verjee: Agra Summit

Zain Verjee is a CNN International anchor and presenter for Q&A South Asia reporting from New Dehli, India on the Agra Summit between India and Pakistan.

CNN: Both sides have downplayed expectations from this summit, but observers say regardless of the results, it's still very significant. What do you think?

VERJEE: It is significant because for the first time in two years the two sides are talking. India had said previously that it would not talk to Pakistan unless Islamabad stopped supporting what India called "cross-border terrorism". Also, some other analysts say that when expectations are low for the summit it means that anything at all that is decided in Agra is going to make both sides look good; be it a decision to restart cricket matches or even minor confidence-building measures.

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CHAT PARTICIPANT: What are the likely consequences of both parties going away with nothing of substance gained at Agra?

VERJEE: The consequences would be far more severe, some analysts say, for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf than for Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Musharraf has more to lose. His country's economy is in the doldrums. Political opposition against him is increasing. He has been in power for about two years and it seems as though the people in Pakistan are not happy with him. He's got to bring something back. On the other hand, Vajpayee is 76 and analysts say he is looking for some sort of political legacy, and he really has a lot less to lose than Musharraf. The risks for him are lower.

CNN: Is it possible for India and Pakistan to forge closer ties without resolving the issue of Kashmir?

VERJEE: Yes, it is. The issues that would forge a closer relationship between the two countries would include trade. Also, the proposal for a gas pipeline to run from Iran to India through Pakistan would give Pakistan billions of dollars in revenue. So Pakistan stands to gain and so does India. The international community would be encouraged by relations between India and Pakistan and could lift sanctions imposed on both countries after they conducted nuclear tests in 1998. Also a lot of money would be saved by both countries if they agreed, even on a very minute level, to demilitarize parts of Kashmir, such as Siachen Glacier.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: If this summit is successful, then what is the next step?

VERJEE: It depends on what both sides see as successful. No one expects the problem of Kashmir to be resolved this weekend after 54 years of hostility. It's also not clear what the next step would be. Neither party has said anything about that. But, some analysts think that initiating a process of dialogue could start. There could be a timeframe on that dialogue. Very importantly, the wheels are starting to turn on what's being called confidence-building measures. This includes the Indian side opening borders and issuing more visas to Pakistanis. It includes sending intellectuals and artists across borders, releasing prisoners of war (which has just been discussed). So, these small gestures over time could see India and Pakistan forge closer ties. And perhaps play cricket!

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Why is there no representation of the people of Kashmir in an adequate manner for this summit?

VERJEE: Because India has always maintained that the Kashmir is an integral part of India. India has always insisted that the future of the disputed region has to be discussed or resolved bilaterally. Meaning only with Pakistan. This was agreed upon by the two countries in the Simla Agreement of 1972. India has also said it would never accept any third party mediation, i.e., the United States or the UN.

CNN: Do you have any final thought to share with us?

VERJEE: It's too early to draw any conclusions about what the summit can bring about. Both sides are being "tight lipped". There's a lot of speculation. It's important to remember that the very fact that India and Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee are going to sit across the table from each other and talk is a major accomplishment.

CNN: Thank you for joining us!

VERJEE: Thank you! Tomorrow we're going to talk about track 2 diplomacy on the show and what people behind the scenes are doing. So make sure you catch us tomorrow! See ya!

Zain Vergee joined the chat room via telephone from New Dehli India and provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Friday, July 13, 2001 at 1 p.m. EDT.

• Government of India
• Islamic Republic of Pakistan

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