Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who was prime minister of Pakistan for just 45 days, is president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid-e-Azam).
He belongs to the Jat community of Gujarat, whose leaders are known for their support to Pakistan's military establishment. Chaudhry Shujaat heads one of Pakistan's powerful political families who have been prospering for decades with the help of military rule.
Chaudhry Shujaat's father Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi was secretary general of the Convention Muslim League and a fierce opponent of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who imprisoned him for several years. General Zia-ul Haq released him and made him a minister.
It is believed the pen with which Zia signed Bhutto's death warrant was presented to him by Elahi. In September 1981, Elahi was shot dead in Lahore, allegedly by the Al-Zulfikar, an outfit led by Zulfiqar's son Murtaza Bhutto.
Now head of the Parliamentary Committee and a trusted aide of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, Chaudhry Shujaat is talking to Nawab Akbar Bugti, leader of the Jamhoori Watan Party, to end the festering dispute in Balochistan province.
On a recent visit to India, he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and President A P J Abdul Kalam.
In an exclusive interview to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt and Sushant Sareen, executive editor, Public Opinion Trends, Shujaat Hussain discussed Kashmir and the current state of India-Pakistan relations. The first of a two-part interview:
After your tour of India and meetings with the political leadership in India, what is the impression you are carrying back with you to Pakistan?
I must say that I have seen in India when it comes to national interest there are no differences amongst political leaders. This is something that is sorely lacking in Pakistan. When I return I will tell this to the people.
In Pakistan, political leaders put their vested interests above the national interest. In India the Opposition and the government cooperate when it comes to the national interest.
Are you saying this also in the context of the peace process?
No. This has nothing to do with the peace process. This is just a general observation I have made during my visits to India.
You would have observed a political consensus within India on the peace process. Is there a similar consensus inside Pakistan?
This is the first time I have noted that the policies of the previous government are being followed by the new government in India. Mr Vajpayee's policies are being followed by the new government and they don't hide the fact that they are following the policies of the Vajpayee government.
Normally, no one gives any credit to the government that has lost power. This also came out in our meetings with both the government as well as with the Opposition.
A question often asked in Pakistan is whether the Government of India is sincere about the peace process. What are your impressions after your interactions here?
As far as there is a consensus in India on the national interest, the Opposition and the government are one on the issue. Sitting in Pakistan I had heard this was the case, but now I have seen it in practice. There is no compromise on the issue of national interest.
Do you think there is sincerity on the Indian side as well?
Whatever the compulsions we have started seeing sincerity. I think both sides are now sick and tired of hostility and fighting with each other.
Both countries are now nuclear powers. Now there is no question of war. So why not solve the issues between us?
At this time, the initiative taken by President Musharraf is a sign of sincerity on both sides.
You have come to India after seven years. What changes did you see in India? What has changed in Pakistan in these seven years?
What has happened in these seven years is that the supremacy of India in the nuclear field -- something that we in Pakistan were always concerned -- that has ended. We have now entered an era of equality (parity). I think India too has understood that talks now will be between equals. India is a big country and as a big country it must display its big heart (badapan). Now that we have reached an equal plane on the nuclear issue, we think India must also leave its quest for political supremacy.
What is the expectation in Pakistan -- in real terms -- from the peace process?
In Pakistan, there is now no doubt in anyone's mind about President Musharraf's sincerity on the peace process. There are doubts in the minds of the people about Indian intentions. And this we want to remove. Doubts are removed by creating a conducive environment.
There is a long history of bitterness. Unless this bitterness goes, the faith of the people in the peace process will not be restored. The people need to be convinced that no one will put salt in their old wounds.
Our visit and other visits like ours are steps towards creating a conducive environment so that the people of India and Pakistan get a feeling that the past is past and needs to be forgotten and that we have to start with a fresh slate. In this we have to see how both governments react.
I think it is important that both governments need to avoid any delay in an effort to protect their interests. They must work towards resolving the issues and problems. Otherwise, there will always be some obstruction in the path.
But in tangible terms what is your expectation as to what can or will happen in the next 6 months or one year?
For example, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service.
Many people think it is no big deal and it is not a solution. Yet, it is something tangible that has come out of the peace process.
If I say what can happen it will create great difficulty for me. (Laughs).
What is the minimum expectation?
I am sorry, I can't say anything here. It wouldn't be appropriate. It will create a lot of problems.
But what is the point of not conveying a message when you have the option to do so?
It is my habit not to say anything off-the-record, but now since I am being forced to say something I will say it off-the-record.
(He later allows this to be on record).
It has been proved that the UN resolutions have no value.
In the last 57 years we have been tabling these resolutions every year but it gets rejected.
This is because the world powers don't want it to be tabled.
The resolution on Iraq was accepted the first time it was tabled. But our resolution has not been accepted for 60 years.
Some years ago you had floated a proposal in which you spoke about the third option -- independence for Kashmir -- and you had to face a lot of flak for that. What is your position on the third option now?
I don't think I should be talking about the third option sitting in India.
If I must then I will talk about this in Pakistan.
But as far as you are concerned you think this is a realistic option.
President Musharraf has given a similar option.
When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to Kashmir he said we are involved in a peace process but we are not talking about any territorial adjustment although we are open to any other solution.
This was a very clear cut and unambiguous message by the Indian prime minister. Are the people of Pakistan aware of this?
A lot of political statements are given a technical shape. This statement of the PM you are quoting, he will say this today also. But things change as circumstances change.
You have accepted that there was a time when it was in the politician's interest that the two countries keep fighting with each other. Today, your trip here is an example of politicians taking an initiative to improve relations. How do you see the interaction among politicians as part of the peace process, CBMs etc?
I think there is a huge difference between the past and the present on both sides. I have seen the change here.
We have met people from both the government and the Opposition.
Had we only met the government side, there would still be room for scepticism. But having met people from both sides of the political divide, we got the feeling that they were in this because of their national interest.
But one senses a political consensus as far as the peace process is concerned even in Pakistan. Would you agree?
Political parties in Pakistan have still not attained that level of maturity.
Even now if the Muslim League takes a step forward on the issue of the peace process or does something to bring people closer together it is criticised as a sellout of Muslims. For example, for the first time on March 26, we celebrated Holi at Pakistan Muslim League House. And now we are going to take a step that you cannot even imagine.
In Pakistan it is being repeatedly said that Advani is responsible for the destruction of the Babri Masjid.
We have offered to Advani that in Lahore fort there is a temple dedicated to Luv (according to legend the city of Lahore is named after Luv, son of Lord Ram) we are going to ask the provincial government to declare this as a model mandir, we will restore this temple and when Advani comes to Lahore we will get it inaugurated by him.
So you have found a solution to the Babri Masjid dispute? (Laughs) This is the only solution. Rather than destroying temples to avenge the destruction of the Babri Masjid, it is better to make a temple and invite Advani to inaugurate it.
Photograph: Ranjan Basu/Saab Press
Image: Uday Kuckian