Gen Pervez Musharraf has pulled back troops from the international border but made no mention of the LoC or cross-border terrorism. What does this mean?
This gesture indicates a willingness to improve relations with India. And instead of subjecting it to microscopic scrutiny, take it for what it is: a unilateral offer for improvement in relations, hopefully leading to a result-oriented dialogue on all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. The situation along the borders is very different from the situation along the LoC - we have a perception that it is the Indian artillery's shelling along the LoC which has led to the displacement of thousands of civilians, a large number of deaths and destruction of property. That's one of the reasons why our forces have to be where they are. The specific de-escalation offer was along the international border and it must be seen as indicative of an attitude that is positive as far as Indo-Pak relations are concerned. I believe it should be seen in that spirit instead of the cynicism that is present in some quarters.
'Your clever arguments against the Pakistan peace offer will be reason for India's stagnation.'
But how can we just forget Kargil?
Well, I think that if you make demands of this nature, then you are not actually interested in a dialogue. If you make a demand like that, we can reciprocate with several demands that are deeply felt in Pakistan which you might find unacceptable and if we make those the conditions for dialogue, we don't go ahead. So what really matters is your interest in improving the relationship. Or are you interested in making clever arguments which might have a resonance within your domestic constituency, but which are no good for advancing the negotiating process? It's a question of what vision you bring to bear on India-Pakistan relations - are you going forward or are you making a case for going nowhere. In which case you will get what you want, total stagnation. And at a time when both countries have gone nuclear, the situation is very sensitive along the borders, and the LoC in particular.
Does the new regime plan to honour the Lahore Declaration?
Our chief executive, in his statement on October 17, says our foreign policy will not be changed and that we will respect all our international obligations. He has welcomed the possibility of dialogue with India and said he would reciprocate the Indian prime Minister's offer of friendship. It indicates that there will be no change in our foreign policy.
What do you feel about the opinion here that no dialogue will move forward unless Pakistan formally acknowledges that Kargil derailed the Lahore process?
We have to take into account that with regard to events of the past, our perceptions are quite different. We ought also to consider the fact that we have had, since the Kargil crisis, an election in India and a seminal development in Pakistan. We ought now to look forward and to take each other's statements of goodwill at face value and proceed on that basis rather than allowing ourselves to get locked into differences over events in the recent or more distant past. I think it would be much more productive if we take that attitude rather than if we make demands upon each other which are simply not going to be accepted. We are for unconditional dialogue and unconditional dialogue means that we look forward and take each other's words at face value. If you come up with arguments to the contrary, you may feel justified in doing so but you will be undermining the prospect for any negotiating process. And that would be a pity.
But then it would be the dialogue of the deaf...
Well, I think a dialogue of the deaf is what we have been engaging in for the past 50 years. We now need to talk to each other rather than at each other, or past each other. We have had several rounds of talks; we have never got further than first base, let's say, and there are reasons for that - we have our set of reasons and you have your set of reasons. I think now there is a possibility - time will tell of course, and I can see our Indian friends adopting a wait and see attitude. However, I believe our Indian friends here ought to take note of the statements that our chief executive made with reference to India and respond to those statements positively. We can then look forward to moving towards a new era in our relationship - it may be difficult and it's very easy to be sceptical and even cynical about Indo-Pak relations but it doesn't help. It also sets back the agenda of both countries for their own people and for all else.
"Indians should recognise Musharraf's gesture for what it is and not put it under scrutiny."
Gen Musharraf has a vision for Pakistan - but how much can he achieve if such a lot of Pakistan's funds and resources are directed towards Kashmir?
If you have heard Gen Musharraf's speech, the overwhelming concentration was on a domestic agenda. The overall thrust of this agenda will be to bring about conditions for a return to true democracy instead of a facade under which many of the issues confronting the people are dealt with. That is going to be the main effort. As far as relations with Kashmir and India are concerned, you will notice that Gen Musharraf reiterated Pakistan's principled policy on Jammu and Kashmir, while at the same time offering an olive branch to India in the sense that he articulated a genuine desire for maintaining calm and peace along the international borders and made a unilateral gesture in that regard. Without going into the specifics of the gesture, as I see some Indians have been sceptical in their response to it, the fact is that the gesture in itself is significant and I believe that that needs to be recognised.
But how much flexibility is Gen Musharraf really showing if he says that India should return to the 1947 UN resolution for a plebiscite?
Our Kashmir policy is based on principle, law and morality - and on all three counts we really are on the higher ground. But we would like to pursue it through constructive, meaningful dialogue with India. Of course, it takes two hands to clap. Our chief executive is willing to make a sincere effort in that direction. We know that on this issue India has a different point of view, and it probably would be unrealistic for India to expect the new government to alter its stand on a matter of principle which Pakistan has consistently adhered to over the last half a century - and rightly so - as a condition for a meaningful dialogue. I don't think that would be a realistic expectation. What does need to be taken on board is the vision. And the vision is that despite this difference, we hope through substantive negotiations to bring about a situation which can lead to the evolution of better relations.
Then the incidents over Najam Sethi and then Khushwant Singh - which was not your fault - but which has undoubtedly made you even more cautious about the media here...
Well, I must say that I do not have a pessimistic or negative attitude towards the media here. I even understand their reaction on the Najam Sethi episode, but I still say there was a huge misunderstanding of my role in that. And people who know me personally know that's not my style (to try and get people into trouble). I do have a very strong feeling towards my country and I felt that if someone portrays the country in needlessly negative terms, he has a case to answer to his own readership - but not a case in law.
Do you feel that you have an extremely important role to play now?
I am aware of the extraordinarily modest role I have to play. I am privileged to be part of a much larger process of which I am a small cog. But I have a certain function to see what the mood is here, what the perceptions are and what the realities are here and to convey them accordingly and to convey our point of view and perceptions to our Indian friends and to facilitate things as much as a high commissioner can do.