November 2001 News

Benazir charms people, calls for accord

27 November 2001
Time of India

New Delhi: It was a benign Benazir Bhutto that gladdened India's heart this week with the government throwing open its doors to welcome the out-of-power politician. In a mea culpa framework, Bhutto charmed audiences, saying she had "lost opportunities" to further relations with India, improving bilateral ties and advocating an "open and safe border" with India.In an obvious attempt to posit herself as a democratic alternative in the post-WTC scenario, Bhutto addressed herself to international concerns about the tensions in the region, suggesting that stability was not possible with a military dictator.While Bhutto's return to power may still be a distant dream, she indicated that she was ready to contest next year's election with or without an agreement with the military government with whom her party was negotiating.In what was obviously sweet music to Indian ears, Bhutto suggested that the two countries should learn to talk "about other issues even if some of them remained intractable". "There can be convergence on some issues even if a gap remains on others."She welcomed the "proactive steps" taken by the Indian government on Kashmir, including the ceasefire, talks with the Hurriyat and the steps for setting up visa posts. In an apparent reference to the fears of Islamic fundamentalists following the WTC attacks, Bhutto spoke of the "growing debate raging about the country and the larger Muslim community", saying while she represented "freedom, freemarket and global cooperation" another section believed that "violence can bring meaningful change". She had herself been the victim of extremist attacks both on her government and her life.Obviously prepared for questions on her role in promoting Taliban and militancy in Kashmir, she argued that her government had lent support to indigenous movements in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir which had been subsequently sabotaged by outside groups. She had ensured that groups like the Laskar-e-Taiba, which had links with the Al-Qaida, stayed out of the struggle. Taliban, she noted, had received support from the US and Europe.She acknowledged the role of India as the largest democracy and the US as the most powerful in the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, and said, she had "taken the Indian leadership into confidence about my efforts to convince the US to support democracy".


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