February 2007 News

Musharraf seeks West, China's help to solve Kashmir issue

15 February 2007
The Daily Excelsior

Islamabad: Kashmir issue is 'ripe for resolution', Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has said as he sought a 'proactive' role from the West and China for its settlement. 'While the confidence-building measures are going on well, never before have (Indo-Pak) relations been so good for conflict resolution. We are moving forward towards conflict resolution. Kashmir is ripe for resolution,' the General said addressing a conference titled ‘Voices from Asia towards a process for cooperation and security’ here yesterday. Musharraf said he was reasonably optimistic and hopeful that there would be forward movement on Sir Creek, Siachen Glacier and Kashmir issue. 'The West and China should play a proactive role in finding peaceful resolution to the Kashmir issue. It has to be settled for durable peace in the region,' he said. 'Disputes between Pakistan and India cannot be overlooked as these have witnessed three wars and killings at the Line of Control and on Siachen Glacier. We were doing it for 50 years. We are for peace. People's on both sides care for a peace momentum and the peace process,' Musharraf said. While commenting on conflict resolution worldwide, he said players involved in these issues should realise the connotation of compromise and peaceful resolution. 'Courage is needed to reconcile and shake hands and forget and forgive rather than go for confrontation. Both sides have to swallow their pride and step back,' Musharraf said. Musharraf said the people of Pakistan and India have realised that peace is the only answer to resolving disputes between the two and that neither country can impose a military solution on the other. He said Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir, the US-Iran confrontation, Lebanon and sectarianism were unresolved political issues which had led to a state of flux and uncertainty worldwide. Meanwhile, with Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri’s visit to New Delhi less than a week away, India and Pakistan are yet to resolve their differences on a liberalised visa regime as Islamabad has rejected a number of proposals from New Delhi in this regard. Though Kasuri and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee had said during their meeting here last month that both sides would finalise the new visa pact before Kasuri’s visit to India on February 20, officials said no headway has been made yet towards clinching the agreement. Among the Indian proposals rejected by Pakistan is one for visas on arrival and another on creating a special visa category for pilgrims and students. Kasuri will travel to New Delhi for a three-day visit to take part in a meeting of the India-Pakistan Joint Commission and to hold talks with Mukherjee on issues related to the bilateral peace process. Officials here said the Indian side is waiting for Pakistan to respond to a comparative assessment of proposals from both sides that was presented to Kasuri during his talks with Mukherjee. They pointed out that Islamabad has 'virtually struck down or watered down' New Delhi’s proposals to liberalise what is considered the 'most regressive visa regime' hampering the process of enhancing people-to-people contacts between the two countries. Ahead of Mukherjee’s trip, Kasuri had said Pakistan was ready to sign a new liberalised visa pact during the visit. He was apparently surprised when it was pointed out during talks that Pakistan had rejected India’s proposals made in 2005, including the introduction of pilgrimage and student visas and the issuance of visas on arrival. Pakistan’s reluctance to grant pilgrim and student visas took India by surprise as there is a heavy demand for them, the officials said. On the pilgrim visas, Pakistan wanted the current protocol to be confined to identified shrines like Nankana Saheb in Pakistan and Ajmer in India to issue visas to specified numbers of visitors, and it did not want to start a new visa category for people to visit different shrines. A comparative study of proposals of the two countries revealed that Pakistan had also reduced the Indian proposal to grant visas to businessmen for 90 days to 30 days. Pakistan also rejected India’s proposal that businessmen be granted visas based on the recommendation of established trade and business bodies of the two countries. Instead it wanted the identity of businessmen to be determined by the respective governments, the officials said. Islamabad also curtailed New Delhi’s proposal to grant visit visas for three months to two months, they said. Other proposals that did not find favour with Pakistan included India’s offer to open Kolkata and Chennai as new air and sea ports of entry, in addition to New Delhi, Mumbai, Lahore and Karachi. Instead, Pakistan proposed Amritsar as a new port of entry. Pakistan was willing to grant visas for eight cities while India was ready to provide visas for 12 cities. The only point of agreement for both sides seemed to be the introduction of tourist group visas through tour operators for groups of not less than 10 people. During last month’s visit, Mukherjee told a joint news conference with Kasuri that both sides had agreed to expedite the liberalisation of the visa regime and to 'complete the work by February 2007'.


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