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Durrani sees ‘slow, but qualitative’ advance in Indo-Pak ties

February 9, 2007

By Khalid Hasan

www.dailytimes.com.pk

WASHINGTON: Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani expressed “cautious optimism” here on Wednesday about what he called a “slow but qualitative” improvement in India-Pakistan relations.

Speaking at a meeting jointly organised by the Kashmiri-American Council and the Pakistani-American Leadership Centre, a lobbying group, to mark the Kashmir Solidarity Day and the ongoing India-Pakistan peace process, the Pakistani envoy said given the spirit of compromise and fair play, the two countries could become very good friends, considering that they also shared a common history, geography and culture. Only a movement forward in relations between the two neighbours can resolve the Kashmir issue, he said. He was of the opinion that there were three strands in relation to the Kashmir problem: official contact, back channel diplomacy away from the glare of publicity, and people to people links. The back channel process is active, he stated, and because of increased contact, the people of India and Pakistan had rediscovered each other. Pakistanis visiting India and Indians visiting Pakistan have only encountered friendship and camaraderie. Speaking of his own visit to East Punjab by road across Wagah, he said had the signs not been in Gurmukhi, he would have thought himself to be still in Pakistani Punjab.

Durrani said India should remove its excessive military presence from Kashmir and human rights violations should cease. He said Pakistan was prepared to demilitarise its side of the Line of Control. What was needed, he stressed, was greater political space for the Kashmiri people and the continuation of an intra-Kashmiri dialogue, which would assist the peace process. He said Pakistan had shown great flexibility on Kashmir in an attempt to settle the issue and India needed to do the same. “However, there is no serious indication of any such flexibility on the part of New Delhi,” he added. He stressed that the present opportunity to come to terms on major outstanding disputes must not be missed because it may not come again. Pakistan, he added, was ready to go along. Today, he said, India had a comfortable relationship with the United States, and Pakistan and Washington also enjoyed good relations. While the US cannot force either side, it can certainly be helpful.

Former US ambassador and author of several books on South Asia, Dennis Kux, told the meeting that it had always been hard to solve inter-state disputes and Kashmir would be no exception. He felt that India and Pakistan might be edging towards a basis for a compromise solution. He was of the view that the composite dialogue and the step-by-step approach that the two countries had adopted was the right way to go about it. He noted that the ceasefire in Kashmir had held and New Delhi and Islamabad had kept their composite dialogue going. There has been some easing of the situation in Kashmir on the part of India but “India can be less timid and do more”. He said President Pervez Musharraf had dumped the UN Security Council’s Kashmir resolutions and the old demand for a plebiscite as a practical means of resolving the issue. India, he pointed out, welcomed a “soft borders” approach in Kashmir. India should also give more on Siachin than it has. Once Siachin is out of the way, the Sir Creek dispute can be next in line for a settlement. He noted that India and China still had their main dispute in place but had chosen a step-by-step approach. He felt that India and Pakistan should follow the same lead. Until 1963, he noted, the US was very active in trying to bring about a Kashmir settlement, but it had not done so since. Until 1989, the US treated Kashmir as a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan, but after that it had included the people of Jammu and Kashmir as the third party. He said in 1999, President Clinton was “scared” that the Kargil conflict might develop into a nuclear war. Kux was of the view that Washington could be “a little more pushy” with India and Pakistan as they slowly moved towards an eventual settlement on Kashmir.

Story No. 24Punjab chief minister’s adviser Syed Mowahid Hussain Shah told the meeting in an impassioned speech that the peace process and the killings in Kashmir could not go together. He said no peace formulas would work if the injustices continued. Kashmir, he added, was a moral issue not a dispute over real estate. Military force cannot conquer the people of Kashmir. Their history shows that it was the Sufi saints who conquered them through their message of love and brotherhood. They also demonstrated that might is not right. He said it should be remembered that state violence bred individual and private group violence. India, he pointed out, had acted with impunity in Kashmir. He cited the example of France, which having declared Algeria an integral part of France ? as India has declared Kashmir to be an integral part of India ? bowed to the wishes of the Algerian people and pulled out, setting Algeria and its people free. India should realise that force does not work in the end and it is the will of the people that gains ultimate ascendancy. The current peace process, he said, reflected the popular mood, but if no significant progress was made, the mood would not last. He also warned against an “elitist” approach in resolving the Kashmir issue, stressing that “unless it resonates on the street,” it would simply not work. India, he said wanted to be a big power, but it might also acquire a big heart. The solution of the Kashmir dispute must be democratic, he stressed.

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