Settlement of Kashmir first, insists Musharraf

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By Saeed Haider & Nilofar Suhrawardy

Published — Sunday 15 July 2001

Last Update 15 July 2001 4:23 am

NEW DELHI, 15 July — India and Pakistan agreed yesterday to move away from the “narrow approaches” of the past and allow peace efforts to move forward unhindered.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, despite his insistence to discuss Kashmir first, agreed that there was need to identify common concerns between the two countries.


Musharraf called for the Kashmir dispute to be resolved peacefully and told his Indian hosts he was committed to normalized relations between the South Asian nuclear powers.


At a banquet at India’s presidential palace, Musharraf said there “can be no military solution” to the Kashmir dispute. Indian President K.R. Narayanan toasted Musharraf with a call to settle the two countries’ long-running disputes in a spirit of democracy and tolerance.


“We have to rule out violence from our relationship. We seek friendly and cooperative relations with all states, particularly those in our neighborhood,” Narayanan said at his banquet speech. “We must be bold enough to face this issue squarely and resolve it once and for all. This indeed will open a new chapter of fruitful relations between our two countries and also put an end to the sufferings of the people of Kashmir,” Musharraf said.


In apparent reference to the two countries’ status as the world’s newest nuclear powers, the Pakistani president said “our capabilities and responsibilities in the new century no longer offer us the option of continuing on the path of sterile impasse, continued hostility and mistrust.


“I am deeply committed to finding a path toward normal relations between our countries. I would like communications to open, trade to flourish, mindsets to change and stereotypes to disappear,” he said.


Pakistan has included nuclear concerns in the region on its talks agenda. Experts say this shows Musharraf’s flexible approach to the summit.


An Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman briefing reporters on meetings between Musharraf and senior Indian leaders said the talks had been positive and emphasized a willingness to discuss all issues openly.


Musharraf flew into monsoon-swept New Delhi with a lean 15-member delegation and was accorded a red carpet welcome ahead of today’s summit with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, aimed at easing more than 50 years of mutual hostility and mistrust.


“The caravan of peace and progress should be allowed to move forward without interruption,” the spokeswoman quoted Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh as telling Musharraf during their meeting.


“Gen. Musharraf agreed with this,” the spokeswoman said.


“Gen. Musharraf also echoed Prime Minister Vajpayee’s statements to avoid narrow approaches which have not worked in the past,” she added.


During his meeting with Kashmiri leaders at a tea party hosted by the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi, Musharraf pledged continued support for the separatist movement in Kashmir to the chagrin of his Indian hosts.


“Musharraf said that as we have been doing, they (the separatists) will continue to enjoy the moral and diplomatic support of Pakistan,” Pakistan Foreign Secretary Inamul Haq told reporters.


Musharraf met with leaders of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference for 25 minutes. The Hurriyat comprises around two dozen parties and organizations in Kashmir. “The meeting was very positive and we are very happy,” said senior Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq.


“He (Musharraf) was very clear that as far as Pakistan’s policy is concerned they see the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference as the legitimate voice of the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he added.


It was precisely because New Delhi accords the Hurriyat no such recognition that the Indian government was angered by the meeting between Musharraf and the separatist leaders. The country’s ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, boycotted the function in protest.


In his arrival statement, Musharraf said that resolution of the Kashmir dispute was the only path to the “full” normalization of relations with India. “For more than half a century, the Kashmir dispute has cast a shadow on relations,” Musharraf said. “In my talks with the Indian leaders, I will be looking forward to a meaningful, frank and substantial discussion, urging them to join hands with us in resolving this dispute in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people,” he said.


Stressing that he had come to India with an “open mind,” the general said he was looking forward to his discussions with Indian leaders “on establishing peaceful, tension-free and cooperative relations between our two countries.” Musharraf also said that for the “sake of economic prosperity and peaceful coexistence” Pakistan and India need to maintain dialogue to “resolve disputes and explore opportunities for improving bilateral relations.”


“I am glad that this dialogue has been resumed,” he said. Musharraf also held talks with India’s Home Minister L. K. Advani, who raised the issue of Pakistan-sponsored “terrorism” in Kashmir and the extradition of criminals. Advani told the Pakistani leader that “there was need for more cooperation and not confrontation in Indo-Pakistan relations.” Musharraf is due to hold formal summit talks with Vajpayee in Agra today.


In a move aimed at building confidence, India has begun withdrawing 200,00 troops from its disputed Kashmir border with Pakistan, defense officials said yesterday. Highly placed defense sources in Kashmir said 10,000 troops would be pulled out within a week and the remaining 10,000 over the next month. The first phase of the pullout, involving troops from the 38th Division, had started from a stretch of the border 35 km away from Kashmir’s winter capital Jammu, the sources said.


Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, who arrived in New Delhi yesterday with Musharraf, said Islamabad was not aware of any Indian troop withdrawal. “We have not been informed about any pullout by Indian forces from the LoC (Line of Control),” he told reporters. “Pakistan has already shown restraint and pulled back one brigade,” he said, referring to a commitment made by Islamabad last November in response to India’s decision to suspend counterinsurgency operations against Kashmiri groups?.


Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Inamul Haq, who accompanied Musharraf, said Musharraf will invite Vajpayee to visit Pakistan during their summit talks. At the same time he also reiterated that the leaders of Kashmir’s main separatist alliance should also be allowed to visit Pakistan — something the Indian government has so far been loath to allow. India has until now refused to issue travel documents to Hurriyat leaders who do not already have them.


The foreign secretary also clarified that Musharraf had never said he was going to reject the bilateral 1972 Simla and 1999 Lahore agreements — neither of which accept the centrality of the Kashmir dispute in Indo-Pakistan relations — as was reported Friday. “He said that they (the agreements) did not lead to any progress as they were expected to. Delving into the past is not going to resolve the problem. We have to be forward-looking.”


Earlier, Musharraf, who arrived at Palam Airport at 8.20 a.m. was received by Minister of State for Railways Digvijay Singh and driven straight to the Rashtrapati Bhavan where he was received by Narayanan and Vajpayee. It was first time in the history of Indo-Pak relations that the Pakistani national anthem was played at the presidential palace. Visibly impressed, Musharraf said he was happy at the welcome accorded to him by the Indians.


India’s air force chief, Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, who represented the three service chiefs at the ceremony, pointedly did not salute Musharraf when he was introduced to the Pakistani military strongman at Rashtrapati Bhavan. On being introduced by Narayanan, the air force chief, though in uniform, simply shook hands with Musharraf, who had earlier taken the salute from an inter-services guard of honor.


After the welcome ceremony, Musharraf went to Rajghat to pay homage to Indian freedom hero Mohandas Gandhi. Musharraf also met the leader of the opposition, Congress President Sonia Gandhi. While Musharraf met Indian leaders, his wife Sehba addressed a gathering organized by Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia at India Habitat Center. 

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