November 25, 2020
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Congress Not As Positive?

The former foreign minister of Pakistan says 'some think the attitude of the Congress-led government is not as positive as that of its predecessor.' Not so, says the former foreign secretary of India. India is not flexible, charges the former. Um, n

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Congress Not As Positive?

Transcript of the BBC Hindi Special Programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with the former foreign minister of Pakistan Sartaj Aziz and former foreign secretary of India Shashank. The subject under discussion: Are Indo-Pak talks headed towards any solution?

Nagendar Sharma : Which way are the India Pakistan talks headed ?

Sartaj Aziz : As you know after the Islamabad round of talks in January earlier this year between the two countries, which was followed by the Islamabad declaration, which included six issues, and the two others including Kashmir and security, a comprehensive dialogue process got under way. Now on September 5-6, the foreign ministers of the two countries reviewed the progress. There is a little disappointment, that no concrete results have been there so far, but I think that the atmosphere in which the process is on is positive and gives hope. At the moment the good thing is that both sides want peace and that is the key.

Shashank : The process is moving forward -- there are some difficulties, but the governments on both the sides seem determined to take the peace process forward, especially these eight issues which have been discussed are those which are directly linked with the people such as visas, people’s movement -- sometimes fishermen and other innocent people stray into other’s boundaries -- and the economic issues. All these having been discussed shows that things are moving.

BBC listener from Sriganganagar : Sir, the process is moving forward, it is a good thing, but the bus stops or derails at Kashmir. Why not allow the people of Kashmir what they want? Why can’t the two countries decide to live in peace like other countries?

Sartaj Aziz : I feel that there has been a significant and fundamental shift in the Pakistan policy. Since last ten years, whenever there was any dialogue between the two nations, the stand of Pakistan has been that without any progress on Kashmir, there could be no lasting peace in the region, but during the last two three months, there has been a shift in the Pakistan stand and it has started talking on all the composite issues, including visas, people’s movements and other economic issues. There has been progress also, which gives hope that environment would improve further, and once this happens it would lead to a proper dialogue on all issues including Kashmir. I think that it is the need of the hour also.

Nagendar Sharma : Mr Shashank, if Pakistan has shown such an attitude, what is India’s response?   

Shashank : India has suggested that since the Kashmir issue is complicated and it would take time to have a proper dialogue on this, therefore it is important to check the militant activities, which have gone up recently -- particularly in the month of July --  without which the Islamabad Declaration of January this year cannot be effectively implemented. Talks would continue, process would move forward, but to make it meaningful, militancy would have to stop.

BBC Listener from Karachi : What is the difference between the talks that took place in Agra between Gen Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee and the talks that are taking place now? Does Dr Manmohan Singh have the stature to take a bold initiative on talks?

Sartaj Aziz : As regards the difference in talks which took place between Gen Musharraf and Vajpayee sahib in Agra and Islamabad and that are taking place now, the opinion is of two types. According to some people, the attitude of the Congress-led government is not as positive as that of its predecessor, as there are some elements in this formation which are not interested in this process. On the other hand, when Dr Manmohan Singh meets Gen Musharraf in New York soon, we hope that this attitude would change and there would be progress in talks.

The most important thing at the moment with which I fully agree is that Kashmir is a complex issue and nothing should be done in haste nor should a breakthrough be expected overnight. But all other issues -- such as Siachen, Sir Creek, confidence building measures on Kashmir and a check on the human rights violations in Kashmir -- should be expedited. So that's the policy adopted by the Musharraf regime -- which is that even if there were not to be any significant progress on Kashmir, at least other issues are sorted out and there is peace in the region. But if all this continues for a long time -- say,  six months, one year or eighteen months -- and there is no progress either on Kashmir or other issues, then this process would be under question.

Nagendar Sharma : Mr Shashank, how do you react to this?

Shashank : The thing is that these two polices do influence each other. India is a strong democracy and the world’s largest. Our democratic roots are so strong that despite threats of militants in Kashmir or anywhere else, the people come out in large numbers to exercise their democratic rights. I say that the issue of Kashmir is already very complex and making it more would not help anyone. The external pressures that are exerted on India regarding this do not help to solve the problem, therefore such pressures should not be there. It would help in people meeting each other and the talks on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus are precisely aimed at this.

The most important element according to me is that the Defence Secretary level talks which took place on Siachen, the follow-up of their conclusion was taken forward in September5-6 talks this time.  This shows that even on some issues of Jammu-Kashmir, which were difficult to be put on talks table earlier, are now being discussed and progress is being made.

With my experience I can say that Indo-Pak relations are taken very seriously by the governments in India, whether it was previous BJP-led NDA government or now the Congress-led UPA government, both are very keen to take the peace process forward as the people want peace.

Nagendar Sharma : But Mr Shashank, there is a feeling in Pakistan that the NDA government was really working to take the talks with Pakistan forward and towards some solution, the same can’t be said of Manmohan Singh government.

Shashank : The speed of any process gathers momentum steadily. It was for one year that the previous government worked on the process. Then came the elections and for such a big country the entire electoral process took almost two months, which could have given the feeling of ‘going slow’, but since now the new government is settling down, the commitment of this government to the peace process is strongly there. We should look at this entire thing the other way round, the government of the world’s largest democracy has the people’s support behind it to take the process forward, the people have endorsed it. The new government is taking the process forward, it may take a month or two, but nothing more. Therefore it is just a question of perception, and not the change of government.

BBC listener from Jammu : Recently when Mr Kasuri visited Delhi he met with different factions of Hurriyat in a bid to unite them. If Pakistan government meets with such factions of Indian Kashmir, why does the Indian government hesitate to meet with the separatist leaders of Pakistan administered Kashmir?

Shashank : It is correct that anyone coming to India is free to meet any organizational leaders. Whether it is their foreign minister Kasuri or before him their foreign secretary Riaz Khokhar, both met the Hurriyat leaders. Indian government is itself talking to Hurriyat, therefore it allows all to meet them. Whether it be Pakistani government or other international delegations, as hosts we allow them to meet, irrespective of the fact which forces stood for democracy in Kashmir and which did not, but such forces now want to be apart of the peace process. But it is natural that since India allows this, then a demand that vice-versa happen in Pakistan also, would come. This demand would gather momentum, but I do not think this is a major problem.

Sartaj Aziz : The stand of Pakistan is clear that Kashmiris should be a part of the peace process, and recently the report of the European Union (EU) clearly says that Kashmiris, India and Pakistan should be a part of the three way talks. So far as Pakistan is concerned, it has no problem in allowing India to meet with the leaders of Pakistan administered Kashmir.

However, the ground situation in Kashmir is that since the talks between New Delhi and APHC are at a deadlock since a past few weeks, as the violence had increased, it is a matter of Kashmiri leaders, there is no cross border interference. And it has generated a strong reaction in the public.

We know that it is a complex issue and would take time, therefore confidence building measures should continue. I feel the participation of Kashmiris in the peace talks is important, and so are other pro-people measures. Both nations need to continue talks on Kashmir, if not in the public eye, then somewhere in the backwaters, otherwise endless talks would not lead to anywhere.

Shashank : India is ready to listen to any report of EU or any other body, they are welcome to give their views, but they cannot do the micro-management. Next, people of all organizations in India are ready to talk, but the trouble is that killings in their families and other threats they get are not given by those from within the country. Such activities are carried out by external forces. Therefore to make the dialogue meaningful, the atmosphere would have to be conducive, Pakistan would have problem in this, we understand this, but progress has to be made.

BBC listener from UAE : If Berlin Wall could be demolished, Europe could have a single currency, then why can’t India and Pakistan be friends?

Sartaj Aziz : I feel that Pakistan has decided to embark on the path of peace, and the shift of policy which I referred to earlier, is a part of this. Earlier on Kashmir…..             

Nagendar Sharma : But Mr Aziz what is the solution of Kashmir ?

Sartaj Aziz : There is definitely a solution.  But to solve any major issue, remember there cannot be a 100 percent success. Both the sides have to give and take in such complex issues, at the moment when we talk of Kashmir, the stand of India has not been flexible so far which could lead towards a solution. I think if India decides on the ground situation, the majority of the Kashmiris want right to self-determination, if both sides agree then there could be an imaginative, creative solution.

Nagendar Sharma : But what would be the solution, the stand of India and Pakistan are well known?

Sartaj Aziz : At the moment I cannot say what could be solution, if the talks progress then solution would definitely be there. When Vajpayee sahib visited Lahore certain proposals were put forward by both the sides, and there was a feeling that this vexed issue would be solved in a year or two. I think that forgetting what happened after that, if strings are tied where they were left in Lahore, then we can find a solution. But these cannot be in front of TV cameras, they would have to be from track II diplomacy.

Nagendar Sharma : Mr Shashank, what do you say?

Shashank : Three things are very important. On terrorism, both the countries agree that it would have to be finished. On the SAARC protocol also, there has been progress, though complete agreement has not been there. Economic cooperation is taking place.

Nagendar Sharma : But Mr Aziz is saying India is not flexible on Kashmir?

Shashank : Flexibility comes with time and takes time, as public opinion is important after all you are talking about a democracy. India is working on two fronts, one it is talking to Pakistan and other is building a favourable public opinion. Thirdly, is the nuclear issue, now both countries are talking on nuclear CBMs. All these are important things -- the basic coordinates have changed and both agree that we have to move forward.

BBC listener from Kanpur : Why not have LoC as the International Border, and why is India afraid to talk on Kashmir as core issue?

Shashank : At the moment one cannot talk about such major issues. What is important is that the talks that are progressing on three-four basic issues should reach a positive conclusion. In Shimla Agreement also, the emphasis was to take the talks forward, even now that has to be the key. Once Indo-Pak relations are at a position, where the two sides are ready to talks on such big issues, then it would have to be seen what Parliament and people of the country think.

Sartaj Aziz : It is correct that at the moment the thrust is on confidence building and people’s issues. Once real talks take place then one can talk of solutions. I feel that the majority of Kashmiris would not accept LoC as International Border. But the key is that once talks on real issues start, both nations should go for mutually agreeable points to avoid the reverse gear in talks. But some time bound progress would have to be seen.

Shashank : There cannot be any artificial time frame. There are issues which would take time. So far as the talk of core issue is concerned, one has to see what are relations between the two countries and what is our position in the world. There are major core issues such as:  does any country  want to be seen as one supporting terrorism? Does any country want to remain in poverty always? Do the countries want to behave as responsible or irresponsible nuclear nations?

And moreover, why should we think that Pakistan may or may not agree to a certain thing, it means give a veto straightaway, this way the talks do not progress. This is not called flexibility. In fact, flexibility would be when talks progress. Pakistan also says that the Kashmiris should have their say, which they have in democracy. I firmly believe that the process should move forward.

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