Bus accord yet 'another milestone' - Secret channel for Kashmir talks
19 February 2005
Lahore: Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri said here on Saturday the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service agreement was a victory for sanity, Pakistan, India and Kashmiri people which no single party could or should claim. 'It is the second Kashmir-specific very important CBM after the unilateral cease fire by Pakistan, which was internationally recognized,' he said at a news conference at the State Guest House here. Mr Kasuri said negotiations on core issues, mainly the Kashmir dispute, were continuing between the two countries. 'We have created a secret channel (for the talks on Kashmir) to avoid confusions (at this stage), he said. He iterated that Pakistan would not accept the LoC as the international border. 'All news suggesting the acceptance by us are false and baseless,' he asserted. The foreign minister, who talked on recent developments in Pakistan-India relations and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's Iranian visit next week, announced that he was proceeding to Japan on Sunday (today) on a three-day tour. 'This visit is very important for Pakistan,' he added. Talking about the bus service, he said it had been agreed upon only in the spirit of getting positive results from the two countries' on-going dialogue. While announcing the agreement, he and his Indian counterparts had disallowed questions by reporters to avoid a situation that could lead to a particular self-defeating spin. He hoped that the travel facilities would develop interaction between leadership of Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC and improve human rights situation in the held Valley. 'We expect that this will ease contact between Kashmiris and also associate them with the Pakistan-India dialogue process. We have been suggesting their association with the dialogue process from the day one because it is basically linked to their future,' Mr Kasuri said. He also welcomed the positive response to the development in Kashmir by both the countries, especially by the Pakistani opposition leaders Ms Benazir Bhutto, Raja Zafarul Haq and Hafiz Husain Ahmad. Replying to questions, the foreign minister said the bus service had nothing to do with the Kashmir dispute, which did exist. Dialogue on the dispute was going on and 'we would (publicly) talk on the core issues only at an appropriate time.' He explained that because of opposite but fixed positions of both the countries on the Kashmir dispute this was not possible for their foreign ministers to make public details of the talks on it. 'As this would create confusions, we have evolved a secret channel for such talks. Talks on Muzaffargarh-Srinagar bus service went on for eight months but we announced their results only a few days ago (for the same reason),' he said. According to Mr Kasuri, the CBMs and talks on core issues requiring resolution were the two different parts of the composite dialogue. The first CBM round was over and details for the six-month second round had been finalized. 'I have been invited to India and hope more progress would be made in the new round,' he said. He said Islamabad was alive to the Baglihar dam issue. It had tried hard to have it resolved at bilateral level and approached the World Bank after the (negative) response by India. 'The issue has been pending since 1990, but credit goes to this government for highlighting it,' he said. Answering a question on the Mr Natwar Singh's statement on Pakistan's alleged support to Kashmiri militants, he said the claim was false as according to the Indian army chief and several leaders infiltration had almost been discontinued. 'Pakistan has made every effort to restore peace,' Mr Kasuri said. He clarified that Islamabad was taking such CBMs only to change the status quo in the region, which otherwise suited to India. 'Pakistan has tried to make India understand that the change will benefit not only our peoples, but also the entire region,' he said. The foreign minister parried a question on the alleged Indian involvement in Balochistan and said both the countries must live like good neighbours because instability in one would affect another. The government, he said, was trying to handle the Balochistan tension through dialogue but would protect vital installations at any cost. 'Balochistan's development budget is larger than that of the Punjab as we want to give relief to its people,' he said. NUCLEAR PROGRAMME Mr Kasuri iterated that the country's nuclear programme was in safe hands. 'This is our defence need and we do not have any aggressive intentions,' he said, adding he would also convey the same message to Japan. Pakistan would fulfil all international responsibilities with regard to its nuclear assets. It had a very strong command control system and was in contact with all international nuclear agencies. It was not possible for it to avoid nuclear tests after India conducted them in 1998, he said. PM's VISIT TO IRAN Mr Kasuri said the prime minister was visiting Iran next week to cement brotherly ties with it. The visit would increase the two countries preferential trade and they would also discuss the gas pipeline and the joint investment company issues, he said. Pakistan, he said, opposed the use of force against Iran because attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq had created problems for it. 'We are in contact with the US and European Union and have also given our opinion to Iran,' he said.