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'I didn't go to convert Musharraf'

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
March 26, 2005 15:27 IST
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Communist Party of India general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet had gone to Pakistan on a nine-day trip that ended on March 4.

He was accompanied by party compatriot A B Bardhan. They held a host of meetings with many Pakistan's leaders, including Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and President General Pervez Musharraf.

Here's what Surjeet told about his experiences.

"Our visit to Pakistan was a part of India's strategy to strengthen relations with our neighbour. We have been working towards this goal for many many years. We impressed upon Musharraf the need for our countries to come closer. I am glad that Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh also visited Pakistan with a view to strengthen ties.

Read all about: The Road to Pakistan

General Pervez Musharraf is a good administrator, but the definition of administration differs from country to country. As far as we are concerned, our people do not like dictatorships. He is an efficient man but his outlook towards certain problems is different from ours.

I found Musharraf a man willing to discuss matters and answer queries that you raise during your interaction with him. There is no hesitation on his part. Relations between India and Pakistan are developing slowly but steadily. I had not gone to convert Musharraf to join the communist movement. Our's was a friendship visit to improve the relations between two nations.

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Until he came on the scene the only development that took place was Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to Lahore. Then both India and Pakistan developed cold feet. Nobody was willing to discuss matters. No one was willing to go to the other side and listen to the other's point of view. There was a stand-off for some time even after Musharraf came on the scene. Then things changed and relations started improving. Under Musharraf lot of progress has taken place on most fronts. Now people are able to visit their places of birth across the border. That counts a lot to change public perception about each other.

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Musharraf is a fine person and a good host. He prepared to discuss any matter and take prompt decisions. When I pointed out to him that hundreds of poor Indians and Pakistanis were languishing in our jails, he picked up the phone and ordered the release of hundreds of Indian fishermen and other detainees. The move was reciprocated by India in good measure. This gesture has been appreciated by the people of India and Pakistan.

I have been asked by friends in the media whether we discussed Kashmir. My answer is -- why should we discuss Kashmir, which is a non-issue. If you want to develop relations between India and Pakistan such issues should not be brought into focus. I do not remember Musharraf bringing up the Kashmir issue even if it is a habit with him.

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I must confess that but for Musharraf things between India and Pakistan would not have moved as much as it has done. Any leader in his position would not have been able to take the kind of bold decisions that he did.

On the matter of the prisoners, the bureaucrats would have gone into technical details to find out under what section the prisoners had been booked and how to overcome the technical matters and get the release approved by the court of law. But Musharraf does not have to do that.

The general impression about him is that he is a puppet in the hands of the American administration. But I did not find any evidence that would give credence to this allegation. There are elements within his administration that are pro-American. They do not have the same consistent stand as we do because India is an emerging economic power in the world.

Bus will aid militancy: RSS

We have been fighting a war against cross-border terrorism. But with the opening of borders between India and Pakistan, this problem would sooner or later get sorted out. The opening of the bus route between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad is one such step that would let the people on both sides of Kashmir intermingle."

(CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet spoke to Associate Editor Onkar Singh in New Delhi)

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi