Zardari Backs Kashmir Autonomy Sans Defence, Foreign Affairs

27 June 2008

London: Asif Ali Zardari, co-chair of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that heads the country’s ruling coalition, backs Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s suggestion of greater autonomy for Kashmir but has added a rider - a joint India-Pakistan panel should decide on the state’s defence and foreign affairs. “Pending a final settlement, we agree with the statement of your (Indian) prime minister supporting an autonomous Kashmir running much of its own affairs,” he said while addressing the two-day Tehelka summit on “India & Pakistan- Designing A New Future” here Friday night. “A commission can be established between the two countries and the leaders of Kashmir themselves to work out what should be done in foreign and defence affairs,” Zardari added. The statements came on the day Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in India, his first since assuming office in March, for talks on taking the India-Pakistan peace process forward. According to Zardari, India and Pakistan “must make a viable peace” on Kashmir as this was “a solvable problem that must not take further lives”. At the same time, he cautioned that the delay in resolving the Kashmir issues should not “be an obstacle to work in other cooperative matters”. “One important way is through economic integration and trade, business cooperation, media exchanges, transportation links between our two countries, sports and entertainment events, and cooperation in IT and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” Zardari maintained. Noting that trade and other factors had made China the huge economic engine it had now become, he said: “That is the kind of future that awaits our people if we have the sincerity of purpose to reinvent our relations.” In this context, he noted that a start had been made with the bus service between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad and the train between New Delhi and Lahore. “We must increase those links, eliminate visa restrictions and remember that when we can travel between France and Germany - two old enemies - the train or bus does not stop any more for police and customs checks,” Zardari added. Pointing out that it was the PPP government of then prime minister Benazir Bhutto that had initiated the construction of the Gwadar port in Balochistan to bring Central Asian gas and oil to world markets through Pakistan, he said the present government was also keen on building a pipeline for gas to be pumped across Pakistan to India. “The PPP government intends to make these plans a top priority - to bring these gas and oil pipelines from Central Asia to the people of Balochistan in Pakistan and to export them to India. It is vital to our economies and our industry,” Zardari maintained. According to the PPP leader, “a peaceful and democratic India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can bring enormous benefits in this programme of bringing new energy resources to all of our economies. In this context, he noted that Sardar Attique, the prime minister of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, had welcomed investment from all regions and religions of the world, including from Indian Kashmir. “He has offered gas and electricity across the Line of Control (in Kashmir). Discussing such proposals can help bring us closer,” Zardari maintained.