`There is so much to gain mutually'

Print edition : August 25, 2006

An interview that General Pervez Musharraf gave Frontline on August 1 at the President's office in Rawalpindi.

THE first thing that strikes one on meeting the President of Pakistan, General Perverz Musharraf, is his spontaneity and dignified affability. He received me warmly at his office in Rawalpindi on August 1. I presented to him the issue of Frontline containing my article on "The Koran and Muslims" (July 14, 2006). As his eyes fell on the editorial intro "Intellectual stagnation in the Muslim world long preceded revivalism and its hideous offshoot fundamentalism", he exclaimed, "That is the whole problem, this stagnation" and trenchantly criticised those who spread religious bigotry and wallow in ignorance.

This spirit of candour and spontaneity informed the entire interview. He is cautious but devoid of guile and pettiness. Comments on Agra were made in sorrow. The hurt was palpable but he retains a respect for the leaders he interacted with, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani. For Manmohan Singh respect is tinged with affection. As the transcript shows, he broke off on a topic he was discussing to comment warmly on the Prime Minister.

The text of the transcript reveals manifest sincerity and deep commitment to the peace process; specifically to a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The agenda, which he announced when he assumed power seven years ago, centres on internal reconstruction and reform. Resolution of the dispute will yield an enormous, incalculable peace dividend for both countries.

Pervez Musharraf has an open mind and is flexible. He will not compromise on the national interest. He will, however, move boldly to arrive at a settlement if India makes the concessions necessary for that achievement. As was pointed out in my "Working Paper on Kashmir" (Frontline, March 10 and 14, 2006), a settlement consistent with the national interests of India and Pakistan and, indeed, of the people of Kashmir, is perfectly possible.

India-Pakistan parleys on Kashmir edged towards the substance of the dispute after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh defined the limits of India's concessions in May 2004 while President Pervez Musharraf injected constructive ideas into his statements. His remarks in this interview reflect his hurt at the shabby treatment he received at Agra.

More to the point, his exposition reveals that the gaps between the criteria, which the Prime Minister and he have formulated, have so narrowed that for the first time ever, a settlement is very much in sight. It lay on the outskirts. The President's interview brings it to the doorstep of the conference room.

With a copy of Frontline.-INTER-SERVICES PUBLIC RELATIONS/PAKISTAN

In this interview President Musharraf indicates significant flexibility on the crucial topics of joint management of Kashmir, self-governance to both its parts, institutional arrangements between them, demilitarisation and making the Line of Control (LoC) "irrelevant".

A politician would have evaded the questions he was asked. The President answered them candidly while pointing out fairly enough that the proposals must come from the Government of India. In the weeks I spent in Islamabad, I heard criticism of the President for making concessions to India and of India for not responding to them. Both sides need to redefine concepts and approximate their respective positions.

India must move beyond its stated position and accept the idea of an India-Pakistan guarantee of self-governance for both parts of the State, capped by an over-arching institutional arrangement between the two parts of Kashmir and between India and Pakistan. The accord will be crowned by a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation. Only at a summit between Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf can the gaps thus narrowed be filled and the basic outlines of a settlement of the 60-year-old dispute drawn up.

PRIME MINISTER ATAL Bihari Vajpayee with Musharraf at Agra in July 2001. Home Minister L.K. Advani is at extreme right.-V. SUDERSHAN

Both must, however, reckon resolutely with resistance politically and from officials who dread accord and love the status quo.

Noorani: Mr. President, it is an honour and privilege to call on you. I am very grateful to you for sparing the time to meet me.

The President: Thank you very much. It is a special privilege to meet you because we had heard so much about you. I do read Frontline and I also do read your articles.

Noorani: Thank you. I am happy to count you among my readers. Sir, let me ask a question which I wish I did not have to ask, but unfortunately this development has happened and people in India will be looking forward to your exposition. It will be a message to the readers of Frontline and through them to the people of India. We have had these unfortunate occurrences which have vitiated the atmosphere. The Mumbai blasts of July 11 were the latest in a series beginning with the attack on the Parliament building (in December 2001).

Sir, what is your view about that? How do we cope with these incidents? They impair the peace process.

Yes, absolutely. I would say, firstly, that we condemn them. Such incidents in which innocent lives are lost are regrettable. We condemn them. I condemn them in the strongest terms. But now the issue is whether it is each other's government or each other's intelligence agencies which are behind what has been done.

My experience is that there is a lack of trust. We think that we are destroying each other or creating trouble for each other either at government level or at intelligence level. That is pitiable. So I would say that we should have trust in each other. We must not, repeat must not, interfere in each other's internal problems, internal issues, and have the trust and confidence that these are freelance terrorists who are doing this. That is the reality. There are freelance terrorists who are roaming around and doing all this. We should join hands to investigate and move against them and this is what I have been saying.

PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF WITH A.G. Noorani.-INTER-SERVICES PUBLIC RELATIONS/PAKISTAN

Instead, right on the first day, with hardly any substantiated proof and evidence you throw the blame on Pakistan, "Pakistan is doing this" as if I am getting this done. This is very, very annoying. It is disappointing. One should not do this. We are together to fight terrorism. We are prepared to join in [the] investigation. We are prepared to help out in investigation on this side. Such allegations lead to vitiating the atmosphere. It should not be done.

Would you favour a dialogue at a top level between the security officers of both the countries? Every time such an incident occurs?

Any time, we will favour it. Any time. Exchange of data, exchange of information? Yes, indeed.

Irrespective of these blasts, would you favour that internal security officials should meet and compare notes about respective threats to each other?

Yes, indeed, we should. May I add that over the past years our intelligence agencies, obviously, have been operating against each other. Let me talk frankly. This is the reality that we have seen over the last 50 years. Now is the time when the intelligence agencies of both sides, maybe, should reach an agreement to stop interference in each other's internal affairs, if at all there is, I presume it should not be. But we also keep getting information of interference in our internal affairs. I have the evidence and proof of it. So, let us talk with each other and go on the path of peace and harmony.

Sir, the feeling in India is that while you ban certain organisations, the banned organisations have a tendency to resurface under a different name. We feel that the Government of Pakistan does not reach out to those revived banned organisations which operate under a different name?

This is absolutely wrong. It may have had some certain truth in the past. Let me say very frankly that everything has a timing depending on the environment. If one is speaking from a position of lack of strength against these extremists, you have to take steps carefully, lest you derail the process of moving against the extremists. But, then, as you keep going and you keep gaining ground, you reach a point where you could move more strongly. Now, having said that, let me assure you this is the time when we have to move strongly against them. What I have done is, we have banned any organisation coming up by another name. Not only that, what I have done to fight extremism, as opposed to terrorism, the banned organisations, we have made a list of people to be arrested - the leaders, the national and provincial leaders of the banned organisations. This is a list of about 400 people, which we have issued to the police and intelligence agencies that these people will be arrested and put behind bars. So there is no duplicity in leaving the onus on the police because they have the tendency of thrusting the burden on ringleaders and leaving the top leadership aside. So we can very strongly move against them. This is not allowed at all. Then some names are quoted that these should be put behind bars. Now one has to see what is the evidence against them. There is the legal system going on. One has to see what is the evidence against the man. What has he done? There are legal compulsions. The resolve of the government and my resolve to move against extremists and terrorists is very very sincere.

Sir, as soon as the dust settles down, would you like to have a dialogue about how we proceed in the future (jointly) if, God forbid, any such incident occurs?

Yes, we can have. I have been saying it very openly. But somehow always the immediate response, the very next day, is a strong negative statement from the foreign office spokesman or somebody or the other that India totally rejects the offer [of joint investigation].

It is exactly five years since you came to Agra. What would you say is the balance sheet in the five years after the Agra summit?

I will do that but on the previous subject I just want to add one thing more. India should know to treat Pakistan with sovereign equality. This is what I want to add. Please don't take us to be a small little country which can be bullied or bulldozed. That cannot be done to Pakistan. That goes against our dignity and honour. I will never accept such a thing. If you retort in a bad way, there are people here who are equally strong in their response. So, please treat us with sovereign equality.

In July 2001, you were in Agra and that was a summit that ended in failure. If you draw up a balance sheet of these five years that have elapsed since, how do you assess the progress?

I would say that it was a pity that we lost so much time. Agra was a great opportunity; it was the greatest opportunity. We could have made wonderful breakthroughs. I really don't know why we failed. I really don't know what was the pressure on Prime Minister Vajpayee for backing out on what we had decided, on what he and I decided, having drafted a joint declaration together. The two of us and the two Foreign Ministers, four of us, drafted even the language - the words - and got it typed. I asked Prime Minister Vajpayee, "Mr. Prime Minister since I have to go to Ajmer Sharif, if you don't mind I will go and change. It will save time because it was nearing the last time we had to go and board a helicopter. If you don't mind I will change into a shalwar kameez and come back for the signing ceremony." He said, "Fine. Do that." I go back to the hotel. I tell my wife, "Heartiest congratulations. We have been able to have a joint declaration which was going to be issued." I changed and when I am about to go, the Foreign Minister [Abdul Sattar] comes. "Disaster." Sattar Saheb comes and tells: "Sir, it seems there will be no signing ceremony as they don't accept it." I said, "What has gone wrong?" And I said in my military response, "OK. Get the plane ready and we are going back to Pakistan. I don't want to stay here. This is just not on. This is between me and the Prime Minister. Who said this?" At this, Sattar Sahib calmed me down. He said, "Please let us deal with them." I said, "OK". Then I relaxed. I gave up our going to Ajmer Sharif just because of this. It is OK, I will wait. He [Abdul Sattar] goes and comes back and says, "Sir, I think we have achieved [agreement]." He showed me the draft. The working para on Kashmir had some changes of words which the diplomats tried but the overall essence I saw was the same. I said "OK. Agreed. Done." Again I tell my wife, thank God, though the visit to Ajmer Sharif was not possible, but we have reached an agreement. Again we were waiting. Sattar Sahib came back and said it was not possible.

INDIAN SOLDIERS PATROL the international border between India and Pakistan, in Punjab.-AP /AMAN SHARMA

The issue of what the reality was I really don't know. The reason they had given was that the Cabinet had not approved. I said, "Which Cabinet? I don't see any Cabinet here. Had the Cabinet met?"

The Cabinet Committee.

There were just a few people who were there. Advani Sahib was certainly there. I thought it was terrible. The other thing I want to bring out is that when I had two sessions with Prime Minister Vajpayee, with one on one meetings, and we decided on the framework, when we broke for lunch, a script comes in front of him, and he totally negates what we had just been discussing inside for hours. How you can read this? I said we have our own honour and dignity and we will not compromise on our honour, dignity and sovereign equality. It was a response to what he had read.

You mean a script was handed to him [Vajpayee] to read?

Yes. It had no relationship with what was said at the two hour-long sessions that we had had, where we had agreed on a joint declaration. He read something totally different as if nothing had happened [earlier]. So it was really a pity that there was something happening on the foreground while in the background there was something else happening. That was what I concluded. When I met him again at the end to thank him for the hospitality they had extended to us, the first thing I told him, when I went there was, "Mr. Prime Minister" - these are exactly my words because it is pinching on my mind - I said, "Mr. Prime Minister, today you and I both have been humiliated. Because I feel that what we agreed on, somebody above us, who had the veto power, rejects it. I don't know who it is. But this is a humiliation for both of us." He just kept quiet. He was sitting with his head down and did not utter a word.

Who do you suspect was behind this?

I personally suspect it was Advani Sahib. That is my guess because he was quite hawkish in those days. I even told him [Vajpayee], "Mr. Prime Minister, you are a politician. If you think that by signing this joint declaration you will lose politically, my personal judgment - after having moved around these days in Delhi and now Agra, met people wherever I had gone, at the Taj Mahal, here and there, roaming around and meeting the hotel staff, your hotel staff, my hotel staff, all of them from the waiters to the manager - they are all waiting for this step. You will gain popularity. I feel you will gain popularity if we get this declaration done. And you will not lose." This is my personal judgment because when we came out, they were all waiting for the photographs and all that. They had a look of disappointment.

You were not invited to stay on for further negotiations?

No, not at all. And may I also add that I wanted to have a press conference. It was not allowed. But when I left after meeting Prime Minister Vajpayee, around 11/12o'clock at night, and came on the street, there were for nearly 200 yards all the media, hundreds of them, being blocked by the police standing with batons, stopping them on both sides. With barely enough room for our car to go. There were flashes of camera bulbs all around that hundred or two hundred yards, continuous flashes. They were standing out and they were not allowed to meet me.

I must thank you for your exposition. It is one of the most detailed on the Agra summit, some of which has not yet appeared in public. Would you say that after Agra there was significant progress when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and you agreed at New York in September 2004 to "explore options" for a Kashmir settlement?

Yes, that was the very big step, recovering from the lost time. We lost much time. Three years lost. But then this was a very big step.

How far are you or how near are you from a settlement of Kashmir as a result of the criteria which the Prime Minister has evolved and you have evolved?

My personal opinion is, very near; yet so far. Very near, I say, because I think in realistic terms, it is doable. There is a solution which is suited to India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. But, yet so far because it needs the resolve of the leadership; it needs the resolve of the people, especially the government and the political parties. Where India is concerned, I see there is a drag in that - take everyone on board. So, therefore, developing, as you say, consensus for the solution appears difficult on the Indian side. I am reasonably sure that we will develop consensus on this side.

Broadly speaking, what would you like India to offer?

I have been talking of a solution. There are four points I have been urging. Firstly, let us identify Kashmir, so that Kashmir can be solved. There are certain areas, nuances, the strategic implications of which may not be acceptable to Pakistan or India. We have to see to that. So, let us identify the region. Then, I have been talking of a second important thing. It is demilitarisation because I feel that the people of Kashmir have had enough on the Indian side. I am talking about what we call Indian-held Kashmir. I think for 16 years the people are suffering. So we must demilitarise. I mean that military should be out; security should be done by the people themselves. Military could be garrisoned in a few places, if not completely out. We are prepared to do that, after all we have a lot of military.

Would you like demilitarisation to be in two stages? The first is that as we begin talking and as we make progress, some demilitarisation takes place. I have followed your statements. At one place you said demilitarisation can follow a settlement. In that case, as we make progress we demilitarise a little, but eventually demilitarisation comes after a settlement.

Yes indeed. Actually this is all workable. I proposed a good image projection in three cities in Kashmir - Srinagar, Baramulla and Kupwara. Let the military move out of the cities and from the outskirts and let us declare it as a zone of peace. But that is also made fun of. Demilitarisation can be by steps. I do understand that you can't remove thousands [at once].

You have used some phrases or concepts which are misunderstood. I know you have not spoken of joint sovereignty (over Kashmir) but joint management; maybe joint control.

One of the four steps after demilitarisation is self-governance. Let the people govern themselves. You talk of maximum autonomy, lots of people talk of maximum autonomy. We need to define what is the maximum autonomy that you are talking of and what is the self-governance that I am talking of. We need to see how the people should govern themselves. Lastly is the superstructure which gives comfort to both, Pakistan and India, and their involvement and some responsibility and some commitment; involvement, I would say, in having their say on both sides of the border.

I was coming to that. I am very happy that you have mentioned it. The Prime Minister of India at the round table conference with Kashmiris in Srinagar on May 25 used strong words - "institutional arrangements" between the two parts of Kashmir. Would you consider that as an acceptable mode of joint management, an institutional arrangement linking the two parts of Kashmir?

Yes, I think that is a starter. This is a very good term. Would you identify?

There is a model. The Ministerial Council between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, it may not have executive powers. Let us face it, we cannot have executive powers. But if there are regular meetings, trust builds up and they evolve joint policies by common consent without wielding executive powers. Would you consider that a good substitute?

The term you use, "institutional arrangements", is what I think is correct. But we need to define the modalities.

BUS PASSENGERS FROM Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir being welcomed by relatives on their arrival at Srinagar in April 2005.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

If the leaders agree politically, then the lawyers come in. What you have said is a very forward step because there was misunderstanding about joint control and joint management? Now you have said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's proposal on institutional management is doable, I think that is a step forward.

Yes. But let me clarify. Noorani Sahib, this term `joint management' was first coined by Mr. J.N. Dixit. These were not my words. I took these words from Mr. Dixit when he coined them, where we had the backdoor diplomacy going on, and that is how I started calling it joint management. So these are not my words really (speaks with emphasis).

I find much common ground between what you have said and what our Prime Minister has said. For example, both of you agree that the LoC should be made "irrelevant". The Prime Minister said at the round table conference on May 25 that it becomes just a line on the map. Do you think this is a good statement?

I think it is a good statement.

In other words, de jure the sovereignties end at the line on the map. But de facto the State becomes one.

Yes. That kind of an arrangement, as you said, this institutionalising the arrangement, needs discussion and thought. I have said we give governance to the people and we then make an arrangement which is acceptable to both Pakistan and India.

There has been some confusion about "autonomy" versus "self-government". Every schoolboy knows that municipal government is called "local self-government". In fact, it is a play on words. The real issue is how much autonomy will both parts of Kashmir get; how much power or how much authority to rule themselves? How do we go about it? Would India and Pakistan agree on a joint quantum of autonomy for the two parts of Kashmir and have a common model?

Certainly, because none of us is in favour of their independence. So, therefore, short of independence, what is it that we are devolving on them? The word `autonomy' actually creates confusion.

WITH PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh in New Delhi in April 2005.-KAMAL NARANG

The issue is how much power do you give to the people which would help them administer their affairs and make them meaningful for their lives. Would you allow Kashmiris on both parts of the State to meet and debate among themselves?

Any time.

And would you like elections to be held for Kashmiris to elect negotiators? Not for a legislature but to negotiate as was done in Northern Ireland. There was an election to a Negotiation Forum. Or, if both India and Pakistan agree on a joint framework of autonomy, shall we put it to the Kashmiri leaders on both sides?

We have to find a word which replaces `autonomy'. Because it creates negative optics.

How about `self-governance'?

Yes, `self-governance' is effective. Joint framework but not sovereignty. A joint framework for self-governance.

What of a settlement under which both the states undertake by a bilateral international agreement that each will respect this autonomy or self-governance of Kashmir within its sovereignty, and that in the event of a major violation, such as subversion of that autonomy, there will be a mechanism for conflict resolution. In other words, if you violate the autonomy of Azad Kashmir, India will have the right to ask for a tribunal to determine that. The tribunal will comprise two judges, each side nominating one, and the Chairman nominated by the President of the World Court. Similarly, if India subverts the agreed autonomy, you will have a similar right. For the normal Centre-State disputes, the Supreme Court of each country will be the judge. But if the agreement is reduced to a husk, by a complete subversion of autonomy, Pakistan as well as India will have the right to move that tribunal. Thus, both parts of Kashmir will have international guarantees, guarantees by the two countries. And each state will have a stake in the autonomy of Kashmir in the other part. Would you consider it? Is it something doable?

I think this is a starting point which can be discussed because what I have been saying is a joint management mechanism on top, consisting of representatives from Pakistan, India and Kashmir who oversee exactly what we are saying, the joint management [aspect], and also look at the residual elements on each side; having a right on each side to look into the residual aspect, whether it is foreign affairs, currency or whatever you said. We need to see their own security. We need to see what is the residual aspect. Security, we would like to devolve.

Given the national interests of both countries, we keep the Northern Areas and Ladakh out. They will not be part of this autonomy arrangement. The Northern Areas are of strategic importance to Pakistan and Ladakh is of strategic importance to India. Once we have a Kashmir settlement, should we crown the entire effort with what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been advocating - an India-Pakistan Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation?

It is a possibility. Would you welcome it? Yes.

Why don't we have the clauses in that Treaty that we had in the India-Bangladesh treaty and in all such treaties, namely, that neither side will join an alliance against the other, nor allow its territory to be used against the other? These are the normal clauses.

Yes. There is no problem in that. And withdraw the dispute from the U.N.? If we reach a final settlement.

What is your message to the readers of Frontline?

I think before we move on, I would like to say something on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Let me say, Noorani Sahib, I have met him a number of times. I would say that my meetings with him have always been very positive and very pleasant.

I have never had any reservation in saying that I find in him sincerity and a desire to settle disputes. I can see that he wants to. I have said that everywhere. I hope that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh moves forward boldly.

Now, the message you mentioned. I hope that the people of India and the people of Pakistan move forward and support a policy of resolution of disputes and also that leaders have a resolve to settle the disputes between themselves. This is a message I have for people on both sides, that this leads to better relations, peace and harmony, and socio-economic development of both the countries.

Can we not have two mechanisms, an India-Pakistan Commission and a Kashmir Council also?

Well, these are nuances that we have to settle. But whatever you say, it has to come as an idea from the Indian side. We would like to consider. It is a step forward. We would like to debate that, certainly, and keep moving forward.

Mr. President, I am extremely grateful to you. As always, you have been very forthright, very explicit. It is my assessment that as a result of your clarifications, we are very close to bridging the gap. The matter is now between the two leaders. But you have certainly helped to clarify thinking. As a result of the clarifications we have moved somewhat closer to a deal.

Insha Allah. My hope is that we can achieve peace and we can resolve these disputes because there is so much to gain mutually by both countries, socio-economically. I think we would be doing a tremendous wrong to our people and to our countries if we don't move forward.

Sir, thank you very much.

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