Always a peacemaker

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Pakistan policy was an open book. He wanted improved relations with Pakistan without sacrificing India’s interest. He wanted the people of the two countries to live in amity and friendship as good neighbours. Vajpayee had been pragmatic in respect of his Pakistan policy. On a visit to Pakistan as Foreign Minister in February 1978, he was asked how he reconciled his commitment to the Shimla Agreement to his earlier position that it was a stab in the nation’s back. He said amidst laughter, “I am trying to forget my past and I urge you to do the same.” Earlier, immediately after taking over as foreign minister in March 1977, he assured the Pakistan Ambassador that there was not going to be any change in policy towards Pakistan as the existing foreign policy “was based on more or less national consensus”. This reflected both pragmatism and statesmanship.

Prior to Vajpayee’s departure for Islamabad in 2004 for the SAARC summit, I was asked to meet him. On inquiring from his secretary as to how much time had been earmarked for the briefing, I was informed that there was plenty of time as Mr. Vajpayee had a dentist’s appointment only in the evening as offices and shops would be closed by then. He chose this time as he did not wish to inconvenience the public with traffic arrangements. His entire emphasis during the conversation was that we should work towards making Pakistan realise that it needs to cease help to terrorists so that discussions on bilateral relations could move ahead. I made a few suggestions, and he thanked me as was his gracious nature. Two hours later I received a call to the effect that I had made seven points which I should send in writing. He remembered the number. My last meeting with Vajpayee was on June 10, 2006, when I briefed him on the back-channel discussions with Pakistan. Thereafter, I continued briefing Brijesh Mishra, who had been Principal Secretary in the Vajpayee PMO and who was in regular touch with him. His policy towards Pakistan, based on pragmatism and realism, was to move ahead keeping in view our interests. There had been a consistency in his attitude towards Pakistan as Member of Parliament, Foreign Minister, Leader of the Opposition and later as Prime Minister. This goes to show his sincerity and commitment.

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