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History Has Been Made

Tuesday 6 January 2004

This was made possible because of the ’vision and statesmanship’ of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and that it was a victory for ’moderates’ in the two countries, said the Pakistan President. ’There are no winners or losers. We must not get involved (as to) who won or who lost.’

Declaring that "history has been made" with India and Pakistan deciding to resume composite dialogue to settle their problems, President Pervez Musharraf today said this was made possible because of the "vision and statesmanship" of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and it was a victory for "moderates" in the two countries.

"There was a thaw in the Indo-Pak relations in the past few months because of positive actions taken by both sides. We had to take this thaw, confidence-building measures, improvement in atmosphere forward.

"And there was a desire on both sides to take this process forward towards normalisation of relations. History has been made," Musharraf told a crowded press conference at the Aiwan-e-Sadar (Presidential Palace) here, a few hours after the two countries issued a joint press statement announcing resumption of composite dialogue in February.

Musharraf, who had an hour-long discussion with Vajpayee yesterday and had received a phone call from him this morning, said "the total credit goes to his (Vajpayee) vision and statesmanship" which contributed towards reaching the decision to resume composite dialogue.

Like the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan earlier in the day who read out the joint press statement to the media, the General also said "there are no winners or losers. We must not get involved (as to) who won or who lost.

"It is a victory for all those peace-loving people of the world, victory for the people of India and Pakistan, victory for the people of Kashmir who have suffered all these years and are still suffering and victory for the moderates in India and Pakistan".

The General said there was "flexibility" on both sides during the bilateral negotiations which led to the decision and specially mentioned the contributions of National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries of both the countries in this regard.

"We have arrived at an agreement on taking this normalisation process forward and setting a framework for taking it to its logical length and its culmination".

’Statesmanship and vision’

It was a "historic" telephone call by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this morning to President Pervez Musharraf that led to the joint statement for starting a composite dialogue next month and the two leaders congratulated each other.

"We congratulated each other. We both showed resolve to move forward...I wished him very good health and he wished me protection", Musharraf laughingly said at a press conference in an obvious reference to the recent assassination bids on him.

He said Vajpayee had telephoned him this morning and "we accepted the joint statement and all sealed the final decision." To a question whether Vajpayee had recited any of his poems in response to the couplets he had recited at the banquet hosted in honour of SAARC leaders, Musharraf said "I can never match him in this field. He is far ahead of me.

"I have nine lives and I have not consumed all," he said while referring to the recent assassination bids on his life.

He, however, admitted that extremists could again target him particularly in the wake of the latest developments on the Indo-Pakistan front.

Replying to a question, Musharraf asserted that the Government had resolved to rid Pakistan of extremists.

"We have to take to task all the extremists in any shape or colour," he said, adding no no extremism would be allowed in Pakistan.

He said India and Pakistan must deal with the extremists strongly on either side.

Referring to the latest attack on him in Rawalpindi, he said investigations had made tremendous progress and "we will get them.

Three points

Noting that there were three points in the joint press statement, he said while one was that Kashmir "is an issue which needed to be resolved", the other was that a composite dialogue has to be started on all issues, including Kashmir.

The third point, he said, was that Pakistan had reiterated its resolve to fight terrorism and not allow its soil to be used for terrorism anywhere in the world.

’I don’t hold a whistle’

Musharraf said there were extremists on both sides who may "sabotage" the peace process. "Yes, there are extremists on both sides who may not want peace, take extreme and inflexible positions, who may like to sabotage this process." To a question, he said he "could never guarantee" ceasefire in the valley or in other parts of Kashmir.

Observing that the people of Kashmir are looking at some way out, he said "certaintly, I don’t hold a whistle and I can never guarantee ceasefire ... One could facilitate as much as possible. I presume my word carries some weight.

"I think we never reached in the past where we have reached" now, Musharraf said, adding a realisation was taking place both in India and Pakistan that the way forward is peace in this era of geo-economics.

Replying to a question, the President said he was "not in contact" with anyone in the Kashmir valley and would not like to touch on issues on divergence and differences, but on convergence and complimentaries. "If you want to proceed, we need to leave old divergences and not get involved in these," he said.

Asked whether Pakistan was ready to go beyond its stated position and seek similar assurances from India to resolve the Kashmir issue, Musharraf said that it was "too early and too premature" to talk of solutions.

There has to be a step-by-step approach, he said adding "we have taken a big leap forward. We have to sustain this for further progress".

He said "when we come to that stage (of taking decisions), we need to see things in reality so that conclusions can be reached. We need to be realistic to arrive at solutions".

No outside influence

To a question whether US had pressured India and Pakistan to arrive at such a decision, Musharraf said "the deal is between India and Pakistan, between their leaderships. There is no question of any outside force to play such a role or to force our hands into such a deal. It was the vision of both sides which made this possible and nobody else".

Musharraf said the joint statement was "a beginning and not an end". He said "a good beginning has been made. We’ll move forward with hard work and sincerity and by trusting each other." To another question as to how he perceived the outcome of his meeting with Vajpayee to have an impact on India which is likely to go to polls soon, Musharraf said it was for the Indian Government and the Prime Minister himself to see how the peace parleys with Pakistan would affect their popularity or prospects. "I will leave it to them to assess", he said.

Asked by a Pakistani journalist whether rights of Kashmiris would be fully protected following his talks with India, the General said "I don’t believe in hiding things in my pocket. I don’t believe in saying half truths and there are no secret deals in the offing. Whatever visible is the Joint Statement which is in front of you. Nothing more, nothing less".

No behind the scene activity

Musharraf also said he wanted to take the Kashmiri leaders along in the resolution of all disputes including Kashmir and emphasised "no behind the scene activity is going on".

Dismissing suggestions of a dichotomy between what he says and does, the General told an Indian journalist "I say what I mean .... I and have no magic wand or magic words to convince your leadership".

To a specific query at what level the composite dialogue would be held, Musharraf said level of interaction has not been decided. "You cannot lay down everything. When to meet? Where to meet? This is to be decided with passage of time.

Two days after calling for amendment to the SAARC Charter to discuss bilateral issues among member countries, Musharraf said he was expressing his "personal view".

"This is my personal view. I have been saying it. But it depends on other SAARC countries whether they agree or want to institutionalise it," Musharraf said at a press conference when referred to his remark in his speech at a banquet hosted in honour of visiting Heads of State and Government of SAARC countries on Sunday.

At the banquet, Musharraf had said that "we must expand the SAARC charter to discuss bilateral issues at regional level. If we fail, cynicism will take over", but the General refrained from directly mentioning Jammu and Kashmir.

Invite today, come tomorrow

"You invite me today, I will come tomorrow," he responded to a question by an Indian journalist when he proposed to travel again to India.

Musharraf, who visited India for a Summit meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in July 2001, said the environment then and now was vastly different and "much water has flown and a lot has happened since then." He referred to the 9/11 terror attack in the US, the global campaign against terrorism and subsequent developments.

"Therefore, I am optimistic that the future will be different".

He said he has no intention of competing in poetry and couplets with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who is "far ahead and much more knowledgeable than me" in this.

"Sher-o-shayari mein woh (Vajpayee) bahut aage hain,"(in poetry and Urdu couplets he is far ahead of me), Musharraf said at a pres conference when he was asked whether the Indian leader had responded with any poem or couplet to the couplet he recited a the banquet hosted in honour of the SAARC leaders.

Most Favoured Nation?

But he remained non-committal on Pakistan giving the most favoured nation status to India, saying that "let the (composite dialogue) process move forward".

"Certainly we will look into everything. A new process has started in our relationship. Let this move forward.... Confidence building measures have to progress. This is an issue which needs to be looked into", Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said at a press conference.

Replying to a question whether Pakistan was ready to grant the MFN status to India now, the General said that everything depended on the linkages — composite dialogue on issues including Kashmir.

Can we leave now?

For a change, it was the media which ran out of questions as Musharraf deftly fielded posers at the crowded press conference and showed no signs of calling it a day.

As the marathon press meet continued for abot 80 minutes, an Indian woman scribe surprised the Pakistani President, saying "can we leave. We all have deadlines to meet".

Unlike the normal practice of allowing a few questions after which the official spokesman winds up such press conferences, Musharraf went on to field questions from over 40 journalists, with a number of them asking supplementaries.

"I am available," the President said in between the conference, indicating that he was not going to disappoint anyone.

Asked whether he was ready to join Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on an Indo-Pak balloon flight peace mission, he smilingly quipped "I don’t mind if Prime Minister Vajpayee is willing". He added he has undertaken several parachute jumps but not gone on such a mission.

Asked as how he felt after Agra when summit level talks with Vajpayee had failed, Musharraf said "I was then a disappointed man. Now, I am a happy man".

On Pakistan allowing Indian singers to perform in this country, he said "yes, why not. I myself was born in India. There must be interaction including in the cultural field." To a question how he felt from being a soldier to now becoming a man of peace, he said "I know the ravages of war and now I am moving forward in the path of peace".

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