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I hope this opportunity is not missed

Thursday 15 January 2004

Article paru dans Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 01, January 03 - 16, 2004.

Interview with Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Mian Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, 63, comes from a well-known political family of Punjab. His grandfather Maulana Abdul Qadir Kasuri was a leader of the Indian National Congress. His father Mahmud Ali Kasuri was also in the Congress (until 1940) and was sentenced in 1930 to four months’ imprisonment. Mahmud Kasuri was briefly a member of Z.A. Bhutto’s Cabinet.

Khurshid Kasuri studied in the Government College in Lahore and in Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He did his Master’s in Political Science and Public Administration, besides a few courses at the Universities of Paris and Nice. He is a barrister from Gray’s Inn, London. For a long time, he was in Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s party Tehrik-e-Istiqlal.

In 1977, Khurshid Kasuri was elected to the National Assembly. In 1990, he was appointed secretary-general of the People’s Democratic Alliance, of which the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was a constituent. In 1993, he left Tehrik-e-Istiqlal and joined the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). He was elected to the National Assembly in 1997 from Kasur and was made the Chairman of the Committee on Information and Media Development. He was also a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. A moderate liberal, Kasuri has assiduously cultivated Pakistan’s minorities.

Mohammad Shehzad conducted this exclusive interview with Kasuri in his office on December 23 in the backdrop of the forthcoming SAARC summit and the current state of India-Pakistan relations. Excerpts:

What does President Pervez Musharraf mean when he says Pakistan has set aside the U.N. resolutions on Kashmir?

The bottom line, which is also reflected by the resolutions, is the wishes of Kashmiris have to be respected. We cannot envisage a solution without that. I have spoken to many Foreign Ministers and they are convinced that durable peace in South Asia is not possible without addressing Kashmiris’ aspirations. So, the international community has realised it. Moreover, all political disputes that affect Muslims should be resolved. That includes Palestine and Kashmir - the most important unresolved disputes on the international agenda. We want durable peace. We are prepared for bilateral talks. But they should be meaningful, sustained and composite... Both (Prime Minister A.B.) Vajpayee and (President Pervez) Musharraf showed great statesmanship and enormous flexibility at the Agra summit. We need such attitude in future as well to resolve the long-standing issues.

Jehadis and right-wing politicians view Musharraf’s statement as a sell-out...

It is sheer nonsense. One just needs to read the views of the Kashmiri leaders whom Musharraf met yesterday [December 22]. They paid him glowing tributes during the meeting and afterwards. They admitted that he had outperformed any other leader in terms of services for the Kashmiri cause. They also admitted that he had again put Kashmir on the international agenda.

Why were the representatives of the Ansari-led All Parties Hurriyat Conference not invited to the meeting?

Frankly, I don’t know the exact people who were invited in that way. Hurriyat and so many other groups were represented. Their credentials are `above question’. Our position is quite clear: we want unity within the Hurriyat. It is in their interest. They’ve struggled hard. Pakistan will do whatever it can to bring greater unity among them.

What steps have Pakistan taken to bring unity within the Hurriyat?

I cannot provide details.

Why was this flexibility on Kashmir not demonstrated earlier?

It was there earlier, at least since the Agra summit [July 2001]. Both Vajpayee and Musharraf had shown the wisdom, statesmanship, courage and flexibility in this effect.

Do you think Vajpayee is sincere about making peace with Pakistan?

One has to go by what one sees. When he was the Indian Foreign Minister during Morarji Desai’s government, India-Pakistan relations were good. He did come to Lahore. After President Musharraf came to power, he made efforts at Agra. Since then - though there have been conflicting statements - he managed to communicate a more positive image compared to many other Indian leaders, who have probably conscientiously been trying to convey a negative impression.

To what extent do you think his Cabinet members share his vision of peace?

It is not for Pakistan’s Foreign Minister to go into India’s internal politics.

I feel, at present, the constellation of political forces is such that the chances of an enduring settlement are the greatest. In India you have what is regarded as a hardline Hindu party. In Pakistan you have a Muslim League government. At the same time you have a legal President who is also the Army chief. He is completely backing the government. From my experience, I feel, it is the right time now and I hope this opportunity is not missed.

Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha has told The Friday Times [December 19] that India does not consider Kashmir as a dispute between the two countries.

There have been many statements. Mr. Vajpayee has himself said that we are prepared to discuss Kashmir. Of course, he keeps talking of conditions. I interact with the international community and I know the whole world feels this issue [Kashmir] should be resolved. After all, President Bill Clinton described Kashmir as the most dangerous place on earth. After the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, the Security Council asked both countries to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. Recently, the E.U. [European Union] said the same. The French Foreign Minister recently said the same in a very important speech in London. The G-8 in the meetings in Paris said the same. This is a global village. None of us can live in isolation. neither India nor Pakistan. Furthermore, it is primarily in our own interest. The whole world has an interest because both countries are nuclear powers. So, the international community has a genuine interest in seeing the peaceful resolution of all disputes, including that of Jammu and Kashmir.

Do you think India has adequately matched Pakistan’s confidence-building measures (CBMs)?

Mr. Vajpayee did initiate CBMs after his speech in Srinagar. He said we would go to the High Commissioner’s level from the Deputy High Commissioner’s level and air links will be restarted. But those were unilateral steps. We did not ask for them. Nonetheless, we welcomed those gestures... Prime Minister [Zafarullah Khan] Jamali responded with nine CBMs. The ball is now in India’s court.

Could you mention one single CBM that India should have taken by now?

CBMs are meant to lead to something. It is not that we did not have trains...airlines/buses before. We did have High Commissioners. And despite that we had three major wars and three minor wars. CBMs are in themselves not good enough. What is needed is a peace process - a composite dialogue, which will address all the issues of concern between the two countries, including Kashmir. Until that happens, there is always a fear that the forces - and there are such forces in both countries that do not like the current thaw - may get an opportunity to strike back. So, we should not allow too much time to such forces. So, it is in our interest to go for the `real’ CBMs. And that is to initiate a composite dialogue. And we have said repeatedly that we are prepared for that. The ball is now in India’s court.

An influential section of Kashmiris are talking in terms of the `third option’ or an independent Kashmir. What are your views on it?

It will be foolish on my part as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan to start giving my opinion on possible solutions. I will only say, durable peace between India and Pakistan can only be ensured if the aspirations of the people of Kashmir are accommodated. It will be stupid at this moment to try and say which solution is good, which is bad. If you want to be positive, you should concentrate on dialogue - the initiation and the structure of the dialogue. It should be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. You know why? The Vietnamese and the Americans were talking when they were bombarding each other. The Koreans and the Americans were talking all the time. You need to talk even when the situation is not good. We have the tendency of talking when the situation is better and then we stop talking... No progress can be made without constantly talking to each other.

But, is Kashmir amenable to any solution?

That is the test for diplomacy and statesmanship. Petty politicians will only try to get more votes to perpetuate themselves in power. Real statesmen look beyond that.

India-Pakistan relations have been unpleasant right from the beginning. What are the reasons?

Frankly speaking, I don’t know how to describe it. If you have an independent mind, then there are the U.N. resolutions. India took the matter to the U.N. We did not! Pakistan, in the eyes of many objective foreigners, was not in the wrong. Unfortunately, because of the Kashmir dispute, the two countries could not concentrate on their common problems. We need to resolve our disputes. I am not sitting here as an observer. There are some things that I can say with very carefully chosen words. If I were not the Foreign Minister, I would have been far more open.

If you could tell me honestly, do Foreign Ministers, elected representatives, and civil society have a say in the country’s foreign policy?

Very simply, we acquire our authority by virtue of the fact that we are elected. The Pakistan Army is a very sophisticated one. By the time you become a general, you have to pass many exams. And they do read political science, geopolitics, economics. Is it even believable that the Pakistan Army feels that the political government has no worth? Had this been the case, they would have never held the elections! Let us admit that General Musharraf was the first man in Pakistan’s history - a military leader - who obeyed the orders of the Supreme Court to hold elections within three years. What gives us the power is we are elected representatives. But does it mean we should go on a warpath with the Pakistan Army? We should get our heads examined if we think that way! ... But just as nobody in India or America has a monopoly on decision-making, nobody does here either. There is a process of consultation. And if you are well prepared, if your arguments are too advanced, if they have merit, then they are listened to. That is the process through which all democracies work.

But the Commonwealth has serious doubts about democracy in Pakistan.

The Commonwealth has paid immense tribute to Pakistan’s progress on democracy and hailed the transparency in government, integrity of its leaders, progress on issues relating to women and the minorities, and the election process. I do not wish to spoil the atmosphere for the coming SAARC conference. Some countries were objecting to Pakistan’s re-entry to the Commonwealth. I hope such objections will disappear. Pakistan fulfils the Harare and Millbrook Declarations that set down the criteria for Commonwealth membership. Pakistan’s democratic credentials have not been questioned by the Commonwealth. They have been acknowledged by the Prime Minister of Britain as well as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.

Despite being a close ally of the U.S. in its war against terror, Pakistan’s reputation is so low, particularly with reference to the alleged transfer of nuclear technology?

You would have seen the statement of the State Department in this respect. It is very clear. [The State Department supports Pakistan’s viewpoint that it has not transferred nuclear know-how]. We are a responsible country. We will look into the allegation. Anybody found guilty will be dealt with according to the law.

Pakistan is bound to give India the status of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) norms. Has any progress been made on this?

A lot of progress was made last time in Kathmandu. There is a mechanism under the WTO of enforcing that. India has been using it more as a political ploy. If we make progress in our bilateral relations and in the context of SAARC, hopefully, India will not raise these issues.

Will India get it?

I have not said that. India will not raise those issues.

Has SAARC fulfilled its objectives?

Unfortunately, it has not fulfilled its objectives and the dreams of its founders. SAARC has unfortunately become hostage to the India-Pakistan relationship. The primary responsibility falls on India and Pakistan to try and correct this.

Would it be a good idea for Pakistan Television and Doordarshan to join forces and start a live debate programme among journalists, politicians and academicians in India and Pakistan?

I personally feel there should be a more open exchange of information between the two countries. But the ban on Pakistan TV was initiated by India. Pakistan responded to that.

How would you like to be remembered?

As somebody who played some role in improving India-Pakistan relations, because my primary focus is the poor people of Pakistan in particular and of South Asia in general.



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