Call Kashmiris to take part in talks

Published : Dec 05, 2008 00:00 IST

Interview with Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, former Foreign Minister of Pakistan.

in Lahore

KHURSHID MAHMUD KASURI was Foreign Minister of Pakistan from late 2002 to early this year. In the first phase turbulence marked the relationship but gave way to a period of unprecedented creativity. If the turbulence yielded to an unprecedentedly creative phase from mid-2004 onwards, it was only because the Indian electorate replaced the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime with the Congress led-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government headed by Manmohan Singh. The BJP leaders watched the radical improvement with dismay. Every move by the Prime Minister was denounced as appeasement.

As Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri made a mark for his consistent advocacy of good relations with India. He incurred criticism at home from some, which was misconceived. He is a staunch Pakistani nationalist in tune with his peoples aspirations and mindful of his countrys interests. As President, General Pervez Musharraf played a historic role in bringing the Kashmir dispute to the very outskirts of a solution. For that, his place in history is secure.

His indefensible ouster of the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhary in March 2007 created an upheaval which arrested the process. Fortunately, both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani remain committed to the peace process and have retained the services of the emissary of old, Tariq Aziz.

To Manmohan Singh goes the credit for crafting formulations that established a firm India-Pakistan consensus on Kashmir. General Pervez Musharraf (retd.) paid rich tributes to him when I met him in Islamabad on October 24. So did Kasuri in a detailed on-the-record interview in Lahore at his bungalow on October 17. He is assiduously at work on his memoirs, which, judging by his remarks, bid fair to be meticulously documented.

The interview must be read in the context of the background and the outlook of the speaker. He said a lot that was of value on the practice of diplomacy, the perils of the past and the challenges of the future. His father, Mian Mahmud Ali Kasuri, was an iconic figure at the Bar and in politics. He joined the Muslim League in 1942 and drafted a progressive election manifesto for the Punjab League along with leftists such as Danial Latifi. He headed a committee set up by President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972 to draft a new democratic constitution, but resigned from both offices in October 1972 because of his commitment to civil liberties and fundamental rights. He was vice-president of Air Marshal Asghar Khans Tehrik-e-lstiqlal and opposed Zia-ul-Haq as stoutly as he had opposed Bhutto.

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri ranks among the few Foreign Ministers who had an impressive academic background, with an M.A. from Cambridge and call to the Bar from Grays Inn. As Foreign Minister he was never at a loss for words or lacking in sincerity of commitment.

The interview exposes both the costly folly and the ignominious collapse of Operation Parakram. It was the advisories from the United States, the United Kingdom and others that called the BJPs bluff. Noteworthy as is the Pakistani perspective on the recent past, of enduring value are his comments on the primacy of the Foreign Minister and the Foreign Office; their interaction with the back channel; and the worth of what passes for track-two diplomacy in South Asia. That is not all. It would be foolish to ignore his warning of the dangers that disputes over river waters pose for the future of India-Pakistan relations. He is an avid reader and reads this magazine carefully. He said: I would like to place on record my appreciation of the high standards maintained by Frontline.

Excerpts from the interview:

Mr. Kasuri, you became Foreign Minister in 2002, only a few months after India had massed troops along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir and the international boundary. Exactly what was the status of relations that

I think your question answers it better than I could have even thought of responding to it. When you have a million soldiers, eyeball to eyeball, you can understand the state of relations. In European history, of which I am a student, I remember I was told that when you had mobilisation of troops, it almost amounted to something just short of a declaration of war. So, when you had that sort of a situation, what sort of response do you expect from me? Suffice it to say it could not have been worse.

The world was alarmed. There could be a conflagration. South Asia was called the most dangerous place on earth. People were talking of a war, between two countries which had nuclear weapons. The American and British companies were warning their citizens to leave India and Pakistan. Frankly speaking, I think India also felt the pinch of that, particularly from Bangalore and other areas where a lot of money was coming into [the] IT [information technology sector]. We did as well; but, obviously, I assume India must have suffered more than we did. Proportionately we also suffered a lot. There was a danger that war might break out between the two countries. I remember at that time the Americans I want to put it on record did their best to try and lower the temperature. Colin Powell was the U.S. Secretary of State. He and I used to talk often. He used to tell me that he was trying to talk to the Indians as well. We had frequent interactions with the Europeans and the Americans. The whole world was alarmed; otherwise, they could not be taking so much interest.

In which month did you become Foreign Minister?

I think it was in November 2002.

There were more than a million soldiers at that time. In that atmosphere I issued a statement that my first priority would be to improve relations with all our neighbours, including India. The mention of India was enough to rile up a lot of people in Pakistan and I had editorial comment against me; people saying this fellow was some sort of a pacifist, too soft. But I was very clear from day one that Pakistans national interest demanded peace in South Asia. I assume, as later events proved, that there were sensible people in India who also thought it was in Indias interest to have peace with Pakistan. In that atmosphere I was quite clear that improvement of relations with India should be my top priority, particularly when there was a threat of war.

When did relations begin to improve?

Well, you know I am writing a book and I wish you had interviewed me five or six months later. At the moment I go entirely by my memory. I now realise that these events are five years old and I am trying to collect some facts. But I can tell you that it took some time. A lot of our common friends the U.S. and the Europeans, as well helped. The fact that the U.S., the U.K., and other European countries asked their citizens to leave had a very direct impact on both Pakistan and India because they thought that Pakistans economy had begun to do very well and later on we went so fast that in one particular year we were second only to China in GDP [gross domestic product] growth. It did start hurting us, I would be honest with you because we needed to prevent war. As subsequent events proved, India thought likewise. India lost about, if I am not mistaken, 1,800 or 1,900 soldiers without war ever breaking out. This is not a figure I am giving but a figure which, I think, was given on the floor of the House by Mr. George Fernandes [the Defence Minister] and, if my memory serves me well, he mentioned a figure of 1,841. So many soldiers had died without a bullet being fired. Obviously, it told on India also.

I think, however, that mobilisation had one positive impact. As far as Pakistanis were concerned, when it was over. We were happy. We never thought war was an option for us. We realised that India had come to the conclusion that it was not an option for India either. The fact that there was some sort of a nuclear parity, the fact that Pakistan had means of delivering weapons must have also contributed to that realisation in India. We were, of course, aware that India had detonated a nuclear device in 1974. So we could be under no illusions. But the fact that Pakistan had demonstrated its capability in 1998, I think, in a very large measure brought about sanity in South Asia. It was good for India and for Pakistan to realise that war was not an option. But for Pakistan, we realised that, despite a million soldiers having been mobilised, India had also come to the conclusion that war was not an option.

Did you at any time feel that India was bluffing?

Well, the Indians were very fond of saying later on that it was coercive diplomacy. I do not know what it meant.

Were you ever, at any time, scared? Panicked that India might launch a war?

I really did not think so. I thought that nuclear parity in South Asia would prevent India ever undertaking that because there were earlier occasions I was not Foreign Minister then when there had been some sort of mobilisation. It was described as some sort of exercises on our borders and certain messages were sent from Pakistan, I understood later on. Those also had a positive impact in preventing war. If I am not mistaken, it was Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, the then Foreign Minister, who also happens to be a relative of mine, who was sent to India with a special message on a certain occasion.

That was in early 1990 [soon after the eruption of armed militancy in Kashmir]

Yes. When I write my book I will have to check well all the dates. Mr. I.K. Gujral, whom I know well, who was a friend of my father, was Indias Minister for External Affairs. We met very often when I visited Delhi or he came to Lahore to meet my father. My father had taught him at the Law College. At that time Mr. Gujral also, I think, mentioned what I had heard independently in Islamabad. It was not appropriate of me to ask either Sahibzada Yaqub Khan or Mr. Gujral what the contents of the message were. It is, however, sufficient for me to say that following that meeting between the two Foreign Ministers there were emergency Cabinet meetings in India. So I was aware even before I became Foreign Minister that although we had not demonstrated our nuclear device, the fact that there was now nuclear parity in South Asia would help us.

But I was convinced that we could not prolong it. It would hurt the economies of both India and Pakistan. As Foreign Minister of Pakistan, it was my business to see that we try to improve relations. I always believed that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah did not ever dream of this sort of a relationship between Pakistan and India.

The one major event thereafter was the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit in January 2004, when the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit was held in Islamabad. Can you elaborate on what happened?

It was a very important meeting which ended in the Islamabad Declaration in which, from our perspective, for the first time the BJP leadership, the Prime Minister of India, openly said that there was need for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute which should be acceptable to both Pakistan and India. Prior to that, some of the BJP leaders had been saying and in fact others had also said before that Kashmir was some sort of an atut ang [inseparable part] of India, which, of course, Pakistan never accepted. Now they were saying that there could be no resolution of Kashmir until both parties accepted the solution. This was a very positive development.

At my joint press conference with Mr. Yashwant Sinha, at a hotel in Islamabad, I was asked, What about the Kashmiris? I replied that common sense would dictate that Pakistan would never accept a solution which the Kashmiris would not accept because it would not really have any life. It would not serve any useful purpose. The purpose of this exercise is to bring about peace between India and Pakistan which could not be achieved if, while talking of Kashmir, we produced a solution which the Kashmiris would not accept.

Would you like to comment on the part in the Islamabad Declaration of 2004 in which Pakistan gave a commitment that it would not allow its territory to be used for terrorist attacks against India?

First of all, it was not for the first time that that was done. Secondly, you have international opinion also to consider. Thirdly, why should you regard it as unilateral? There should be mutual restraint by both. It is not just incumbent on Pakistan, it is on both the countries. One would assume that this is inherent in any inter-state relations. Which implies also sovereign equality and non-interference in each others country, under the U.N. charter.

Following that there was a flurry of back-channel talks between Tariq Aziz and Satish Lambah. How much was Pakistans Foreign Office kept in the know about these back-channel activities?

Let me tell you one thing, and those who know me would vouch for it. I would never become spokesman for anything and I was required to be Pakistans spokesman as Foreign Minister unless I was a party to everything. The usual method was that we sent certain messages; messages between Delhi and Islamabad. These were detailed messages; sometimes involving construction of sentences, syntax, full stops and semi-colons.

Non-papers, you mean?

Well, I did not wish to say that but since you say. Well, of course, either government can deny it. But this was an attempt to bridge the gap between the two, and this had gone on for long. What used to happen is that Mr. Tariq Aziz dealt on different occasions; first, with Mr. Brajesh Mishra and, after the change of government in India (in 2004), with Mr. J.N. Dixit. After Mr. Dixit passed away, he dealt with Mr. Satish Lambah. The common method was that these messages would pass, we would comment on what they sent to us and they would comment on what we sent to them. This went on for months, may be, for more than a year. When I write my book, I will, of course, get all the dates. I have some of my own notes to support me. You have got me just like this on a visit to Lahore when I was not expecting this interview.

That is why I used to say that a lot of progress has been made. This is not something that I alone said. If you read some of the statements by the Prime Minister of India you will find that there was optimism. Why would that optimism be there? It could not be in a void. Similarly, when President Zardari assumed office in Pakistan he spoke of good news in a short period of time. I do not know what his sources of information were. I am not in power now. But he did mention that, now that he was President, he knew the back channel and what had been going on. That means that even Mr. Zardari, when he took over, was confident enough to say, on the basis of the work we had done, that there were good chances [of success].

But I must comment on something. What has happened in the last three months in Kashmir cannot now be ignored. At that time we used to say to the Government of India that it was absolutely essential to involve the Kashmiris. But the Indians were not amenable to our suggestion. We applied a lot of diplomatic pressure. We continued, repeatedly, to urge upon them. The result was that we achieved the second best thing: the Kashmiris were allowed to come to Pakistan, which meant all the Hurriyat leaders. Later, even others, not in the Hurriyat, like Mr. Omar Abdullah and Miss Mehbooba Mufti, came. All of them visited Pakistan and met our leadership and our leadership from Azad Jammu & Kashmir visited India and met your leaders.

It was the result of our efforts that this interaction took place. Now, after what has happened in the last three months, it is absolutely essential that the good work that has been done between the two governments must find direct ownership. I have a feeling that if we talk to the Kashmiris since it serves the interests and aspirations of the Kashmiris common sense would demand that they acquire ownership. But they are not going to acquire the ownership unless we call them directly as participants. It should not be so difficult for the Government of India because they have already agreed and they have allowed Kashmiris to come to Pakistan, talk to our leadership, and our Kashmiri leadership has gone and talked to your national leadership. So, this would be a logical next step. What has happened in Kashmir in the last three months emphasises the need for greater Kashmiri participation as well as interaction amongst themselves.

How significant has been the progress in the back channel? How far have they come?

I think there has been a lot of progress, and you should not make me say all the things. You should wait for my book.

Fundamentally, what should be the interaction between back-channel diplomacy and official diplomacy?

You see, there are some things. I will give you my experience. We do realise that the wars that Pakistan and India fought have really been over Kashmir. What we were talking of was on the entire gamut of relations between India and Pakistan under the composite dialogue. But we needed a more focussed discussion. The trouble with formal talks is that whenever you come out there is a battery of mediapersons standing outside and they force you to say things. Otherwise, they report that the talks had failed. My experience tells me it [the back channel] is an excellent way of dealing with issues without putting everything in the glare of publicity. Instantaneous publicity can be a disaster because it enables those who are opposed to the peace process, on both sides of the international border, to put their own spin and scuttle the process.

Would you comment on and amplify former President Pervez Musharrafs four-point formula, which he has set out on page 304 in his book In the Line of Fire?

Speaking from memory there are four elements identification of the regions in Kashmir; demilitarisation; joint mechanism; and self-governance. When I talked to the Kashmiris, who were visiting here, they always asked me for some sort of guarantees. I see their point. If we had completed the work, we would have addressed this issue. Hopefully, now that the back channel would still be continued, I hope consideration would be given to this aspect, which the Kashmiris have repeatedly raised with us.

I would also like to say that I found that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was very sincere in his desire for peace with Pakistan and the way he tried to tackle the issue of Jammu & Kashmir. He repeatedly talked of the need for making the Line of Control irrelevant.

Would you comment on the other issues Siachen, Sir Creek, the Wullar barrage, which we call the Tulbul Navigation Project?

Sir Creek, I think, is ready for signature tomorrow. A joint survey has been carried out. We have agreed on the joint maps. It requires political will. This, frankly, applies to Siachen also because a lot of progress has been made there as well. I would like to comment generally on water. A lot of people are now predicting that future wars would be over water. I am, therefore, very greatly alarmed at the dispute over the waters of the Sutlej. We work hard at improving relations between Pakistan and India. It will all come to a naught if Pakistanis feel that their water supplies are going to be interfered with.

I think that one of the achievements of the government in which I was Foreign Minister was that on the Baglihar dam we made sure that the conflict resolution mechanism in the Indus Waters Treaty was resorted to and a neutral expert appointed whose recommendations were accepted by the Government of India. They changed the design of the dam. The important thing is that the water has been allocated, the percentage has been allocated. They should not be tampered with under any circumstances. This is far more dangerous than any other issue between Pakistan and India, potentially.

As distinct from the back channel, there is the so-called track-two diplomacy in South Asia. Candidly, in all the seminars and exchanges have you found a single constructive idea emerging?

I have always believed that there will never be peace between Pakistan and India if you confine the talks to the two Establishments. They are too frozen in their attitudes. We need to involve a lot of people outside the official umbrella. I do admit that some of them have frozen ideas; as frozen as those of the Establishment. But when retired soldiers, admirals, bureaucrats and diplomats, academics and public figures meet, it creates the right idea for a resolution.

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