25 November 2004
Let us reduce trust deficit, Aziz tells India
By Siddharth Varadarajan
NEW DELHI, NOV. 24. So rare have they been in the past that high-level meetings between India and Pakistan invariably generate expectations out of sync with the specifics of each occasion.
In the run-up to this week's visit by the Pakistan Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, there was intense speculation about the radical Kashmir proposals he might bring along — and the answers that were supposedly awaiting him. But in the end, neither the Musharraf trial balloon nor the reiteration in Srinagar last week of India's stated position by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was allowed to interrupt the rhythm of the ongoing composite dialogue process.
"Mr. Aziz told our PM we need to reduce the trust deficit by moving ahead in tandem on all issues, including Kashmir," a senior Indian official told The Hindu. "We see confidence-building measures (CBMs) as a way of doing precisely that."
According to Indian officials, Mr. Aziz told Dr. Singh that Gen. Musharraf had come away from his September 24 meeting in New York with a positive frame of mind but that since then there had been "some statements and interpretations" which had caused confusion. Dr. Singh replied that if Mr. Aziz was referring to his remarks in Srinagar, these were no different from what he had himself told Gen. Musharraf in New York — i.e. that India could not accept a change in its borders or any partitioning of territory on a communal basis. Beyond these constraints, Mr. Aziz was told, India is prepared to examine all options. "After that, the discussion moved on," the official said.
In an interaction with Indian editors over breakfast just before his meeting with Dr. Singh on Wednesday, Mr. Aziz made it clear that Gen. Musharraf's `iftaar' proposals on dividing Jammu and Kashmir into seven regions was only meant to catalyse internal debate within Pakistan. He said he had brought "no proposals or anything" on Kashmir and that his talks with Dr. Singh would not be the "first or last meeting." "We're talking about a process. We should not look at these trips as transactions."
At the same time, Mr. Aziz urged the Indian Government to come up with new proposals of its own on Kashmir. Gen. Musharraf's remarks do not reflect a change in policy of the Pakistan Government, he said. "But I think all of us are trying to think out of the box, to address issues and approach them in different ways hoping that a viable and sustainable solution can be found. And if we all state our stated positions, then the gridlock may not end."
Mr. Aziz said Dr Singh's speech at a public rally in Srinagar was a mere restatement of India's traditional position on Kashmir. India and Pakistan need to come up with "credible scenarios" which could be accepted by the two countries and the Kashmiris as well, who are "important stakeholders" in the issue. "At least it gets the thinking process going. And very often, when one thinks out of the box, one can come up with credible solutions, which may be acceptable to all. But if we don't try, we will never get there."
Need to move in tandem
Stressing that now was the time to move "from tactical to strategic issues, to the core issues," Mr. Aziz rejected the suggestion that Pakistan and India follow the India-China dialogue pattern of not letting the border demarcation problem come in the way of normalisation.
"You can have parallel tracks but movement has to be in tandem. Cherrypicking may not be the right way to go. When you move in tandem, naturally Kashmir will be very much on the agenda. And the solution which reflects the feelings of the people in that area has to be brought out."
Mr. Aziz said: "For our stakeholders, it is very important that we show engagement and progress on discussing the Jammu and Kashmir issue." No country can force a CBM on the other unless it's a win-win for both, he added. Though he ruled out MFN status for India for the present, he said there were certain "win-win" issues on which the two countries could work together like agriculture in the two Punjabs and the gas pipeline. "It is Pakistan's wish that the trust deficit between us is reduced", he said.
"Let's not forget that till a year ago we couldn't even fly to each other's countries. And with due respect, we didn't interrupt that flight flow, India did. So let's look ahead now. Let's create an atmosphere where we can make progress on all these issues. But we can't wish any issue away."
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