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Korean Summit reminds of historic Vajpayee-Sharif Lahore peace initiative

By Shubham

As the leaders of North and South Korea gear up for a historic summit at the border town of Panmunjeom on Friday, April 27, one can't desist from comparing it with another historic milestone in Asian diplomacy which had happened almost two decades ago, in February 1999.

Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif

The two parties involved then were India and Pakistan - also two countries separated like the two Koreas - who for the most part of history, shared an extremely hostile relationship and their nuclear testings a few weeks apart in May 1999 made the entire world nervous about what was coming.

Months after their relations nosedived, the then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif invited his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee to visit his country in the first bus which was to connect India with Pakistan in 50 years and thrive for that elusive peace between the two neighbours who had fought three wars by then.

The idea for the New Delhi-Lahore bus diplomacy came up at a meeting between the two prime ministers in New York in September 1998 where they went for a UN programme. The two leaders developed a close relationship through telephonic talks, leading to the historic bus diplomacy of February 1999.

Ahead of Vajpayee's arrival in Pakistan, Sharif even said that the Indian PM would be greeted with such hospitality that the occasion would not be forgotten for a long time. He also expressed optimism that the visit and the subsequent meeting would resolve half of the two countries' problems while progress would be made on the rest of the issues.

Vajpayee and the Indian side, too, were ecstatic over the visit saying India was also as willing to build a good relationship with its neighbour. The Indian leadership had also slammed the Hindu fundamentalists who around that time had queered a cricket pitch to disrupt the series which was going on between India and a visiting Pakistani side.

A day after Vajpayee reached Lahore by bus, the historic Lahore summit was held between the two countries and a joint declaration was issued. The declaration touched upon key issues like nuclear disarmament, Jammu & Kashmir, non-interference, anti-terrorism, etc. and was considered one of the biggest peace initiatives between the two countries that have seen strained bilateral relations over the years.

However, the impact of the declaration was short-lived as India and Pakistan found themselves in the middle of a non-international armed conflict in Kargil in Jammu & Kashmir in May 1999, five months before Sharif was toppled from power.

Sharif later accused his army general Pervez Musharraf, who later led the country for almost a decade, to be the mastermind behind the Kargil conflict which India won.

The Korean peace initiative hopefully will see a different conclusion.

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