Talks between the leaders of India and Pakistan collapsed Monday night in a tense and confusing end to two days of meetings that both leaders had hoped would bring reduced tensions between the longtime adversaries and nuclear rivals.
The negotiations between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, appeared to have failed over the issue of Kashmir, the turbulent Himalayan border region that is claimed by both countries.
No joint agreement was signed by the two leaders, as had been expected, and neither Vajpayee nor Musharraf issued any statements. The Pakistani leader rushed to the airport at midnight in a heavily guarded convoy after holding a private "farewell" meeting with Vajpayee.
Aides to Musharraf said Monday night that three drafts of a joint statement had been approved by both sides but vetoed by Vajpayee's Cabinet, which is required to approve any international pact. Indian officials said they had been angered by public comments Musharraf made Monday morning at a meeting with Indian journalists, expressing his exasperation that the two sides could not agree on how to characterize the dispute over Kashmir.
"I am disappointed to inform you that although the beginning of a journey has taken place, the destination of an agreed joint statement has not been reached," Nirupama Rao, the Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told journalists shortly after Musharraf left for Pakistan. She declined to give any details of why the talks had collapsed.
The talks bogged down Saturday night after Indian officials said the two men had talked about a wide range of issues but did not mention Kashmir among them. Pakistani officials were infuriated by the comments and issued a rebuttal saying the meetings had focused on Kashmir as the central issue between the two countries.
Monday morning, Musharraf sounded weary and frustrated when he spoke about Kashmir at the breakfast meeting with Indian newspaper officials.
"If we can't even agree on the word that this is a dispute, how can we move forward?" the general demanded.
But Musharraf hinted strongly that he was willing to adopt milder language acceptable to India by calling the Kashmir problem an "issue" rather than a "dispute," as Pakistan has long insisted. He also said he wanted to work with India in several steps to establish a long-term structure for future dialogue.
The Washington Post reported that the major sticking point Monday was how to refer to the problem of "cross-border terrorism," which India has long accused Pakistan of fomenting in India's portion of Kashmir through its support of separatist insurgents there. Pakistan has denied supporting terrorism and refers to the insurgency as a "freedom struggle."