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`Musharraf will be involved in peace process, if necessary'

Rasheeda Bhagat

"India has realised that war is not an option to resolve Kashmir. Also, Pakistan's economic strength and economic sovereignty were on the mend. And, Pakistan could not be isolated despite India's relentless campaign on terrorism. Despite it accusing Pakistan of all kinds of crimes, it got elected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council with a resounding majority, getting 172 out of 182 votes."

KARACHI, May 11

IN the Indo-Pak peace process, if it was felt, after the meeting between the two Prime Ministers, that the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, needs to be involved too, "I'm sure that will happen", said Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Mr Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri in an interview to Business Line. Excerpts.

After Mr Vajpayee's initial statement in Srinagar and your Prime Minister's response, what progress has been made in the thawing of Indo-Pak relations?

As far as Pakistan is concerned, we're approaching the whole issue with a very positive mind. I've always maintained that we don't have to re-invent the wheel. A lot of work has already been done at the Secretaries' level. Lots of meetings have taken place and President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee have met for quite a few hours at Agra and they developed a degree of understanding. There was a draft of agreement at Agra. Unfortunately, it could not see the light of day and we all know the reason why. Now we all or at least the Prime Minister of India and the President of Pakistan, know the contents of the draft declaration.

So it should be moved forward from that point?

But if they want to go slow it is up to them. If India wants to run at the speed of 10 miles a day, we can do that. But if it wants to run 100 miles a day, we're prepared to keep pace with that too.

How do you read the timing of Mr Vajpayee once again extending a hand of friendship? What has changed since Agra and the attack on the Indian Parliament, which saw Indo-Pak ties hit rock bottom?

I get asked this question all the time. There are several factors. India has realised that war is not an option to resolve Kashmir. Also, Pakistan's economic strength and economic sovereignty were on the mend. Whereas previously we had (foreign exchange) reserves to finance three weeks of imports, now we have enough for a whole year, and next year we expect to have enough for 16 to 18 months of imports. And, Pakistan could not be isolated despite India's relentless campaign on terrorism. Despite it accusing Pakistan of all kinds of crimes, it got elected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council with a resounding majority, getting 172 out of 182 votes.

The fact that all important members of the international community interact with Pakistan on a regular basis and the fact that Pakistan is located in a very strategic geographic position... all oil and gas pipelines in the entire region will ultimately have to go through Pakistan. Also, the fact that there has been a change in India's politics... The BJP tried a certain experiment - I don't want to go into the details - in Gujarat and succeeded there. But when that experiment failed in Himachal Pradesh, Mr Vajpayee must have told the hardliners in the BJP that your reasoning, your philosophy, your arguments for taking a hard political stance towards Pakistan is not working. So let me go back to what I had wanted to do in Agra.

What do you think is the significance of Mr Vajpayee saying, more than once, that in the post-Iraq war era, an Indo-Pak dialogue and improvement in Indo-Pak ties are essential?

I would not like to comment on Mr Vajpayee's statement. That would be unfair.

Okay, But he also said that by continuing to wrangle like this both the countries have become a laughing stock in the rest of the world. Your comments.

Yes, I do think that Pakistan and India will become a laughing stock of the world if we don't talk to each other, because war is no longer an option. And if war is no longer an option, how do we resolve this issue? No war, no peace? That is dangerous, because no war-no peace can always degenerate into absence of peace leading to war.

Do you see any significance in the fact that Mr Vajpayee chose Kashmir to make the initial statement?

Yes, I do think he chose the right place because he was sending a message to the Kashmiris and Paksitanis from there. It was quite clear that he realised that you can't afford to bypass either the Kashmiris or the Pakistanis. He could easily have spoken to the Kashmiris without mentioning Pakistan. Extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan from Kashmir meant he had come to the conclusion that it would not be possible to bypass Pakistan by simply talking to the Kashmiri people or vice versa. So it was certainly a welcome step forward.

How soon will you be meeting your counterpart Mr Yashwant Sinha? Will the foreign secretaries meet first? Yes, I suppose first the foreign secretaries will have to meet, then the foreign ministers and then the two prime ministers.

And where does President Musharraf come into the picture in the peace process?

First the foreign secretaries, then the ministers and then the two prime ministers will talk. But if at some stage both the prime ministers feel that President Musharraf should also talk, I'm sure the President would not mind getting involved because as it is President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee had almost reached an agreement at Agra. So there is no hard and fast rule but it has already been decided that Prime Minister Jamali will first talk to Mr Vajpayee. But later if he feels that the President should also be involved, I'm sure that will happen. Let me make it clear that the Prime Minister of Pakistan is taking this initiative with the full backing of the President, Opposition parties as well as the Pakistan army.

How hopeful are you that this time at least we'll make some progress?

I think Mr Richard Armitage, US Deputy Secretary of State, summed it up well in both Islamabad and Delhi when he said he was "cautiously optimistic". He was quite accurate and I feel the same way.

But when it comes to Kashmir, how do you see a solution? Over the years in Pakistan, as in India too, there is a growing weariness over Kashmir and exasperated people ask how long will we continue like this. Several voices of reason in India say let's make the LoC the international boundary? Can that be a solution at all?

Oh no, we can't talk of solutions at this stage. The LoC argument is not acceptable from the Pakistan point of view. That is why we decided not to talk in terms of solutions. President Musharraf had said clearly at Agra that the best thing was not to talk of solutions in the initial process. When you have a dialogue process that will strengthen the forces in favour of peace, it will create a new paradigm in the sub-continent, and let's hope that will lead to a solution.

But then already both the parties have gone back to their stated position... integral part and no compromise on Kashmir. So how do we move forward?

That is understandable when both the leaders talk to their own people. When Mr Vajpayee says Kashmir is an integral part of India, I don't have to go to Agra to hear that. I can hear that sitting here in Pakistan. But then, as you ask, what is there to discuss when both are in their stated positions? What we have to understand is that in any negotiation, even a business negotiation, you do not show your cards. Why would anybody do that?

Last week I was in Australia where a leading defence analyst said that Mr George Fernandes' recent visit to China was to ask China to use its good offices with Pakistan and urge it into a peace dialogue with India. He said that while "Americans tend to order people" China would "gently suggest" that Pakistan talk to India. Your comments.

Oh yes, the Chinese are also interested in lowering the temperature in the sub-continent and welcome the moves of India and Pakistan in that connection. Yes, what he said was correct. China is a friend and definitely interested.

So are you hopeful?

Yes, as I said, "cautiously optimist".

But how will you address the hard core elements? As you said earlier this evening, the questions asked at the Karachi Council for Foreign Relations and Economic Affairs and earlier at the Pakistan Nazaria (point of view) Foundation, were diametrically opposite. The business lobby wants a quick road to better relations with India, the other lobby keeps warning against "betraying Kashmiri people, a sell out", and so on.

Of course we will have to consider all points of view and walk the tight rope. Because we are a Government and not an NGO. We have to involve all sections and carry on the public debate which started in Agra. We hope that when a dialogue is started, when the process continues for some time, and the leadership in both the countries persists in pursuing the dialogue, the stakeholders in peace on both sides will probably become stronger. In the meantime, as I told the business lobby, in the context of SAARC some trade will go on. And then there is the WTO and the year 2005, and we all know what will happen then.

Pakistan lives in a tough neighbourhood... Afghanistan, India, and Iran and the like. So how do you find your place in the geo-political situation at the moment?

At the moment we are very comfortable. We have lots of friends, we are an international ally in the war against terrorism. Our role is acknowledged by all and sundry. We have a certain position in the Islamic world, our relations with the US are very good and our ties with China are excellent... in fact a model. So we feel comfortable.

Response may be send to rasheeda@thehindu.co.in

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