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`Kashmiris will make possible a solution' — Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mr Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri

Rasheeda Bhagat

The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Mr Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, is very certain that the Indo-Pak problem cannot be resolved unless both sides shed their stated positions and show flexibility. In an interview to Business Line, Mr Kasuri said that without making it a precondition Pakistan would like to involve the Kashmiris as soon as possible in the dialogue process. Kashmiris will make it possible for both sides to find a solution without losing face, he added.

Excerpts from the interview:

The Indo-Pak dialogue has gone off very well. How do we take it forward from here?

By having a very positive state of mind. The Government of Pakistan is very sincere about this. I can speak on behalf of my government that we have the political will to go forward with the process that has been launched. And it is also necessary for the success of the various agreements we have signed regarding the SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) conference... because for some reason, unfortunately in the past, SAARC has been held hostage to Pakistan-Indian relations. We have the political will, and so far Prime Minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee hasdemonstrated that he has got the political will too, so we are counting on that.

But the thorniest issue is Kashmir, a very complex and very tricky issue. How are you going to proceed on that front?

That is like jumping the gun and I do not wish to jump the gun. I know various solutions are possible. I would like to draw your attention to the joint statement of January 6 in which the two leaders — (Pakistani) President (Pervez) Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee — have stated that they will try and take forward the peace process on all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides. It is quite clear from this that neither side will be satisfied by stated positions. So both parties will have to be flexible.

So, accepting LoC as the international boundary will not be acceptable to Pakistan?

It is quite clear that neither side will be satisfied with stated positions. So we assume that our leaders know what they are talking about. They know the English language quite well, so let us give them the benefit of the doubt that they mean what they say.

I have travelled to Kashmir quite often and find that the Kashmiri people want azadi from both India and Pakistan. How would you respond to that?

I am not prepared to talk about any option at this point. We wish to concentrate on the peace process, and should try to involve the Kashmiris as soon as possible in this process. This is not a precondition but a matter of common sense because in my opinion the Kashmiris will be a force for moderation. They have more at stake than either India or Pakistan so they will bring in more moderation and common sense into this whole thing. Let us not feel threatened by the Kashmiris. The sooner they are brought in, the better.

The Government of India has already talked to the Hurriyat at the highest level. Will the Hurriyat leaders be coming here (to Islamabad) next to talk to you? They have always wanted to talk to you.

We have always felt that we should encourage Kashmiris living on both sides of the border to talk to each other and also talk to the governments of Pakistan and India. This is why I say that all this will contribute to Paksitan and India adopting flexible positions. Kashmiris will make it possible for both sides to arrive at a solution without losing face.

Are you putting a time frame to the dialogue and a solution?

It is a matter of common sense that the sooner the better. The more you delay, the more you give a chance to the opponents of the peace process to come up with obstacles. At the moment we have a leadership in both the countries that has the necessary political will. So why should we take any chances by delaying matters. This kind of thing may not be there in the future.

Are you happy with the pace of progress of the peace talks?

Definitely. As they say, well begun is half done. I do believe we have begun well and one proof of that is that we have not wasted any time on fixing the agenda of the dialogue or a time frame. We could have gone on and on, but we did not. We started from where we left off and that is a positive sign.

Let us talk about Indo-Pak trade and business relationships. Even while the talks are on, are you for encouraging these ties between the two countries?

Of course, the SAARC charter has been signed. It has a time frame and it is in the interest of the entire South Asia that the SAARC process is encouraged. We have seen from recent examples that regional co-operation is essential for economic development. So the Government of Pakistan is fully backing this process.

Gen Musharraf while addressing the Ulema conference yesterday talked about the possibility of some of the tribal areas being bombed if they do not stop harbouring the Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. How real is this threat?

No, no, there is no such possibility. His speech should be read in context. It is a leader's business to create public opinion and take it in a positive direction. He was saying that if you continue to act in an irresponsible way, then you should be prepared to pay the price. But that does not mean that such a thing can happen. God forbid such a thing...

You said that visa during the cricket series will be relaxed. But what about otherwise? People find it so difficult to get visas.

We are for a liberal visa regime and that is why I have been suggesting to the Government of India that we should increase the number of personnel in both the High Commissions. India has suggested, and we support it, that there should be visa camps in various cities.

Leave alone visa camps, right now we do not even have the numbers we previously had in the two High Commissions. We have to increase the number of people so that they can take care of the added load. If they do not have enough people... we recently agreed to restart rail, road, air links ...if they do not have enough number of passengers they will stop. It will not be economically feasible.

So it is in the interest of both our countries to grant more visas, or else communication and travel between the two countries will come to an end for economic and not political reasons.

How soon will the Mumbai and Karachi consulates be opened?

I have not gone into the details but in principle I am all for everything that encourages people-to-people contact.

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