Musharraf tells India Kashmir can never be sidelined
18 June 2003
The News International
LONDON: Pakistan would respond to any Indian overture by more than what was required or expected and there should be no misunderstanding in India or anywhere else that the main issue between the two countries was Kashmir and it could never be sidelined, President Pervez Musharraf said on Wednesday. Speaking to newsmen at a breakfast meeting, he said the recent developments between Pakistan and its eastern neighbour carried a deep significance with regard to sovereign equality of Pakistan and that the peace process would be hampered if there was coercion or dictation from any quarter.The president regretted the fact that India was trying to shift the conventional balance in its favour and, to that end, had increased its defence budget by almost 50 per cent over the past three years, while Pakistan had frozen its defence spending during this period.The president agreed with the suggestion that peace was unlikely to make much progress in Kashmir as in Palestine, unless the question of violence was de-linked from the peace process.He gave his assurance that there was no support by Pakistan to, what India describes as 'cross-border terrorism', but no guarantees could be given in view of the difficult terrain and the limitation on resources. India, with over 700,000 troops in Kashmir, had not been able to put a stop to it. Furthermore, India produced no evidence in furtherance of its accusations.The president said that the impression that some quarters had been given by the Indians that Pakistan was dragging its feet with regard to the peace initiative was entirely false that while the Indian prime minister had restricted his initiative to the opening of diplomatic missions and the use of airspace. It was Pakistan that had suggested another seven initiatives that included the re-opening of bus and rail links, re-starting sporting ties, upgrading diplomatic missions and the start of a dialogue towards the setting up of a nuclear restraint regime. None of these had received a response thus far, he pointed out. 'Pakistan's high commissioner to India is expected to take up his post by the end of this month, while his Indian counterpart is not expected in Islamabad till the middle of July,' he added.The president stated that the last Indo-Pak summit in Agra had been derailed by people acting 'behind the scene'. When pointed out that the same people still existed 'behind the scene', the president agreed, pointing out that it made a case for outside players playing a stronger role.The president said Pakistan was fighting the war against terror at three levels. The first was against remnants of the al-Qaeda network about whom he was confident that as an organisation they had ceased to exist. That meant that organised, coordinated acts by them could be ruled out although random acts could still take place. But Pakistan, he said, was fighting terrorism against the former Taliban government of Afghanistan as well its own extremist fundamental sectarian groups.About Afghanistan, Musharraf expressed the view that there was a vacuum in the country that needed to be filled, even by force, so that this vacuum might not be exploited by elements with vested interests. He said the troubles in that country could also be attributed to the fact that a majority found itself under-represented in government while a minority was over-represented and that the coalition partners needed to be clear among themselves what exactly was needed to be done.He felt that the coalition forces should stay in the country till effective control had been established and that the issue of their departure was, therefore, 'effect-bound' and not 'time-bound'.The president was emphatic that 'Talibanisation' had no place in the Pakistani society. He pointed out that some 2,500 lawyers, whose meeting he had recently addressed, had said 'no' with one voice when he had posed to them the question whether they wanted a Taliban type set-up in Pakistan.The president rejected a suggestion that it was necessary to seek a ruling from the Supreme Court (SC) on the validity of the LFO. He said the SC had given him the necessary authority to introduce changes in the Constitution and the speaker of the National Assembly also made a ruling recently confirming the validity of the LFO.Later, at a luncheon meeting the Pakistan Council and the Pakistani Bankers Association, President Musharraf said that Pakistan had made considerable economic progress over the past three and a half years. He pledged that these reforms would be carried forward till the common man felt their effects.He said his government had set the priorities of economic revival, poverty alleviation, good governance and introduction of a functional democracy. He maintained that there could be no comparison between the economic achievements his government had made.He pointed out that the country technically in default had now a very healthy reserves of $10.6 billion, signifying an import capacity of 11 months, which is greater than that of India's. The GDP figure grew from 3.5 per cent to 5.1 per cent, making the country with the third highest GDP growth in Asia, which also is more than the GDP growth rate of India, which stands at 4.4 per cent.The exports, he said, were expected to touch $11 billion by the end of the year, marking an increase of 40 per cent and remittances had gone up from $1 billion to $4 billion. President Musharraf said a host of development projects were being executed and would provide the basis for poverty alleviation.Mentioning search for cheaper sources of energy, he said Pakistan was rich in water, gas and coal but the international power producers (IPPs) that had been set up required oil, which Pakistan did not have and these IPPs were now in the process of being changed to gas, coal and hydro units.Shifting his attention to the LFO, the president said that if the LFO was invalid, so would be the elections conducted under it. The reason for the LFO, said the president, arose out of the requirement to adopt the practice of democracy in Pakistan to Pakistan's own peculiar conditions, for the model that worked in a country could not be imposed on another.The president concluded that if the interests of Pakistan demanded that he wore 10 hats, then he would wear them all.In a brief address of welcome, Anjum Iqbal of Pakistan Bankers Association also praised the President for taking Pakistan through a period of marked economic revival, but pointed out that more was needed to be done. He said the government had rightly identified the building sector as an engine of growth, but the slow working of the judiciary remained to be addressed for the flowering of this sector. He said the cost of doing business in Pakistan needed to be reduced and that the government needs to improve Pakistan's image abroad.APP adds: President Musharraf told British editors and journalists that Pakistan was for peace and tranquility with India but would not compromise on its sovereignty.About his efforts for strengthening democracy in Pakistan, the president regretted that Pakistan is not getting a fair deal from the Commonwealth.In reply to a question about the latest developments in the Middle East, the president said that peace process is in progress between Israel and Palestinians. 'If they reach an agreement, Pakistan will formulate its policies in coordination with its Arab and Muslim friends.Musharraf said that Pakistan had the potential to guard its national interests.