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No compromise on centrality of the Kashmir issue

Pakistan invites India

to talks, again

SIKANDER HAYAT

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has once again invited India to talks, insisting, however, that "the centrality of the Kashmir issue has to be recognized and discussed substantively".

"We have now told the Indians again that we are prepared for negotiations but only if there is a clear understanding that the two non-papers we have given them on the Kashmir issue will form the central part of the agenda", Foreign Secretary Najmuddin Shaikh told the Bussiness Recorder in an exclusive interview. Alongwith we also will be prepared to discuss the six non-papers they have given us on other issues," he added.

Pakistan's two non-papers relate to the modalities of holding plebiscite in Kashmir and on the creation of propitious conditions for that purpose. The two countries have already held seven rounds of talks at the level of foreign secretaries, with India at all these rounds trying to evade a substantive discussion on Kashmir.

The foreign secretary disclosed that the last round of Pak-India talks was held, despite the vitiating of the atmosphere, under the directive of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who had been given a clear understanding that India would in that seventh round engage in a substantive discussion on Kashmir. "This did not happen," he added.

Najmuddin Shaikh, who is Pakistan's senior-most diplomat, having held ambassadorial assignments in Washington and Tehran, described the present state of Pak-India relationship "very dismal", which he said, is not the advantage of either India or Pakistan. "If we can have such a discussion, if we can forward towards the solution, a bright future can be foreseen for the India-Pakistan relations and for opening up of new vistas for cooperation between the two countries," he said.

But for the festering issue of Kashmir, the two main South Asian countries have lagged behind other Asian countries like South Korea, Malaysia and even Indonesia, compared to whom the economics of these two countries was quite advanced at the time of their independence. He said: "Both countries have spent an inordinate part of their limited resources on military expenditure, and for what?"

Najmuddin Shaikh said India has refused to honour its own pledges to accord the Kashmiri people the right to determine their own future. These pledges were made by India in the United Nations and were endorsed by the international community in the Security Council resolutions. "Such resolutions do not lose their relevance with time," he said, adding "certainly, they do not do so when people whose rights are trampled upon wage a relentless struggle against the occupation forces".

He said for Pakistan the issue of Kashmir is more than merely a matter of territory, as some Indian propaganda would have it. Kashmir, he asserted, is more than a geographical contiguity and strategic need. "It is an important matter of principle, it is an important matter of kinship with the Kashmiri people."

The foreign secretary said Pakistan has failed to understand the rationale of the position taken by India on Kashmir. India has proclaimed itself a champion of democracy but insists on holding a totally alienated people against their will, he added.

"India claims that allowing the people of Kashmir to exercise their right of self-determination would lead to the disintegration of India, yet it knows full well that in its own constitution it has accorded a special status to the Indian-Held Kashmir and had by that very act established that Kashmir was not a part of India and that any solution to the Kashmir problem would not be a precedent for the other regions of India," the foreign secretary argued.

"If, however, the Indians continue on their present path of ruthlessly suppressing, with over 600,000 military and paramilitary troops, the struggle of the Kashmiri people the outlook for Indo-Pakistan relations must remain bleak," the foreign secretary cautioned.

But the ruled out imminent war over Kashmir between Pakistan and India, Najmuddin Shaikh said; "There have been, from time to time, bellicose statements from the Indian leaders but I do not believe that any threat of war is imminent."

In his wide-ranging interview, the foreign secretary also discussed Pakistan's ties with Central Asia, Afghanistan, United States, Iran and China. He also strongly rejected the suggestion that in the post-Cold War era of transition when it is no more a member of any major alliance, nor a frontline state, Pakistan is faced with increasing isolation.

"We are not isolated. In fact, we have re-entered the comity of nations with a high standing following the elections of October 1993 and the strong perception that it created abroad-that democracy has finally taken root in Pakistan," Foreign Secretary Najmuddin Shaikh told this correspondent.

"Also that the government the elections have brought about was a moderate government that accepted that Islam was a way of life for all Pakistanis. But in its particular terms it was genuine image of Islam-humane, tolerant-rather than a distorted image that had prevailed somewhat earlier. Pakistan cannot be regarded as isolated also because it is in fact a bridge between very important areas, the areas the importance of which has only been heightened by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Central Asian states as independent countries seeking to broaden their economic, trade and political horizons following a long period of being art of an integrated system which was the Soviet Union," he explained.

Najmuddin Shaikh said as the Central Asian states transit from command politics and command economy to the market economic system, they look to new avenues for their rich fossil resources and abundant agricultural products. At the same time they provide lucrative opportunities for exporters of consumer of goods and services, he added.

"Pakistan, via Afghanistan, is a logical route for the Central Asian countries for all exports and imports from the Far East, Middle East and of course South Asia. Similarly, Pakistan is advantageously placed for being both a consumer and transit route for transfer of oil and gas resources from the Persian Gulf to South Asia and points beyond," the foreign secretary argued.

Quoting the prime minister that today's world is of "MoUs and not IoUs and of trade not aid," the foreign secretary said as the world's attention turns towards economics and trade rather than politics, Pakistan's importance and role in international affairs grows rather than diminishes." A prerequisite for this is the nature of economic policies that Pakistan follows," he said, highlighting the government's programme of liberalization, deregulation and privatization.

Is Pakistan moving away from Iran and China because it is getting closer to the United States? the foreign secretary was asked. His reply was: "It is not true that Pakistan is allowing its traditionally close relations with Iran or its relationship with China, which is regarded as one of the pillars of Pakistan's foreign policy, to be affected by the mutual effort in Washington and Islamabad to seek removal of the irritants that have clouded the US-Pakistan relations for the last few years."

"I should emphasize that in today's world, more so than ever before, the economic relationship provides the underpinning for political ties," the foreign secretary maintained. But he pointed out the "one exception to this is the relations with neighbouring countries. Here the sharing of borders introduces the imperative for maintenance of good political relations. This applies both to our relations with Iran with whom we also share ties of common culture and common religion and many elements of a common history, and the People's Republic of China."

In reply to a question, the foreign secretary justified the extradition of five Egyptians because with Cairo Pakistan has signed up an extradition treaty and has thus accepted certain obligations. But he was assertive that the act was not to appease the West. He said Pakistan is a moderate Islamic country because that is what it is, and not because of any commitment made to the West."

Asked the fate of Pakistan's money with the United States for the purchase of equipment, the foreign secretary answered there are reports of the US Congressmen, individually, expressing their support for President Clinton's proposal underlining what is perhaps clearly not visible in the short debate in the Senate-namely the strong body of support for Pakistan that exists in the US legislature.

In the light of the perception now that the imperialist or Communist-Capitalist confrontations are no more there, which justified the concept of buffer state, is Afghanistan on the brink of division? Najmuddin Shaikh replied to this by repeating Pakistan's standard position that there would be no development that is more deleterious to the interests of Afghans and Pakistanis than there be a, division of Afghanistan.

"The danger (of division of Afghanistan) is, however, to my mind somewhat exaggerated. Afghanistan has been an independent and a United State long before the Communist-Capitalist confrontation and the factors that bind the various parts of Afghanistan are far more important than the so-called ethnic pulls and pushes that capture the attention today," the foreign secretary argued. He said only people having inimical designs towards Afghanistan, Pakistan and indeed towards the whole region would advocate or forment a movement in that direction.

Pakistan has adopted the policy of strict neutrality towards Afghanistan while being willing and indeed anxious to assist the Afghans "whatever the way they choose" to bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan under a government that is reflective of the aspirations of the Afghan people, the foreign secretary said.

Foreign Minister Sardar Aseff Ahmad Ali's recent visit, he said, is a testimony to Pakistan's desire to see a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. That desire is also reflected in Pakistan's welcoming the UN peace mission led by Ambassador Mehmud Mestiri or the OIC peace efforts as well as in welcoming various Afghan leaders including Sardar Wali.

Foreign Secrtary Najmuddin Shaikh said: "In every forum and in every contact with Afghan leaders we have stressed the importance for us of peace and stability and of unity and territorial integrity of Afghanistan."

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