July 21, 2001
0415 IST


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Straight shooting general aims at Kashmir

Chindu Sreedharan in Islamabad

In clipped, 'undiplomatic' phrases befitting his image as a straight-shooting general, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf managed a second coup of sorts on Friday evening in Islamabad, projecting himself as a man desperately in 'search for peace' whose hands have been tied by India's 'jugglery of words'.

"I want to give peace the biggest chance and I mean every word of it. Can we bring peace without resolving the Kashmir issue? So why do we shy away from acknowledging it?" said Musharraf.

"The resolution of the Kashmir dispute is at the heart of Indo-Pakistan confrontation," Musharraf asserted.

"That is the only issue blocking peace between us. Let us not be diplomatic. Let us not be manipulative on this issue," he added.

The president, addressing the media for the first time after the Agra Summit, began on a peaceful note, thanking Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, President K R Narayanan and Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh for all their efforts to make him at home.

But soon, he made it obvious he was not looking at smoothening ruffled feelings, but making up for the lost opportunity in Agra to answer his critics and clarify his stand during the summit.

The Indian authorities had stopped him from addressing the press and the president made it abundantly clear in the beginning itself.

There can be no peace, he asserted, until the Kashmir dispute is resolved.

Yet, at the same time he insisted that he was not being 'unifocal, narrow and segmented in my approach'.

India, however, was hiding behind the 'language of diplomacy' and 'jugglery of words', he said.

And people resorted to this exercise, the president said, when they were not 'sincere' in their intentions.

"I went to the summit for a sincere search for peace," he said,

"I went to discuss ways of closing the chapter of hostility and confrontation. I did not go for point scoring. This is not a football match... And my intention certainly is not that even now," he added.

The president said he never realised his comments at the breakfast meeting would create so much controversy.

"It really surprises me. What did I do wrong if I sat with the media and talked to them? What did I say which I haven't said before I went to India... I even asked the prime minister, sir, what I have said that I haven't told you!"

"I would," he continued, "be only too happy to reciprocate that when, Inshallah, the Indian prime minister or the foreign minister comes to Pakistan. I would like to personally take them in front of the Pakistani media. Any time, whenever they come," he said.

Musharraf blamed India for the failure of arriving at a joint declaration, when he said Kashmir was the focus of his discussions with Vajpayee during all their one-on-one meetings.

"I spent 5-6 hours with the prime minister," he said, "...and 90 per cent (of the talks) were on Kashmir. I did bring home the point this was of historic importance for both of us. I could bring home to him that we could together create history."

"My observation is the people in Pakistan, India and Kashmir desire peace. This was most vivid everywhere. Because of the yearning for peace now nobody can stop this (peace process) from moving forward. The people will not allow it to be stopped," he added.

Asked about his stand that the talks should move forward from the Agra summit and India's counter that it should be from the Simla and Lahore Accords, Musharraf said he wasn't bothered 'where the threads were picked up', as long as the 'core issue', Kashmir, was addressed.

"I'm not denying, negating the other important issues that bedevil relations between Pakistan and India. I'm again, to repeat, just laying the proper focus," added Musharraf.

As a military man who has seen action on the front line and friends being killed, Musharraf said he knew the importance of peace much better.

Like Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar on Tuesday, the general said both sides were close to agreeing on a declaration on two occasions, but 'could not ink the agreement'. He, however, refused to go into details of why the declaration could not be signed.

Taking potshots at the Indian leadership, the general said only those persons whose intentions were unclear or insincere would play around with words like 'dispute' and 'problem'.

Drawing up a declaration, he said, was no big deal. "Anyone can do it," he remarked.

"It is just a matter of English composition. It can be done in half-an-hour... It is difficult only when dil mei khot hai (there is insincerity)."

He denied there was any export of cross-border terrorism to India. Like Sattar, he said there was only a Line of Control between the state of Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and not a 'border'.

The president repeatedly asserted the turmoil in Kashmir was a freedom struggle.

He enumerated some of the other disputes between India and Pakistan as Siachen, the Sir Creek dispute, the issue of nuclear restraint, the Wular/Tulbul barrage, economic relations, Jinnah House in Bombay vis-a-vis an Indian consulate in Karachi, the issue of visas, and the issue of missing prisoners of war, and asked, "Can you compare these issues with the Kashmir issue?"

Denying there was inadequate preparation for the summit, he said he was not a stickler for protocol and preparation was needed only for those who wanted to skirt and avoid issues.

He said there can be no Confidence-building Measure without resolving the Kashmir issue, and reiterated his position that resolving the Kashmir dispute would be the biggest CBM.

The president repeatedly asserted the dispute could not be resolved without taking the will of the Kashmiri people into account. "Let us not let history slip away," he said.

He said Kashmir has become an issue of national honour. "It is an issue of national honour for you and it is for me. We cannot move forward. So where is the middle course? Do we want to carry killing each other over this national honour? Or do we need to resolve it?"

Asked whether he would consider, as the Indian government wants, discussing issues other than Kashmir when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visits Pakistan, Musharraf replied in the negative. That, he said, would be a case of putting 'the cart before the horse'.

"If anyone thinks while we keep killing each other, while we keep hating each other, we can address other issues, it is not practical," he elaborated.

"We have tried this over the past 50 years. It has not borne fruit. So we have to put the horse before the cart. And horse, if we like it or not, is the Kashmir issue."

No peace without resolving Kashmir issue
Musharraf rules out mediation at this stage

India rejects Musharraf terming Kashmir 'core' issue

Indo-Pak Summit 2001: The Complete Coverage

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