July 2000 News

Lahore Declaration no good for Pakistan, says Musharraf

3 July 2000
The Times of India

Islamabad: Pakistan''s military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf said on Sunday the Lahore Declaration did not serve Pakistan''s interests as the Indian Prime Minister never wanted to discuss Kashmir. ''We don''t consider Kashmir to be India as it is a disputed territory,'' Musharraf on Sunday told a gathering of South Asian journalists, who were here for a two-day media seminar organised by the Jang group of newspapers. Of the 60-odd visiting journalists at the seminar on ''Towards a free, fair and vibrant media'', 46 were Indians. The rest of the audience was composed of a sprinkling of Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Nepalese and selected Pakistani journalists. Musharraf, who came to the media dinner an hour late, said he doubted the sincerity of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee''s visit to Lahore in February 1999 for the historic peace talks with the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, deposed in a military coup the following October. ''The Prime Minister of India never wanted to talk about Kashmir. So one doubts the sincerity of his going to the Minar-e-Pakistan (the monument erected to commemorate the birth of Pakistan).'' He, however, clarified that he was not against the Lahore process, but what he knew was it did not address the Kashmir issue. ''I was part of the Lahore Declaration. I know what was being written or was being discussed,'' he said. Musharraf was the Army chief under Sharif during Vajpayee''s visit to Pakistan and was considered the ''architect of Kargil'', the border skirmish that broke out when Pakistan Army-backed guerrillas sneaked into Indian territory across the Line of Control at Kargil in late May 1999. The 50-day conflict between Indian and Pakistani troops left hundreds dead on both sides. Musharraf dismissed India''s contention that Pakistan was promoting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, saying: ''We don''t call what is happening in India-held Kashmir as terrorism. It is freedom struggle.'' He also distinguished between the international border and the Line of Control in Kashmir, saying the latter was a vaguely demarcated territory, which was disputed and did not belong to India. To repeated questions on the issue, Musharraf, who seemed to be in his element at the question-and-answer session that lasted almost till midnight, said what was happening in Kashmir was not terrorism. ''It''s a freedom struggle. The people of Kashmir have risen against you. I don''t think there is anyone in Kashmir who wants to remain with India.'' He said he was not a warmonger despite his military uniform and that he stood for peace and prosperity in South Asia, but the Indian government was not getting down from its high moral ground to talk to him. He said if India put conditions for a dialogue, he could also put ''10 conditions'' and said if India talked of the wounds of Kargil, Pakistan could also talk of the wounds of Siachen. He said he was the last man to admit that Kargil was a mistake and that it would serve both countries ''if we don''t go into history'' but start afresh. He said if India put conditions on Pakistan like reducing the level of terrorism, Pakistan could also put conditions on India like ''reducing the level of atrocities in Kashmir'' before it started talking. ''Then we won''t get anywhere,'' the General said. Musharraf''s no-holds-barred responses to journalists'' questions practically served to rule out any immediate prospect of dialogue between the two countries. Although Musharraf appeared pleading when he talked of India''s refusal to deal with him, he also said that he would not stand to be ''humiliated'' if he made the first move and the Indian government spurned him. Musharraf had to answer several questions on his recently reported statement in which he made a distinction between ''jehad'' (Islamic holy war) and terrorism. He rationalised jehad by saying it was defensive in nature, as a jehad could be waged against poverty, against illiteracy and against suppression of Muslims, as in Kashmir. But he denied he was preaching jehad specifically against India, though later on he clarified that he did not consider Kashmir to be part of India at all. To Indian journalists Musharraf came across as an impressive performer before the cameras who really does not weigh the import of the words he is saying. The General got so carried away by his own eloquence that, after the conclusion of the prolonged press conference, he came back to the podium again from his seat - after perhaps being advised by Begum Musharraf, who sat next to him at the head of the table - to apologise to the Indian guests for having ''unwittingly trampled on their sensitivities.'' He said he was a blunt man and did not believe in mincing words, though he often ended up being misunderstood. Musharraf also sought to take ''full advantage'' of his audience, as he himself put, by saying the scope of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) needed to be expanded to include political issues as well so that the other five nations of SAARC could be involved in resolving the dispute between India and Pakistan. He also called for removal of the consensus clause in SAARC, so that the next summit could be held as quickly as possible. At India''s instance last year the SAARC summit in Kathmandu was put off, because New Delhi said Pakistan did not have a democratically elected government to represent its people. This has continued to rankle Pakistan and it used the media seminar to drive home the point that, despite India, Pakistan managed to pull of a SAARC gathering.


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